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Substance misuse

Cannabis: Understanding the risks

A group of young adults sit together on a bed in a cosy bedroom. One holds a glass in their hands. Overlaid is text that reads: "Drugs Awareness Poster Hub".

Substance misuse is an issue which cuts across our organisation and we have worked with frontline staff at our Young People’s Substance Misuse service to produce downloadable resources that anyone working with young people, or who would like to know more about emerging trends, can download, print off and share.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis can be smoked, eaten and vaped – and is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. Cannabis can look very different depending on its type – but it all comes from cannabis plants:

  • Weed (also known as grass) is made from drying out the leaves and flowering parts of the cannabis plant. It can look like dried herbs and is usually brownish-green in colour.
  • Hash/hashish is made from the resin of the cannabis plant and can be black, brown, soft or hard – depending on the type. It is often sold in a ‘bar’.
  • Cannabis oil is a dark, sticky and honey-coloured substance that’s much less common than other types.

Cannabis may commonly be called: ‘Weed’, ‘Skunk’, ‘Herb’, ‘Sensi’, ‘Resin’, ‘Puff’, ‘Pot’, ‘Marijuana’, ‘Dope’, ‘Hash’, ‘Ganga’, ‘Draw’, ‘Dab’ or ‘Bud’.

The effects of cannabis can vary. Some people say feeling ‘stoned’ makes them chilled out and happy, while others say it makes them giggly and chatty. However, it can also make people feel lethargic, unmotivated and some people become paranoid, confused and anxious.

There is no safe level of drug use. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

The Law

  • Cannabis is a Class B substance which is illegal to possess, give to people or sell.
  • Being in possession of cannabis can result in up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
  • Supplying cannabis, which includes giving or selling cannabis to your friends, can result in a 14 year prison sentence and an unlimited fine or both.
  • Cannabis falls under the discretionary warning scheme which means that if you are caught with a small amount of cannabis in your possession, for personal use and this is your first offence, a police officer may choose to give you a street warning. This is not a criminal record, but it will be recorded on the Police National Computer.

Ten things you need to know

  1. The hallucinogenic effects of cannabis are mainly due to a compound in cannabis called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The other important compound in cannabis is CBD (cannabidiol). Skunk and other forms of strong cannabis contain higher levels of THC and very little, or no, CBD.
  2. CBD can balance out some of the effects of THC and make users less likely to feel anxious and paranoid. You can’t tell from looking or smelling cannabis what the balance of CBD and THC is, but in general, hash may have more CBD than skunk.
  3. Cannabis changes how the user thinks; some people say it gives them a different perspective on things. Cannabis also affects your judgement, balance and co-ordination. Cannabis can make some people giggly and chatty, whereas others may become paranoid, confused and anxious
  4. Cannabis can make you hungry, known as having ‘the munchies’, or make you feel sick, known as ‘a whitey’. Some people experience mild hallucinations if they take particularly strong cannabis.
  5. When you smoke Cannabis, it normally takes a minute or two to feel stoned. If you eat cannabis, it can take up to an hour. When eating cannabis it is important to wait to feel the effects before having any more.
  6. There are three main factors that influence the affect that cannabis will have on a person: the person taking it e.g. their mood and physical response, the strength of the THC/cannabis, and the environment they are taking it in, e.g., being in a strange place with people you do not know.
  7. Tobacco is often mixed with cannabis, for making joints or smoking bongs. If you mix cannabis with tobacco it increases the risks of nicotine dependency, coughs and chest infections. In the longer-term there are risks of developing cancer and heart disease.
  8. Drinking before or whilst using Cannabis can intensify its effects. This is due to alcohol increasing the absorption of THC, which can results in a stronger high. It can cause some people to pass out, or experience a range of unpleasant physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
  9. Some people who regularly use cannabis are at increased risk of experiencing drug induced psychosis—symptoms can include hallucinations and delusions (believing things that are not really true). The risk of developing a psychotic illness and other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, is higher in people who start regularly using cannabis at a young age and smoke stronger types, such as skunk.
  10. Using cannabis can affect your motivation to do things, impair your memory so you can’t remember things or learn new information, give you mood swings, disturb your sleep and make you depressed, anxious, panicky, or even aggressive.

If you have used Cannabis and you’re feeling unwell or notice someone else is unwell whilst using, after using or after stopping using Cannabis, then seek medical attention urgently. Contact 111 for urgent medical advice or 999 in an emergency.

Symptoms of withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms for cannabis can include cravings, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite, weight loss, aggression, irritability, restlessness and disturbing dreams. Although these symptoms may be uncomfortable, it is important to remember that these are temporary and there are other positive effects on the body when a person stops using cannabis which can include:

  • Improved taste and smell
  • More energy
  • Better concentration, memory, mood and motivation
  • Improved immune system which will help to keep you healthy
  • Improved lung and heart function.

There are many positive effects of reducing or giving up cannabis and Catch22 can support you to do this.

Catch22 Young People’s Substance Misuse services offer free and confidential advice and support to young people aged between 11 and 25. We can provide you with information about the risks and effects of alcohol or drugs. We are here to listen and can work with you to achieve the changes you would like to make in your life.