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Cannabis

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed or pot, is a product that comes from a plant with common strains that include Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the mind-altering chemical that gives those who use cannabis a high. Another active chemical in cannabis is CBD (cannabidiol), which is presently being studied and used for medical purposes.

Cannabis is used today for medical and/or non-medical purposes and can be consumed in a variety of ways, including:

  • Inhaled through smoke or vapour
  • Ingested through capsules, softgels, pills, tinctures, drinks and foods (edibles)
  • Absorbed through the skin

Cannabis Legalization

Cannabis became legal on October 17, 2018. For more information visit:

Government of Canada – Cannabis in Canada: Get the Facts (Canada.ca/Cannabis)
Province of Ontario – Cannabis legalization (Ontario.ca/Cannabis)
York Region york.ca/cannabisinfo

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA) speaks to where cannabis, medical and recreational, along with tobacco smoking and vaping is prohibited in public places and work places.

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Health Effects of Cannabis Use

Cannabis is a plant that contains hundreds of chemicals. Some of these chemicals are called cannabinoids, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is psychoactive, meaning it affects your brain to create a “high” feeling, while CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it does not give the user the same “high” feeling that THC provides.

Cannabis affects people differently depending on the level of THC in the products, the age of the user, frequency of use, amount of use, and if used in conjunction with other drugs. Additionally, the effects of cannabis may differ depending on how it is consumed. For example, the effects of smoking or vaping cannabis can be felt within minutes and can last up to 6 hours. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to feel effects from eating or drinking cannabis. These effects can last up to 12 hours.

Short-term effects of cannabis use can include:

  • Feeling “high” (euphoria)
  • Impaired ability to drive safely
  • Difficulty learning and remembering things
  • Mood and emotional changes including anxiety or panic

Long-term effects of cannabis use can include:

  • Breathing and lung problems if cannabis is inhaled, including chronic cough
  • Addiction or dependency
  • Mental health problems, including:
    • Triggering psychotic episodes
    • Increasing the risk of developing depression
    • Increasing the risk of anxiety disorders

Second-Hand Smoke

Evidence suggests that second-hand cannabis smoke has similar carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. Also, it is possible that an individual exposed to high levels of second-hand cannabis smoke (i.e. in an enclosed, unventilated environment) could experience impairment, but this is unlikely under low smoking conditions and ventilated environments.  

A smoke-free environment remains the safest and healthiest choice for everyone.

Cannabis and Mental Health

Using cannabis can increase the risk of experiencing psychosis and schizophrenia, especially if:

  • Used every day or almost every day
  • You are a teenager
  • Someone in your family has, or has had, these conditions

For more information, visit Cannabis & Psychosis (TheSchizophrenia Society of Canada).

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Cannabis Use in Preconception, Pregnancy and Lactation

There is no known safe amount of cannabis use in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Until further information about the potential harms is available, it is recommended that women stop using cannabis while they are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.

Although more research is required on the effects of cannabis use on pregnancy and lactation, a growing body of evidence suggests there can be a negative impact on a child’s pre and post-natal development:

  • Frequent cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight and is part of a cluster of risk-factors correlated with other adverse birth outcomes.
  • Prenatal and early exposure to cannabis can alter neurodevelopment leading to adverse effects on cognition and academic achievement.
  • There are also effects on behavior in children and young adults, including attention deficits, increased hyperactivity and impulsivity, and increased likelihood of substance use.
  • Cannabis used during lactation may result in similar developmental risks as cannabis use in pregnancy, along with the potential to cause infant drowsiness and poor suckling, resulting in potential breastfeeding challenges.
Video: Risks of Cannabis Use During Pregancy

What can I do to as a parent to protect my children if I’m using cannabis?

  • Avoid using cannabis if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding
  • Avoid exposing infants and children to cannabis smoke because they may inhale the smoke and damage their lungs
  • All types of cannabis should be kept out of reach of children to avoid accidental poisoning. For example, edible cannabis in the form of baked goods or candy should be kept in child-proof containers.

For more information, please read or visit:

Risks of Cannabis on Fertility, Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Parenting
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada
Government of Canada – Is cannabis safe during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding? Cannabis Evidence Brief

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Talking to Children and Youth about Cannabis Use

Health risks generally increase when cannabis is used at an early age, as research shows the brain is not fully developed until around age 25.

Cannabis and Youth

According to the recent York Region - Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Report, 2017 (OSDUHS), 22 per cent of York Region high school students and 25 per cent of all Ontario high school students said that they have used cannabis in the last 12 months.

Even the occasional use of cannabis can have harmful effects. For instance, driving after using cannabis may double the risk of having a car accident (CAMH, 2018).

