A big myth about Cannabis is that it’s safe because it’s natural

August 24, 2016

What is cannabis?

It’s the most widely-used illegal drug in Britain, although the numbers of people using it are falling.

  • Cannabis is naturally occurring – it is made from the cannabis plant.
  • The main active chemical in it is tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC for short).
  • THC is the ingredient in cannabis that can make you feel very chilled out, happy and relaxed.
  • THC can also make you hallucinate, meaning that it can alter your senses, so that you might see, hear or feel things in a different way to normal.

There are many myths about cannabis – that it’s safe because it’s natural, that using cannabis will completely ruin your life, your health and your future or that using cannabis will lead you into using other, more dangerous drugs. What is true is that cannabis can have some very real, harmful effects on your mind and body, as well as creating longer-term problems:

  • Cannabis effects how your brain works. It can make you feel very anxious and even paranoid, it can make it difficult for you to concentrate and learn, make your memory worse and make you feel less motivated.
  • Tobacco and cannabis share some of the same chemical ‘nasties’ and just like smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis has been linked to lung diseases like tuberculosis and lung cancer.
  • Using it has also been linked, in some people, to serious, long-term mental health problems.
  • A conviction for possessing cannabis could lead to a caution, a fine or even jail.


What are the different types of cannabis?

Although it’s all from the same plant, cannabis comes in many different forms.

  •  Hash – Hash is a black or brown soft lump made from the resin of the cannabis plant. It’s much less common in the UK than it used to be.
  • Grass/weed – Grass, also known as weed, is made from the dried leaves and flowering parts of the female cannabis plant and looks like tightly packed dried herbs. This traditional grass was normally imported and much weaker than the ‘skunk’ types of cannabis usually sold now.
  • Skunk – Skunk is a group of different types of strong herbal cannabis. Sinsemilla, homegrown cannabis, netherweed are all different types of cannabis that are part of this ‘skunk’ group. Cannabis can seriously affect your mind and body and this group could pose even more risks because of their strength.
  • Cannabis oil – Cannabis oil is a sticky, dark honey-coloured substance and is much less common.


How is cannabis taken?

There are a few ways of taking cannabis:

  • Most people mix it with tobacco, roll it up into something known as a ‘spliff’ or a ‘joint’, and then smoke it.
  • Some people smoke it using a type of pipe called a bong.
  • Others drink or eat it mixed in cookies, cakes or even cups of tea. Taken this way, the effects of cannabis can be more difficult to predict or to control. It takes cannabis longer to get in to your body by this route; and so if unpleasant side-effects do start to develop, it’s too late to do very much about it except wait for the effects to reach their peak and then wear off.
  • As e-cigarettes have become more available, some people have used the technology to smoke cannabis – either by using specialised cannabis ‘vapers’ or by turning their cannabis into a liquid (called an e-liquid) which can be used with a normal e-cigarette. Some people claim that ‘vaping’ cannabis is safer as there is no tobacco involved, but there is no definitive evidence on the long-term health impacts of e-cigarette use to support this claim. There is also no evidence on the safety of home-made cannabis e-liquids.

Side Effects

What are the effects of cannabis?

Cannabis has a number of different effects. It is classed as a sedating and hallucinogenic drug. Its effects can turn out to be pleasant or unpleasant:

  • Taking cannabis can make people feel chilled out, relaxed and happy, and they may get the giggles or become very talkative.
  • It can make you more aware of your senses, and the hallucinogenic effects can even give you a feeling of time slowing down.
  • It can make you feel very hungry – this is sometimes called ‘getting the munchies’.
  • Some people have one or two drags on a joint and feel light-headed, faint and sick. This is sometimes called a ‘whitey’.
  • Cannabis may cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic and paranoia.


What are the risks of cannabis?

Cannabis can mess with your mind

Cannabis can mess with your mind and with your mood. It can disturb your sleep and can make you depressed. Some will become anxious, panicky, and even aggressive. You might see or hear things which are not there (known as hallucinations) which may be frightening. For some people, cannabis causes hours or even days of anxiety, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations that usually only settles down after the cannabis is stopped.

