Cannabis was an open conversation in my family, and in the summer before I left for university, my dad gave me advice that I’ve followed to this day: Don’t get high until you finish your homework.
Looking back, I wish better product information and healthier consumption options like vaping and edibles were as available in 1997 as they are now, but otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing about my undergrad years.
I graduated near the top of my class, attended a master’s program on full scholarship, and smoked weed on the regular—but only after I’d nailed my daily deadlines.
Take that, stoner stereotypes.
Eventually, that sensible work ethic combined with a passion for cannabis would lead straight to my dream job. But middling editor isn’t everyone’s picture of success, so if you’re an ambitious young cannabis fan, don’t take it from me.
Instead, learn from these highly successful, formerly stoned students on how to balance your blazing love with your burning ambition.
Be social and sensible
Before she became an expert in youth substance use and harm reduction, University of Calgary Professor Rebecca Haines-Saah played Kathleen Mead on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High.
“When I moved into my residence, Solin Hall, at McGill, some guys down the hall were like, ‘You’re from Degrassi, come smoke a joint with us,’” she recounts.
“It was just one of many experiences I have had over the years where Degrassi fans want to say that they have smoked a joint with Kathleen (because my character brought weed to the slumber party).”
Celebrity may have gotten her into some fun sessions, but Haines-Saah is speaking as a researcher and mom when she advises young cannabis consumers to follow Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines.
“When partying, don’t mix cannabis with alcohol or other drugs,” she says, adding that it’s best to consume in a comfortable location, with familiar people, and only after you’ve pre-arranged a safe way to get home.
Farrell Miller is a lawyer (J.D.) who works in the cannabis industry and serves as board secretary of NORML Canada, an organization that advocates eliminating civil and criminal penalties for cannabis use.
She seconds Haines-Saah’s caution around mixing cannabis and alcohol. On the plus side, she believes that using cannabis during her undergrad and law school years helped her drink less and behave better.
“I might have smoked more cannabis than my body weight in undergrad, but I never got a ticket for drinking in public, defecating in public (happened to a friend), or lost my pants (also happened to a friend) on a night out.”
Know yourself, know your cannabis
Pay close attention to when and why you consume cannabis, says Haines-Saah.
“If you find you need to wake and bake to face the day, or can’t socialize without it, it is probably time to evaluate if your use is moving into problematic territory,” she says. “And finally—even though I know some of us professors are super boring, being high or intoxicated in class is never a good idea.”
If cannabis is part of your medical routine, it’s important to find balance, says cannabis communications consultant Annie MacEachern. During her time as a public relations student, she used cannabis to cope with both mental and physical health issues.
“I was learning how to consume cannabis to a point that allowed me to feel better without feeling impaired or high,” she says. “Finding that balance allowed me to excel in my coursework because I was no longer missing classes when I was in the middle of a flare up.”
MacEachern says she’s excited for today’s students, who can access a wide range of cannabis products and accessories.
“When I lived in Halifax, it was a lucky day when ‘my guy’ would show up with more than one strain available,” she says. “But now, you can walk into a provincial retailer, see all the terpenes and cannabinoids, then you can make an informed decision.”
Don’t force it
And one more thing—and this one is important: cannabis isn’t for everyone, says Cory Philion, who pursued a master’s of science between regulatory roles at Jamieson Vitamins, and now helps cannabis companies with processing and quality assurance.
During his student years, Philion preferred consuming alone, since cannabis often made him anxious in social settings.
“Even with improved selection post-legalization, you may find the use of cannabis to have unwanted lingering symptoms or undesirable effects while ‘high’—such as my anxiety,” he says. “Often this can be tweaked by changing the strain or dose, but there’s no need to force it.”
He recommends starting with a low THC/high CBD strain, tracking how you feel, and increasing the dose slowly—and only if you want to. Mindful attention to dosing will be especially important if experimenting with edibles and concentrates when they become legal in late 2019, says Philion.
Keep your goals in sight
And remember: Even though cannabis doesn’t create a hangover like alcohol, it can still leave you feeling hazy the next day.
Says Philion, “If you are a student who is planning to use cannabis recreationally—and possibly a bit excessively—be mindful of what you have to complete the next day.”