Drugs and Alcohol


What is cannabis?
Cannabis or marijuana comes from the cannabis plant, which is a member of the nettle family. It comes in the form of dried leaves from the plant (known as grass or weed) or resin (a block form known as hash). Skunk is a very strong variety of cannabis. Cannabis may be combined with tobacco and rolled into a ‘spliff’ or ‘joint’. It can also be smoked in a pipe or bong or crumbled into food such as cookies and eaten. Cannabis takes effect far slower if eaten, so it can be hard to judge the strength until it’s too late to do anything about it.

What are the effects of cannabis?
Cannabis can make people feel relaxed, giggly or talkative. Sometimes people may get the urge to eat a lot, also known as ‘the munchies’.  Stronger strains of cannabis can affect the senses causing visual or auditory hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) or a sensation of time slowing down. Negative effects in the short term include paranoia, anxiety or feeling sick.

Talking about their first time trying cannabis, people had experienced different feelings ranging from no noticeable effect, through to enjoyable sensations and giggles, to feelings of such fear and paranoia that one very young girl ended up in A&E.
Daniel, who had used other drugs and alcohol a lot in his teens and early twenties, said he found cannabis ‘boring’. Some were unsure what they should be feeling. Looking back, some thought that the effects of the nicotine (e.g. feeling dizzy or light headed) that they mixed in with the cannabis had been what caused them to think they were ‘high’. 
Those who enjoyed the effect of feeling ‘relaxed’ and ‘chilled’ had often continued to use cannabis. Kasim and Karis explained that, having smoked weed from the age of 14, they found it more difficult to get high (see Regular use of cannabis).

Reasons for trying cannabis
Most young people we talked to seem to have been encouraged to try cannabis due to curiosity and to find out ‘what it was like’. While trying cannabis could help them ‘to fit in with friends’ none of the young people we talked to described it as simple ‘peer pressure’. And, of course, not every teenager who was offered cannabis accepted (see ‘Choosing not to use drugs’).
Getting hold of cannabis 
Cannabis is harder to get hold of than alcohol because it is illegal.  However young people told us it is relatively easy, to get the drugs they want, regardless of where they live. When Craig wanted to smoke cannabis, his friends gave him the phone numbers of dealers. Jim, who lives in a village far from the nearest city, told us that all of his friends smoked cannabis and it was very easy to buy.
The first time – how it happened. 
Cannabis is the drug most likely to have been tried by young people and most widely used illegal drug in the UK according to Government research. People who use illegal drugs usually start with cannabis in some form, having already used tobacco and alcohol. As with alcohol (see ‘Alcohol: the first time’) first experiences with cannabis are often in the mid teenage years. Young people who had started smoking cigarettes when they were in their early teens sometimes described smoking cannabis as an ‘ordinary’ or even ‘natural’ event. 
Michelle’s best friend knew some ‘older lads’ who gave her a spliff, which she smoked with her friends. Tara was only 13 years old when she started to smoke cannabis under pressure from her boyfriend and his friends, who were all around twenty. She described her boyfriend as pushy and abusive – she did not enjoy using drugs but didn’t feel like she could say ‘no’.
The first time Chloe got high, she stole a spliff from her sister, who smoked cannabis regularly at home.
See Regular use of cannabis.

Some synthetic drugs called synthetic cannabinoids act like cannabis but are more potent than natural cannabis. For more information about the effects and risks of synthetic cannabinoids see the Frank website.

Last reviewed: July 2018.
Last updated: July 2018.



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