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Cannabis Corner

Cannabis Corner

Osborne and Parker respond to questions submitted by students

By: Geraint Osborne and Timothy Parker

About the Authors

Geraint Osborne is a professor of sociology at the Augustana Campus of the U of A. His main interests are in cannabis normalization and how recreational cannabis users integrate cannabis use into their everyday lives. He has co-authored multiple articles on cannabis use among employed middle-class users and university students, and has presented to several audiences about cannabis normalization, harm reduction, and responsible use.

Tim Parker is a professor of psychology at the Augustana Campus of the U of A. His main interest is in the brain processes that accompany drug addiction, as well as mental disorders like schizophrenia, PTSD, and OCD. He is writing a book on addiction and the brain, and has talked to several different audiences about addiction and the brain.

Is cannabis addictive or not? I’ve heard many different things.

This is a very important question, in fact, probably the central question concerning the use of cannabis, so thanks for asking it. The answer here is based on the neuroscience literature, and also draws from the government of Canada’s website on cannabis (https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/cannabis.html).

What makes this difficult to answer is that it depends on your definition of addiction. If we take an accepted broad definition of addiction, we are referring to some practice that people perform to the extent that it interferes with them carrying out their other responsibilities, such as to family, work, home, or school. Of course, this definition allows us to include a very broad range of activities that would qualify as addictions. These would include consuming drugs, drinking alcohol, gambling, eating, having sex, checking your cell phone, surfing the Internet, consuming internet pornography, working, running, collecting various things, and shopping, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. What’s interesting about this is that these are all addictions that have been identified in the last decade or so, and they are occurring with much more frequency than they have in the past.

In this case, there are many cases of individuals who will choose to consume cannabis rather than to study, or work, or interact with their children, or do housework. Similarly, they may choose not to attend important social gatherings or engage in other recreational activities and instead choose to use cannabis. It’s also possible that individuals can find that they need to consume larger quantities, and that they find themselves unable to reduce their intake or regulate when they consume. In this case, they are succumbing to the lure of the good feeling that cannabis provides them, and under this definition, we can certainly classify these individuals as addicted to cannabis.

To support this overall conclusion, if we take a much more specific definition that is focused on drug use, the answer becomes clear. Addiction to drugs is usually characterized by the development of two conditions. First, users can develop tolerance, a condition where they need to use more of the drug to get the same effect that they used to. Second, removal of the drug results in withdrawal symptoms.

Evidence that users can develop tolerance supports the conclusion that there is definitely a potential for addiction. More support comes from the fact that cannabis users can undergo serious withdrawal symptoms, and the more heavily they have used cannabis, the more intense the symptoms tend to be. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms, excessive sweating, chills, and decreased appetite. Interestingly, these are quite similar to symptoms that accompany opiate and alcohol withdrawal.

On balance then, even with this more restrictive definition, the evidence seems clear. Cannabis can definitely be addictive. In fact, current estimates are that 1 in 11 users may use cannabis to the extent that they develop an addiction to it. There is of course, much more that can be said about this, but I hope what is here causes the reader to recognize the value of using cannabis in moderation.

Can you be allergic to weed?

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), the simple answer is yes. Cannabis is like many other plants in that it releases molecules that act as allergens for some people.

In some cases, the reaction won’t occur unless there is actual contact with the plant. In these cases, the most common reactions are rashes, hives, and a frightening condition called angioedema. Angioedema and hives are actually somewhat complementary. Hives involve swelling of the upper layers of the skin, while angioedema is swelling of the lower layers of the skin. The swelling can occur all over the body, and is common in the facial regions including the tongue and larynx. It can also occur in the abdomen or in the arms and legs.

Allergens that enter the body through breathing or inhaling cannabis smoke can also produce typical allergic symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, itching, and watering eyes. Depending on whether the user is susceptible, asthma symptoms can also occur.

There is also an interesting aspect of this that many people don’t realize. Cannabis can cause cross-reactivity with several foods, including tomatoes, peaches, and hazelnuts. This is because these foods contain the same kind of allergens found in cannabis plants. What this means, is that if you are allergic to any of these foods, chances are good that you will also develop allergies to cannabis. It also works the other way, so that if you develop allergies to cannabis you will probably react also to these foods.

