Adult Consumer FAQ

Learn About Cannabis 5 Adult Consumer FAQ

Adults 21 and over can legally purchase and use cannabis in WA State. This page answers questions people might have about how to use cannabis legally and safely.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical substances that affect the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. Our body naturally makes some cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) and others (exogenous cannabinoids) are made by the cannabis plant. The best-known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD); but cannabis plants make smaller amounts of over 100 other cannabinoids.1

Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9 THC) is the most well-known and main psychoactive (mind-altering) cannabinoid associated with getting “high.” Selective breeding and processing over the last few decades have increased THC levels in cannabis.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another commonly known cannabinoid. In certain cannabis strains, there may be larger concentrations of CBD. It does not cause a high and has therapeutic effects for some health conditions, such as some forms of childhood epilepsy. CBD, however, can also have side effects such as changes in mood or appetite, decreased alertness, diarrhea, and changes in liver function.1 It was previously believed that CBD would reduce the mind-altering effects of THC, and could help make it safer. However, studies on this have produced mixed results.9 One study published in 2023 found that among the cannabis products most commonly available in the medical and non-medical market, there is no evidence of CBD curbing the negative effects of cannabis or making it safer.10

Some mind-altering cannabinoids (such as Δ8 THC, Δ10 THC, and THC-O) are not naturally present in large amounts in the cannabis plant. They can, however, be manufactured from hemp (cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC) or CBD through chemical processing. In Washington state, cannabis stores are not allowed to sell chemically altered cannabis products. Even if purchased online or brought here from other states, these products are considered illegal in WA.

What do I need to know about potency (strength)?

The percentage or concentration of THC is often taken as a measure of cannabis potency (how strong the drug is). If a cannabis product has higher potency, a smaller amount is required to produce the desired effect. This could be a good thing if it means reduced exposure to smoke but could make it easier to use more than intended.

Cannabis concentrates (butane hash oil, butane honey oil, wax, shatter, or dabs) are extremely strong compared to other forms. If you try concentrates, it’s best to use a small amount and wait several minutes to see what the effects are before taking more.

What should I know about high-THC cannabis products?

High-THC cannabis concentrates contain THC levels varying from 60-90%. These levels are 6 to 9 times higher than what was considered “highly potent” cannabis back when the main method of use was smoking the cannabis plant.

Science has shown us that the higher the “dose” (amount) of THC someone uses, the more likely they are to experience negative health effects in response. This is called a “dose-response” relationship.

In 2020, experts from the University of Washington and Washington State University published a report, “Cannabis Concentration and Health Risks: A Report for the Washington State Prevention Research Subcommittee (PRSC),” including a consensus statement that the THC content of cannabis contributes to unwanted health effects in a dose-response manner.

High THC products can have lifelong mental health consequences. Daily cannabis use, especially of high-THC products, increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder (like schizophrenia) and can worsen symptoms in people with an existing psychotic disorder.

How do I read a cannabis label?

WA State requires all cannabis labels to contain certain information to help consumers understand what they are buying. All products are required to show the total amount of THC and CBD in the product on the product label.

Edible packaging lists the total amount of THC per serving and in the whole package in milligrams (mg). Each serving must contain no more than 10 mg of THC and packages cannot contain more than 10 servings (100 mg) of THC. For many people, especially those new to using cannabis, one serving may be too much and they may want to cut a serving in half.

Cannabis infused liquids may also contain up to 10 servings and it can be difficult to control how much is swallowed. The WA Poison Center saw an 83% increase in calls related to drinks containing THC in 2021, the year after measuring devices became optional for THC drinks. 11 To reduce the risk of drinking more than you want, pour a small amount into a measuring cup, so you can control the dose.

In addition to THC and CBD, edibles must list all other ingredients and allergens.

Example of an edible label

Example of an edible label.

Inhalable products (concentrates, flower, pre-rolls and vape cartridges) list total THC as a percentage rather than in milligrams. A percentage tells you how concentrated a product is but does not describe a serving size. For dabs, one serving is typically a very small amount, like the tip of a pen.

