Cannabis is a general term given to drug products derived from the cannabis plant. Cannabis (or marijuana) usually refers to the dried flowers and leaves of the plant, which are smoked or eaten to produce a psychoactive effect. Other names for cannabis include grass, dope, pot, weed, and mull. The main active ingredient in cannabis that produces a ‘high’ is called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or more commonly, THC. The dried flowers, or ‘heads’, have the highest THC concentration of the cannabis plant. Hashish or hash is the dried resin from the heads of the cannabis plant, and ranges in color from light brown to nearly black.
It is a more concentrated form of cannabis, with higher levels of THC. Hashish oil is thick oil obtained from the heads or leaves of the cannabis plant. It usually has very high concentrations of THC. Cannabis in its various forms is often smoked in a ‘joint’, which may sometimes include tobacco as filler. Heads may be smoked in a small pipe or larger water pipe (a ‘bong’), a pipe-full usually referred to as a ‘cone’. Hash or hash oil may be added to tobacco cigarettes, joints or cones. The different forms of cannabis can also be eaten mixed with food. Cannabis is a commonly used illegal drug.
Short-term effects of Cannabis:
When cannabis is smoked, the effects usually commence within a few minutes, and last for 2 to 3 hours, with a peak in the first hour. When it is eaten, the effects are slower to commence, last longer, and may be experienced as more intense. The initial effects from smoking or eating cannabis may include:
- laughter and talkativeness
- feeling of well-being
- some loss of concentration, problem-solving ability and short-term memory
- slower reaction times (which means that driving ability is impaired)
- changes in heart rate and blood pressure (sometimes including a drop in blood pressure on standing , which can result in dizziness)
- increased diameter of larger air passages in the lungs
- bloodshot eyes
- altered perception of time
Sometimes, novice users or people who have consumed large amounts of cannabis may experience problems such as:
- anxiety or panic attacks
- feelings of paranoia
Long-term effects: Regular and continued use of cannabis may cause or contribute to a number of health problems, including:
- a chronic cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, or chronic bronchitis – cannabis smoke contains many substances which irritate the airways, and many smokers tend to hold the smoke in for longer, which aggravates respiratory problems
- an increased risk of cancers of the lung, mouth, throat and tongue – cannabis smoke contains numerous carcinogens
- an increased risk of psychotic symptoms, especially if the person has a history of psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia
- cannabis dependence
- reduced fertility in both men and women
- an increased risk of low birth weight babies, or possible birth defects, if cannabis is used during pregnancy
- decreased motivation or energy to accomplish tasks
- poor school or work performance
- family and relationship problems
- legal problems – cannabis and its use are illegal, so users may come to the attention of police, and receive fines and criminal convictions
- financial problems – from buying cannabis, or paying fines
Tolerance and Dependence
Cannabis dependence and tolerance are quite common among regular users of cannabis. Tolerance means that the user requires more cannabis to achieve the same effects they used to get with smaller amounts. Dependence, or addiction, means that cannabis has become central in their life, they may spend much of their time thinking about cannabis and obtaining it, they may have trouble controlling their use, or continue to use cannabis despite experiencing problems.
Dependent users who abruptly stop their cannabis use may have mild withdrawal symptoms, such as sleep disturbance, anxiety and irritability
Cannabis and Adolescent Development
Prolonged use of cannabis impairs young people’s ability to learn and develop social skills, and lowers achievement in a number of areas. Young users may observe that performance at school or work suffers. Some describe decreased concentration, poorer memory, and problems with learning. Regular users may find that they begin to lose energy, drive and interest in other activities. Furthermore, they may spend less time with friends who do not use cannabis, and those friends may feel that cannabis use has had a negative effect on their using friend’s motivation and attitudes. These problems usually disappear gradually when cannabis use stops.
Cannabis and Psychosis
Cannabis can produce unpleasant experiences for some users, usually when too large a dose has been taken, resulting in anxiety, panic reactions or paranoia. These reactions last only as long as the effects of the drug. Inexperienced users who have such reactions may not care to try marijuana again for a long time, if at all. Occasionally, people who use large amounts of cannabis over an extended period may experience a short-term psychotic reaction, with symptoms such as confusion, delusions, hallucinations, anxiety, and loss of memory. These cases of ‘toxic psychosis’ are uncommon and generally show a rapid recovery after cannabis use is stopped.
Cannabis use can also sometimes precipitate psychotic episodes or symptoms in vulnerable individuals, such as people who have schizophrenia. For people with schizophrenia, cannabis use is likely to aggravate their symptoms, and should be avoided. People with a family history of schizophrenia should also avoid using cannabis.
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Drug rehabilitation is a good option for someone abusing the use of cannabis.
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