Get clear on cannabis.

Cannabis is relatively new in the world of medicine, so you probably have a lot of questions. And we have answers.

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Our panel of experts, along other medical professionals and licensed producers, have answered questions from real people, just like you to help everyone make sense of medical cannabis.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing herein is intended to encourage the consumption of cannabis, nor is it an endorsement of any specific cannabis brand or cannabis product. Clear on Cannabis does not advocate the use of medical cannabis for any particular use or treatment. All questions about the use of medical cannabis for your specific ailment should be directed to your healthcare professional.

Do I need to be high for cannabis to work?

There is a common misconception that people only use cannabis to get high. However, cannabis can be cultivated to be high in CBD and low in THC. CBD is one of the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant that is non-intoxicating (doesn’t get you ‘high’) and is understood to have medical properties. Many medical cannabis users use cannabis strains that are high in CBD, with low or no amounts of THC. This combination is less likely to cause a person to feel ‘high’ or impaired.1 Therefore, depending on your specific symptoms and the effect you are seeking through medical cannabis, you do not necessarily need to be high for cannabis to work.

Experts recommend that a person using medical cannabis start with a low dose and slowly increase it until symptoms improve.1

1. MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. Eur J Intern Med. January 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
Should I just take a high THC cannabis for my condition?

THC is one of the most well-known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, and is generally understood to be the source of the plant’s intoxicating qualities and many of its key side effects, such as drowsiness, fatigue, anxiety, and feeling ‘high’.1 In addition, THC has been shown to help treat pain, nausea, and spasms.1

While cannabis strains that are high in THC content are used by some people medically, the general rule of thumb for people using medical cannabis is to start with the lowest amount of THC to avoid associated side effects.

CBD, another of the well-known cannabinoids in cannabis is generally understood to be non-intoxicating (doesn’t get you ‘high’) and to also have medical properties. Similar to THC, CBD has been shown to help treat pain and anxiety.1 As such, many medical cannabis users consume cannabis strains that contain higher amounts of CBD, either alone or in conjunction with THC.

Before starting any medical cannabis, it is always best to talk to your healthcare professional to see if it is right for you.

1. MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. Eur J Intern Med. January 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
Is cannabis safe to use?

As with most things, there are both potential benefits and risks associated with cannabis use. Peoples’ reactions to cannabis vary, which is why it is important to start low and go slow with any cannabis use. In addition, combining cannabis with other substances and medications could increase the risk of side effects and anyone wanting to use medical cannabis should consult with a healthcare professional prior to consumption. Your healthcare professional can determine if cannabis may work for your symptoms, and confirm it is safe for use given your medical condition and administration of other medications.

What are the most common side effects of cannabis?

Like other medications, cannabis can cause some side effects. The most common side effects are:1

  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Coughing and increase in phlegm (only if smoking)
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
1. MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. Eur J Intern Med. January 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
How can I prevent or get rid of cannabis side effects?

Many of the side effects commonly associated with consuming cannabis are caused by overconsumption of THC, or consumption by way of smoking. To lower the risk of side effects, it is best to start with small amounts of a cannabis strain that contains a low amount of THC and to slowly increase consumption and/or THC content over several weeks.1 It is generally recommended that medical cannabis consumers avoid smoking it as smoked cannabis can be harmful to the lungs and can cause side effects such as cough, bronchitis and an increase in phlegm.1

If you think you are having a side effect from cannabis, it is important that you check with your healthcare professional. Your healthcare professional might try to reduce these side effects by:

  • lowering the amount of cannabis you take
  • increasing the dose of cannabis more slowly
  • changing to a strain with different levels of THC and CBD
  • no longer having you use medical cannabis
1. MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. Eur J Intern Med. January 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
Is cannabis addictive?

It is reported that about 9% of people using cannabis can have problems with cannabis use.2 Most of the problems tend to happen in younger people using cannabis recreationally.2

If you feel that you are having cravings and difficulty with the amount of cannabis you are using, it is important that you talk to your healthcare professional.

2. Hall W, Degenhardt L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet. 2009;374(9698):1383-1391. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61037-0
How can I take medical cannabis?

Cannabis is currently available as dried flower and cannabis oil. Dried flower is normally consumed by way of smoking or vaporization. Cannabis oils can be purchased in oil or capsule formats and are normally taken by mouth.