  • Cannabis can freak you out – it can cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic and paranoia.
  • For people with illnesses such as schizophrenia, cannabis can cause a serious relapse.
  • Regular cannabis use is known to be associated with an increase in the risk of later developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia; and if you have a family background of mental illness, you may also have an increased risk.
  • Cannabis can affect the way the brain works. Regular, heavy use makes it difficult to learn and concentrate and research has linked cannabis use to poor exam results. This is a potentially serious risk if you’re young, when the brain is still developing. People who take a lot of cannabis can also find they lack motivation.
  • A recent review of cannabis research published in the British Medical Journal found those driving under the influence of cannabis had nearly double the risk of a crash.

Cannabis can mess with your body.

  • Tobacco and cannabis share some of the same chemical ‘nasties’, so, like smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis can make asthma worse, can cause wheezing in people without asthma and can even lead to lung cancer.
  • When people mix cannabis with tobacco they’re also taking on all the risks associated with smoking tobacco, which can range from coughs and chest infections to cancer or heart disease.
  • It can increase the heart rate and affect blood pressure, which can be especially harmful for those with heart disease.
  • It is reported that frequent use of cannabis may affect fertility. It can cut a man’s sperm count and can suppress ovulation in women.
  • If you’re pregnant, smoking cannabis may increase the risk of your baby being born smaller than expected.

What is the effect of mixing cannabis and alcohol?

Mixing cannabis with alcohol can have particularly serious consequences – the accident rate is 16 times higher than for cannabis or alcohol alone.

What does cutting cannabis mean?

Cannabis may be ‘cut’ with other substances to increase the weight and the dealer’s profits.

  • Impurities in cannabis may include a variety of substances, with laboratory-confirmed reports of glass and pesticides being found in herbal forms of cannabis; and with hash/resin frequently being mixed with a range of substances to increase weight and the dealer’s profits. In April 2010, a study, looking into contaminants in drugs reported that there were cases of cannabis being adulterated with henna, lead and aluminium.
  • Any impurities you smoke could be inhaled in to the lungs alongside the wide range of chemicals naturally found in cannabis.
  • Tobacco and cannabis share some of the same chemical ‘nasties’, so, like smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis can make asthma worse and can cause wheezing in people without asthma. Smoking it may damage your lungs and if you use it regularly for a long time it may lead to lung cancer.
  • When people mix cannabis with tobacco they’re also taking on all the risks associated with smoking tobacco, which can range from coughs and chest infections to cancer or heart disease.

Can you get addicted to cannabis?

The simple answer is ‘yes, people do become dependent on cannabis’. This means you can get ‘cravings’ for cannabis, and may have difficulty staying off it even if you recognise using it has started to cause you problems.

And regular users can also get some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms on stopping, including irritability, mood changes, feeling sick, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping; and even sweating, shaking and diarrhoea in some people.

You’re also at real risk of getting addicted to nicotine, or staying addicted to it, if you roll your spliffs with tobacco.

If you feel that you have a problem with your cannabis use and want to stop or cut down, there are treatment services that can help you.


Cannabis and the Law

  • Cannabis is a Class B drug – it’s illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.
  • Possession is illegal whatever you’re using it for, including pain relief. The penalty is up to five years in jail.
  • Supplying someone else can get you fourteen years and an unlimited fine.
  • Supplying your mates, even if you give it away, is also considered ‘supplying’ under the law.

What if you’re caught with cannabis?

If the Police catch you with cannabis, they’ll always take some action. This could be a warning, a reprimand, a formal caution, a fixed penalty or an arrest and possible conviction.

A conviction for a drug-related offence could have a pretty serious impact. It can stop you visiting certain countries – for example the United States – and limit the types of jobs you can apply for.

Did you know?

  • Like drinking and driving, driving when high is illegal – and you can still be unfit to drive the day after smoking cannabis. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.
  • Allowing other people to supply drugs in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a club they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any person concerned in the management of the premises.



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