Also called: blow, Bob Hope, dope, draw, ganja, grass, hash, hashish, marijuana, pot, puff, resin, skunk, smoke, spliff, wacky backy, weed, zero etc.
The main active ingredients in cannabis are the tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). These are the chemicals that affect the brain. Different forms of cannabis come from different parts of the plant and have different strengths.
Hashish or "hash" is the commonest form found in the UK. It is resin scraped or rubbed from the dried plant and then pressed into brown/black blocks. Herbal cannabis ("grass") is made from the chopped, dried leaves of the plant. Some is cultivated in this country, sometimes on a large scale to sell but usually by individuals in their homes or greenhouses for their own use. A stronger variety called skunk is also homegrown and can cause increased harm.
Cannabis is usually smoked after rolling it into a cigarette or joint, often with tobacco. The herbal form is sometimes made into a cigarette without using tobacco. Cannabis is also sometimes smoked in a pipe, brewed into a tea or cooked into cakes.
In 2009 cannabis was reclassified to Class B as part of a new drugs strategy. This means anyone now found in possession of cannabis could be arrested. Police may issue a warning (for first time offenders) or issue a penalty notice carrying an on-the-spot fine of £80.
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK and the illegal drug most likely to have been tried by young people. Recent surveys show that it has been used by over half (55%) of young men and over a third (44%) of young women aged 16 to 29. In total over 8.5 million people have tried it at least once and roughly 2 million use it on an occasional basis.
The public and political debate
Perhaps because of its widespread use and the lack of too many ill-effects, there is much debate about the legal status of cannabis. The trend in UK public opinion, particularly among under-35s, is towards support for decriminalisation of cannabis use (but not for other illegal drugs). There is also widespread support among all age groups for doctors being able to prescribe cannabis to patients. Many commentators see politicians as lagging far behind public opinion.
Effects and risks
The effects of cannabis initially make you feel relaxed. It is often smoked in a group and shared. Cannabis also has a mild sedative effect but the experience can vary greatly depending on the user’s mood and what they expect to happen. Many people find that when they first use cannabis nothing much happens, but generally they relax. They may become giggly and very talkative or alternatively quieter and subdued. Smoking cannabis causes a number of physical effects including increased pulse rate, decreased blood pressure, bloodshot eyes, increased appetite and occasional dizziness. Effects start within a few minutes and may last several hours depending on how much is taken. When cannabis is eaten, the effects take longer to start but may last longer.
While under the influence of cannabis, short-term memory may be affected but this stops once the effects of the drug wear off. Co-ordination can be affected, making accidents more likely especially if people drive or operate machinery while stoned. Loss of inhibitions may mean that people are more likely to get into sexual situations they later regret and that they are less likely to practice safer sex and use condoms.
Some people find that cannabis makes them very anxious, panicky and paranoid (feeling everyone is out to get them). Very heavy use by people who already have mental health problems may lead to very distressing experiences.
There is no conclusive evidence that moderate, long-term use of cannabis causes lasting damage to physical or mental health. However, it is probable that inhaling cannabis smoke over a period of years will contribute towards bronchitis and other respiratory disorders and possible cancer of the lung. The risks are greater if cannabis is smoked with tobacco.
There is no physical dependence associated with cannabis use. Regular users who stop smoking do not suffer withdrawal symptoms in the same way as with drugs like heroin. Even so, regular users can become psychologically dependent and come to rely on using cannabis to get them through the day. Someone who uses cannabis excessively may appear apathetic, lack energy and motivation and perform poorly at their work or education. This state may carry on for weeks after stopping use of the drug. However, such a condition seems rare and is similar to what would be expected from someone who drinks too much or regularly uses tranquillisers.
It has been claimed that cannabis use leads to use of drugs like heroin and cocaine. Most heroin and cocaine users have used cannabis but the vast majority of people who have used cannabis have never used heroin or cocaine. In other words, cannabis use does not automatically lead to use of other drugs.
Over the past few years there has been an increasing but small number of people presenting to the surgery with cannabis problems, usually inability to stop (dependency problems), insomnia, paranoia and depression. The treatment we use is usually counselling and occasional use of substitute medication in the early days of stopping.