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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Cannabis

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.
 

Mary Ann, at age eleven was offered skunk by her friend’s older brother. The feeling scared her and she ended up going to hospital. (Played by an actress)

Mary Ann, at age eleven was offered skunk by her friend’s older brother. The feeling scared her and she ended up going to hospital. (Played by an actress)

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I first tried Skunk when I was eleven, and I was with my friend we was round a local area, and her brother gave me a spliff, and I didn’t really know what it was at all, I didn’t really know what it was, and me being stupid I had a whole spliff to myself, the first time I ever smoked anything, and half a can of Red Stripe, and I always remember it, and I had to go to the hospital because I was Paranoid, I was nearly blacked out, everything, so I had to go home and I was really panicky, I thought [xxxxx] I was, I felt ten metres in the air floating, everything I couldn’t, and...
 

I’d never had an experience of anything like that before so obviously it was really scary, I was only eleven, I wasn’t even in upper school, so it was really scary and I had to go home, I had to tell my Mum, and she tried to calm down and she took me to the hospital, and then it turned out like obviously I was fine because it’s not really a harsh drug is it? If you’re just not used to the whole experience of it you just don’t really know what to expect. So that was the first time I ever did Skunk and then I completely, you know, and it scared the living life out of me so I didn’t [laughs] touch it.  

 

The first time Harry and his best friend used cannabis, they smoked too much of it and experience...

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The first time Harry and his best friend used cannabis, they smoked too much of it and experience...

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And how did you feel the first time you took it?
 

I thought it was great just totally out sort of laughing like giggling, giggling away and then like sort of take it a bit too far and would we’d just like it’s called whiting, a different name across the whole country, when you smoke too much and then you’re just a like bit incapacitated and a bit like all a bit too much and it’s all like sort of not paranoid thoughts but sort of it’s like being really drunk almost. but the equivalent of that but with smoking cannabis and yes but then that wasn’t paranoid though, you’d get the odd bit of like oh God like we’re walking past a police car or whatever or we’re in front of a teacher but it wouldn’t be in this massive, it would be sort of cheeky paranoia but it wouldn’t be like... self analytical paranoia. 

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’. 
 

Peter felt light headed after his first joint and wondered if it was the effect of smoking...

Peter felt light headed after his first joint and wondered if it was the effect of smoking...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
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How old were you when you first tried it?
 
I was about 14.
 
Again can you tell me about the context? Who offered it to you?
 
Yeah it was, it was school friends. I had a little puff. It didn’t seem to affect me to be honest as far as I could tell. At that point I didn’t feel any of the effects.

So somebody just offered it to you?
 
Yeah I mean it was, it was quite common to smoke it at school. A lot of people smoked it. I had some. It didn’t really affect me. I didn’t really know and then I tried it in intermittently between then and probably. It might have been just later on in, as a 14, maybe or 15 or 16 I can’t remember exactly but I know that I tried it intermittently again with limited effects. I didn’t, I couldn’t really identify a high at that point.

I can’t say whether I liked it at that point. I really can’t say whether I liked it or I didn’t like it. It affected me. I knew I were, I actually. No it did affect me but I think the nicotine was the initial effect that I identified which I confused with the cannabis because generally we mixed cannabis and nicotine together to smoke it together, tobacco together, to smoke it together. And because I remember a head rush. Now actually now as an experienced cannabis user I could say that’s. It was actually probably from the amount of nicotine that I’d had at once because it. I think cannabis takes a lot longer to affect you than nicotine and that. It’s not something that I’d associate with it, a light-headed head rush. I would associate that more with the nicotine effect 

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’).
 

Raphael found smoking weed sociable and relaxing. He also liked the idea that it was illegal.

Raphael found smoking weed sociable and relaxing. He also liked the idea that it was illegal.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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And what were your reasons for, for starting smoking Cannabis were you curious...?
 
Yeah just, yeah I just, I don’t know why I just, don’t know, when I was younger I liked to take a, not take a risk I just liked to try something different and I knew it was illegal and I quite like that, that was quite like, quite liked the idea of that, but and I smoked cigarettes so I didn’t think it was going to be much different to be honest.
 
I don’t, don’t know never really thought about it like that, I’ve just more just thought of it being like a, and again like the same maybe relaxing sort of enjoy, I enjoy it, and I don’t know, I don’t really know, different feeling. 
 

Stephanie decided to try cannabis out of curiosity and because it seemed safer than Class A drugs.

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Stephanie decided to try cannabis out of curiosity and because it seemed safer than Class A drugs.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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Just curiosity yeah.
 
Curiosity?
 
Curiosity yeah, it didn’t seem like the, most serious drug in the world, I knew it was a big difference between that and taking Ecstasy or something like that.
 