Youth who use cannabis early and often for months or years are at risk of long-term health and social problems. Here are a few examples:

  • Increased risk of harm to the brain including problems with memory, concentration, thinking, learning, handling emotions, and decision-making
  • Increased risk of mental health problems including psychosis or schizophrenia and, possibly, depression, anxiety and suicide, especially if there’s a personal or family history of mental illness
  • Difficulties with relationships at home, school or work
  • Physical health harms including lung and respiratory problems from smoking cannabis
  • Addiction issues as cannabis can be addictive, especially for youth
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What Parents/Guardians and Caregivers Need to Know

There is a good chance that your child will be exposed to cannabis during his or her school years. 22 per cent of York Region high school students and 25 per cent of all Ontario high school students said that they have used cannabis in the last 12 months (York Region - Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Report, 2017).

As a parent, guardian and/or caregiver, you can help prevent or delay your child’s use of cannabis. Set the stage for a conversation with your child about substance use:

  • Find a comfortable setting
  • Keep an open mind and put yourself in your child/teen’s place
  • Be clear about your goals
  • Be calm, relaxed and positive
  • Don’t lecture
  • Be aware of body language

How should you talk to your student/child about cannabis?

  • Stay connected. Having a strong relationship with your student/child will increase the likelihood of helping them make informed and safer decisions
  • Talk about it. Try to have open and ongoing talks about cannabis
  • Be positive. Don’t shame, scare, or lecture about cannabis. Instead, use active-listening skills in your conversations
  • Focus on safety. Let them know of safer choices and help them establish limits and understand consequences
  • Be informed. Be prepared with facts about cannabis
  • Be supportive. Help youth find healthier coping strategies or professional help, if needed
  • Be an example. Reflect on your own use of various substances and medications

For more information about how to talk to your teen about cannabis, please read:
Drug Free Kids Canada: Cannabis Talk Kit: Know How to Talk with Your Teen

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Cannabis Lower Risk Use Guidelines and Reducing Harm

The best way to avoid the negative health effects of cannabis is to avoid using the substance completely. However, if you are planning to use cannabis, you can reduce your risk by following some recommendations:

  • Delay using cannabis
  • Start with small amounts
  • Wait for full effects to occur before increasing your dose
  • Limit how often you use cannabis
  • Do not mix cannabis with alcohol or other drugs
  • Avoid mixing cannabis with tobacco as smoking these substances together increases the risk of lung problems including lung cancer
  • Avoid driving or participating in dangerous activities after cannabis consumption, as it can affect your decision-making, judgement, and coordination
  • Avoid smoking cannabis, and choose lower-risk modes of consumption (e.g., ingesting)

For more information regarding cannabis use, please read:
Centre for Addition and Mental Health – Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines
Centre for Addition and Mental Health – The Blunt Truth: Youth Friendly Guidelines

Cannabis Impaired Driving

Drug-impaired driving is a criminal offense in Canada, whether the impairment is from alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs. Cannabis use affects decision-making, judgment and your ability to drive safely, and even small amounts can affect your reaction time, attention, and judgement, which can increase your risk of getting into a motor vehicle crash.

After alcohol, cannabis is the most prevalent substance found among injured or fatally injured drivers. The risk of crashing is even greater when cannabis is combined with alcohol or other drugs.

For more information about driving and cannabis-use, please visit:
Government of Canada – Don’t Drive High: Your life can change in an instant

Accessing Cannabis for Medical Purposes

At present in Canada, the only legal source of cannabis for medical purposes is that provided by a licensed producer, which can be supplied to patients upon receipt of a medical document provided by a physician.

For information on medical cannabis, please visit:
Government of Canada – Understanding the New Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations

Cannabis and the Workplace

Ontario currently has strict rules in place to make sure workplaces are safe. Consuming cannabis for non-medical purposes is illegal and will continue to be after legalization on October 17, 2018. Employers may set rules to prohibit cannabis use and impairment in the workplace, much like alcohol or other drugs.

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Related Resources

Government of Canada Health Effects of Cannabis Factsheet

York Regional Police Cannabis Presentation

External Links

Cannabasics - Canadian Public Health Association

ConnexOntario – Addiction, Mental Health and problem Gambling: Helpline

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – Cannabis

Cannabis & Psychosis (Schizophrenia Society of Canada) – Questions and Answers

Government of Canada – Cannabis in Canada: Get the facts

Ontario – Cannabis legalization
Cannabis,marijuana,weed,pot,smoking,THC,substance use,medical,drug. legal The Regional Municipality of York en-US Cannabis Cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed or pot, can be consumed for medical and non-medical purposes. Find out more about legalization and the health effects of cannabis use in adults and youth.

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