At Jointly, we talk about cannabis from a wellness perspective. We are committed to helping consumers use cannabis purposefully to create positive outcomes and mitigate negative ones. But this year as we celebrate 4/20, I want to address an important issue:
If cannabis is to be used for wellness, how can we reduce the risk of Cannabis Use Disorder? And what can we do to make sure we are using cannabis purposefully rather than problematically?
I’ve spent years in the cannabis space dedicated to research, education, and improving health and wellbeing while reducing potential harm. As a clinician, my goal is to promote an objective conversation about what cannabis can do to consumers. It has been my professional and personal experience that cannabis can provide immense benefits for some people, and it can create problems for some people as well. Sometimes, the problematic and purposeful user are the same person.
For example, I have worked with patients who used cannabis in problematic ways, but after educating them on cannabinoids, their endocannabinoid system, and mindfulness, they learned to use cannabis purposefully and no longer displayed problematic cannabis use.
In this article, I will discuss five factors that can help you consume cannabis purposefully rather than problematically.
In my clinical practice, I have worked with patients who experienced problems in their lives because of their cannabis use. Conversely, I’ve had patients use cannabis to progress and improve. Wellness is about having balance, whether we are discussing cannabis, food, or anything else.
Cannabis should be treated with the same caution as you would treat food. There is nothing inherently wrong with food. Food provides nutrients and energy; however, if you consume too much food, or if it’s processed, or it has higher fat or sugar composition, food can negatively impact your body. So, while you may enjoy delicious cakes, French fries, or chicken nuggets, eating these foods too much, too often could lead to negative outcomes like increased risk of diabetes, gaining weight, or cardiovascular disease.
The same is true for cannabis. Cannabis impacts the endocannabinoid system and can lead to dysregulation or problems if not used intentionally. Cannabis should be treated with the same attention you pay to your diet, such that you know the types of cannabis you use, your frequency of use, and your dose.
Healthy use of cannabis reduces one’s risk for developing problems related to overuse. Luckily, there are some hacks that can be followed to reduce one’s risk of developing problems associated with an unbalanced use of cannabis.
Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is a diagnosis that clinicians use that serves to indicate problematic use of cannabis. While I have concerns about this diagnosis and the focus on the substance, I recognize that maladaptive use of cannabis can significantly harm people.
I’ve had many patients who have what I would call problematic or maladaptive use of cannabis. Typically, they are patients who show significant anxiety, maybe there is a history of trauma or high stress, and they’re using cannabis to relieve their symptoms.
Upon assessment, I quickly realize that their cannabis use is focused mostly on high THC products with no use of other cannabinoids. It’s also typical that their cannabis use is so frequent that they might have developed a pattern inadvertently of using cannabis whenever they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. As a result, they have reduced their window of tolerance to distress and become more activated, going into a “fight or flight” mode, when they experience life’s challenges.
Recently, I saw a post on Instagram about how cannabis can take away the worries of consumers. As a mental health clinician, this post alarmed me greatly. There is a difference between using cannabis to relax and using cannabis to hide from your emotions.
Usually, patients who are experiencing difficulties with cannabis fall into the latter category. As a rule of thumb, if anyone tries to hide from their emotions or feelings, they are setting themselves up for problems in the future. Our emotions are necessary and inform us to when our boundaries are being violated (anger) or in unhealthy relationships (sadness), and if we know how to work with our emotions in a healthy way they can lead us to grow and evolve. It doesn’t matter if its cannabis, alcohol, food, shopping, video games, social media, relationships, sex; anytime you use something to avoid your feelings, you will stay stuck.
Emotions, no matter how much we try to run from them, always show up. And, in its natural healing state, cannabis can help you experience and process your emotions by reducing your defense mechanisms. But how can we avoid using cannabis in a way that might not be healthy for us?
There are several points I reinforce to patients when educating them on cannabis. These tools can ensure you are self-regulating your cannabis use in an intentional, healthy, and balanced manner.
As cannabis consumers, we’re used to hearing about cannabis either as a sin or as a miracle cure that heals everything without causing harm. Frankly, neither is true. As a clinician who is focused on promoting wellness and health, I want to shift the voice in cannabis culture from hyperbole to specific strategies anyone can use to improve their experience.
The two most important factors to consider when consuming cannabis are the types of cannabinoids used and the amount used. I will discuss some objective approaches that you can add to your wellness toolbox to help you maintain balance in your life.
