Cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in Australia. Over one-third of the population has tried the drug, with most of them using for a short period of time and then stopping. However, for some Australians cannabis will play a big part in their lives. Like all drugs, regardless of their legal status, there are harms linked to the use of cannabis and the best way to avoid these is not to use. For some this is simply not a realistic option and for those people it is important that we provide them with ways of reducing the harm associated with their drug use.

Obviously one of the greatest harms linked to cannabis is the way it is used, i.e. smoking the drug. Eating cannabis, either in cakes or cookies, instead of smoking is one way of reducing harm. However, some users find that the experience is quite different (some say more hallucinogenic) and can last far longer. It is also more difficult to gauge how stoned you actually are as the onset of effects is delayed anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.

If you are going to smoke the drug then there are a number of things you can do to reduce the harm. Firstly, don’t mull up with tobacco. We all know the risks associated with nicotine, particularly its addictive qualities, and mixing the two drugs is believed to greatly increase the risk of lung, respiratory and cardiovascular damage. Secondly, try not to smoke the stems or seeds from the plant as they contain practically no THC and are also harsh to smoke. If you smoke joints try to use as few papers as possible as this will be better for your lungs. Many cannabis smokers attempt to reduce harm by adding filters to their joint. If you are one of those people, don’t use cigarette filters -“ these filter out 60 percent of the THC in a joint and as a result users have to smoke a great deal more to get the same effect. It is best to use long cardboard tips as long tips allow the smoke to flow more freely.

Most importantly, if you are smoking cannabis take small, shallow puffs and avoid pulling the smoke deep into your lungs. There is little point to this as 95 percent of the THC in a joint is absorbed within seconds of inhalation. (Think of how quickly you are affected by smoking a cigarette -“ why would the effect be any different for cannabis?) Holding the smoke for longer and trying to suck it down into your feet can increase respiratory risks and doesn’t have any real effect on how stoned you’ll get.

Finally, if you’re going to use a bong, don’t suck so hard. Research shows that a bong is one of the most harmful ways of smoking cannabis. When you pull a cone it forces the smoke deeper into your lungs, increasing the surface area for tar and other carcinogens to enter the respiratory system. Remember, brief, small puffs will have the same effect and will not be so harmful.

These are just a few simple ways that you can reduce some of the risks associated with cannabis use. If abstinence is not for you, perhaps some of these tips which involve small changes in behaviour may be helpful.

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