Cannabis Health and Safety

In this discussion and FAQs, we use the terms cannabis and marijuana to refer to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC, as well as other active compounds like cannabidiol, or CBD. For more on these and other terms, see the glossary at Marijuana Fact-check.

Services We Offer

The County Health Agency offers a range of services that relate in different ways to cannabis health and safety. This includes:

Please use the links above to contact each of these teams and keep reading for frequently asked questions. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, please contact the Behavioral Health Department or Public Health Department.

 

Resources

For more information regarding the health and safety considerations related to cannabis: 

CDC: Marijuana and Public Health

California Department of Public Health: Let’s Talk Cannabis             

The National Academies, Health and Medicine Division: The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research

Los Angeles Department of Public Health: Bigger Choices 

Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and San Bernardino Counties: Marijuana Fact- check

Sacramento County Coalition for Youth: Future Forward 

Santa Clara County: Marijuana Is Not for Pregnancy 

Ventura County: How High

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cannabis harmful to teens and young adults? Does it affect teens and young adults differently?

Yes. The brain is still developing until the mid-20s. Studies show that using cannabis regularly in your teens and early 20s may lead to physical changes in your brain. Cannabis can harm a young person’s memory and ability to learn and pay attention. Some studies suggest a permanent impact as well. These harmful effects may make it harder for youth to achieve their educational and professional goals and impact how successful they are in life. Cannabis use also increases the risk for anxiety, depression, suicide and schizophrenia as well as substance use or abuse. For data sources and more information, see Marijuana Fact-check or the California Department of Public Health.

Can you talk to my school or club about cannabis?

Yes. County Behavioral Health Department staff can provide education and presentations to schools, parents, and community programs. To learn more or arrange for a presentation, contact the County Behavioral Health Prevention & Outreach team at 805-781-4754.

Is it possible for someone to become addicted to marijuana?

Yes. About one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using when they are younger than 18, that number rises to one in six. For data source and more information, see CDC’s section on addiction or the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s pages on addiction science.

Is it possible to overdose or have a bad reaction to marijuana?

Yes, it is possible to use an amount of marijuana that causes problems. A fatal overdose is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless. The health effects of using too much marijuana are similar to the typical effects of using marijuana but more severe. This 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. Edibles, which take longer to digest, take longer to produce an effect. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster. This may lead to people consuming very high doses and result in negative effects like anxiety, paranoia and, in rare cases, an extreme psychotic reaction (e.g. delusions, hallucinations, talking incoherently, and agitation) or poisoning. For data sources and more information, see CDC.

How do I get help to quit using cannabis?

The County Behavioral Health Department and our community partners offer services that can help you quit using cannabis. Services are available for both youth and adults. To learn more or get started, call 800-838-1381.

Is it safe to use cannabis if I’m pregnant?

No. Using any form of cannabis is not recommended for women who are pregnant or who plan to be pregnant soon. There is evidence that marijuana can cause issues with your pregnancy and birth and could create long-term problems for your child. It could lead to health issues for your baby such as low birth weight and difficulty with breathing, eating, gaining weight and fighting off infections. Marijuana can also affect your baby’s brain development, leading to trouble with thinking, problem-solving, memory, planning, impulsivity, and attention. If you already use cannabis for medicinal purposes, ask your doctor for an alternative treatment shown to be safe during pregnancy. While some obstetrics providers may recommend marijuana use for pregnancy-related nausea or vomiting, science-based guidance is clear that in order to provide the safest environment for the developing baby, marijuana should not be used in any form during pregnancy. For data sources and more information, see California Department of Public Health and Santa Clara County’s Marijuana and Pregnancy resources.

Is it safe to use cannabis if I’m breastfeeding?

We do not yet know—but there is enough good evidence to say that it's better to be safe than sorry. To limit risk to the infant, breastfeeding mothers should reduce or avoid marijuana use. Chemicals from marijuana can be passed to your baby through breast milk. THC is stored in fat and is slowly released over time, meaning that your baby could still be exposed even after you stop using marijuana. Talk to your doctor about any questions you have about cannabis use while breastfeeding. For data sources and more information, see the California Department of Public Health and Santa Clara County’s Marijuana and Pregnancy resources

Is smoking marijuana with e-cigarettes and other vaping devices safe?

