What is cannabis?

Cannabis is taken from the leaves and buds of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). Cannabis is usually smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes (known as ‘joints’) or in special water pipes (‘bongs’). Pipes or bongs can be bought or made from things such as orange juice containers, soft drink cans or even garden hose.

The main active ingredient in cannabis is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, which is the chemical that gives the sensation of feeling ‘high’. Some parts of the cannabis plant contain a higher level of THC than others (e.g. flowers and buds have more than the leaves).

The THC potency of cannabis varies across its three main products: marijuana, hashish and hash oil. Marijuana is made from dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant; meaning it is the least potent of all the cannabis products and is usually smoked. Hashish is made from the resin (a secreted gum) of the cannabis plant; it is dried and pressed into small blocks. Hash oil, the most potent cannabis product, is a thick oil obtained from hashish and is often added to food products, spotted or inhaled.

 

marijuana, grass, pot, dope, Mary Jane, hooch, weed, hash, joints, brew, reefers, cones, smoke, mull, buddha, ganja, hydro, bush.

How do you know if Cannabis is becoming a problem?

It can be hard to be objective when deciding if cannabis is becoming a problem for you, or someone you know. You may feel that you are functioning in your day-to-day activities normally and may be unaware of the warning signs that are affecting you and the people around you.

Cannabis affects everyone differently based on the individual, amount taken, how frequently it is consumed, the potency, method of consumption (joint, food and bong) and whether it is used with other drugs. Because some people appear to function relatively normally in society whilst using cannabis regularly, often the warning signs go unnoticed. Heavy use can result in dependency – the feeling of needing to get ‘high’ just to function. If you feel as though you cannot face everyday situations like work, school, university or social events without cannabis, this may be a sign that your use is becoming problematic.

A dependency on cannabis can have tell-tale signs, such as:

  • Avoiding responsibilities to use cannabis
  • Experiencing cravings or urges to use cannabis so strong it overtakes your thinking
  • Inability to stop or reduce cannabis use 
  • Spending money that was intended for other things, like food, rent, entertainment or transport
  • Owing people money for cannabis
  • Only doing things and seeing people where it’s acceptable to use cannabis, such as at parties, or choosing certain social groups 

How does cannabis make me feel?

Most young people who use cannabis want to experience a sense of mild euphoria and relaxation, which can last for several hours. Cannabis causes changes in your mood and also affects how you think and perceive your environment – for example, everyday activities such as watching television or listening to music can become altered and seem more intense, vibrant or interesting.

 The short-term effects of using cannabis may include: 

  • A feeling of well-being 
  • Heightened sensory response (e.g. hearing, sight, touch)
  • Talkativeness 
  • Drowsiness & loss of co-ordination
  • Loss of inhibitions  
  • Increased appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes 
  • Dryness of the eyes, mouth and throat 
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Risk taking and inappropriate behaviour
  • Temporary memory loss (‘Black out’)
  • Nausea, vomiting, cold sweats (‘Green out’)
  • Psychosis in vulnerable people
  • Hallucinations

There is limited research on the long-term effects of cannabis. On the available evidence, the major likely adverse effects are: 

    • Higher risk of respiratory diseases associated with smoking, including cancer
    • Decreased memory and learning abilities 
    • Decreased motivation in areas such as study or work
    • Difficulty concentrating

There is also much concern about the link between cannabis use and mental health problems and the risk of dependence. 

What to do in case of cannabis HARMFUL use or overdose

If you have smoked or ingested a high dose of cannabis and experience negative side effects:

Although most people assume that they cannot ‘overdose’ on cannabis, there can still be serious unpleasant effects from sustained usage. In some cases, cannabis can induce or exacerbate underlying psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. There is also evidence to suggest that, although rare, some heavy cannabis users may suffer psychosis-like symptoms, such as unusual beliefs, sensations or without having schizophrenia. These symptoms might include disassociation (feeling separate from reality or your body), hallucinations (like seeing or hearing things that others cannot see or hear) or delusions (unusual beliefs that others find difficult to reason with, such as believing people are out to get you or that you have special powers or abilities). These symptoms may increase the chances of being involved in accidents, violence, or self-harm. If you find yourself in this situation or you start feeling uneasy, call a friend or family member immediately for help.

If the situation is unable to be managed, the effects are worsened, or an injury has been sustained from a drug related incident, phone 000 for an ambulance immediately and tell the operator that there has been an overdose. If you are calling about your own use, do not try to hide the fact that you have used cannabis – be completely honest about the amount and

how recently it was used. Whilst waiting for emergency services, immediately inform a friend or family member who can support you during this time

If someone you know has smoked or ingested a high dose of cannabis or experiences negative side effects:

If you suspect someone is having serious negative effects from using cannabis, try to calm them down and ask them exactly what they are experiencing. If they appear to be detached from reality, communicating with people (or voices) that are not present, or seem unable to organise their thoughts and speech normally, they may need medical care. Try to find out if the person has taken other drugs (including alcohol) as this can increase the risk of serious complications. The quicker and more accurate information that is passed on, the easier it is to help someone experiencing adverse effects from cannabis. Stay with the person and call a friend or family member for assistance immediately. If the person is vomiting, never leave them on their own – they could suffocate on their own vomit. Usually the police will not be informed and will not attend unless ambulance officers feel their safety or the safety of others/a child is at risk, the person cannot be resuscitated or a crime is committed (such as theft or violence). The priority is making sure the person gets the right help immediately in an emergency.

Reducing the risks of cannabis use

The best way to reduce problems with cannabis dependence is to ask for help. If you or a friend think that that your cannabis use might be problematic, it is a good idea to make sure that someone you trust is nearby when you are asking for help. Common effects of the drug can be perceived as mild, which contributes to initial and extended use or relapse.

Drug dependence of any kind can make people feel anxious or scared about giving up the drug, which is a normal response to have but often results in the cycle continuing. Giving up cannabis can be challenging because the body becomes ‘tolerant’ or used to functioning with the drug. The best way to overcome cannabis dependence is to seek help.

Stopping cannabis use can result in ‘withdrawal’ symptoms, as the body is working on how to function without cannabis. These symptoms can be unpleasant, differing from person to person and ranging from mild to severe. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Cravings for cannabis
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness/nervousness
  • Irritability/mood swings
  • Stomach issues (e.g. diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting)
  • Physical tension
  • Strange dreams or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sweating, fever or chills
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Legal Issues

It is illegal to possess and supply cannabis, however some medicinal forms of cannabis can be prescribed by medical professionals. Driving under the influence of cannabis is also illegal and roadside tests can be administered by police to test drivers. If you are caught with cannabis in your system, you may receive heavy fines and loss of licence.

If you are involved in an accident whilst driving under the influence of cannabis, even if you are not directly at fault, you may face legal consequences.

Getting help for cannabis use

If cannabis is a problem for you or someone you know and you would like to speak to a real person to have your questions answered or to get advice on what to do next, call 1300 858 584 (Alcohol & Drug Foundation Information Line). 

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