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What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a plant–based drug. It contains a chemical called THC which, when consumed, gives people the effects of feeling ‘high’ or ‘stoned’. It is most commonly found in the UK as a herbal cannabis (including strains known as ‘skunk’ which are high in THC), and also in the form of resin and cannabis oil.

Most people smoke cannabis in a joint – where it is usually mixed with tobacco – but it can also be smoked in pipes or water pipes (bongs).

Why would people use cannabis?

Most people who use cannabis do it to ‘chill out’ or to help cope with stress.

Cannabis can lower people’s inhibitions so they feel more relaxed. This can help someone who feels awkward in social settings – people can become very talkative and things may seem funnier than usual.

On occasions, people take cannabis for its pain – relieving qualities.

But there are serious risks

Some people get a dry mouth and throat after smoking and regular users may have a persistent cough. Smoking cannabis damages the lungs (especially when used alongside tobacco) and may increase the risk of getting mouth or lung cancer.

Cannabis can affect the way people feel and see the world around them, leading to anxiety or panic. These problems may be more likely if cannabis is eaten, as the effects take longer to occur and it is easy to take too much.

As cannabis can slow reactions and affect your co-ordination it is very dangerous to drive under its influence. Drug – driving is illegal and carries the same penalties as drink – driving.

Cannabis use can affect people’s personalities, impacting on their relationships with those around them and causing arguments.

People’s motivation can suffer, impacting on their ambitions and goals. There is a risk that using cannabis will affect what you’re able to achieve in life.

Some people develop problems with their memory. Others can become paranoid and may prefer to spend time on their own rather than with mates

Research also shows clear links between regular cannabis use and psychosis (a serious mental disorder where people lose touch with reality).

The risks seem especially high for younger and heavier cannabis smokers.

The law

Cannabis became a Class B drug in January 2009.

This means that if you are caught in possession of cannabis you could get sent to prison for up to 5 years.

If you are found dealing cannabis you could get a 14 year prison sentence.

Sentences can also come with an unlimited fine.

There is no safe way of taking cannabis

The safest thing to do is not to take cannabis at all, but if you do take it, here are some ways to reduce the risks:

  1. Using vaporisers could lessen the damage to your lungs as you do not inhale the smoke particles.
  2. Avoid taking cannabis with other substances such as alcohol. Using substances together increases the risk of losing control and having a bad time.
  3. Harms are greatest among people who start using cannabis at a younger age. If you do plan to try it, try to delay until you are older and be aware that risks are lower for people who use smaller amounts and less often.
  4. With illegal drugs there is always some risk of serious harm as you never know for certain what you are buying. If you are going to use or buy some, ask yourself how much you trust the person you are getting it from. Buying from people you don’t know is asking to get ripped off 0 or worse.
  5. If you are going to use cannabis, try and be with friends you trust to look after you in case problems occur.