Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cannabis: Brief History, Law



There are three forms of cannabis: herbal, resin and (the least common) hash oil.


  • The commonest form of cannabis, made from the dried leaves and flowers of the plant.
  • Looks like the kind of coarsely chopped dried herbs used for cooking. It's usually a greenish-brown colour and has a sweet herbal smell.
  • "Skunk" is a particularly potent strain that can have a markedly hallucinogenic effect.


  • Made by compressing the sap on the leaves and stem into blocks.
  • Colour varies from almost black through to a pale golden brown.
  • Some forms of resin are hard and brittle, like charcoal, while others are as soft as liquorice. Resin is usually mixed with tobacco in a hand-rolled cigarette but, like herbal, it can be eaten when added to foods.

Hash oil

  • Cannabis resin when dissolved in a solvent, filtered and allowed to evaporate, leaves a thick oil.
  • Varies in colour from black to green, and smells strongly of rotting vegetables.
  • It's either smeared on cigarette papers and smoked, but more usually it's mixed with tobacco and smoked.

The effect that cannabis has depends on how often it's smoked, how recently it was smoked and how the body naturally reacts to the drug. It can make people:

  • feel relaxed, happy and sociable, especially if they're with friends
  • become talkative and lead them to think they have a "deeper insight" into the world, but they're more likely to be talking drivel
  • lose their inhibitions and say and do things that are out of character
  • find everything hilarious; even the smallest thing will set off the giggles
  • get an attack of "the munchies" and want to eat lots of food, especially sweet snacks, such as chocolate or cake
  • have heightened sensations so that materials feel softer and colours appear brighter.

Most cannabis comes from a plant called Cannabis sativa that is mainly found in Asia and South America, although significant amounts are grown in North America and Europe. The most active chemical in cannabis - and the one that gets a person stoned - is called delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The amount of THC can vary greatly and cannabis that contains a high level can hit quite hard

The Law

  • It's illegal to have, grow, sell or give away cannabis.
  • While herbal cannabis and resin are Class B drugs, cannabis oil can be categorized as a Class A drug, depending on how it's produced, and therefore it attracts higher penalties.
  • NOTE: It's a popular myth that there's a set amount of cannabis that will ensure you just get off with a caution. However, if you're found with a small amount of cannabis for your own use, you may only receive a caution.

Brief history

There's evidence that people have been using cannabis for over 8000 years, mainly for medicinal purposes. Early civilizations saw cannabis as a possible cure for all kinds of ailments, from anxiety to leprosy. In the early 19th century, many pharmacies sold cannabis tinctures as over-the-counter treatments for pain; Queen Victoria's doctors gave her cannabis for her period pain. In the mid- to late 19th century, people began to use cannabis for pleasure - in fact, the drug was legal in the United States until the 1930s.

Crucial to the effect of cannabis is how people feel when they take it - the mood or "mind-set" - and where and with whom they take it - the setting. Cannabis often exaggerates the way a person already feels. So someone who is chatty, happy and confident may feel even more at ease. Conversely, someone who feels down and pensive may become more uncommunicative and depressed.


  • Most users smoke cannabis on its own or mixed with tobacco in a hand-rolled cigarette, known as a joint or spliff. The smoke is usually inhaled more deeply and held down for longer than with a normal cigarette. There's no filter to catch the tar and if you're not used to this you'll probably have a prolonged coughing fit.
  • Some people smoke cannabis in a pipe, called a "bhong", that cools the smoke before it's inhaled. Beware - using a bhong to smoke a stronger variety of cannabis may increase the effect and you could experience hallucinations and impaired judgement.
Some people add cannabis to foods, such as biscuits and brownies, to make hash-cakes or space-cakes. Beware of snacks at parties that may have been spiked with cannabis.

Don't mix cannabis with other drugs
Mixing cannabis with ecstasy or speed is particularly bad because it can make you dangerously dehydrated. Nasty side effects from using cannabis with other drugs include hallucinations, being unable to move, having a heart attack and losing consciousness.