Educate Yourself About the Effects of Cannabinoids: First, it’s vital to understand how your body and brain will react to cannabis and different cannabinoids. Did you know that some of us are fast or slow metabolizers of cannabinoids? For example, according to genetic testing, I am a fast metabolizer of CBD, whereas my husband metabolizes CBD differently. I can tolerate a dose that would put my husband to sleep. Knowing how you metabolize cannabinoids will give you insight into how you respond to cannabis and influence dosing.
It's also important to consider which cannabinoids are best for certain conditions. Cannabis has over 150 cannabinoids, and THC is only one of them. Unfortunately, most people consume solely THC and don’t consider the role that higher levels of THC can have on their wellbeing.
While THC has demonstrated antidepressant effects in animal studies, it has been shown to increase anxiety in both animals and humans. So, if you’re looking to reduce anxiety, it is not wise to take high levels of THC. CBD, which is a known to be an anxiolytic because it interferes with cortisol, would most likely make more sense if you experience anxiety. While most people enjoy THC, I’ve seen many patients stuggle with anxiety and not realize the cannabinoids they are using may be negatively impacting them. Other lesser-known cannabinoids may be better suited for specific conditions, and even incorporating additional cannabinoids while using THC may alleviate some of the negative side effects through the entourage effects. At Jointly, we provide a vast amount of information for anyone interested in learning more about cannabis.
Tolerance: Developing a tolerance is common with prolonged medication use. For cannabis, developing a tolerance is often a factor that is considered for the diagnosis of Cannabis Use Disorder. But, according to The Cannabinoid Institute’s medical education program for physicians, mixing cannabinoids as opposed to using the same cannabinoids can be a quick way of preventing tolerance. Also, limiting THC use to 30mg per day is recommended to reduce tolerance as well. And, finally, taking brief (a few days each) “tolerance breaks” can help reset your system as well.
Intention of Use: Most people, like myself, enjoy THC. However, the intention and the setting can influence how you experience cannabis. At Jointly, we believe that cannabis is a wellness tool that can actually enhance your life. If I’m using cannabis to avoid reality or find myself choosing to stay inside on the couch all the time instead of doing my usual routine, I may want to look at how I relate to cannabis.
As I mentioned earlier, patients who use cannabis to avoid feeling or to “keep them happy in an unhappy place” are more likely to create more problems for themselves in the long run. From a wellness perspective, cannabis can be used to increase creativity, motivation, and even enhance relationships. But it’s all about the intention behind the use. Questioning our intentions and our relationship to cannabis or other things like food, sex, shopping, or alcohol leads to a more mature emotional intelligence.
Tracking Symptoms: I often have patients use a mood tracker so we can follow how anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms are showing up over time. There are plenty of apps out there that provide this capability. Jointly allows you to track how different cannabinoids and dosing affect you, but you can also use Jointly along with a mood tracker to see what products work best for you. Furthermore, pay attention to your motivation and interest levels.
Mindfulness Strategies: A hallmark of good mental health is creating awareness of one’s experiences without judging them. This is essentially mindfulness, or the ability to create awareness of one’s experience without judging it. When working with someone who has an unhealthy relationship with food, sex, or substances, I employ strategies to increase their mindfulness. By observing our thoughts and behaviors without judging them, we can safely identify barriers to growth. The minute we begin to judge ourselves is the minute we stay stuck. The inner critic never helps. Cannabis can be used mindfully when we are able to take stock of our patterns of usage without being critical or judgmental; this process helps us maintain balance in our lives.
This incredible plant has so much to offer in terms of wellness—whether it’s spurring creative thinking, improving exercise, aiding with sleep, lessening pain, reducing anxiety, or improving mood. However, not addressing potential issues that can come up when using cannabis is negligent. My focus as a clinician in the cannabis space is teaching people how to benefit from cannabis while reducing risks for problems. It’s been my clinical experience that people who have not learned tools for healthy coping or self- regulation are more at risk of developing unhealthy relationship to cannabis and other issues. It’s vital to understand how to biohack our lives to unlock the potential that we have. It’s my belief that cannabis can do that if used purposefully.
When you are celebrating 4/20 this year, keep these five factors in mind so you can use cannabis in a healthy and purposeful way that adds value to your life.
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