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Cannabis is the most widely-used illegal drug in the UK, but how does it affect you and what do you need to know about cannabis and the law?

Different forms of cannabis are made from different parts of the cannabis plant. It comes in a solid dark lump commonly known as resin or hash; dried leaves, stalks and seeds known as grass or weed and also a brown or black sticky oil. Cannabis can be rolled with tobacco in a spliff or joint, smoked on its own in a special pipe or eaten.

There are different strengths of cannabis - skunk is the generic name often used to describe a potent form of the cannabis plant. In fact, skunk is only one of 100 or so varieties of cannabis plant which have high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

What are the effects of cannabis?

  • Getting stoned makes most users relaxed, talkative and sometimes giggly.
  • Heightens the senses, especially when it comes to colours, taste, and music.
  • Cooking and eating hash makes the effects more intense and harder to control.
  • Can also leave people feeling tired and lacking energy.
  • May bring on cravings (AKA 'the munchies') for certain food.

What are the risks of using cannabis?

  • Affects short-term memory and ability to concentrate well.
  • Getting stoned affects co-ordination, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Can make users paranoid and anxious, depending on their mood and situation
  • Research suggests people who smoke cannabis in their younger teens - especially before they're 18 - will permanently damage their IQ.
  • Smoking cannabis over a long period of time may increase the risk of respiratory disorders, including lung cancer.
  • Regular users may also find they lack motivation in their day-to-day lives.
  • Cannabis can be very hard to give up.
  • There is some evidence to suggest a link between cannabis and psychotic illness.

Cannabis and the law:

  • Currently cannabis is a Class B drug, having been upgraded from a Class C.
  • If you are over 18 and in England or Wales, the first time you are caught in possession of cannabis you'll usually be given a warning. The second time, you will be issued a fixed penalty notice of £80. After that, you will probably have to go to court. The maximum penalty for possession is five years in prison.
  • No such warnings exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland and offences are referred straight to the courts, although prosecutors still have discretion not to prosecute someone who is reported to them by the police.
  • If you're caught growing cannabis in your home you will be arrested and prosecuted. You may also be charged with 'intent to supply', which carries the same penalties as dealing (a maximum of 14 years in prison).
  • Blatant smoking in public may also lead to arrest.
  • As of December 23, 2009, synthetic cannabinoids (man-made chemicals sprayed on herbal smoking products such as 'Spice') are now Class B drugs alongside cannabis.

Cannabis is also known as:

Marijuana, grass, skunk, draw, blow, weed, puff, hash, ganja, spliff, dope, gear, pot, solids, green, herb, puff and bush.

Related terms:

  • Caned - how you feel if you've been smoking too much. This can also refer to the finishing of a joint e.g "Oh cheers mate, don't save any for us, you just totally caned that."
  • Monged - the result of several hours of steady smoking, characterised by inability to move from the sofa or form coherent sentences.  
  • Munchies - intense bursts of hunger after smoking weed, usually resulting in a trip to the 24 hour shop for crisps and chocolate or the concoction of bizarre 'whatever's in the kitchen' snacks.
  • Skins - cigarette papers.
  • Toploading - when the roller deliberately puts more cannabis at the front end of the joint, thereby giving themselves a stronger smoke than those they are sharing with.
  • Whitey - a state cause by too much cannabis, so-called because of the pale skin and rolled back eyes of those experiencing it. Often involves vomiting, freak outs and, possibly, unconsciousness.

If you're planning on taking cannabis:

  • High doses can cause mild hallucinations and sensory distortions.
  • Mixing alcohol with a high dose of cannabis may cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Heavy use of cannabis over a long period of time can lead to users relying on the drug as a way of relaxing or being sociable.

Updated: 28/08/2012

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