Ask Iman: Staying safe with different substances

Hi Iman,

Everyone always talks about using substances safely. How do I do this?

I know it’s a cliché, but university is a time of exploration and growth. For some that can mean learning who you are, for others that can mean falling in love, and for many, that can mean engaging in substances for the first time, whether that be alcohol, weed or illicit substances.

Yes, it can be super fun to get sloshed and walk up and down Main Mall with the new best friends you’ve just made in your first-year dorm, but before you don your super puff and Blundstones, knowing your limits and experimenting in a safe space before a big bender is incredibly important, especially when it comes to engaging with substances.


Start out small: not only in quantity but also regarding the size of the groups you’ll drink and smoke with. Trying things for the first time around people you trust is important — not only because you’ll be comfortable, but also because if you end up vomiting all over your friend’s bathroom floor, they hopefully won’t make too big of a deal out of it because 1.) they know it’s your first time and 2.) they are a really, really, really nice person.

Knowing how much a standard drink is, it is also super important in making sure you don’t suffer the worst hangover of your life after your first time drinking. A shot is one and a half ounces, a beer is 12 ounces and wine is five ounces.

No one will keep track of how many drinks you’ve had (unless they’re really nice and you asked them to), so keeping track of yourself is incredibly important. If you’re drinking something canned, like a cooler or beer, keep the tab of the drink you’ve just finished in your pocket, so you can keep track of how much you’re having. If you’re drinking a mixed drink, make sure that the amount of alcohol in it is measured to a standard drink — whether that be a single or double — so you can make sure that you’re not going over your limit.

Staying within your limits and saying “no” when your friends try to get you to take another shot is completely okay and important to do. Setting boundaries with yourself and others when it comes to substance use is important and necessary.


With cannabis being a cornerstone(r) of stereotypical Vancouver culture, it’s not uncommon to blaze it with your bros (apologies for that sentence).

There are two main strains of cannabis: sativa and indica. Sativa usually brings you up, while indica brings you down, even though there is no real scientific explanation for it. You can buy cannabis at dispensaries across Vancouver. The closest dispensary to campus is Trinity Tree Cannabis Co., off 10th and Sasamat. You can also buy cannabis online.

There are also many different ways to get high — you can try an edible or smoke a joint, just to name a few. It’s difficult to predict how your body will react to weed. The method you’re going with (ingestion or inhalation) and the concentration of THC can all impact how you react. So, start small and slowly (and I mean slowly), and build up to experience a high. One hit might not get you high, but going slowly and in an environment with people you trust is the safest way to achieve a high.

Remember that combining weed with other substances like alcohol can enhance your state of intoxication, so it’s important to stay safe and within your limits so you don’t end up an anxious, vomiting mess on your friend Greg's dorm room floor.

Other substances

If you are planning on engaging with substances that could potentially be laced with fentanyl — like cocaine, heroin and ecstasy — it’s incredibly important to test your substances and know how to prevent an overdose.

You can test your substances with fentanyl test strips which can be accessed at many supervised consumption sites across the Lower Mainland. The closest one to campus that offers drug testing is at the Insite supervised consumption site run by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). Clean injection equipment, injection booths, spectrometer drug checking and professional medical staff are on site.

You can also get your drugs tested anonymously online. Test strips can’t detect all types of fentanyl, so even if your test comes back negative, you need to make sure that you know how to recognize an overdose and administer naloxone.

Naloxone is a substance that can reverse the effects of an overdose. Medical attention is still needed if you or someone you know overdoses. Naloxone kits can be accessed on campus through Student Health Services or at Shoppers Drug Mart. Kits can also be found in the commonsblock of every residence. To learn more on how to spot and prevent an overdose, visit VCH’s website.

If you are in possession of illicit substances, still call 911 if someone overdoses. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act will provide you with legal protection from charges for possession of a controlled substance because you called for help.

The bottom line

If you don’t feel comfortable drinking or getting high — you don’t have to. If you feel pressured, you can put your foot down or leave the situation. Trying new things is fun and engaging in substance use, regardless of what substance it is, is seen as a rite of passage for university students.

But it’s only fun if you want to participate.

There are risks to using any substance, whether that be alcohol, cannabis or illicit substances, but making sure that you’re in a safe and controlled environment with people you trust is integral to ensuring that you’re comfortable during your first time trying different substances and that you’re safe.

By knowing your limits and staying within them in a safe environment, the world is your oyster. Try new things but remember that your safety comes first, even when your friends encourage you to take a shot with them or just one more hit of the joint. Whatever you are comfortable with is great and if you aren’t comfortable with doing more or doing certain things, you never, ever have to.

You’re doing great. Keep it up!

Do you want to be told what to do by a 19-year-old English major? You’re in the right space! Send your questions to Iman at, or submit anonymously at!