Cannabis, also known as weed, hash, grass and pot and a whole load of other names, is a drug that’s made from a plant called cannabis sativa.
Some types are more powerful than others, with varieties like ‘skunk’ having a much stronger effect.
People use cannabis by mixing it with tobacco and smoking it (a joint or a spliff), inhaling it through a bong, or mixing it in with food.
Using it is often referred to as getting stoned.
While it’s illegal in Ireland and most other parts of the world, it’s one of the most commonly used recreational drugs.
It’s probably something you’ve seen people smoking at a party or you may have tried it yourself.
Effects of cannabis
Using cannabis can have both immediate and longer-term effects. These effects may vary from person to person.
Things that influence how you’re affected by the drug are:
- the amount and strength of the cannabis
- the way it’s taken (eg smoked or eaten)
- your weight, size and health
- your mood when you take it
- what else you’re taking with it
- the environment where you’re taking it, eg. at home with friends, at a party, or by yourself.
Some of the more immediate effects of cannabis use may include:
- a feeling of euphoria
- a loss of concentration
- a feeling of confidence
- wanting to eat more
- red eyes
- wanting to talk and/or laugh more than usual
- losing balance and coordination
- feelings of anxiety or paranoia.
Some of the possible long-term effects of cannabis use are:
Lung problems (eg chronic bronchitis, lung cancer) – cannabis smoke contains ingredients that can damage the lungs, affect your physical health and fitness and possibly cause cancer. If cannabis is smoked over many years it may impair lung functioning, which increases the chances of developing lung disease. If you’re smoking it, you’re also mixing it with tobacco and that, as you know, can damage your lungs.
Difficulties with memory and attention – it’s been shown that cannabis use over the long term can cause problems with memory, attention and processing of complex information. This may affect everyday life when you’re learning something new or doing something difficult. Sometimes it can affect your learning at school or college.
Research shows the effects on memory and cognition are reversed by complete abstinence of at least one year.
Development of dependence – most people who use cannabis don’t go on to use it regularly, or develop problems with it. However, there are a number of people who will become dependent on cannabis.
The chance of becoming dependent on cannabis is similar to the chance of becoming dependent on alcohol. If someone is dependent on cannabis they may experience a difficulty controlling their use and spend less time on other things in their life. For information about getting help for cannabis use check getting help.
Increased risk of mental health problems – some people have a greater risk of developing mental health problems than others. Cannabis use may trigger problems if, for example, you have a family history of serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia or depression), or you’re vulnerable to developing it. If you already have a serious mental illness, cannabis use usually makes some of your symptoms worse.
Cannabis and experimentation
It’s not uncommon to experiment with cannabis and experimentation doesn’t necessarily lead to problem use.
That said, if you’re concerned about someone’s cannabis use it can be helpful to speak with the Drugs and Alcohol Counselling and Information Service. Drugs.ie also has loads of information on the issue.
Mixing cannabis with other drugs
Mixing cannabis and other drugs can be dangerous. Taken with other drugs, the effects of the cannabis and other drugs can be stronger, so it’s something to avoid.
Cannabis and driving or operating heavy machinery
If you’ve been using cannabis, driving or operating heavy machinery is dangerous. If you’re stoned your attention span will be affected, and you’ll find it harder to react if something unexpected happens. It’s possible to experience these effects even if you don’t feel stoned.
Cannabis and the law
The use and sale of cannabis is illegal in Ireland, but it still remains the most widely used drug in the country.
While being busted for cannabis use may not seem like a big deal when you’re young, having a criminal record for a cannabis offence may restrict your options for things you want to do in life, like getting a job or travelling.
Getting help for cannabis use
It’s a big step to get help for your cannabis use, but definitely something you should do if you’re worried about it.
Managing your drug use might mean speaking to a professional or it might be possible to reduce it on your own. Check getting help for drug use for more.
Follow the links below for more information.
Drugs.ie – provides live interactive services, telephone and mobile help-line services and various other online services for drug and alcohol issues. Click on the link or call 01 8360911.
Narcotics Anonymous – a non-profit fellowship of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. They are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. Check out the website for details.
Merchants Quay Ireland – provides a range of services for people affected by drug use and the associated problems of HIV infection, crime, homelessness, unemployment and poverty. Click on the link or call 01 5240160.
National Documentation Centre on Drug Use – a branch of the Health Research Board (HRB) which provides information and research on drug misuse in Ireland (and internationally).