What is cannabis?

Cannabis or marijuana is a green, brown, or grey mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). There are many slang terms for cannabis such as pot, herb, weed, boom, Mary Jane, gangster and chronic. Hashish (hash for short) and hash oil are stronger forms of cannabis.

All forms of cannabis are mind-altering and act by affecting the part of the brain where memories are formed. Cannabis is a freely available and cheap drug that is usefully smoked in the leaf or resin form. It can also be ingested in food or drink. Small doses have very mild effects, sometimes none in the first time user.

What are the effects of cannabis?

Short-term effects of cannabis include:

  • Difficulty learning and remembering.
  • Distorted sense of vision, hearing or touch.
  • Trouble thinking and problem-solving.
  • Loss of co-ordination.
  • Increased heart rate, anxiety, panic attacks.

Effects are often situation-dependent thus, with the right setting you may feel more relaxed and sociable. When you are high on cannabis you may appear slightly drunk. Higher doses may cause confusion, forgetfulness and distortion of your sense of time and reality. Occasionally feelings of anxiety or depression may occur, particularly if you are already experiencing these symptoms or are a first-time user. Effects usually wear off after a few hours but last longer if the drug has been eaten or drunk.

It's a matter of debate in Ireland and elsewhere as to whether regular cannabis use causes cancer but is known that its smoke contains some of the same and sometimes even more, of the cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke. Cannabis users often develop similar breathing problems to cigarette smokers.

It is also thought that smoking cannabis can compromise your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to disease. Heavy use of cannabis can have an effect on both male and female hormones. Puberty can be delayed in young men and young women may find the drug interrupts their periods.

What signs of cannabis use should I look out for in my teenager?

Keep an eye out for changes in their behaviour such as withdrawal and depression. Also be aware of a deterioration in your childs schoolwork and look out for items such as pipes and rolling paper, which could be used to make joints. Your teenagers clothes and bedroom may have an unusual smell that they may try to disguise with air freshener.

I smoke cannabis occasionally, surely its not really that dangerous?

Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or in a pipe, known as a bong. Cannabis smoking may carry a higher risk of respiratory disease, including lung cancer, than tobacco smoking. Long-term use is thought to be associated with an increase in anxiety. Sometimes users can become very anxious or paranoid but this usually settles when the drug goes out of their system. Fatal overdose is virtually impossible. An argument is made that while cannabis is a harmless drug its use encourages experimentation with other more dangerous drugs.

Medical uses of cannabis as a pain reliever in certain chronic conditions have been documented, with some countries taking a liberal view of the drug, but in Ireland the outright ban on cannabis remains in place.

Is cannabis addictive?

Physical dependence is not thought to occur, although social dependence may occur.

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