Dried cannabis

Cannabis may have a reputation of being ‘safe’, but it’s important to remember that even casual cannabis use can still impact your health.

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in New Zealand – a recent study reports the majority of Kiwis have used cannabis at least once. The majority of people who use it have not experienced harms from their use, but it’s important to remember not everyone has the same experience. There are certain risks that need to be acknowledged.

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Using cannabis daily is more harmful than occasional use

Using cannabis frequently, or intensively, is more likely to lead to poor outcomes, especially with young people. There’s also the financial considerations for people who use cannabis often.

Cannabis use can be harmful for young people

The younger you are when you start using cannabis, the higher the risks of developing serious health problems. As a general rule, using cannabis before age 15 leads to the poorest outcomes.

People who start using cannabis at a young age are less likely to finish their education and more likely to be unemployed, use other drugs, experience mental health conditions and develop cannabis use disorder (a diagnosis given for problematic cannabis use, including addiction and other related problems), especially if they use cannabis often.

How you use cannabis matters

All ways of using cannabis comes with risks, whether it’s smoking, vaping, or taking edibles. The risks are different, and they will impact your long-term health differently. For example, vaping cannabis is currently considered a lower-risk alternative to smoking it, but because vaping is still so new, the long-term health effects aren’t that well understood. And edibles are considered lower-risk than smoking cannabis, as it removes the respiratory risks and lung damage linked to smoking, but edibles often contain higher doses which lead to other risks.

Cannabis can negatively impact your mental health

There can be negative mental health consequences for people who begin using cannabis in early to mid-adolescence, particularly in terms of potentially developing psychosis and depression. Higher potency cannabis is also linked with some mental health problems. Stronger cannabis has higher concentrations of THC and/or a higher THC to CBD ratio, which is known to increase the risk of developing mental health conditions or cannabis use disorder.

Cannabis can also impact your physical health

Patterns suggested there were connections between increasing levels of cannabis use and a range of harmful health outcomes including respiratory symptoms, impaired lung function, and gum disease.

There are also negative effects on the brain health, especially for those who started using cannabis when they were young. This can include impaired memory, disorientation, hallucinations or delusions. The evidence suggested that some of this cognitive loss might be permanent.

As always, the safest drug use is no drug use, but the NZ Drug Foundation has more information available on cannabis to help keep you safer.

If you have any concerns about your own cannabis use, or that of a loved one, get in touch with the Alcohol Drug Helpline Call 0800 787 797, or text 8681, to speak with a trained counsellor – they’ll be able to provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat with the team through their website.