Federal

Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines

By Whitney Abrams | June 30, 2017

The Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse released their “Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines” (the “Guidelines”), an initiative funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The Guidelines were published in the American Journal of Public Health and announced at a press conference in Ottawa last week.  The Guidelines have been endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction.

The stated purpose of the Guidelines is that they are to be used as an education and prevention tool for “anyone who is considering using cannabis” and/or “any professional, organization or government aiming to improve the health of Canadians who use cannabis.” The Guidelines continually state that all recommendations are evidence-based and are intended to target cannabis for recreational/non-medical use.

The Guidelines set out a total of ten recommendations. The Guidelines begin by an endorsement for abstinence, “as with any risky behaviour, the safest way to reduce risks is to avoid the behaviour altogether. The same is true for cannabis use.”

The recommended measures also include, not surprisingly, that cannabis use should be avoided in young adults under the age of 16. Early onset users, the Guidelines say, are susceptible to adverse health and social effects.

THC = BAD; CBD = GOOD. This sums up recommendations 3 and 4. The Guidelines suggest that cannabis products containing higher levels of CBD may counteract the “acute and long-term problems” associated with high THC levels. “Given the evidence of CBD’s attenuating effects on some THC-related outcomes, it is advisable to use cannabis containing high CBD:THC ratios.”

The Guidelines also recommend that methods of using cannabis other than smoking, like vaporizers, are advisable. They caution that with the use of edibles, although they bypass some of the risks associated with inhalation, that the delayed onset of psychoactive effects may lead to higher dosages. However, with “adequate cannabis product labelling and warnings, edibles may offer the safest method of cannabis use.”

Other recommendations advise against frequent and intensive use, driving while impaired, and combining high-risk behaviours with cannabis use. The Guidelines also identify subgroups of people with increased risk for cannabis-related health problems, including individuals with a predisposition of psychosis and substance abuse, as well as pregnant women. For these subgroups, the recommendation is abstinence.

The Minister of Health in Canada released a statement on the Guidelines:

“From a scientific perspective, Health Canada considers the Guidelines to be important, evidence-based information to help cannabis users reduce the health and safety risks associated with cannabis use. I commend the authors of the Guidelines, particularly Dr. Benedikt Fischer of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, for their dedication to producing this valuable resource.”

At the end of the statement, the Minister commented that:

Health Canada will explore further dissemination of the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines following the coming into force of the proposed Cannabis Act, if approved by Parliament.”

The full text of the Guidelines is available here. The Guidelines relied heavily on this article, published by Dr. Benedikt Fischer and others in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in September/October 2011.


Whitney Abrams

Whitney Abrams

Whitney’s work focuses on providing regulatory advice and advocating on behalf of cannabis businesses in the North American market. She is a frequent contributor to Canada Cannabis Legal.
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Comments (3)

  1. Jules:
    Dec 29, 2018 at 12:53 AM

    Fascinating article. Very in depth. My one question is: from where would Canada import cannabis? Are there countries currently exporting cannabis legally? Uraguay seems like the most economical source, although shipping costs could be an issue.

  2. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM


    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.

  3. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM

    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.






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