Cannabis Awareness

The legalization of cannabis in Canada represents a significant change in how we talk about, view, and use cannabis. What does legalization mean for each of us as members of the U of A community? What are the effects of cannabis? This page is intended to answer some of your questions and ensure that you have current information about cannabis use on campus.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is the general term used to describe marijuana, hashish, and hashish oil. Each of these substances is derived from the hemp plant, cannabis sativa, which grows in almost any climate. All three forms contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the major psychoactive chemical in cannabis products. The chemical components in cannabis are referred to as cannabinoids.

What is the difference between cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids?
According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), synthetic cannabinoids are sold over the counter and via the internet as herbal incense products. They often come in the form of dried leaves, resin or smokable powders and are commonly abused for their psychoactive properties. Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals that cause similar effects to the psychoactive chemicals found naturally in the cannabis plant. While they are often referred to as "fake weed," in reality they can have very different effects from cannabis and may have a potency 28 times greater than the active ingredients in cannabis.

Synthetic cannabinoids will not be included in Canada's legalization of cannabis and will remain illegal.

What is THC?
According to Health Canada, the most researched cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for the way your brain and body respond to cannabis, including the high and intoxication. THC has some therapeutic effects but it also has harmful effects. Harmful effects may be greater when the strength of THC is higher. The potency (concentration or strength) of THC in cannabis is often shown as a percentage of THC by weight (or by volume of an oil).

What are the Health Risks?

According to Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, there is strong evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health risks. The risks depend on your constitution, which kinds of cannabis products you use and how or how often you use them. Some of the main health risks are:

  • Problems with thinking, memory or physical coordination
  • Impaired perceptions or hallucinations
  • Fatal and non-fatal injuries, including those from motor-vehicle accidents, due to impairment
  • Mental health problems and cannabis dependence
  • Chronic respiratory or lung problems
  • Reproductive problems

Reducing the Health Risks Related to Cannabis Use

While 79% of U of A students reported believing that their friends had used cannabis in the last thirty days, only 10% reported actually having done so. (2016 U of A National College Health Assessment)

Although cannabis has been legalized, it is not a benign drug and can impact one's health. Canada's Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines recommend how to reduce the impact on your health.

  • Cannabis use has health risks best avoided by abstaining
  • Delay taking up cannabis use until later in life
  • Identify and choose lower-risk cannabis products
  • Don't use synthetic cannabinoids
  • Avoid smoking burnt cannabis-choose safer ways of using
  • If you smoke cannabis, avoid harmful smoking practices
  • Limit and reduce how often you use cannabis
  • Don't use and drive, or operate other machinery
  • Avoid cannabis use altogether if you are at risk for mental health problems or are pregnant
  • Avoid combining the risks identified above