The dangers of cannabis

This week I attended a cannabis awareness course run by a drug rehabilitation service.  I learned so much about cannabis that I hadn’t previously been aware of. It’s a much more dangerous drug than many people realise.  Here are some of the things I found out:

  • Cannabis was reclassified as a Class B drug in 2009 (having previously been downgraded to Class C).  This was partly because of stronger strains becoming more commonly available.
  • Cannabis is classed as a hallucinogenic drug, due to the effects it has on the brain.
  • Cannabis contains 60 psychoactive chemicals.
  • The narcotic component of cannabis is called THC – which stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol.
  • Whereas in the past the whole cannabis plant was used to make grass, cannabis resin or oil, the trend now is increasingly to smoke Skunk – the buds of the female plant – which contain the highest concentrations of THC.
  • Skunk contains up to 50% more THC than other forms of cannabis.
  • Availability of stronger and stronger strains of skunk is increasing addiction rates dramatically.
  • Many people believe that smoking cannabis is not as dangerous as smoking tobacco, however it contains 50% MORE carcinogens than tobacco. In fact smoking cannabis with tobacco increases the carcinogenic effect FOUR times.
  • Smoking four joints per day presents the same cancer risk as smoking 20 cigarettes per day.
  • Smoking cannabis drastically increases the risk of aggressive and fast growing mouth cancers.
  • Cannabis remains in the body for longer than any other drug.
  • THC is a sticky substance that is stored in the body’s fat cells, it is a bit like tar in tobacco.  It can remain in the organs for years and is hard for the body to break down.
  • THC can remain detectable in the body for months or years, and can show up in blood, saliva or  urine for a long time after use.
  • In the brain, THC locks onto the cerebellum, and affects coordination and movement. It also affects the hippocampus, impairing memory function, especially short term memory.  However it mostly affects the cerebral cortex – which controls perception, language and learning – where it can cause permanent changes.
  • Cannabis use is especially dangerous in young people whose brains are still developing.
  • Cannabis is strongly linked to the development and/or worsening of psychoses and serious mental illnesses such as paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Cannabis use increases anxiety and can cause paranoia and panic attacks
  • The availability of stronger strains of cannabis increases the risk of mental health problems.
  • Cannabis can also damage the central nervous system, the respiratory system and heart function.
  • Mixing cannabis use with other substances, particularly alcohol, is very dangerous – one is a hallucinogen and the other a depressant.
  • Although it varies nationally, possession of cannabis can incur a prison sentence of up to 5 years and supplying cannabis a prison sentence of up to 14 years.  The definitions of possession and supply also vary around the country.
  • It is a criminal offence to supply cannabis to another person, even if no cash changes hand.  This includes passing someone a joint.
  • Smoking cannabis increases the risk of catching blood born viruses, in particular Hepatitis, which can live outside of the body for long periods in tiny quantities of bodily fluids.  It can be passed on by sharing a joint.

However there is some good news….. Cannabis is more psychologically addictive than physically addictive, a bit like tobacco.  This means that with psychological support, it is possible to quit using cannabis without suffering major physical side effects.  The main side effects experienced are headaches,  sleep problems, anxiety, mood swings and cravings.



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