Cannabis Harm Reduction
With the legalization of cannabis in Canada you might be hearing a lot of different pieces of information or think that everyone is using it. According to the University’s 2016 National College Health Assessment survey 65% of University of Waterloo students surveyed had never tried cannabis. Take some time to learn more about cannabis so that you can make an informed decision.
Low-risk use guidelines
The Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse has published a set of Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG) to help you take steps to reduce health risks from using cannabis for recreation, including the following:
- Limiting and reducing how often you use cannabis: The frequency and intensity of how often you use cannabis is linked to a higher risk of health problems including changes in brain development, mental health concerns, dependence, impaired driving, and academic performance. The LRCUG guidelines suggest limiting yourself to occasional use, if at all, up to one day a week at most.
- Don’t use and drive: Cannabis can impair your cognition, attention, and reaction time and increases your risk of being involved in an accident. The guidelines say to wait at least six hours, or more if needed, before driving or operating machinery.
- Identify and choose lower-risk cannabis products: Cannabis products with a higher THC content, are more likely to cause harms. Products with a high CBD to THC ratio can reduce some risks. Take time to learn what you are choosing.
- Watch out for synthetic cannabinoids: While synthetic cannabinoids (e.g., K2, or Spice) are relatively new, evidence suggests that they can lead to more severe health problems and even death. The guidelines suggest using only natural cannabis products if you choose to use.
- Delay your age of initial use as long as possible: Studies show that the younger you start to use cannabis the higher the likelihood of developing health or academic problems as a result of your cannabis use.
- Avoid combining cannabis with other substances or risk factors: Combining high-risk behaviours or combining cannabis with alcohol is likely to increase or amplify health risks to you.
- Avoid smoking cannabis or avoid harmful smoking practices: Smoking cannabis can harm your lungs and respiratory systems. The LRCUG recommends choosing other methods of consuming cannabis, while also recognizing that other methods also carry health risks. If you choose to smoke cannabis, avoid deep inhalation or breath holding practices. These increase the amount of toxic material absorbed by your lungs and into your body.
- Avoid cannabis if you are at risk of mental health concerns or are pregnant: Some people are at higher risk of negative health outcomes due to cannabis use. If you are in these risk categories, you should abstain from use.
- If you can, the best way to avoid cannabis health risks is to abstain from using it: If you decide to use cannabis you could experience immediate health effects like inability to focus on your studies, to longer-term risks to your health and well-being. Choosing not to use cannabis will help you avoid these risks.
To read all of the low-risk guidelines, visit camh.ca.
For more information, see the Government of Canada's Evidence Brief (PDF).
Whether you're first year or fourth year, you may be settling in, making new friends, meeting your room-mates, buying your books and arranging your schedule. Drinking may or may not be a part of your life here on campus. If you do choose to drink, drink responsibly.
- Plan ahead. Don't let your friends intimidate you into drinking more than you want.
- Pot and alcohol don't mix. Mixing any drug with alcohol is not smart.
- Make sure you eat before and while you drink. It will make a big difference on how quickly you absorb the alcohol and feel the effects.
- Pour (and measure) your own drinks and limit yourself to one drink per hour.
- Count the number of drinks you are drinking.
- Don't leave your drink unattended.
- Everyone at the party is not over drinking.
- Alternate alcohol with pop or water.
- Don't drive after drinking.
- Don't leave a party with someone you don't know.
- Don't leave your friend alone if you think they are too intoxicated. Recognize the signs of severe intoxication. Get help.
Factors affecting reaction to alcohol
- Alcohol content: It isn't the amount of drinks you have, it is how much alcohol you consume that determines your blood alcohol content.
- Body weight and type: Most of the time, the less you weigh, the more alcohol will affect you. Even if you weigh the same as someone else, someone who has more muscle will be less affected than someone who has more body fat.
- Fatigue: If you have not slept enough or if you are very tired, the alcohol will affect you a lot stronger than if you were well rested.
- Emotional state of mind: Your mood can make a huge difference in how you will react to alcohol. It will not affect your blood alcohol content though.
- Drinking time: The longer you take to consume a drink, and the more time passes between drinks, the less effects you will feel. Alcohol needs time to metabolize in your body. About one standard drink per hour for most people.
- Food: The less food you have in your stomach before consuming alcohol, the more you will be affected by the alcohol you are consuming.
- Medication: Prescription medicines and over-the-counter medication may intensify the effects of alcohol. Always follow advice given by your health care professional or pharmacist. Many medications carry a warning against drinking any alcohol while using the medication.
Signs of acute intoxication
- Being uncoordinated (ex. inability to walk straight or bumping into things).
- Becoming much louder, bragging, or swearing.
- Sudden mood changes.
- Speech becomes slower or slurred.
- Changes in attention or memory.
- Sliding in and out of consciousness.
- Inability to focus, glassy eyes, or dilated pupils.
The BACCHUS maneuver is a very important thing to know. If someone you know passes out from drinking, you can prevent this person from choking if they vomit by positioning them in the BACCHUS maneuver.
- Raise the person's closest arm above their head. Prepare to roll them towards you.
- Gently roll the person as a unit. Guide their head as you roll them.
- Tilt their head to maintain airway. Tuck nearest hand under the cheek to help maintain head tilt.
- Check on them often.