Can you get high from weed lube?

This is a stimulating question with a bit of a slippery response, but the short answer is yes, although in a localized way. Many people have questions concerning cannabis and its connection to sexuality. Indeed, the growing popularity and normalization of cannabis have led to a growing number of “cannasexuals” – people who use cannabis-infused products to enhance their sexual experiences. The use of cannabis to enhance sexuality (or help with childbirth) goes back thousands of years in ancient China, Egypt, and India. Current research on the topic is lacking and what research exists is far from conclusive. It seems to be a very subjective experience and depends significantly on the amount of cannabis used, its concentration, and the ratio of CBD to THC.  A little cannabis use seems to reduce anxiety and lower inhibitions for both men and women. However, too much cannabis use might cause distraction, or an inability to be in the moment, and, for men in particular, difficulties maintaining an erection – the dreaded “stoner boner.”

With regards to cannabis lube, the research is again somewhat lacking. The qualitative evidence (and somewhat quantitative) suggests that cannabis lube does enhance sexual intercourse by enabling relaxation and enhancing sensation. It takes roughly 40 minutes to take effect, but cannabis-infused lube works by being absorbed by the body’s mucous membranes, found in sensitive areas with lots of capillaries, such as vaginas. The capillaries draw in the lube’s THC and CBD chemicals, dilating and increasing blood flow in the smallest blood vessels in our body. This enhanced microcirculation magnifies the area’s sensitivity and sensation.

Users don’t experience a head high like they would through smoking or eating cannabis, but rather report localized sensations of relaxation, warmth, and pleasure that intensifies orgasms and facilitates multiple orgasms. There is no head high because the absorption that takes place is not as great as that which takes place in our lungs and small intestine (so if lube is consumed through oral sex a head high could be experienced). It is also important to remember that most cannabis lubes are actually oil based and should not to be used with latex condoms because it can break them down.

The legal driving limit is 2ng/mL. How do I know how much cannabis is in my system?

This is a very serious safety question. A Health Canada survey released last year that found 39 per cent of cannabis users had at some point driven within two hours of consuming cannabis.  A Public Safety Canada survey found that 28 percent of respondents had reported driving under the influence at some point, and among that group, 25 percent felt it was less dangerous than driving drunk and 17 percent felt there was no risk to their driving. Yikes! Not cool!

In the last Cannabis Corner, we made reference to the problematic Dräger Drug Test 5000 that is used by police to test cannabis in a driver’s system. This may tell police whether you are over the limit, but it doesn’t really tell us how much cannabis someone consumed to reach that limit. One joint? A couple of puffs? One gummy? Half a brownie? The truth is, we don’t really know.

According to a research summary examining THC concentration in blood, there is no amount of cannabis use that will not at some point put you over the legal limit, even if it is just for a brief period of time. Research suggests that after smoking cannabis, THC levels rise rapidly in blood and peak within three to 10 minutes often at levels around 70 to 100 ng/ml in whole blood, depending on the person and dose. Around an hour after smoking, THC levels decline by about 90 per cent and very gradually decrease afterwards. In terms of how long it takes to leave your system, it too depends on the person and dose.

While the limit is 2ng/mL, nobody can say for certain how much cannabis makes you too impaired to operate a vehicle. One reliable study found blood THC concentrations of 8.2 ng/mL and 13.1 ng/mL correspond to deficits from alcohol of 0.05% and 0.08% respectively. This is higher than the limits of 2 to 5 ng/mL THC in whole blood for a summary offence and over 5 ng/mL for an indictable offence. 

Even though the regulations for cannabis are much more stringent than for alcohol, the scientific consensus is that the acute use of cannabis causes performance deficits (bear in mind there is little consensus on what constitutes acute). Our advice is, if you are going to indulge, play it safe, and don’t drive. Doing no harm is an essential component of responsible use.

Email contact@augmedium.ca to submit a question to the Cannabis Corner.

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