“Harm reduction” is an essential part of fully understanding and keeping yourself informed about cannabis use. Simply put, harm reduction is an evidence-based, people-centred approach that looks to reduce any adverse health and social impacts associated with cannabis use, and generally focuses on pragmatic, positive change.
We’ve rounded up some of the actions you can take to minimize your risk — and, ultimately, have a positive experience.
10 Harm Reduction Tips
If you choose to consume cannabis, applying some or all of these tips can help keep you safe and lower your risk of experiencing potential negative effects on your health and well-being. These suggestions are based on Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, which provide an evidence-based resource on cannabis harm reduction.
1. Start low, go slow.
This is your mantra to help you prevent overconsumption. Start with the smallest amount possible — especially if you are new to cannabis or trying a product for the first time — and wait until you feel any effects before deciding to consume more. If you’re smoking cannabis, for example, begin with one inhalation and wait 10 to 15 minutes to see how you feel before taking another. On the other hand, edibles can take hours to take full effect. Always read the label closely for terms like “quick onset” or “fast-acting”: Some edibles are designed for faster onset of effects.
2. Consider the time and place.
Choosing the best time and place to consume cannabis — for example, when and where you may be free from having to make important decisions or care for others — will set you up for a more positive experience.
3. Find the right product for you.
If you’re a new consumer or trying a type of cannabis product for the first time, choose one with lower THC potency or with equal or higher amounts of CBD. The OCS Beginners’ Guide can help you find lower-potency products.
4. Choose safer consumption methods.
Rather than smoking cannabis, opt for consumption methods with fewer risks, like ingesting edibles or inhaling cannabis using a dry herb vaporizer, which delivers THC in vapour rather than smoke. Learn about the different methods of consuming cannabis.
5. Use safer smoking methods.
If you do prefer to smoke cannabis, there are ways to reduce the risks. It’s a myth that inhaling deeply or holding the smoke in your lungs increases the effects of cannabis: About 95% of the THC is absorbed in the first few seconds, so you can take shallow puffs, which should decrease the amount of toxins your lungs take in.
6. Reduce how much and how often you consume.
Consider reducing the amount you consume or taking a tolerance break, also called a T-break: Your body can develop a tolerance to THC, so you need more to produce the same effects (or, put another way, the same amount of product has less of an effect). Stopping cannabis use for a while — 21 days is often recommended, as it’s how long THC is thought to be stored in your body fat — lets your body reset its tolerance.
7. Choose plant products over synthetic cannabis.
Unregulated synthetic cannabis products, such as “spice” or “K2,” are lab-made to mimic the effects of THC and can be associated with severe health problems. There is little research on the safety and efficacy of synthetic cannabis products, so opt for legal cannabis products that have been tested for harmful substances. Find out how to know if you’re purchasing from a legal source.
8. Stick to one substance.
Combining cannabis with alcohol or tobacco can intensify your high or alter it unpredictably, or increase the potential health harms associated with use, increasing the likelihood that you’ll have a negative experience. Likewise for prescription or over-the-counter medications — ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions and adverse effects.
9. Plan to get a ride.
Unlike with alcohol, there’s no scientific evidence to support a consumption limit that’s safe for driving or how long you should wait to drive. Always have a plan to get home safely, whether that’s calling a friend or family member, using a rideshare service or public transit, or staying the night. Learn more about cannabis and driving.
10. Consider other risk factors, including your health history.
Whether you experience harmful or uncomfortable health effects from consuming cannabis can be influenced by your own personal circumstances, such as having a personal or family history of mental health conditions (such as psychosis) or substance misuse, or starting frequent consumption at a young age (even before age 25, around the time your brain stops developing). Different products also affect everyone differently, based on factors like overall health, metabolism, sex, personality and mood.
Taking a harm reduction approach by making informed choices can reduce your risk of having a negative experience, as well as mitigate any health, social and legal impacts. Learn more about responsible use.