Since the legalization of cannabis across Canada in 2017 there have been significant advancements within the cannabis industry. Consumers of cannabis have easier access to products and a wide range of options available, including flower, oil and even cannabis-infused drinks.

With the increase in product accessibility and variety, there is a similar increase in the research being done on the effects of cannabis. Now that the plant is legal in Canada, researchers have the opportunity to explore everything it can offer.

The global pandemic of this year has caused substantial feelings of insecurity for a lot of people. It’s been reported that many Canadians are experiencing higher levels of stress due to COVID-19. And while there are some great free community resources out there for dealing with stress, the ideal option of personal counselling and therapy can be extremely expensive, particularly for those laid off and working in vulnerable industries. As a creative person who has experienced anxiety for all of my life, I am curious about the research happening around the use of cannabis as a treatment for mental illness, specifically anxiety and depression. I also wanted to explore recent trends in cannabis consumption to see if others are using cannabis as a way to find a bit of relief from the day-to-day anxiety of living in 2020.

I spoke with the team at Canndelta, a regulatory and scientific cannabis consulting company led by former Health Canada employees, who generously shared a list of research papers that have been recently published on the topic of cannabis and mental illness. These research papers are linked at the bottom of this article for further learning about the research happening across the country in many academic institutions and hospitals. Since the majority of available information comes from case studies and anecdotal evidence, research within the industry is still lacking the properly controlled in-depth clinical studies that compare cannabis against a placebo with a large sample size.

Trends in cannabis consumer behaviour have seen notable change since the beginning of the pandemic with purchases rising by as much as 600% since the beginning of March. Ontario had the highest sales of any province with $47 million in March, followed by $40 million in Alberta and $37 million in Quebec. The research conducted by Canndelta shows that when the pandemic hit in Ontario, people began stockpiling due to concerns around supply availability.  This spike in demand has since calmed down once the federal government declared the cannabis industry essential; the stockpiling behaviours staggered off and sales trends returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In terms of product popularity, currently the product landscape for CBD (cannabidiol) tends to be focused on oil products but the demand may shift towards edibles, beverages and topicals. The CBD products available today will continue to be available for consumers in the future and may even become easier to access. It’s expected that as research continues to support the safety and abilities of CBD, there may be a variety of over-the-counter products such as creams, sprays and topicals.

There are strict guidelines from the AGCO that prevent Budtenders (staff who work within a dispensary or store where medical or recreational cannabis is sold) from being able to give out medical advice, but for an industry perspective I chatted with a Budtender who has been working on the front lines of a dispensary in Hamilton, Ontario. He explained that certain strains of cannabis are higher in various terpenes, which may have certain health benefits. For example, a strain that is high in the terpene linalool (also found in lavender) has a very relaxing, calming, and sedating effect for many people. A Budtender might not be able to recommend something for depression but they will certainly be able to point out a strain that is high in limonene, which may elevate your mood and could have anti-depressive and anti-anxiety benefits. The terpenes humulene and caryophyllene may have pain relief benefits. As for a strain that helps with productivity and creativity, try a sativa. Find a non-sedating strain high in Pinene, which may be good for memory retention and alertness.

Are you thinking about trying a new cannabis product for the first time? Here are some of the best tips to keep in mind:

Start with a low dose: Whenever trying a new cannabis product, you should always ease into it and make sure your body can tolerate it. If you experience no effect, it’s recommended to speak with a doctor to discuss safe limits on a higher dose. Everyone has a different tolerance level and you may not experience what you were looking for, in which case you may need a different product.

For specific pain treatment, visit your doctor first: Within the cannabis community there is a lot of support for its use as an effective treatment for a variety of ailments such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, pain, etc. Unfortunately for us anxious folk, the scientific evidence to back these claims is lacking. Canada continues to be a global pioneer within the cannabis industry, leading the charge on a lot of this research moving forward. But good research takes a lot of time. Until then, if you are dealing with specific ailments or concerns, your best bet is to speak to a doctor because unfortunately your local budtender is not in a position to provide medical advice. You may need to talk to more than one doctor to get multiple opinions in order to make an educated decision on what kind of product is right for you.

Track your experience by keeping a weed journal: An alternative and easier approach is to keep a weed journal. You can find templates online or just write in a blank notebook. Keep track of important details like the strain, product type, dose, time, feelings before and after consumption and your general experience. Look for patterns shared by strains you liked and strains you didn’t like (checkout Leafly for strain terpene profiles). You can then use your weed journal to track your experience and to base decisions on the new products you wish to try.

Learn how to roll your own joints: Pre-rolled joints can be very overpriced through dispensaries and the online Ontario Cannabis Store. There are many instructional videos on YouTube that will help save money in the long run. Anyone can do it and the act of rolling itself can be relaxing!

Ask when the product was packaged: With a recently packaged product, you will get better quality and a truer experience of that product.

Learn which Licensed Producers you like: Chances are that if you like one strain from a particular cannabis company, you will probably like their other strains too.

Ask your budtender about their experiences with products: Budtenders should have a ton of knowledge about the products available and have likely tried most of what they offer. They may become your new best bud!

Research papers for further reading:

Cannabis and Cannabinoids in Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Impact on Illness Onset and Course, and Assessment of Therapeutic Potential

Effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in neuropsychiatric disorders: A review of pre-clinical and clinical findings

Does cannabis use modify the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder on severe depression and suicidal ideation? Evidence from a population-based cross-sectional study of Canadians

Is cannabis treatment for anxiety, mood, and related disorders ready for prime time?

Overlapping patterns of recreational and medical cannabis use in a large community sample of cannabis users