Cannabis (weed, marijuana, grass, dope) is one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the UK. The effects of taking cannabis vary from person to person, but it is generally considered to be a calming drug that falls under the sedative category.

What is in cannabis?

Made from the cannabis plant, the drug can be smoked in a ‘joint’ or a ‘spliff’, drunk as a tea, or even mixed in with food and eaten. The main active chemical in the drug is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the ingredient that causes you to feel happy and relaxed. Cannabis can also appear in different forms even though it is made from the same plant. Hash appears as a black or brown soft lump, while the form known as weed looks like tightly packed dried herbs. Skunk is another different stronger type of herbal cannabis and is the main type sold today.

Effects of cannabis

Like all recreational drugs, the effects of cannabis range from person to person. However, some common effects include feeling relaxed and happy, becoming talkative and giggly and getting hunger pangs, often colloquially known as ‘getting the munchies’. It is also common to feel like time is slowing down and becoming more aware of your senses.

Some more negative effects can include feelings of nausea, lethargy, confusion, anxiety and paranoia. In more severe reactions, some people may experience panic attacks and hallucinations which are more common with stronger forms of cannabis. It also isn’t uncommon to experience problems with your memory, making it hard to remember things.

Long term negative effects

It is a common misconception that cannabis isn’t an addictive substance, but NHS research has shown that it is possible to become psychologically dependent on the drug, particularly if it is used regularly over a long period of time. About 10% of regular users are thought to become addicted. As with other addictive drugs, it is possible to develop a tolerance to it over time, leading to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. Smoking cannabis with tobacco can also lead to you becoming addicted to nicotine and developing tobacco related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

The regular use of cannabis also has the potential to severely damage your mental health. Cannabis has been linked to an increased risk of developing psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, especially if you start using cannabis regularly during your teens and if you have a family history of mental illness. This may be due to the fact that during teenage years the brain is still developing and making neural connections, which the regular use of cannabis can interfere with.

Cannabis can also damage fertility, as research has suggested that it using it can disrupt sperm production in males and ovulation in females. In addition cannabis could alter the shape of the sperm, and the DNA within the sperm, according to some research.  For pregnant women, regular cannabis use may also harm your unborn baby.

While very few people who use cannabis go on to use hard drugs, the buying of cannabis does bring you into contact with the illegal drugs trade, meaning that the risk of moving on to more serious damaging drugs is increased.

Medicinal cannabis

The oldest medicinal reports of the use of cannabis comes from 2900BC in Chinese scripture mentioning cannabis as a medicine that possessed yin and yang.

Clinical trials are currently underway to test the effectiveness of cannabis based drugs for treating a range of conditions. Currently, the only licenced prescribed medication containing cannabis in the UK is one for reliving the pain of muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis. However NICE guidelines generally recommend against using cannabis as a form of pain relief and it is important to remember that cannabis is a Class B drug and the possession of it is illegal.

THC and cannabidiol are the two main components of cannabis. Extracting the cannabidiol (CBD). It is suggested the THC is what will cause a high in your mood, while the CBD component is not psychoactive. Ingesting CBD without the side-effects from THC make extraction of pure CBD a possible herbal supplement for all kinds of medical conditions. CBD hemp oil is legal in the UK. In 1854 the US dispensatory listed cannabis compounds as possible remedies for neuralgia, muscle spasms, depression and pain. CBD has recently emerged as having potential effects over a broad range of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders.

Always discuss the options with your GP.