Inhalable products also vary in potency, or strength. Flower is the smokable part of the cannabis plant and commonly contains between 12% and 25% THC while concentrates contain between 60% and 90% THC.

If chemical processing was used to extract the cannabis, the method must be listed on the package. A complete list of other chemicals, compounds, additives, thickening agents, terpenes, and other substances must also be on the label.

Can getting high cause memory problems?
Image of head that is cracked and taped together.Some people who get high a lot say their memory is poor. That’s one of the common reasons people give for deciding to quit using cannabis.

Here’s what scientists tell us:

  • The THC in cannabis can affect cannabinoid receptors, specific sites in the brain.
  • One type of cannabinoid receptor, CB1, is concentrated in parts of the brain associated with memory, such as the hippocampus.

For some, being high feels like getting lost in their thoughts, forgetting what they are doing, and not staying concentrated on a goal. This kind of experience is probably due to cannabis’ effects on short-term memory.

On the other hand, scientists also think that long-term daily cannabis use may cause subtle problems with memory and attention that persist even when a person isn’t high.

There are different types of memory. For example:

Knowing: You know what a cobra is, even though you’re not sure when you saw one in a zoo or read about them in a book.

Remembering: You remember what you did on your last birthday, who you were with, and what kind of cake you had. You remember what you studied last week in school.

Procedure: You can ride a bike today because you once learned the skills involved.

Scientists think that problems with the second kind of memory can happen when someone is high. It can be particularly difficult to remember recently learned information. This may explain why students who frequently get high may see their school grades suffer, as cannabis’ effects on memory get in the way of learning.

Is driving while high a big deal?

Many of us know people who are certain they can drive safely after getting high. You’ll hear them saying, “I’ve done it lots of times and never got into an accident. Besides, I’m really careful.”

It might be true that they’ve driven while high and that, so far, nothing bad has happened.

But here’s the deal. The same thing is true for some people who drive after drinking alcohol. Sometimes they, too, make it home without having an accident.

But then there are the times when a driver who has been drinking causes a wreck, sometimes hurting or killing others, because the skills they needed to drive safely were impaired. The same is true for cannabis.

Driving high increases the risk of accidents.1

Why? It’s because being high can impact your driving skills, leading to:

  • Lane weaving
  • Slower tracking of events
  • Divided attention
  • Slower reaction time

Combining cannabis with alcohol makes the risk of an accident even higher.

Some good ideas:

  • Plan ahead and avoid the need to drive after getting high.
  • If you must drive, give yourself a safety margin and wait at least 3 or 4 hours if you’ve used cannabis by inhaling. Eating cannabis edibles delays and prolongs the effects, so the safety margin would need to be hours longer.
  • Don’t let anyone convince you to get into a car driven by someone who is high or has been drinking.

Don’t put others at risk because of your cannabis use.

Can I get addicted to cannabis?

Image of head that is cracked and taped together.Most people who use cannabis do so occasionally. It doesn’t take over their lives, or take priority over responsibilities at home, school, work, or with friends.

For some people, however, their cannabis use looks a lot like an addiction.

Here are some of the signs:

  • They intend to limit how often they get high, but they break their own rules.
  • They want to cut back or even quit, but they don’t follow through.
  • Being high takes up much more of their time than they want it to.
  • Things that are important to them (friendships, family, school, work, sports, music, etc.) are sacrificed so they can get high instead.
  • They worry about some problems that cannabis might be causing in their lives but continue getting high anyway.

Want to lower your risk of addiction? Keep your use to weekly or less and choose products with lower concentrations of THC. For more about addiction to cannabis, visit our Cannabis Use Disorder page.

If you or someone you know wants help, visit our Get Help page.

Can using cannabis affect my mental health?

This is an important question, because many people report using cannabis to help with their mental health, especially anxiety and depression.3 There is a lot we still need to learn.

