Cannabis is the second most widely used substance among college students. Cultural acceptance has grown as more states decriminalize use or legalize medical and/or recreational use of cannabis. One concern is that this shift has led to a decrease in the perception of harms associated with using the drug. Cannabis has also evolved significantly in both form and potency, raising further concerns.
THC vs. CBD
THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – is one of over 100 identified cannabinoids found in cannabis. It is the primary psychoactive component and what causes the effects that people most associate with getting “high” from using the drug. Under current laws, it is illegal to use and possess products that contain THC on Northwestern grounds or University-sponsored events and activities. More information can be found on the Cannabis Policy FAQ page.
CBD – cannabidiol – is another cannabinoid found in cannabis, but it is not considered to be psychoactive in the sense that it does not cause the user to feel ‘high’ like THC does. However, there are claims that CBD has several therapeutic effects on the body. It is important to know that many of these claims are anecdotal and more extensive clinical trials are required to prove CBD safe and/or effective. Current uncertainties stem from the following areas:
- There is currently a scarce body of medical research to support the advertised and anecdotal health benefits of CBD
- The FDA has still not identified the risks associated with the long-term use of CBD products
- The FDA tested CBD products on the market from 2014 to 2020 and found that the labels did not accurately describe the quantity of CBD in the item (View the full report here)
The research that currently exists on CBD presents the following risks to keep in mind:
- There can be negative interactions between SSRIs and CBD- which is certainly something to keep in mind when people try to use it as an anti-depressant.
- This article also highlights some of the issues in mixing CBD with other drugs.
- CBD use has the potential to cause harm and result in unintended side effects including:
- Mood changes
- Liver Injury
- Decreased appetite
Flower, Concentrates, and Edibles
Flower refers to the natural form of the cannabis plant. Also commonly called bud, pot, grass, or marijuana. It is produced by the female plant and must remain unfertilized to produce THC.
THC levels vary widely and are becoming increasingly higher nowadays. Most cannabis had THC levels of 3-4% in the 70's and 80's. Today it is not uncommon to see product well above 20% or higher. Rising THC levels present many unknowns and an increased risk of adverse health effects.
Cannabis concentrates are products that have broken down the cannabis plant in order to extract the components that contain THC, other cannabinoids, and terpenes (aroma and flavor compounds) while eliminating all other plant material. A subset of concentrates are Extracts, which have undergone a process of stripping the plant of its compounds using a solvent like alcohol, butane, or supercritical CO2. Extreme risk is associated with making extracts due to the chemical reactions that occur resulting in severe burns, explosions, and death. NEVER ATTEMPT TO PRODUCE CANNABIS EXTRACTS ON YOUR OWN.
Common names for concentrates are rosin, kief, budder, shatter, wax, and BHO.
THC levels in concentrates vary widely (39-69%) and have been known to reach levels of 80% or higher. Levels this extreme make concentrates a riskier form of cannabis and overdosing on THC far easier.
Edibles, while their own category, are created using extracts. Because of this, they have the potential to have high levels of THC.
Cannabis Edibles can literally come in any form of food or drink. If you are around cannabis edibles, be very aware of packaging to ensure not to accidentally consume a THC-infused product thinking it was something else.
Due to the way in which THC is metabolized in the body when eaten, there are added risks to be mindful of. Eating/drinking a substance is the slowest route of administration. On average it can take 30-60 minutes before a person feels the effects of THC from an edible. Additionally, when THC is processed through the GI tract and liver, the body converts delta 9 THC into the more potent 11-Hydroxy-THC. This can result in a far more intense high and adverse health effects.
Cannabis Overdose Signs and Symptoms
Yes, it is possible to overdose on cannabis/THC. Per the CDC:
Know Your Limits to avoid a negative experience and/or possible overdose from cannabis/THC.
A fatal overdose is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless. The signs of using too much marijuana are similar to the typical effects of using marijuana but more severe. These signs may include extreme confusion, anxiety, paranoia, panic, fast heart rate, delusions or hallucinations, increased blood pressure, and severe nausea or vomiting. In some cases, these reactions can lead to unintentional injury such as a motor vehicle crash, fall, or poisoning.
Let's Talk Cannabis Information
Let’s Talk Cannabis - Information on Illinois State laws surround recreational cannabis, tips on how to use more safely, and potential negative health effects.
Cannabis Classrooms Videos
- Cannabis History and Law
- Cannabis Plant and Health (part 1)
- Cannabis Plant and Health (part 2)
- Edibles and Concentrates
- Identity and Social Norms
- Overall Wellness
Cannabis Awareness Campaign
Cannabis Awareness Campaign - Changing laws and normalization of use are impacting people’s perception of risk associated with the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products. These messages are intended to help you make the most informed decisions around cannabis use and the potential harm that can result from using this substance.