Take it outside.
Is it safe to consume cannabis hiking and camping?
“It’s like I flicked on the HDR lens. Everything is more vivid, like someone cranked up the contrast and vibrancy. I’m also more focused on the present, less distracted.”
That’s how Ben Owens describes the difference between hiking before and after smoking cannabis. It’s why he likes to hike high. And it’s why he started CannaVentures, a company that facilitates cannabis group hikes and campouts in Colorado.
“I wasn’t trying to lead big events,” he explains. “I just wanted to meet people who wanted to smoke pot while they enjoyed the mountains. It just snowballed.” So far he’s organized more than 20 cannabis related outdoor events since March 2016. (The company doesn’t supply cannabis but encourages people to bring their own.)
“We’ve never had any problems on cannabis events that I haven’t experienced on any other outdoor trip,” he says. “If anything people say they feel safer.”
Smoking or eating cannabis often goes hand in hand with the culture of camping, skiing, biking, climbing, hiking and other outdoor sports.
However, mountain professionals and rescue groups warn that ubiquitous doesn’t equal smart. In Colorado, where recreational cannabis is legal, rangers have complained that cannabis use has led to wildfires and unnecessary rescues. And in Vancouver the North Shore Search and Rescue (NSSR) recently wrote an opinion piece on their website urging the public not to consume cannabis on hikes or other outdoor adventures because “the combination of mind-altering drugs and being in the wilderness is a terrible and dangerous idea.”
“When you’re high in the mountains…you shift your position on the continuum between ‘Prepared Hiker’ and ‘Candidate for Rescue’ significantly towards the latter,” wrote Curtis Jones, a member of NSSR.
Jones penned the blog post after hearing about a local company promising guided cannabis hikes for inexperienced users, once the plant becomes legal in Canada on October 17. He cited several recent rescues that involved people that had consumed cannabis, though most had combined it with other drugs.
Generally the science says consuming cannabis with THC in any form impairs judgement and can cause sluggishness and sleepiness, as well. Researchers have also shown it messes with time perception; a study out of Yale University found that any dose of THC increased time overestimation and decreases productivity. All are factors that can lead to accidents, getting lost and being out past dark – the same causes as most search and rescue incidents.
The key take away though, may be the second part of the Yale study: the effect of THC on time awareness was most acute with inexperienced cannabis users.
“There is no safe way to experiment with drugs in the mountains while ‘hiking and snowshoeing,’ guided or not,” Jones said.
It’s something Ben Owens agrees with. He cautions participants on his organized events to know their cannabis limits and how they react before they come on a CannaVenture outing. He suggests trying new things in the safety of a home. But he also stresses most people join CannaVentures for the same reason he started the company.
“The first thing they say is that they can’t believe they hadn’t heard about us before,” he says. “They say, ‘I smoke pot every time I go hiking.’”
“I see CannaVenture outings as an opportunity to guide responsible use.”
Rather than a facilitated place to experiment with cannabis in the outdoors, Owens sees CannaVenture outings as an opportunity to guide responsible use.
“Fire is the biggest concern,” he says. “When we’re hosting we take time to educate participants that we need to be cautious as we consume.”
Beyond carefully lighting and extinguishing joints, Owens notes vapes can get hot and need to be handled with care. Then there’s proper disposal; all CannaVenture trips follow Leave No Trace principles, especially packing all the garbage out. And maybe most importantly there’s self care: ensuring everyone is staying hydrated, not getting too hot or too cold and taking enough breaks.
Owens notes most of it is no different than any other outdoor outing. But he also knows that any slip up could hurt everyone that wants to enjoy cannabis outside.
“Perception is based on what you’ve been exposed to,” he says. “If we show that cannabis and the outdoors mix without causing problems then everyone will feel more comfortable with it. Cannabis consumers need to set a good example to prove that our use is no more cause for concern than the occasional cigarette smoker. If you can’t come up with responsible ways to enjoy cannabis, leave it at home so the rest of us won’t get a bad name.”
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