A Newbie Guide to Cannabis
by Gene Wilburn
On October 16, 2018, Canada will legalize marijuana, or cannabis, as it’s more often called these days. Buying and using cannabis will be legal, but each province is creating its own plan and policy for selling it.
In Ontario there’s been a flip-flop in how it will be sold: the previous Liberal government had decided to sell it through an official provincial sales operation, similar to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). The new Conservative government scrapped those plans and says it will allow licensed vendors to sell cannabis directly. Already the Shoppers Drug Mart chain has been granted a license to sell.
Whatever else you might expect, expect some initial chaos across the country as the law takes effect. There will be confusion, but there will also be some elation, and those of us who have used cannabis for years will bask in the warm glow of vindication.
As an experienced user of medical cannabis I would like to make an anecdotal contribution to the education of new users, or to those who maybe tried marijuana in the 60s and 70s but haven’t touched it since.
Cannabis is a drug
Above all else, cannabis is a drug and if you’re the clean-body/clean-mind type, you probably don’t want to use it. If Tai-Chi , yoga, meditation, or doing crossword puzzles gets you off, then be content with it. Although I doubt you’ll be tempted to try it anyway, the circumstance might arise and if you are tempted, here are some tips to bear in mind.
- There are two main types of drug in cannabis: THC and CBD. The one that gets you high is THC and on legal cannabis it’s clearly marked as to strength. Back in the 60s it’s estimated that the THC levels of most marijuana was around 7-15%. Today’s strains range all the way up to 30% or so for the high-THC products. CBD, on the other hand, does very little to get you high, but many users report that it helps with body pains such as arthritis and works as a ‘feel better’ drug for those who don’t want to get high.
- Because it’s a drug, cannabis will affect your body/brain mechanisms, resulting in a high or a balm, depending on the type. In some people, especially beginners, this can kick off a reaction of paranoia or a knot in the stomach that can be hard to shake off. If you have access to any kind of tranquillizer, it’s a prudent idea to have one nearby if you start feeling very uncomfortable. Any panic reaction tends to lessen as your body becomes more accustomed to usage.
- If you feel you’ve had too much substance, try not to panic. It will pass. If you’re trying cannabis for the first time, it’s good to have an experienced user around to reassure you that you’re okay. Listen to music you like, and you’ll eventually go into a deep, relaxing sleep, waking refreshed. However, if you have such a bad panic reaction you can’t handle it, call an ambulance and the hospital will give you a sedative to calm you down.
- If you find you like cannabis and use it often, your body will develop a tolerance for the drug and you may require more hits or a higher THC percentage. That’s normal. However, do realize that you can become addicted to the substance. No, not like hard drugs like opioids or even alcohol, but you can get psychologically addicted to cannabis. There’s not a lot of research that’s yet been done on long-term cannabis use so moderation is advised.
- It goes without saying, don’t get high and drive. It’s not known how much cannabis you need to constitute a hazard on the road, but it’s better not to take chances. As with alcohol, it’s best to have a dedicated driver if you’re at a social event, or to call a taxi to go home or to the theatre.
Forms of intake
Back in the day, about the only form cannabis came in were marijuana cigarettes, usually called joints, or spliffs, or doobies, whatever the local jargon dubbed them (“reefers” way back in the 20s and 30s). Today’s choices are very different.1
- Cigarettes, or joints, are still around and happen to be highly portable. You inhale from a joint just as you would from a tobacco cigarette. This is called “taking, or having, a toke.” This is the traditional form of marijuana and is still in widespread use. It’s also the harshest introduction to cannabis because you’ll likely end up choking and coughing a fair bit. Joints are convenient, but there are pleasanter options.
- Bongs. I’ve never used a bong but the principle they work on is to filter hot cannabis smoke through water to cool it off before inhaling. They’re still around, but most users are moving to vapes.
- Vapourizers, or vapes. A vapourizer is a device in which you load your ground cannabis flowers. Its heating chamber heats the cannabis just to the point before it starts burning (as in a joint) and releases the active components of the drug as a vapour that you inhale. This is much easier on the throat and lungs than the harsh additional tars and smoke you get from a joint. Vapes come in desktop versions (best for sharing) and portable versions. As with any other device in this age, you can look up online reviews for user ratings.
- Tinctures, or drops. Tinctures, also called cannabis drops, are one of the nicest ways to consume cannabis. They come with a calibrated dropper so you can measure exactly how much cannabis you’ll ingest. You swallow your dosage instead of inhaling it. The downside of tinctures is that they take some time to release the THC and/or CBD into your system — up to an hour or two. If you try a tincture, experiment by starting with small amounts, e.g., 0.25ml. If you’re okay with that, you can try 0.5ml or more. But be careful with the timing because the effects can creep up on you like too many margaritas. Don’t take more if you’re not feeling anything. Just wait it out.