Some studies have shown that in the short term, CBD and low doses of THC may relieve anxiety and depression,4,6 but higher THC cannabis seems to make symptoms worse over the long term.5- 6 One study found that people who visit the emergency department because of cannabis use were almost 4 times as likely to develop an anxiety disorder in the next three years.7

In general, using cannabis for any medical condition should happen after a discussion with your healthcare provider. Many evidence-backed treatments for anxiety and depression exist, including effective talk therapies and medications, so talk to your provider about all options available to you.

There is strong evidence that cannabis use, especially frequent use of high-THC cannabis, increases the risk of a psychotic episode and of potentially developing long-term psychosis.

So how do I take care of myself if I use cannabis?

Start low and go slow. Start with a small amount of cannabis and wait 10-15 minutes before using more if inhaling, and at least 45 minutes if eating or drinking cannabis.

Tune in to what your body is telling you:

  • If you seem to be frequently depressed or anxious after getting high, consider the possibility that cannabis isn’t working for you.
  • If you’re having suicidal feelings and thoughts when you get high, cannabis could be contributing to this, or, at the very least, not helping. Help is available at
  • If you’re under 25, scientists believe the risk of mental health problems, now and later in life, are greater for you if you get high.
  • Be careful with cannabis that has high THC content — it may lead to anxiety or panic.

For more information, visit our Mental Health and Cannabis page.

Do I need to worry about cannabis smoke damaging my lungs?
Cartoon image of lungs with medical staff working on themScientists have been concerned about this question because cannabis and tobacco smoke have some of the same contents shown to have toxic effects on the lungs.

Here are a few of the things we know and don’t know about the effects of cannabis smoke:

  • Symptoms of chronic bronchitis are increased by regular cannabis smoking (for example: frequent coughing, sputum production or wheezing).
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD) such as emphysema, does not appear to be caused by smoking cannabis if you are not also smoking tobacco.
  • Pulmonary infection (inflammation in the lungs) may be caused by cannabis smoking. This connection is uncertain, and more research is needed.
  • Much more tar from cannabis smoke is deposited in the lungs if someone takes large puffs, inhales it deeply into their lungs, and holds their breath. It’s more tar than the typical user gets from smoking a cigarette.
  • Cancer risk from smoking cannabis is still being studied, with no definitive answers yet. While many studies don’t find an increased risk, it’s still possible there is such a risk for heavier cannabis smokers.

Note: You may want to consider using vaporizers to reduce the risk of lung damage from inhaling smoke. Vaporizers are equipment that heats the cannabis plant to a temperature just below combustion. These devices are not that same as vape pens that use cartridges filled with cannabis concentrates and other additives or dab pens, that use- cannabis concentrates. Vape pens have been associated with harmful health effects. Using edible cannabis products is also an effective way to prevent any lung-related problems.

Secondhand smoke may also cause harm to people NOT smoking. Learn more about secondhand cannabis smoke.

Is it dangerous to use cannabis during pregnancy?
Pregnant woman on park benchRegular cannabis use during pregnancy can lead to babies born with reduced birth weight and head circumference. These are important measures of a baby’s health. Head circumference is one indication of whether a baby’s brain is developing correctly. Scientists are still looking into other possible risks to the baby, including behavioral and developmental delays during the baby’s first few months that may persist into childhood and adolescence.

During breast feeding, cannabis consumed by the mother is also consumed by the baby through mother’s milk and may be harmful.

There’s another possibility — one having to do with the parents. For some people, getting high appears to interfere with their ability to reproduce.

Don’t risk it. Although we still have many unanswered questions about the risk of exposing your baby to cannabis, the risk is too great. To be on the safe side, don’t use cannabis if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, if you and your partner are unsuccessful in trying to get pregnant and either or both of you are getting high regularly, cannabis use might be getting in your way.

If you are considering using cannabis to reduce nausea from pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider. There may be safer options available for you and your baby that can help reduce your discomfort and make it easier to eat well.

For more information, see our Cannabis and Pregnancy page.

