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Recreational and Medical Cannabis: The Basics

Recreational cannabis is legal across Canada as of October 17, 2018.

While medical cannabis has been available in Canada with authorization by a Physician or Nurse Practitioner for a few years, now anyone of legal age can access recreational cannabis.

Maybe you are curious about cannabis, are considering using it, or have already used it but want to know more about the health effects.

No matter how you feel about cannabis, it’s important to understand the basics.

Here are the Basics!

Why do people use Cannabis?

  • Recreational cannabis may be used for relaxation, creative stimulation, and enjoyment.

  • Medical cannabis is authorized for treatment of medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, insomnia, nausea, loss of appetite, pain management, post-traumatic stress disorder and more

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

  • The endocannabinoid system is a physiological system found throughout the body

  • It helps to regulate the nervous system, immune system, inflammation, appetite, metabolism, energy, bone health, cardiovascular function, brain function, psychomotor system, behaviours, memory, stress response and sleep/wake cycles

  • An improperly functioning endocannabinoid system can cause disruption in any of the systems listed above

What are THC and CBD?

  • The two main components to understand about Cannabis are THC and CBD

  • THC is the psychoactive component and is associated with the "high"

  • CBD is non-psychoactive with relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps counteract the anxiety associated with THC

  • The ratio of the two in a product determines the medical benefit and effect

  • High-THC, low-CBD (more euphoric)

  • High-CBD, low-THC (more clear-headed)

  • Balanced CBD and THC (mildly euphoric)

What to know about initiating cannabis use?

  • As with any medication the advice for Cannabis is to start low and go slow

  • This means using a low THC strain to start

  • It is also important to use the lowest effective dose

  • Each person’s metabolism and method of use may lead to differing effects

What are the Methods of Delivery?


  • Similar to cigarettes, smoking is generally not recommended by health professionals due to harm to the lungs

  • This method of delivery leads to effects within minutes with a peak in 20-30 minutes and duration of 2-3 hours


  • Vapourizing is a better alternative to smoking and has similar effects for onset, peak and duration


  • Oral cannabis may take 1-2 hours to take effect and will last much longer in the system

  • For this reason, it is important not to take extra doses if the effects aren't felt right away

  • Sublingual oil may have onset within 5-30minutes, peak at 1.5-4 hours and a duration or 12-24hours

  • Edible products may have an onset of 30-90mins, peak at 2-3 hours and have a duration or 4-12hours

What are the Safety Considerations?


  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Ontario do not recommend cannabis use if pregnant or breastfeeding and recommend avoiding second-hand smoke


  • Cannabis, especially with high THC levels, is not recommended for use in those under 25

  • Similarly, for the elderly, a lower level of THC is recommended for example to prevent falls

Medication Interactions

  • Cannabis can interact with medications such as blood thinners

  • Speak with a pharmacist or physician who specializes in medical cannabis to find out if there could be interactions with your medications

Medical Conditions

  • Cannabis is not recommended for use in people who have unstable heart disease, psychosis, schizophrenia or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Working and Driving

  • Cannabis can affect your judgement and ability to perform difficult tasks

  • Do not operate a vehicle such as a car or boat while under the influence of cannabis

  • Just as your workplace does not tolerate being impaired with alcohol or other prescription medications such opioids, they will not tolerate impairment with cannabis. If you have a medical prescription you may wish to discuss medical accommodation with your employer


  • If you are going to travel, plan ahead. You may not be able to bring your medical or recreational cannabis with you depending on the cannabis laws of the country you are traveling to

This basic introduction to recreational and medical cannabis does not substitute the advice of your primary care provider.

If you have any specific questions about medical or recreational cannabis, speak with your primary care provider, pharmacist or other knowledgeable medical professional to learn more.

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