If you are worried that someone may be in danger, get medical attention. The person may have combined alcohol with drugs or they may have a medical condition you are not aware of.
What is alcohol poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is a severe elevation of the blood alcohol content (BAC) due to consumption of large amounts of alcohol. The BAC reaches a level that the body cannot process the alcohol quickly enough and therefore resulting in alcohol poisoning/overdose. A BAC level of 0.26-0.40% is potentially lethal to anyone as the body is unable to manage such excessive amounts of alcohol.
What are the signs of alcohol poisoning?
- Drinking excessively (four or five drinks in one sitting).
- Drinking in combination with medications or other drugs.
- Does not respond when being talked to or shouted at.
- Does not respond when being pinched, prodded or poked.
- Vomits while sleeping or passed out and does not wake up after vomiting.
- Cannot stand up and remain standing unless aided by others.
- Unable to wake up despite multiple attempts.
- Has slow or irregular breathing (fewer than 6-8 breaths per minute).
- Skin appears very flushed or is a bluish or purplish colour.
- Skin is clammy or feels cool to the touch.
- Pulse rate is irregular or is slower than 40 beats per minute.
- The heart is beating unusually slowly or quickly (irregular heart beat).
What to do if someone has alcohol poisoning?
- Call 911 for an ambulance.
- If sober and close to a hospital, drive the victim to the hospital.
- Remain with the victim.
- Keep victim from choking on their vomit - use the BACCHUS maneuver.
- Tell the medics about all the symptoms you have observed.
- Be honest with medics about how much the victim has drank.
- Being prompt may save the life of a friend.
What not to do if someone has alcohol poisoning
- Give the victim food.
- Give the victim a cold shower.
- Leave the victim unattended.
- Give the victim coffee.
- Tell the victim to "walk it off".
- Tell the victim to "sleep it off".
Hosting a party
10 tips to reduce your risk when hosting
- Don't drink too much! It is a lot easier to notice potential problems when you can think clearly and act quickly.
- Plan ahead so you have time to try the following tips. If any legal problems arise, having tried these may help resolve some issues.
- Stop serving alcohol a few hours before the end of the party. It is best to bring out alcohol-free drinks and food.
- Find out how your guests will be going home from your party. Be prepared to have to take away car keys from your guests. Know who the designated drivers are and always have cash and phone numbers ready for taxis.
- Make a plan for how you will deal with guests who drink too much. Ask someone ahead of time to help you out.
- Serve drinks instead of having an open bar. Guests are more likely to drink a lot more when they are able to serve themselves or have no limit to alcohol.
- Be prepared to have guests stay overnight.
- Serve snacks so that guests will not be drinking on an empty stomach. Stay away from salty, sweet or greasy foods as they will make your guests thirsty.
- Make low-alcohol and alcohol-free cocktails and drinks available.
- Don't plan physical activities while serving alcohol. Accidents are more frequent when guests have been drinking.
You don't need to serve alcohol to have a great party! Why not serve normal punch or even try some great mocktail recipes below at your next party?
Vaping vs Smoking
Vaping use has skyrocketed in the last couple years and can be seen within campus, in dorms and sometimes even in class. Unfortunately, most people see vapes as more of an accessory than a harmful substance.
E-cigarettes were originally marketed as a smoking cessation aid for people who were unable to quit. Ironically enough, the majority of e-cigarette users have never smoked cigarettes.
What is vaping?
Vapes (also known as e-cigarettes or electronic cigarettes) are battery powered devices which heat a liquid and create vapour that the user inhales. This vapour is often flavoured and can contain nicotine.
Truth: Vaping can cause lung damage
Despite the common misconception, e-cigarettes are bad for your health just like cigarettes. Nicotine is a very addictive chemical found in both cigarettes and most vaping liquids. Even low levels of nicotine can lead to physical dependence and addiction causing you to crave more. Nicotine is also a toxic substance that increases your heart rateleading to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Since the level of nicotine found in vape E-juice varies, mixtures could have none to more than 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine. E-cigarettes have standard nicotine levels labelled across all vape juice brands. Therefore, if you choose to vape choose E-juice with zero nicotine.
Truth: Vaping alters teen brain development
During adolescence, brain development is regulated by acetylcholine receptors which are sensitive to nicotine such as that from e-cigarettes or cigarettes. Nicotine leads to a change in the number of receptorswhich affects impulse control as a result of addiction. Furthermore, nicotine also changes the way synapses in the brain are formed which can permanently harm memory and concentration.
Lie: The long-term of effects of vaping are well known
Smoking cigarettes has been around for hundreds of years and today it is well-known that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. Yet, it wasn’t until 1964 that policies and medical reports confirmed the negative health effects of nicotine. Similarly, the long term effects of vaping are still unknown and it may be years or even decades until this information is available.
The main concern is that the effects of chemicals in vaping liquid are not fully understood. Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are the main liquids in vaping products. Although these are considered safe for use in many consumer products such as cosmetics, the long-term safety of inhaling the substances in vaping products is not known.
If you choose to vape:
- vape at low temperature
- avoid E-juice with nicotine
- avoid vaping daily
- avoid home-made E-juice
Quitting can be tough, but it is worth it. If you are interested in quitting or need help sticking to your goal, you can make an appointment at Health Services to discuss your options.