Cannabis, Marijuana or Marihuana: a drug by any name . . .
Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in Australia. It comes from the dried flowers and leaves of the plant Cannabis Sativa.
Other names for it are marijuana, marihuana, grass, pot, weed, mull, hash, dope, ganja, yarndi, joint, cone, stick, chronic, choof, dabs, dabbing, BHO.[1,2] It is a crop which is cultivated as hemp for making cloth, and as a drug for recreational use, and is now often grown using artificial stimulants and lights to make it grow faster. It is also now being increasingly touted for medicinal use.
How is cannabis used?
The flowers and leaves of the Cannabis plant are dried and smoked, or eaten, to produce an effect.
Cannabis comes in three different forms:
- Marijuana: the dried plant that is smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes called ‘joints’ or in water pipes called ‘bongs’. It can look like dried herbs or tea and can be grey, green or brown in colour
- Hashish: the dried plant resin that is usually mixed with tobacco and smoked, or added to foods and baked, typically in cakes, cookies and brownies
- Hash oil: the liquid that is usually added to the tip of a cigarette and smoked
Cannabis can also come in synthetic form, which can be more concentrated and intense, and may be refined into BHO, or concentrated butane hash oil, which is highly concentrated THC.
What is THC?
THC (tetra-hydro-cannabinol) is the chemical in cannabis which makes people feel ‘high’, meaning you experience a change in your mood and may see or feel things a different way.
It does not change reality; it just alters your perception of it.
How does THC affect you?
Cannabis is a depressant drug, which means it slows down messages travelling between the brain and the body. Isn’t that interesting! People call it or think of it as a high, but that is a lie. It is actually slowing you down, creating a low, a numbing, an illusion of more time and space, a relief from the pressures of the world, inside and out. In large doses it may also produce hallucinogenic effects, due to the mind-altering nature of the chemicals.
When cannabis is smoked, the THC is rapidly absorbed into the blood through the lungs. It then goes to the brain, which is when the high is felt. This can happen within a few minutes and can last for up to five hours.
When cannabis is eaten, the THC is absorbed more slowly into the blood as it has to first pass through the stomach and small intestine. It takes longer to experience the high this way, and the effects can also last longer, which is not great if these are unpleasant hallucinations.
THC is absorbed quickly into body fat. It is then released very slowly back into the blood and it can take up to one month for a single dose of THC to fully leave the body.
Effects of cannabis
It is important to say: there is no safe level of drug use. Cannabis can affect everyone differently, depending on several factors, but even one-time use has been thought to precipitate or ‘unlock’ life-long schizophrenia or other mental health issues, especially in young people smoking hydroponically grown cannabis.
Short-term effects of cannabis
– Feeling relaxed and sleepy
– A feeling of euphoria
– Spontaneous laughter and excitement
– Decreased inhibitions and increased risk-taking behaviours, including sex, driving under the influence and taking more drugs
– Increased appetite
– Dry mouth and throat
– Dry red eyes
– Quiet and reflective mood
– Inability to talk or socialise
– Poor balance and coordination
– Difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly
– Trouble remembering things
– Anxiety and paranoia
– Focussing on one particular thing and ignoring all others
– Thinking you are absolutely fine when you are not
– Blurred vision and bloodshot eyes
– Slower reflexes
– Increased heart rate
– Low blood pressure
– Greater anxiety & paranoia
– Seeing and hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
– Changes in perception of time and distance and physical senses (sight, sound, touch)
– Feeling distant or separate from reality
- Emotional outbursts of anger or crying
Long-term effects of cannabis
On a psychological level, those with a family history or personal history of mental illness are more likely to also experience anxiety, depression and psychotic symptoms after using cannabis. Psychotic symptoms include delusions, hallucinations and seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted.
– Memory loss
– Learning difficulties
– Decreased motivation
– Mood swings
– Needing to use more to get the same effect
– Dependence on cannabis
– Financial, work and social problems.[1,2]
Dependence and withdrawal
Physical and psychological dependency on cannabis can develop. You may experience tolerance, meaning you need more of the drug to experience the same effects, as well as withdrawal symptoms if you stop or suddenly cut down.
Giving up cannabis after using it for a long time is challenging, because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Symptoms may last for only a week, but sleep may be affected for longer.
– Aggressive and angry behaviour
– Cravings for cannabis
– Loss of appetite and upset stomach
– Flu-like symptoms such as sweating, chills and tremors
– Trouble sleeping, restless sleep and strange dreams and nightmares[1,2]
So why would you want to use cannabis?
On looking at all these long lists of all the ways in which cannabis can affect you, you may wonder why you would want to use it. When looking at drug use, it helps to understand that people take drugs for a reason. We are not inherently bad or stupid, so why would we do it?
Most people who start taking drugs have watched others doing it first and have perhaps experienced first-hand the effect on a parent or friend who smoked and the down side of taking the drug. So why would you choose it for yourself? And having tried it once, why would you do it again?
Cannabis alters our perception of reality and this is perhaps its most potent attractive force. We are willing to wear the side-effects of the drug for the sake of some time out from a reality we are perhaps not enjoying or not coping with too well. We go there to numb ourselves from the reality we don’t want to feel, or to look for another reality, a different feeling, from our everyday lives.
The irony is that, as with any drug of addiction, our drug taking and drug dependence compound our problems, and even create new ones for us to not deal with, sending us deeper into drug use and escalating our problems further, until we are brought to a stop.
This is not the case for everyone of course; some people seem able to take drugs, including ‘recreational’ drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, without spiralling into a pit of addiction and depression – but if their lives are so great, why do they need any drugs at all?
This is perhaps a question we could all ask ourselves... Why do we need to escape from the reality we have created? And if we don’t like it, what are we going to do about it?
On these pages, we hear from people who chose to escape from reality by using cannabis, did not like what they found in that reality either, then chose to take responsibility for their lives, deal with their drug addiction and the problems they were facing, and now live lives filled with meaning and joy.
May you too be inspired to take responsibility for your own life and find the true joy in it, which is sourced from within . . .
Help and support
If this article has brought up issues for you, Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) in Australia is a 24-hour confidential telephone counselling service. Call (02) 9361 8000 or toll free 1800 422 599.