Cannabis is a bushy plant found wild in most parts of the world and easily cultivated in Britain. The availability and supply of cannabis has profoundly changed since the early 2000’s, with the previously widespread imported resin largely replaced by home grown herbal variants of the drug. Cannabis farms often located in suburban homes or commercial warehouses in major urban areas now supply the vast majority of the UK market. In the last couple of years, synthetic variants such as Spice have also made some headway into the market. Significantly less common in the UK is cannabis oil, generally prepared by percolating a solvent through the resin.
Smoking cannabis causes a number of physical effects including increased pulse rate, decreased blood pressure, bloodshot eyes, increased appetite and occasional dizziness. These can start within a few minutes and may last several hours depending on how much is taken. When eaten the effects take longer to start but may last longer. Eating cannabis may mean a large dose is taken in one go, making it difficult to avoid any unpleasant reactions.
While the effect produced often depends on the expectations, motivations and mood of the user, as well as the amount taken and the surroundings the drug is taken in, cannabis can lead to a state of relaxation, talkativeness, the giggles, and greater appreciation of sensory expectations. It is regularly taken to enhance or detract from the effects of other drugs such as ecstasy or cocaine, particularly after long dance sessions.
While intoxicated, cannabis can affect the short-term memory, concentration, and intellectual or manual dexterity, including driving. Higher doses can lead to perceptual distortion, forgetfulness and confusion of thought processes. Temporary psychological distress and confusion can occur, particularly among inexperienced users or if the user is feeling anxious or depressed.
The physical effects of inhaling cannabis can impact on the respiratory system, leading to oral, throat, and lung cancer. Psychologically, the use of cannabis has been reported to cause anxiety and paranoia in some users and may in rarer cases be a trigger for underlying mental health problems. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found a ‘probable but weak causal link between psychotic illness and cannabis use.’] While cannabis does not produce physical dependence, mild withdrawal symptoms have been produced in experiments. Skunk has more psychoactive properties than resin as it contains higher levels of the active chemicals, and early use has been associated with later mental health problems. In 2007, the Department of Health issued three warnings about samples of herbal cannabis that were contaminated with minute particles of glass, which became known among users as ‘gritweed’.Some cannabis growers were alleged to have sprayed the cannabis with the glass particles in order to make it appear ‘sticky’, indicating a higher grade drug.
Cannabis has the greatest non-medical usage of all the drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Overall, about 10 million people in the UK would admit to having tried it, with around 1.25 million reporting using it in the last month. Over a third of 16-24 year olds, or around 2.3 million people, have taken it at least once in their lifetimes.
Cannabis is a Class B drug, which means that possession is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both, whilst supplying cannabis to someone else can result in receiving up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.