While these devices are often considered a safer alternative to smoking marijuana, they are not completely safe or healthy. Experts agree that long-term use of any vaporizing (or e-cigarette) devices may be unhealthy. It is difficult to measure how much THC is inhaled with these devices, especially from high-THC concentrates, so they come with a high risk of using more than you intend to. This is especially true for inexperienced users. It is also likely that people will inhale unknown chemical ingredients when using e-cigarettes or vaping devices. Burns and injuries from exploding e-cigarettes and vaping devices are increasing. For data sources and more information, see Marijuana Fact-check.

What are the risks of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke?

Secondhand smoke from burning marijuana has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco and wood burning smoke. In fact, results from laboratory testing under standard conditions found that secondhand marijuana smoke contained more than twice as much tar and ammonia as tobacco smoke, and more than eight times as much hydrogen cyanide. California state laws prohibit smoking marijuana in public or in any place where smoking cigarettes is prohibited by law. For data sources and more information, see the California Department of Public Health.

Where is it legal to use cannabis in SLO County?

Cannabis use is still prohibited in public and areas where smoking tobacco is prohibited. State and local law currently allows adults 21 years of age and older to use recreational cannabis within a private residence. Learn more about laws and regulations in SLO County.

Can edibles that contain cannabis or CBD be sold in a restaurant, market or other retail food facility?

No, food products that contain cannabis or CBD cannot be sold in a restaurant, market or other retail food facility. Similarly, it is not legal to add cannabis or CBD to food in these facilities. This includes CBD derived from cannabis or from industrial hemp. If local health inspectors observe food containing CBD during our regular inspection of a food facility, it will be considered a violation of the health and safety code.

Note that industrial hemp seed oil and hemp-derived CBD oil are two different products.  Food grade industrial hemp seed oil is available from a variety of approved sources and can be used as a food or drink ingredient or a food or drink additive. Using CBD oil derived from cannabis or hemp as a food or drink additive in a retail food facility, on the other hand, is illegal and will result in enforcement action. The California Department of Public Health has authority oversight in this area. Learn more from their Industrial Hemp and CBD in Food Products FAQs.

Can I get a DUI if I drive while I’m high?

Yes. If you are under the influence of cannabis while operating a car, boat, or other vehicle, a law enforcement officer can pull you over and conduct a sobriety test. Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal and increases your risk of getting into a car crash. Learn more from the California Department of Public Health.

Will cannabis affect my driving?

Yes. Cannabis can negatively affect the skills you need to drive safely, including reaction time, coordination and concentration. Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal and increases your risk of getting into a car crash. If you are under the influence of cannabis while operating a car, boat, or other vehicle, a law enforcement officer can pull you over and conduct a sobriety test. For data source and more information, see the California Department of Public Health.

How strong is marijuana?

Marijuana potency has increased in the past decades, up from about 4% in the 1980s to an average of 15% today. Marijuana extracts, used in dabbing and edibles, can contain an average of 50% and up to 90% THC. The main psychoactive, or mind altering, ingredient in marijuana is THC. The level of THC in marijuana varies and determines the multitude of effects on the body and the brain. For data source and more information, see Marijuana Fact-check.

Is it safe for adults?

Using cannabis can be risky, depending on how you use and what you do afterward. The fact that it’s legal does not mean that it is safe. Using marijuana at an early age can lead to negative health consequences. Other considerations include:

  • Heavy marijuana use (daily or near-daily) can do damage to memory, learning, and attention, which can last a week or more after the last time someone used.
  • Marijuana use has been linked to anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, but scientists don’t yet know whether it directly causes these diseases.
  • Smoking any product, including marijuana, can damage your lungs and cardiovascular system.

For data source and more information, see CDC.

What should I do to keep children and pets safe?

Store all cannabis products in a locked area. Make sure children cannot see or reach the locked area. Keep cannabis in the child-resistant packaging from the store. Keep cannabis out of reach of pets too. Cannabis affects children more strongly than adults. Children are at higher risk for cannabis poisoning, especially from edibles. If you think a child may have ingested cannabis, call the Poison Control Center at (1-800-222-1222). If you think a child needs immediate medical help, call 911. If you think your pet may have eaten cannabis, call your veterinarian.