Can cannabis be used as medicine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the cannabis plant for medical use, but it has approved several drugs that contain cannabinoids.

Research on the whole plant has largely been conducted with lower doses of THC than is sold in stores now. There is evidence that cannabis can help reduce nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. CBD has been found to be useful in treating certain rare forms of childhood epilepsy. Cannabis may also reduce chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms somewhat.8

However, cannabis is not a cure all. In fact, there are some health risks that come with using cannabis. You should always talk to your healthcare provider before using cannabis as medicine.

Also see Medical Cannabis Information for Patients and Consumers from the WA State Department of Health.

Give me a quick overview of what I need to know.

Adults who use cannabis occasionally, don’t have heart disease or psychiatric conditions, and don’t use cannabis during pregnancy or when it’s risky probably aren’t at risk of harm to their health. But keep these things in mind:

  • First time cannabis users may experience anxiety or panic. If you were to try cannabis, use a small amount of a low THC product at first and wait an hour (two hours if consuming cannabis edibles) to see how it affects you. Going slowly will help you safely determine how much is enough to produce the desired effect.
  • If inhaling, take shallow puffs rather than inhaling deeply to reduce exposure to harmful smoke.
  • Driving while high can cause accidents due to impaired attention, reaction time, and other skills needed for safe driving. Mixing cannabis and alcohol increases this risk.
  • Using cannabis during pregnancy may lead to lower birth weight of the baby and other complications.
  • Becoming addicted to cannabis happens to 33% to 50% of daily users. Teens who begin cannabis use early are at greater risk of becoming addicted and having other problems.
  • People vulnerable to psychosis are at risk of a psychotic episode and psychotic disorder if they use cannabis.
  • Regular cannabis smoking contributes to chronic bronchitis (wheeze, chronic coughs).
  • Older adults with heart disease are at increased risk of angina and heart attack after cannabis use.
  • Store cannabis (especially edibles) securely so that it is not tempting and available to children and pets.
  • Reduce risk of becoming addicted and of having other problems by using no more than once a week.

To learn more about WA State cannabis laws and safe use of cannabis visit the WA Department of Health website.


  1. NIH National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health. Cannabis (marijuana) and cannabinoids: What you need to know.
  2. WA State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Reading a Product Label.
  3. Kosiba JD, Maisto, SA, & Ditre JW. (2019). Patient-reported use of medical cannabis for pain, anxiety, and depression symptoms: Systemic review and meta-analysis. Social Sci & Med, 233;181-192.
  4. Sarris J, Sinclair J, Karamacoska D, Davidson M, Firth J. (2020). Medicinal cannabis for psychiatric disorders: a clinically-focused systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 20, doi: 10.1186/s12888-019-2409-8.
  5. Shalit N & Lev-Ran S. (2020) Does cannabis use increase anxiety disorders? A literature review. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 33(1);8-13. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000560
  6. Cuttler C, Spradlin A, & McLaughlin RJ. (2018). A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect. J Affective Disorders, 235(1); 198-205.
  7. Myran DT, Harrison LD, Pugliese M, Tanuseptutro P, Gaudrealt A, & Fiedorowicz JG. (2024). Development of an anxiety disorder following an emergency department visit due to cannabis use: a population-based cohort study. eClinical Medicine, Feb 05,
  8.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  9. Freeman AM, Petrilli K, Lees R, Hindocha C, Mokrysz C, Curran HV, Saunders R & Freeman TP. (2019) How does cannabidiol (CBD) influence the acute effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in humans? A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 107; 696-712.
  10. Englund A, Oliver D, Chesney E, et al. Does cannabidiol make cannabis safer? A randomised, double-blind, cross-over trial of cannabis with four different CBD:THC ratios. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2023;48(6):869-876. doi:10.1038/s41386-022-01478-z
  11. Firth C. 2021. Calls to Washington Poison Center for Intentional Exposure to Cannabis, 2017-2021. ADAI Factsheet.

Last updated February 2024.