After alcohol, cannabis is the second-most commonly used recreational drug in the world, and is well known for being prevalent in the Denver area. Despite this, the majority of DU students are not regular cannabis users, and no student should ever feel pressured to use.
Cannabis and its active components, both THC and CBD, come in different forms and strengths and can affect people differently. THC is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis that makes a person using it feel high. CBD does not produce a high feeling and some people use it for medical reasons. If you decide to use cannabis, it's important to be informed.
36% 36% of DU students report having never used cannabis.
40% 40% of DU students report having used cannabis in the last 30 days.
Forms of Cannabis
Cannabis is available in a variety of forms with varying routes of administration, each of which can affect people differently.
- Smoking – Cannabis flower can be smoked from a joint, pipe, or bong. Onset of effects typically occurs in less than five minutes, with full potency reached after about 15 to 20 minutes. This is how most people use cannabis.
- Vaping – Vaporizers heat cannabis flower or extracted cannabis oil to release THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in a vapor, which is inhaled. The onset of effects is generally similar to smoking, but potency can vary widely depending on vaporizer efficiency and extract concentration. This method is growing in popularity and may appeal to those who wish to avoid inhaling smoke.
- Dabbing/hash oil – Concentrated THC extract from cannabis (also called hash oil, shatter, rosin, or concentrates) contains exceptionally high levels of up to 80% THC, and may be smoked or vaporized in a process known as dabbing. This form of cannabis is extremely potent with a rapid onset of powerful effects. Dabbing should never be tried by anyone who is not already familiar with the effects of cannabis.
- Edibles – Edibles include various food and drink products that are infused with cannabis extracts and contain THC. The onset of effects from edibles is much more gradual than other routes of administration, typically occurring between 20 minutes and one hour from the time of ingestion. This delay is notorious for leading people to mistakenly use too much, resulting in undesired effects. Full potency can take multiple hours to reach, with effects then wearing off very gradually, sometimes over the course of 10 hours or more. In commercially available edibles, a standard dose is 10 mg THC. It is difficult to determine THC levels in homemade edibles.
- Topicals – Topicals include infused lotions, salves, and balms for treating localized pain and inflammation in the skin. These products typically have a higher CBD content and little to no THC, which means they are generally not psychoactive. Although marketers make many claims touting the therapeutic benefits of such CBD products, none are yet supported by strong scientific evidence.
Harmful Effects of Cannabis
While there is evidence for some medical benefits to cannabis, there are also potential harms:
- Respiratory – Heavy cannabis smokers are prone to developing smoker's cough, bronchitis, wheezing, and difficulty clearing mucus from the airways.
- Cognitive – Heavy cannabis use may negatively impact short-term memory and general cognition.
- Mental health – Cannabis, especially in high doses, can cause or exacerbate anxiety, confusion, paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations, delirium, dissociation, and psychosis. This is of particular concern to those with a personal or family history of psychiatric disorders, especially schizophrenia.
- Smoke inhalation – Smoke from cannabis contains many of the same harmful chemicals as smoke from tobacco. This affects not only the smoker, but anyone exposed to the side-stream or second-hand smoke.
- Addiction – Although it is not generally associated with the risk of addiction posed by drugs such as opioids, stimulants, and nicotine, heavy cannabis use can lead to dependence and become compulsive despite mounting consequences. While full-blown cannabis addiction remains relatively rare, it is a rapidly growing concern, especially among teenagers and young adults. If you need help quitting or reducing your cannabis consumption, call the Health & Counseling Center at 303-871-2205.
Tips for Safer Use
The only way to avoid all potential harms from cannabis is to not use it. If you choose to use cannabis, here are some ways you can lower your risk for potential harms:
- Limit your use – Using cannabis frequently (daily or almost daily) is strongly associated with a higher risk of health and social problems. Limiting yourself to occasional use (one or two days a week) can help lower the risk of potential harm.
- Know your limits – Cannabis affects people differently. Varying doses, strains, forms, and routes of administration can lead to vastly different durations and degrees of impairment (or being high). If you are unsure how a particular form of cannabis or method of ingestion will affect you, start with a low dose.
- Check your doses – Products with higher THC content are generally associated with increased risk of mental and behavioral problems. Know the nature and composition of the cannabis products you use, and ideally use products with lower THC content. Given the evidence of CBD's attenuating effects on some THC-related risks, research suggests a benefit to using products with high CBD-to-THC ratios.
- Consider a different method – Regular inhalation of smoke negatively impacts respiratory health. While alternative methods carry their own risks, it is generally preferable to avoid smoking combusted cannabis material, and instead opt for vaporizers or edibles. Using edibles eliminates respiratory risk, but the delayed onset and variability of effects may lead to the use of larger-than-intended doses and subsequent consequences from increased impairment.
- Avoid drugged driving – Driving while under the influence of cannabis is illegal and increases the risk of an accident. If you have smoked or vaped cannabis, wait at least six hours before driving. If you have ingested an edible containing THC, wait at least eight hours.
Race and the History of "Cannabis" vs. "Marijuana"
You may have noticed that the Health & Counseling Center uses the term "cannabis" rather than "marijuana." This is a purposeful choice due to the historical context and social impact of the word "marijuana" itself. Although it is the most common name for cannabis in the United States today, its history is deeply rooted in racism and politics.
It is widely believed that US narcotics agents drafting drug laws in the 1930s chose "marijuana" — a slang term of Mexican-Spanish origin — over the more scientific "cannabis" in a deliberate effort to associate it with the US population's growing fear of immigrants. The term "marijuana" was also intentionally linked with Black jazz musicians by those attempting to racialize its use after the end of Prohibition.
There is a long history of racism behind the association of cannabis with people of color in the United States, and it continues to this day. After legalization in Colorado, arrests of Black and Latinx juveniles for possession of cannabis actually increased. According to the 2016 FBI Crime Data Report, there were almost 600,000 US cannabis arrests that year — more than for all violent crimes (murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery) combined. The vast majority of those arrests were for low-level possession, and people of color were disproportionately affected. While those arrested may no longer be subject to extended prison sentences, possession is still used as a pretext for harassment, and convictions can still block access to housing, student loans, employment, and more.
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