Cannabis Basics & Healthier Use
What is cannabis?
Cannabis comes in many forms and strains but at the most basic level it can be thought of a plant that contains over 60 psychoactive (mood altering) cannabinoid compounds that exert their effect by their action on your bodies CB1 and CB2 receptors that are scattered widely through your brain and body. The two main active components in cannabis are THC responsible for the ‘high’, and CBD responsible for the more relaxing, chilling effects of cannabis. The effect you get after use depends as much upon the ratio of THC and CBD as it does on the actual % of each in your cannabis. More potent preparations might get you more stoned but often will carry greater risks of unwanted effects and can lead to the more rapid development of tolerance, though the risk of this can be reduced by making sure you use less of these more potent products.
Time to onset and duration of effects
Smoked / vaporized – starts within 5 minutes, peaks after 20-40 minutes with effects lasting depending on tolerance and dose for between 2-6 hours
Orally – onset after 90-120 minutes, peak effects at 3-5 hours, duration 8-12 hours or more Risks and harms
Short term effects
OK, we assume you have smoked or used cannabis is some other way before (if you have not go off and talk to some and don’t use on your own the first time you use) so we won’t insult you too much.
The good: Cannabis makes people feel relaxed, happy and sometimes especially when they first start, giggly. It can alter how people think, feel and perceive the world. It can make feel creative, insightful and silly. Sometimes this can lead to mild sensory intensification and alteration, time distortion, blurred vision and difficulties concentrating or remembering things. At higher doses cannabis can impair a person’s balance and coordination. This can be much worse when mixed with alcohol. Driving on cannabis IS risky and is associated with a two fold increase in the risk of fatal road accidents. Combined with alcohol the risks are much greater. Some people may report feeling slow, tired or foggy for up to 24 hours after use – which can still effect some people’s ability to drive or work.
The bad: Because alter your perception it sometimes impair people’s judgment and alter the way they interpret things around them. Cannabis can therefore make some people feel anxious, paranoid, sleepy, nauseous, confused, disoriented and scared. Thoughts can be jumbled, people can lose the ability to focus and hold a conversation or compete a simple task. These are more common at higher doses and in naïve smokers. These unwanted effects seem more common with more potent strains with high THC and less CBD. Sometimes these episodes occur as a one off because of how the person feels at the time they use or where they are and who they are with. However some people are more vulnerable to getting anxious and paranoid because of a family background of mental illness which can put them at higher risk of unwanted effects. If you experience anxiety or paranoia repeatedly on using cannabis – just avoid it – continuing to use might place you at higher risk of developing longer term psychological problems. Tell your mates it’s just not for you.
Some people use cannabis for medical reasons including pain, spasticity or nausea. We suggest you talk to an expert or your specialist about this.
Longer term harms: For most people used infrequently cannabis carries very little risk of long term harms. All cannabis related health risk are dose related – the more you use the longer you use for, the greater the risks of hams. The major risks are lung harms, memory impairment and unwanted effects upon you mood, motivation and mental health. The more you use the more your tolerance builds up meaning you need more to get the same effect. We know the evidence is not perfect but we want to be upfront with consumers that cannabis like all drugs, cannabis carries risks and we want you to be aware of them so you can make informed choices about what you do. Research done by Global Drug Survey suggests more a third of users are significantly worried (rated their concern as 7/10 or more) about the effects of cannabis on their mood, memory and ability to work or study, one quarter about the impact on their motivation and more than one in five about the effect on their relationship their lung health and the risk of cancer.
Lung damage: Most Americans (unlike the rest of the world – except New Zealand) don’t mix cannabis with tobacco when they smoke which is great since the combination hugely increases the risks of lung damage (including cancer). Smoking (burning cannabis) not only changes the chemical composition of cannabis and the effects you feel, but also leads to the production of cancer causing chemicals and tar – lots of the same stuff that makes smoking tobacco so bad for you. And cannabis users tend to inhale deeper and the smoke longer in their lungs – increasing the risk of lung damage for little extra return. Smoking cannabis (especially with tobacco) is thus the most dangerous way of using it. Vaporizers, which are getting much cheaper these days, heat cannabis to a temperature where the THC gets released as a vapor but does not burn. The effect might feel different (many prefer it) but it'll be better for your lungs. The evidence also seems to suggest that when smoked cannabis is a risk factor for mouth cancer and many studies suggest it can be risk factor for lung cancer even if you don’t use tobacco. The less you smoke the lower your risk.
If you do smoke cannabis then rolled in a thin, hemp paper, with a small plain cardboard non-printed roach is the safest option in our opinion.
You don’t need to inhale deeply to absorb the stuff that gets you stoned and you don’t need to keep the smoke in your lungs for more than second or two to absorb the stuff you are after.
Water pipes are not safer or better for your lungs and sharing can spread coughs and colds.
If you do you use pipes or bongs keep them clean.
Eating cannabis does avoid lung harms but it can be very difficult to titrate the dose – so make sure you always start with a tiny bit and don’t re-dose for at least 2-3 hours- because it takes a long time for the effects to come and they can last for 8 or more hours, so it’s very easy to end way too stoned.