- Edibles. Edibles are one to be extra careful with. Unlike tinctures, or drops, you don’t usually know how much cannabis you’re ingesting. They come in the form of candies, cookies, brownies, and just about anything that can be baked. Some folks like to make ‘cannabis butter’ to add to things they’re cooking or eating. There are instructions on how to do this on the web, but the watchword is caution. Like tinctures, edibles don’t act fast. Take small portions and wait at least two hours before deciding it isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. Most people who get into difficulty from an extra large dose of cannabis get it from edibles.
There are a few accessories that you might want to add to your kit if you become a regular user.
- Cigarette paper. To roll a joint you need cigarette papers to hold the cannabis. These are easy to find in shops or online.
- Lighter. If you’re new to cannabis and are a non-smoker, in the form of tobacco, you’ll need matches or a cigarette lighter to light and/or re-light your joints. You can pick up a small lighter at any convenience store.
- Roach clip. As a joint nears the end, it’s useful to have some kind of clip to hold the last of the joint (called a “roach” because it’s usually dark brown and looks like a cockroach) so you don’t burn your fingers. An alligator clip works fine.
- Ashtray. Again, if you’re a non-smoker, you may not own one. It’s a cheap and worthwhile investment.
- Cigarette roller. It takes a couple of tries to figure out how to roll joints in a rolling machine, but it makes the nicest joints you could wish for. They’re inexpensive.
- Cleaning fluid and cotton swabs. If you purchase a vape, you need to clean it regularly because the resins in cannabis will begin to coat and plug the filters inside the mechanisms. Head shops sell special cleaning fluids, but you can do just as well to pick up a bottle of 99% Isopropyl Alcohol and some Q-tips from a drugstore and daub the Q-tips in alcohol to clean out the cannabis chamber and the mouthpiece, mesh filters, and tubes. Regular cleaning is required.
There are a few courtesies to be observed:
- Odours. To some users cannabis smells wonderful, but some people dislike the smell and may even be allergic to it. The strongest odours come from smoking joints. As a courtesy, never light up a joint in anyone’s home without making certain they’re okay with it. Try to smoke your joint outdoors if you can, rather than have it fill your house or apartment with heavy, resinous smells. The same holds for automobiles. Vapes make far less odour but there is some and it’s distinct. Again, use common courtesy. Don’t inflict your odours on someone who might object to them.
- Obey the law. Don’t smoke where it’s not allowed. Not only may it not be appreciated, but you could be fined.
- Don’t imbibe and drive. This is just common sense. After some experience, you may begin to know your limit, but cannabis can lead you to think more optimistically about your driving skills than is warranted. Be careful.
- Avoid smoking up in front of children. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but respect everyone’s sensitivity to having their children exposed to cannabis smoke. Some parents would rather not have you even mention it in front of their kids. Be a good citizen and friend.
Cannabis is not a panacea
Some of us, and I’ll admit I’m one, used to say in the 60s that, “hey, a panacea is a panacea” referring to marijuana. It was a joke that had some truth in it, but also some falsehood.
Medical cannabis, according to the anecdotal evidence of its users, can help with a number of medical problems. It is said to help with the nausea you get from chemotherapy. It helps some people sleep at night. It helps many with arthritis pains. It helps restore appetite for some. It helps me with my depression.
The thing to remember is that all these claims are anecdotal. There’s not been much research into cannabis because it was a banned substance for so long. Research is at its beginnings, and some of the claims of users may be corroborated and some may be debunked.
For body aches in particular, the high-CBD, low-THC mixtures are the best way to start. These will not give you the typical ‘high’ of cannabis and are therefore easy to assimilate.
Speaking anecdotally, I find I need a relatively high THC content for my depression. As they often say in geek forums, YMMV, meaning “your mileage may vary.” Depression is tricky to treat and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another.
Giggles and munchies
When you get high on cannabis and have no unpleasant reaction to it, the main thing you feel is a kind of spacey euphoria. Time will slow down. Music will sound wonderful. You’ll likely also get the “munchies” — that is, you’ll get hungry. Food will taste ambrosial. Any food. Including potato chips. Even gummy bears. And you’ll laugh and giggle a lot. You may have interesting mental insights (and may also want to jot some of them down). This can be a lot of fun — hence the recreational in “recreational drugs.” If you’re a regular user, the munchies can also make you fat, take it from me.
Have a good trip
In summary, cannabis, like alcohol, is a mixed bag. Be careful, courteous, and polite when using it. Use it in comforting circumstances, such as your own familiar surroundings or some place where you feel relaxed. Don’t exaggerate its effectiveness — cannabis zealots are very tiring — but certainly enjoy its effects.
One last thing to remember: cannabis does not give you a hangover. That in itself gives it an edge over alcohol as a recreational drug. If you need a clear head in the morning, it’s a better choice than alcohol.
As we used to say in the 60s: “Have a good trip!”
1When I first mentioned to my family doctor that I was taking medical cannabis he asked me “Where do you get it?” I answered, “From Tilray, in Nanaimo, BC.” “What is the delivery mechanism?” he asked. “Courier,” I answered. He laughed and laughed and then said, “I mean how do you take the cannabis into your system?”