Smoked cannabis includes using a joint, bong (waterpipe) or a pipe. With smoked cannabis you light the cannabis on fire, burn and inhale it. When you inhale cannabis, it works very quickly (within a few minutes) and normally wears off after 4 hours.1 There are two potential problems with smoked cannabis. First, when you burn cannabis it can release several toxic chemicals that can irritate your lungs. Second, it is believed that up to half of the active ingredients (like THC and CBD) don’t get in the body but are lost in the smoke.

Vapourizing cannabis involves using a machine to heat up the cannabis to make it active, but vaporizing does not burn the cannabis like smoking does. Like smoking, it works very quickly and normally wears off in about 4 hours. The advantage of vapourized cannabis is it doesn’t release the large amount of toxic chemicals like smoked cannabis. One potential problem with vapourized cannabis is the cost of the devices, some of which can be expensive.

Oils are one of the most common ways people consume medical cannabis. It takes longer to work (60-180 minutes) but can last up to 8 hours.1 This means that people consuming cannabis for a medical condition can get longer relief from symptoms and don’t have to take cannabis as often.

Soon, other forms of cannabis will be available, including topicals, edibles and concentrates.

1. MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. Eur J Intern Med. January 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
Will cannabis cure my cancer?

Cannabis has not been shown to cure any disease. It can be used in combination with other medications to help to improve the symptoms of disease states or chronic conditions such as pain, nausea, sleep and spasms.3 While some people with cancer use cannabis to improve symptoms (pain and nausea), cannabis does not treat or cure cancer.

People with cancer should talk to their oncologist (doctor specialized in cancer) before starting to consume cannabis.

3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017. Accessed April 15, 2017.
Is cannabis safe with my other medications?

Cannabis can interact with other prescription and non-prescription drugs, which could lead to a higher risk of side effects or other negative interactions.

If you take other medicines, it is best that you talk to your healthcare professional before starting cannabis.

Is there a rating system for medical cannabis?

Currently, there is no independent rating system for medical cannabis in Canada. There have, however, been surveys done among Canadians using cannabis for medical purposes, which underscore the importance of a rating system as well as the need for information related to what is in each strain and its potential therapeutic value.

For example, in a survey done by RIWI, a global trend-tracking and predictive analytics firm, for Reformulary Group, more than 2,100 Canadians were randomly and anonymously surveyed. 7% of Canadians in the study self-reported using cannabis for medical purposes. The survey underscored the importance of product ratings, as well as the need for information related to what is in each strain and its therapeutic value.

  • 63% of medical users were interested (very or somewhat) in a cannabis rating system that categorizes cannabis strains into product types, and helps users compare products. That compared to 47% for rec users
  • For cannabis users, there was demand from consumers to choose products with science-backed data and predictable outcomes/effects
  • For prospective medical cannabis users, it is important to provide doctors with science-backed data such as predictable therapeutic value
Can I buy my medical cannabis at the local cannabis retailer?

You cannot use your medical document to purchase cannabis from a local cannabis retailer. Medical cannabis users must register with a licensed producer (LP) that is authorized by Health Canada to sell cannabis for medical purposes. Medical cannabis is purchased via the licensed producer’s website and is shipped to the client via the mail. Licensed producers offer a wide variety of cannabis strains to medical cannabis users.

Adult-use, or recreational cannabis (which is largely cultivated and/or produced by licensed producers who also sell medical cannabis) can be purchased either online or in-store, through a provincially licensed retailer.

It should be noted that there continue to be illegal dispensaries operating, which offer unregulated, unlicensed cannabis products. People using either recreational or medical cannabis are encouraged to avoid these illegal retailers.

Can I drive when I take cannabis?

Cannabis can impair your ability to drive. People using cannabis who are impaired should avoid driving. Canadian experts recommend that people who use cannabis should wait:4

  • at least 4 hours if they smoked or vapourized cannabis
  • at least 6 hours if they used cannabis oil
  • at least 8 hours if the cannabis caused the person to feel high
4. College of Family Physicians of Canada. Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety: Preliminary Guidance from the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Mississauga, Ontario: College of Family Physicians of Canada; 2014.
Can I travel with cannabis?

Canadians can travel throughout Canada carrying legally-sourced, regulated cannabis, including on a domestic flight within Canada. Travellers are encouraged to keep their cannabis in its original package and let airport security know that they have it in their suitcase.

Canadians cannot bring cannabis out of the country, even if it is legal where they are flying to. Canadians cannot bring cannabis into Canada if it was purchased in another country.