In a recent statement, Canada’s new Health Minister advised citizens to refrain from consuming cannabis, even legal cannabis completely. “The best way for Canadians to protect their health is not to consume cannabis, and adults who choose to use cannabis should avoid products from illegal or unknown sources,” stated Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health for Canada, in a press release issued last month. These words have proven controversial, especially when taken out of context.
The comment was part of what is referred to as “Cannabis 2.0” — the Canadian government’s rollout of new adult-use cannabis products that include edibles, extracts, and topicals. Previously, only cannabis flower was available for legal adult-use purchases in Canada.
While it is possible cannabis can be harmful to a person’s health, via poorly manufactured products or rare adverse side effects in limited cases, it is also true that cannabis can be consumed safely in a vast majority of situations and consumption methods. Perhaps that is why that in the same press release, Minister Hajdu also advised and advocated for further cannabis education: “Adults who choose to use cannabis should be responsible and should secure any cannabis that they have in their home away from children, youth and pets. We also encourage Canadians to take the time to educate themselves about how these new products can affect them and how to minimize risks of overconsumption.”
Considering both pieces of advice given by Minister Hajdu, let us look at legal cannabis products in Canada. For example, all Cannabis 2.0 products are lab-tested. Therefore, there should be no harm in applying a tested and approved cannabis topical to one’s skin, short of there being an allergic reaction due to one of the additional ingredients in the product. Furthermore, no one has ever died from consuming cannabis in the history of humanity.
Keep in mind that we are not talking about people consuming unregulated, tainted cannabis out of a modified soda can. Instead, we are talking about products made from cannabis that is sourced from heavily regulated farms, by processing companies that are also heavily regulated. You will be hard-pressed to find a lotion that is as heavily regulated as a cannabis-infused topical rub.
Canadian cannabis consumers need to take the non-use advice made by the Health Minister with a grain of salt. Yes, in very rare cases, cannabis can be harmful to a person’s health, especially if cannabis is combusted and inhaled, or a tainted vape cartridge is involved. However, those are the exceptions and are far from the rule.
According to one prominent study, cannabis was found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. It’s likely a fair assumption that Minister Hajdu also does not support alcohol consumption. However, her advice regarding cannabis fails to recognize that many people do consume alcohol in Canada and that some turn to cannabis for recreational purposes as a substitute. Furthermore, cannabis use as an alcohol substitute should be encouraged, considering how much safer cannabis is compared to alcohol.
Cannabis is also safer than many household products. As previously mentioned, no one has ever died from consuming cannabinoids, including THC. On the contrary, people die every day from consuming non-cannabis products that are commonly found in households across Canada. If the Health Minister applied the same logic to those products as she does with cannabis, adults in Canada would irrationally live in fear virtually every minute of every day.
According to a growing body of research, and countless personal testimonies from patients around the world, including in Canada, cannabis is an effective medicine and treatment for several ailments. Cannabis is also safer than a significant number of pharmaceutical drugs that are readily available at pharmacies all over Canada. Would the Health Minister urge people to refrain from using prescribed pharmaceutical medications? Most likely not.
Not everyone that purchases legal adult-use cannabis products does so for recreational purposes. For many patients, it is easier to purchase adult-use cannabis products rather than jumping through all the hoops to get established as a medical cannabis patient. For those particular individuals, refraining from consuming cannabis is not the ‘best way’ to protect their health. In fact, doing so can be harmful to their health.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference and has been writing about cannabis culture since 2010.