You may want your loved one to stop using marijuana even though their goals about stopping may be quite different. For them, marijuana may address a need (e.g., relieving insomnia, boredom, socializing, escaping, fun, pain relief, etc.) even if there are downsides to its use from your point of view. Reducing the risks of marijuana use is about meeting a loved one where they are at in terms of their goals. It is not encouraging their use of marijuana but instead recognizing that there are ways to reduce the risks associated with its use that may not be apparent to them at the moment.
Here are some suggestions developed by researchers as well as people who use marijuana and want to do so more safely:
Use lower strength products
The strength or potency of marijuana can vary greatly from variety to variety. Lower THC (the ingredient that produces the “high”) products or those with a higher CBD to THC ratio are less risky as there is a lower chance of developing mental health problems like panic attacks and psychosis or feeling irritable. If a person is unsure about the strength, it’s best to go slow. Intake a small amount and wait 15 – 30 minutes to see what the effects are.
Read the label
If consuming marijuana foods or drinks, it’s best to read the label and check the serving size. Often people will consume more of a product than needed to get the desired effect because it takes longer to feel it than when smoked or vaped.
In addition, it’s difficult to measure the THC content if a person decides to make food products at home. Trying a small amount of the food (e.g., brownies, gummies, infused teas) and waiting to see the effects can help avoid an uncomfortable “high”.
Don't combine marijuana with alcohol or other drugs
Combining substances is common and should be avoided. Most people who smoke also drink or use other substances.
For example, some people mix drugs to increase the effects or reduce the negative side effects of a particular drug. For example, mixing crack with marijuana can take the edge off when coming down from crack, but can also increase anxiety and paranoia.
Some people make spliffs, mixing tobacco and marijuana. This way of consuming marijuana includes all of the harms associated with tobacco (e.g., breathing problems, cancer, etc.).
Drinking alcohol before consuming marijuana may increase both the positive and negative effects of marijuana. It also might make your loved one feel less intoxicated, which can lead them to drink more than they usually would. This can lead to a stronger “high” or, for some people, a “green out”. Unpleasant symptoms associated with a green out include chills, rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Drinking some juice or water with a squeeze of lemon and lying down may help. Overall, staying away from mixing substances is important to reduce the harm of marijuana use.
Get products from a medical dispensary or an authorized store
While it may be cheaper to buy products on the black market, buying products from authorized sellers is safer. The products are less likely to be contaminated with pesticides, molds and fungi. Also, black market sellers may add other substances to marijuana like laundry detergent, crushed glass and more to increase the weight for more profit, improve the way it looks or enhance the effect (e.g., PCP, LSD).
In some states growing marijuana is legal. This could be a good option rather than getting marijuana from the black market. A person can plant what they like without concerns of pesticides, mold or cutting agents that are used to bulk up a product.
Don't drive or ride a bike
Just as with drinking and driving, marijuana use and driving or doing any activity that requires coordination (e.g., biking, skateboarding, snowboarding) are unsafe. Driver’s reaction times are slower making it difficult to make split-second decisions. It’s best to wait at least 6 hours before driving. If a loved one is unable to wait this length of time, it’s recommended to use a ride-sharing service, take public transportation or use a designated driver.
Reduce smoking-related risks
Using a vape pen is considered a safer option when it comes to smoking marijuana. This method reduces tar and cancer-causing agents and is less harmful to the lungs. One should avoid bongs for the same reason. Sharing bongs can also spread colds, the flu and other illnesses. If bongs or bowls are used, it’s important to clean them regularly.
Additionally, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream within seconds of inhaling. Holding one’s breath when inhaling only results in more tar and chemical build-up as well as coughing with no difference in the effect.
Inform healthcare providers
Marijuana can interact with other medications either increasing or decreasing the effects of the medications. Marijuana can also make mental health symptoms worse. It’s important to let healthcare providers know that a person is using marijuana so that they can provide the best possible care under the circumstances.
Consider moderation management
Many people who use marijuana are interested in moderating their use or cutting back. Not using marijuana before a certain time of the day, reducing the days of the week or reducing the amounts consumed can be helpful. Here is a Doctor’s Guide to Cutting Down with suggestions and tips that might be of interest to a loved one.
Avoid synthetic marijuana products
Sometimes to get around a drug screen or for other reasons, people make seek out synthetic marijuana products like K2 and Spice. They can cause significant health problems including drug-induced schizophrenia and paranoia, and in rare cases, death. Using these products is not harm reduction at all. They significantly increase harm across the board.
Keep it secured
Keeping marijuana out of reach of younger siblings, other children and pets is especially important. If a child consumes marijuana call 911 or poison control at 800-222-1222. Consult your vet if a pet has gotten into marijuana.
Watch out for vomiting
Although not a harm reduction measure, some people who use marijuana will develop Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome. The body’s ability to manage appetite and nausea becomes overwhelmed resulting in severe and repeated vomiting. Taking hot showers seems to help although the only cure is to stop using marijuana.
Have a conversation
It may be difficult imagining having a conversation with your loved one about the topic of reducing the risks of marijuana use. Here are a few suggestions:
- Try writing down what you want to say and practice it.
- Pick a time for the conversation when you both can be fully present – for example, not running off to work or too late at night when you’re tired.
- Share your concerns about your loved one’s use with a focus on them and why you want them to reduce the risks of using it for their well-being.
- Consider restating any limits you have around marijuana use such as not using in your home.
- Try to listen to their perspective and be prepared to negotiate. What are they willing to do? Would they be game to try something different for two weeks? Could you offer an incentive or a reward if they can follow through?
- If you get a flat-out refusal, try to let it go. There will be other opportunities to bring it up again, like when they begin to experience more consequences or see the effect of reduced motivation taking hold.