Cannabis Harm Reduction

No matter your relationship to cannabis, or any substance for that matter, there is always space to pause and reflect on our attitudes, beliefs and practices. In this article, you will find space and questions for reflection, information on cannabis, including cannabis withdrawal (spoiler: yes it’s real!) and some ideas for safe use if you choose to use cannabis.

For starters, you might be wondering why we’re using the word cannabis and not marijuana. Well, it turns out, the word marijuana actually has rather xenophobic and racists roots (which you can read more about here and here if you’re interested), so from here on out we’ll be referring to it as cannabis, the name of the plant. There are a number of myths floating around about cannabis and one of the major ones is that, unlike other drugs, it is not addictive which also means there are no side-effects when you stop using (i.e. no withdrawal). However, cannabis withdrawal is a very real and well documented effect of using cannabis. So what does cannabis withdrawal look like? Do you think you would be able to identify cannabis withdrawal symptoms in yourself or someone else? Below are some of the major signs to look out for when it comes to cannabis withdrawal:

  • Anger/Mood instability
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping or strange and/or disturbing dreams/nightmares
  • Decreased appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • General discomfort throughout the body


If you are choosing to use, it’s important to create space to reflect on your relationship with cannabis. Below are some important questions to continually ask yourself and assess your relationship with cannabis.

  • When are you using cannabis?
  • Do you notice any patterns around times you use?
  • What purpose or role is cannabis playing in your life?
  • Do you have other outlets for the role cannabis plays or do you need cannabis every time? For example, if you’re using to help you sleep, do you have other tools and strategies or is cannabis the only one?
  • How would you know if your cannabis use was becoming an issue?
  • What do you want your future use to look like?
  • If you wanted to cut down or stop your cannabis use, could you? How would you go about this?


There are different reasons people use cannabis. For some, cannabis can help improve their physical wellbeing if they suffer from chronic pain or are undergoing chemotherapy. Other times, people may find they are using cannabis to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. If you are using cannabis for medical purposes it’s important to understand the distinction between medicinal cannabis and self-medicating with cannabis. If you are using medicinal cannabis, the use will be directed by a physician and you will receive a medical card from the state to buy cannabis from a dispensary where the cannabis sold is regulated. If you are self-medicating with cannabis, this means you are using cannabis to treat or cope with an issue but without the guidance of a medical professional. This can be risky as cannabis can make certain conditions worse. Oftentimes, cannabis can also have complex and dangerous interactions with other medications. Therefore if you are using cannabis for medical purposes, it is best to do so with the guidance of your primary care doctor. For some people, their use is strictly recreational. Even if you are using recreationally, and especially if you take other medications, you should inform your doctor of your cannabis use so they can help support and treat you accordingly. Whatever the reason may be for your use, it’s important that if you choose to use cannabis, you do so as safely as possible. Below are some tips for less risky cannabis use.

  • Assess how you are feeling beforehand…
    • Being in a good and healthy state of mind can make cannabis use safer and less stressful and result in fewer negative side effects like anxiety, paranoia, increased heart rate.
    • Take note of any patterns before cannabis use – are there similar places, people, situations, or feelings that tend to lead to your usage?
  • Be conscious of the environment you are using cannabis in…
    • Be with people you trust and feel comfortable around and be in a space that is safe and private. If you are using for the first time, it is a good idea to be with other people who have used cannabis before and who you trust.
  • Know where your cannabis is from and who is selling it…
    • The safest option for buying cannabis is from a dispensary. However, if you decide to buy cannabis another way, its best to go through someone you know and trust to ensure that the cannabis you buy is only cannabis and not laced or cut with other substances.
  • Take it slow…
    • If you are choosing to use cannabis be mindful of how much you are using and use slowly. After you use cannabis, give it some time before deciding to use more. Sometimes it can take up to an hour for the effects to really hit you and using too much in a short period of time can be overwhelming. Give yourself time and assess how you’re feeling before using more cannabis.
    • Be aware of the dosage and effect depending on your mode of administration. For example, when using edibles, the effects take longer to feel and may lead to over-consumption. Also, be aware that vaping may be difficult to track/monitor and smoking brings risks to the lungs.
  • Plan ahead…
    • If you are going to use cannabis, make a plan for where you’ll be (somewhere safe), who you’ll be with (people you trust) and what the rest of the day or night might look like (i.e. if you need to get back to your own home arrange for a sober ride, take an Uber, plan to spend the night at the place where you are using, etc.)


Whether you are choosing to use cannabis or not you can always reach out to The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness for more information, support or other resources. We encourage you to engage in a continual conversation with yourself or loved ones to help assess the role cannabis is playing and the role you want it to play. The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness offers 1-on-1 appointments and is a great place to begin this conversation. We also offer…

  • Peer-led workshops to learn harm reduction strategies and reflect on your use. Sign up for CHOICES on DeHUB
  • Workshops for those who are living life substance-free. Sign up for SEEDS on DeHUB.
  • Collegiate Recovery Community meetings. Sign up on DeHUB.
  • 1:1 appointments to explore your relationship with cannabis, alcohol or other substances as well as mental health and sexual and relationship violence support.


If you have any other questions about cannabis, other topics, need support or anything else, never hesitate to contact us!


Office of Health Promotion and Wellness


Phone: (773) 325 – 7129




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