Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in Britain. Made from parts of the cannabis plant, it’s a naturally occurring drug. It is a mild sedative (often causing a chilled out feeling or actual sleepiness) and it’s also a mild hallucinogen (meaning you may experience a state where you see objects and reality in a distorted way and may even hallucinate). The main active compound in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Did you know?
- Some people may feel chilled out, relaxed and happy, while others have one puff and feel sick.
- Others get the giggles and may become talkative.
- Hunger pangs are common and are known as 'getting the munchies'.
- Users may become more aware of their senses or get a feeling of slowing of time, which are due to its hallucinogenic effects.
Stronger 'joints' (e.g. typically when skunk or sinsemilla is used) may have more powerful effects. Some users may moderate this effect by actually inhaling and using less strong cannabis; but others may find it becomes tempting to ‘binge smoke’ them.
The regular use of cannabis is known to be associated with an increase in the risk of later developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia. If the recent increase in availability of stronger forms of cannabis does lead to an increase in total use by some people, this might also lead to an increase in their future risk of developing mental health problems. Nobody knows the answer to this question yet...
Chances of getting hooked
As with other drugs, dependence on cannabis is influenced by a number of factors, including how long you’ve been using it, how much you use and whether you are just more prone to become dependent. You may find you have difficulty stopping regular use and you may experience psychological and physical withdrawals when you do stop. The withdrawals can include cravings for cannabis irritability, mood changes; appetite disturbance, weight loss, difficulty sleeping and even sweating, shaking and diarrhoea in some people.
If you've only been using for a short while there should be no problem stopping but with continued regular use of cannabis, this can become more difficult. You’re also at risk of getting addicted to nicotine if you roll your spliffs with tobacco.
- Cannabis is a Class B drug - illegal to have, give away or sell. Possession can get you up to five years in jail. Supplying someone else, including your friends, can get you fourteen years and an unlimited fine.
- If you are caught with cannabis the police will always take action.
- If you’re caught with even a small amount of cannabis the police will confiscate the drug and you can be arrested. What the police will do depends on the circumstances and how old you are.
- Usually, you’ll get a cannabis warning if you’re 18 and over. If you’re under 18, you’ll get a reprimand and your parent or guardian will also be contacted. The police are more likely to arrest you if: you are blatantly smoking in public and/or have been caught with cannabis before.
- If you’re under 18, the second time you get caught you’re likely to get a final warning and be referred to a Youth Offending Team. If you’re 18 and over, the second time you get caught you’re likely to get a Penalty Notice of Disorder, which is an on-the-spot fine of £80. This gets logged on the Police National Computer.
- Regardless of how old you are, if you’re caught with cannabis for a third time it’s likely you will be arrested.
- If you continue to break the law, you can end up with a criminal record which could affect your chances of getting a job. It could also affect whether you can go on holiday to some countries.
- The maximum penalty for possession is five years in prison plus an unlimited fine.
- Dealing is a very serious offence.
- In the eyes of the law, this includes giving drugs to friends.
- People who grow cannabis in their homes or carry large amounts on them also risk being charged with intent to supply.
- The maximum penalty for supply is 14 years in prison plus an unlimited fine.
Did you know?
- Drug driving is as illegal as drink driving. You could go to prison, get a heavy fine or be disqualified.
- Allowing people to take cannabis in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch someone smoking cannabis in a club they can prosecute the landlord, club owner or person holding the party.
- Using cannabis to relieve pain is also an offence. Possession is illegal whatever you’re using it for.
Appearance and use
Cannabis comes in different forms.
Hash is a black or brown lump made from the resin of the plant. It's quite often squidgy. In the past, this was the commonest form of cannabis in the UK, but this is no longer the case.
Much less common is cannabis oil, made by separating the resin from the cannabis plant using various solvents. It is a sticky, dark honey-coloured oil.
Herbal cannabis (grass or weed) is made from the dried leaves and flowering parts of the female plant and looks like tightly packed dried herbs.
Recently, there has been an increased availability of strong herbal cannabis, containing on average 2-3 times the amount of the active compound, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, as compared to the traditional imported ‘weed’. This strong cannabis includes:‘sinsemilla’ (a bud grown in the absence of male plants and which has no seeds); ‘homegrown’; ‘skunk’, which has a characteristic strong smell; and imported ‘netherweed’. Strong cannabis is grown through processes that can include selective breeding, use of hydroponics and special heating and lighting techniques.
Most people mix cannabis with tobacco and smoke it as a spliff or a joint. Some people put it in a bong or a type of pipe. And others make tea with it or stick it in food like cakes or ‘cannabis cookies’.
Prices can vary from region to region. The prices given here are an average of street prices reported from 20 different parts of Britain. Grass is usually more expensive currently between £90 to £130, with resin (hash) at around £50 per ounce.
When thinking about the purity of cannabis, we can consider two separate areas: first, the ‘strength’ of the unadulterated product (ie how much THC it contains), and second how much it is ‘cut’ or contaminated:
As a cannabis user, it may not be possible to tell whether a particular sample of 'skunk' or ‘homegrown’ or ‘sinsemilla’ will have a higher potency than an equal amount of traditional herbal cannabis - because the actual potencies of different products overlap substantially. From a health perspective, it is important to understand that the long term impact of smoking these higher potency forms is not yet clear, but might include an increase in the risk of later developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia or possibly an increased risk of developing dependence. Nobody yet knows the answer on these points.
The potency of herbal cannabis decreases over time in storage and is affected by what parts of the plant have been included in the product. Hence, a user has little guarantee about the ‘intensity of the high’. The intensity of the smell of skunk or its appearance may not act as reliable guide to the actual strength either.
In recent years, herbal cannabis with a gritty texture was found from suppliers who had sprayed glass on the product, possibly to alter its look and weight.
Cannabis resin sold as hash, especially the ‘Soap Bar’ variety, is usually cut with other substances to increase the bulk and thus to increase the supplier’s profit. The contaminants may include a variety of substances, with reports of henna, turpentine, boot polish, animal poo, and even tranquillisers. These impurities are then smoked and inhaled along with the cannabis resin.
- Even hardcore smokers can become anxious, panicky, suspicious or paranoid.
- Cannabis affects your coordination, which is one of the reasons why drug driving is just as illegal as drink driving.
- Some people think cannabis is harmless just because it’s a plant – but it isn’t harmless. Cannabis, like tobacco, has lots of chemical 'nasties', which can cause lung disease and possibly cancer with long-term or heavy use, especially as it is often mixed with tobacco and smoked without a filter. It can also make asthma worse, and cause wheezing in non-asthma sufferers.
- Cannabis itself can affect many different systems in the body, including the heart: It increases the heart rate and can affect blood pressure.
- If you’ve a history of mental health problems, then taking cannabis is not a good idea: It can cause paranoia in the short term, but in those with a pre-existing psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, it can contribute to relapse.
- If you use cannabis and have a family background of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, you may be at increased risk of developing a psychotic illness.
- It is reported that frequent use of cannabis can cut a man's sperm count, reduce sperm motility, and can suppress ovulation in women and so may affect fertility.
- If you’re pregnant, smoking cannabis frequently may have some association with the risk of the baby being born smaller than expected.
- Regular, heavy use makes it difficult to learn and concentrate. Some people begin to feel tired all the time and can't seem to get motivated.
- Some users may want to buy strong herbal cannabis to get ‘a bigger high’ but unpleasant reactions can be more powerful when you use strong cannabis, and it is possible that using strong cannabis repeatedly could lead in time to more users experiencing harmful effects such as dependence or being more at risk of developing the mental health effects.