  • You may feel sick, dizzy and faint and this can hit you on the first drag or the last one.
  • Your judgement will be impaired and you lose co-ordination.
  • You can feel too spaced out to speak.
  • Cannabis can dry you out, making your throat, tongue and lips parched; this is even worse if you drink alcohol as well.
  • Time seems to come to a standstill; minutes can seem like hours, which can be unnerving.
  • High doses, or even low doses of strong varieties, such as skunk, can lead to unpleasant hallucinations.
  • You may feel panic or paranoia. The panic may be so extreme that you literally can't speak or move. You can't remember what has happened; this can occur with quite small amounts

Cannabis and alcohol

It's a bad idea to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol. The combination will dry you out and make you very unsteady on your feet; it can even make you violent. You are also more likely to feel sick or even be sick, especially if you haven't had cannabis before. The hangover from cannabis and alcohol can be a near-death experience.

Cannabis stays in the body for far longer than alcohol - around two months.

  • You may feel sober long before the effects have worn off. For four or five days after, you shouldn't operate machinery or drive as you're likely to have an accident in this state.
  • Cannabis can trigger mental problems in people who may be predisposed to them.
  • Cannabis is risky for people with breathing problems, such as bronchitis and asthma. Two spliffs is the tar equivalent of 6-10 cigarettes.
  • Cannabis can lower a man's sperm count, and the sperm produced could be abnormal.
  • As with smoking normal cigarettes and drinking alcohol, women who use cannabis risk harming their unborn babies.
  • * Some long-term, heavy users may get panic attacks, exaggerated mood swings and feelings of persecution.


  • Cannabis isn't physically addictive. Your body won't crave it in the way that it would crave a drug such as heroin or tobacco.
  • BUT you may develop a "psychological habit" if you use cannabis often, becoming convinced that you can't do certain things until you've had a spliff.
  • Very heavy cannabis users may suffer psychological withdrawal symptoms; they may become anxious, even paranoid, and unable to sleep at night.
  • If you're a heavy user, cannabis can be a difficult drug to give up. If you're struggling to give up cannabis, you must get help. Contact your doctor or phone the National Drugs Helpline for advice.

There is so much conflicting information about cannabis. The scaremongers say it's dangerous, the pro-lobby say it's safe and beneficial. This profile will tell you THE TRUTH without the prejudices of different campaigners.

Does cannabis lead to harder drugs?

  • Hardly ever. There's no concrete evidence that cannabis is the "gateway drug". Tobacco is the gateway drug for most heavy drug users.
  • People who abuse hard drugs are usually psychologically damaged and probably would have escalated to hard drugs with or without cannabis.
  • It's probably true to say that people who use cannabis are more likely to be in situations where they'll be offered other types of drug.
Does cannabis cause memory loss?

Cannabis can cause short-term memory loss after long-term or heavy use.

Does cannabis cause cancer?

Because of its high tar content it's likely that smoking cannabis can cause cancer of the throat and lungs. This is, however, difficult to prove scientifically as most users who develop cancer also smoke cigarettes, and cigarette smoke is associated with several cancers.

Can cannabis be used to treat diseases?

It's very useful for treating Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Doctors prescribe a similar drug to treat MS, but sufferers don't find it as effective.

Does cannabis cause brain damage?

At the time of writing there is no conclusive medical evidence either way. No-one knows the long-term effects of taking cannabis repeatedly over a long period, but prolonged heavy use of any drug is always undesirable.

Don't hide from your problems

Some people use cannabis as a way to ignore their fears and failings. When they emerge from their cannabis haze, they find that their problems are not only still there but that they loom larger than ever. Becoming unmotivated is a real risk, and shouldn't be taken lightly. The only way to get through life is to face it, not turn your back on it.

If something goes wrong

If your friend needs to vomit, lean her forward so she doesn't choke. Give her some water once she's stopped vomiting, and make sure she gets home safely.

panic attack
If your friend is paranoid, anxious and starts to panic take him to a quiet room away from large groups of people and try to reassure him. Offer him some water, and keep talking to him. Don't let him wander off alone. If your friend begins panting (hyperventilating), get him to try to copy your breathing.

bad trip
Your friend may begin to see or hear frightening things that aren't really there - this is known as hallucinating. This can be extremely frightening and may cause your friend to panic. Talk to her and reassure her that the things she can see or hear are imaginary and will soon pass. Stay with your friend until the bad trip is over - don't let her wander off alone.


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