Memory: The more you smoke, the longer your smoke for and the younger you are when you start the more likely you will damage your memory. It can take several months for the effects to clear so if you have exams coming up best to give yourself 3 months off.
Mood and motivation: Many users report that cannabis especially when used every day can lead to negative effects on emotions and motivation. If you are having difficulty at college, in relationships or just not getting your stuff done – give yourself a break and see if things get a bit better.
Dependence: Yes, people get dependent on cannabis. Research conducted by Global Drug Survey suggests about one third of people who use want to use less, and consistent with other surveys it suggests that ABOUT 10–15% of people who use are dependent (THE YOUNGER YOU START THE GREATER THE RISK). What does that mean? People use more than they want to; find it hard to cut down or stop; continue to use despite problems in their life (health, work, study, family); prioritise obtaining and using cannabis over other activities; develop tolerance and find that when they stop they experience mood, sleep and appetite disturbance. If you want to compare your use to others or find out how cannabis is effecting your life or if you might be dependent go to www.drugsmeter.com.
Mental health – cannabis tends to worsen the outcomes for those with serious mental illness. Cannabis tends to work against effects of many psychiatric medication (especially antipsychotics) often meaning higher doses (with more side effects are prescribed). It can also be difficult to know how someone mental illness is going if someone if stoned a lot of the time - because it can be difficult to tell the difference between the effects of being stoned from some of the symptoms we see in mental illness. Because the way cannabis makes people feel is strongly influenced by how they feel at the time they use it, using when you are depressed, anxious or paranoid will only tend to make those emotions worse. Finally because cannabis can make people forgetful cannabis use can lead to lower compliance with medication which also leads to poorer outcomes.
Pregnancy – cannabis is not safe to use in pregnancy – the best environment for your unborn baby is one free from anything other than good food and being happy.
Driving and operating machinery – your ability to drive and operate machinery is reduced following use of cannabis. Operating vehicles or machinery mat place you or others at risk.
Other medications and illnesses – because cannabis has so many effects – many of which we don’t know about, it is possible that cannabis could affect other condition you have (sometimes for better sometimes for worse). Cannabis might also interact with prescribed medication (like tobacco does). If you have chronic medical or psychiatric illness and you are on prescribe medication we suggest discussing your use of cannabis with your doctor so you can decide whether or not cannabis might in any way effect how well your treatment is going to work.
Safer use tips ‘less is more’, ‘avoid smoking’ ‘don’t smoke during the day’ ‘give yourself breaks of several weeks each year’.
We asked 38,000 cannabis users across the world what they did to reduce the risk of harm when they used cannabis. The results were published as the Global Drug Survey Highway Code – view the cannabis section of the Highway Code
Cannabis drugs meter - Free, confidential anonymous – on your phone, tablet or lap top. Compare your use of cannabis 10s of thousands of people around the world and work our your monthly and yearly spend.
Given the huge evidence that drug and alcohol use before the age of 18 can cause long lasting impairments in your cognitive and emotional ability, Global Drug Survey stresses that this site is strictly for those over 18 years of age.
As ever, the only way to avoid drug related harm is not to take drugs and that no level of intoxication with any substance can be considered drug free and most importantly Global Drug Survey is keen to remind readers that the following guidelines simply represent Global Drug Survey reporting on the combined opinions of tens of thousands of people who use drugs.
1. Young brains and drugs are not a good mix
There’s a huge amount of evidence that alcohol and drug use before the age of 18 can cause long-lasting impairments in your cognitive and emotional ability. Kids don’t screw up your brains. “Grow your brain before you start expanding it” Our guidelines are strictly for those over 18 years of age.
2. Guidelines don’t make drugs safe
By developing safer drug using limit guidelines for illicit drugs Global Drug Survey is not suggesting that drugs are safe. Quite the contrary in fact. Drugs can be very dangerous and Global Drug Survey is not suggesting guidelines will be a panacea to society’s drug problems. But as governments are starting to embrace population-based strategies to improve health and think more rationally about drug policy, having some common sense guidelines that allow people to reflect upon their drug use is a sensible thing.
3. We are all different
We accept there are also a few obstacles in creating catch-all safer use limits: purities vary; drugs are rarely taken in isolation of each other; the method of ingestion can affect the risk; people’s initial tolerance may vary depending on height and weight; and, finally, lots of people take drugs for lots of different reasons, so if you’re using them to cope with other issues you may be more susceptible to experiencing harm at a much lower level.
4. People with existing mental health conditions are much more vulnerable to drug/alcohol harms
If you have a underlying mental illness you are much more likely to develop drug related problems – both short-term ones, like getting anxious or paranoid, and long-term issues such as dependence. If you have a psychiatric illness and things are not getting better taking a rest from drink and drugs can help. This may allow the treatment you are on to work better and make it easier for you and your doctors to know what’s going on.
5. Other times to take care
If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant avoid cannabis. If you have heart or lung conditions you might want to think about your use as well.