Are harm reduction strategies effective for cannabis users?

Published Jun 14, 2020 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Artur

Every substance legal or otherwise is heavily researched by the medical community to determine any potential risk factors that may be associated with their use. This is because they need to understand how to best treat any related illnesses or symptoms, and they want to know how to best avoid the worst-case scenarios whenever possible.

Now that cannabis is legal in much of the world, medical professionals are trying to figure out whether a similar plan of action could be beneficial for consumers. The trouble with this seems to be mainly that cannabis is unlike any other substance on the market, as it is not toxic. To truly understand why this is, you will need a good understanding of what harm reduction strategies are and how they work.

What are harm reduction strategies?

Harm reduction strategies aren’t just intended to help current users of a substance, but instead, they are designed to work as a preventative, a safety plan for consumption, and various treatment options for those who are struggling with quitting, or altering specific behaviours. Right now, there are harm reduction strategies in place for almost every substance out there, but there is not a single thing in motion for cannabis users.

Are they effective with other drugs?

The effectiveness of harm reduction strategies heavily depends on the substance in question, but in general, they provide a layer of protection around everyone who could potentially be impacted. In the cases of alcohol, there are AA meetings geared towards drinkers and their loved ones who need support. There are also education programs in place to teach our youth about safe consumption practices, which helps to arm the next generation with information that was not previously available.

For a look at another substance, injectables like heroin inspired harm reduction strategies, such as needle exchanges, which are praised for saving thousands of lives from infectious diseases every single year. Then there are treatment programs for those who become addicted that involve medications like methadone, which has been accredited for helping thousands of people all over the world to quit a substance and lead a normal life.

Unfortunately, resources in this area of the medical field are slim to none, as funding is difficult to achieve when those you want to help aren’t exactly looked on with the highest regard, so we tend to take a one size fits all approach to almost everything. However, despite their flaws, harm reduction strategies are the most effective tool that we have in our arsenal to improve the lives of those who chose to use a substance.

Can harm reduction strategies help cannabis consumers?

Cannabis consumers don’t struggle with life-threatening addiction in the same way that other drugs can cause, and they aren’t well known for spreading diseases through the mere sharing of a joint or a bong, so there isn’t very much in the way of medicinal treatment that could possibly be of assistance, but according to one study that was conducted by the University of Buffalo and the University of Michigan, cannabis consumers need to up their game in the knowledge department.

The researchers who assessed hundreds of participants at Hash Bash in 2019 say that cannabis users all need to be more aware of potential harm reduction strategies. This is due to a staggering 58% of women polled who admitted to using cannabis during pregnancy, and 64% admitted to driving immediately after getting stoned. Numbers that are concerning for medical professionals who aren’t yet sure of the potential risks of this behavior.

In conclusion

Though cannabis can sometimes be a saving grace that can help us to avoid having a complete and total mental breakdown, for some, it’s continuous use and abuse can have negative repercussions and long-term health effects. More traditional harm reduction strategies may not be effective with this particular substance, but consumers need to know more about the drug that they’re taking, and this is the responsibility of public health professionals to provide.

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