In which, in which way?
 
I just think they seemed a bit more extreme, I mean I could, I’ve seen people so that they, I mean sometimes I wouldn’t even have been able to tell, and then that they be, maybe their eyes would be a bit red, they’d be a bit more giggly but it didn’t look like, somebody who’s running around the room chewing their face off, you know I think there’s a big difference between the two , and it wasn’t something that I was intimidated by really, it was a bit of a like ‘oh will I try this?’, you know, it was a bit kind of exciting and a bit bad and, I was just, yeah just genuinely curious, and it’s, it was quite funny when, when we tried it so, yeah [laughs]. 
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. 
 

Craig smoked cannabis for the first time when celebrating after finishing his GCSE exams.

Craig smoked cannabis for the first time when celebrating after finishing his GCSE exams.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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I suppose I started messing about with drugs probably when I was about 15. I turned 16 just as I was in the middle of the exams so it would have been just before then. It was just more of a case of hanging out with my mates, exploring new things and, you know, getting high for the sake of getting high partially for celebratory that we’d finished school and you’d finally finished the two years of GCSEs, three in some cases and partially, you know, that kind of teenage rebellion kind of thing.
 
It was cannabis.
 
Cannabis?
 
Cannabis to start with yes.
 
How did you obtain it?
 
Literally I started smoking cigarettes when I was about 14, 13/14. So it was just a natural thing for me and, you know, we were just sat in a group and a spliff was passed around. So of course it got to me and I thought, ‘Why not. You only live once.’ Yeah so it was just, it was mates and then as I started liking it more and more I started buying it myself and I got people’s numbers off of my friends who were able to get it or at parties and stuff like that. 
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 Tara was offered drugs was when she was 13, under pressure from her older boyfriend.

The first time Tara was offered drugs was when she was 13, under pressure from her older boyfriend.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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First time I was offered drugs was when he took me to the first house party was within a week of knowing him, and smoking cannabis passing a joint around, “Here you go have some of this, it’s like a cigarette.” Tried it, and because it was handed to me, I thought I want to look cool in front of all his mates, so I tried it I’d already, I was already smoking normal cigarettes at that point so, that was, that wasn’t too bad compared to what else was being passed around, “Oh have some little white tablets.” “What are these?” “They’re ecstasy.” “Have a line of this coke it’s really great you will buzz.” It was just…
 
So that’s first time you’d tried cannabis?
 
That was the first time I tried cannabis, at that first house party I went to and then.
 
And how did you feel?
 
How did I feel?I just felt chilled out.
 
As the effects are I had, I did feel slightly under pressure, peer pressure to do it.
 
Well what do you think would have happened if you have said no I don’t want to?
 
I don’t know they would probably laughed at me and just, passed it off I don’t, I don’t know it’s hard saying now.
 
I was being pressured into trying stuff by my partner who was fairly abusive and quite forceful on me, so I, just do stuff for the sake of it, never quite enjoyed any of it, but obviously you get the rush of certain things or you get chilled out from certain things and it’s quite a scary time because watching people inject heroin and watching them pass out, slumped in a corner it’s not nice for someone to see at that young age when I was thirteen myself. Going on to like thirteen, fourteen, fifteen then, when my relationship with that partner ended, as did much of the drug use. 
The first time Chloe got high, she stole a spliff from her sister, who smoked cannabis regularly at home.
 

Chloe’s older sister smoked hash at home and it seemed to have a calming effect on her.

Chloe’s older sister smoked hash at home and it seemed to have a calming effect on her.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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She smoked hash which is the brown rock form of cannabis. Which actually, it doesn’t make you as high as the skunk form of cannabis but yeah even to this day I associate that smell with home because from when I was young, that was what I could smell at home, it's a comforting smell to me. 
 
So you took it because you were curious about what your older sister was doing or?
 
I just thought it was normal. I just thought because she was doing it it was like cigarettes. It was just something else that people did and it was just normal. There wasn’t any. There wasn’t ever a problem with my sister doing it. It wasn’t ever looked upon in front of me as something you shouldn’t be doing. It was like a positive maybe because she, she sort of. I can see that when she. Because she was quite a fiery person. She’s quite a fiery character and her and my mum always used to argue.
 
And I observed that when she did smoke it she was a much calmer, nicer person. So I saw it as a good thing that it did make a positive impact on her. I also did notice that when she didn’t have it she was fiery again because she didn’t have it.
 
And your mum, what was your mum’s attitude at that time when she was smoking cannabis or skunk at home?
 
Quite liberal. She didn’t really see it as much as a problem either. Yeah I think that’s a general thing as well maybe in more so in like a council estate area, low income, yeah education levels and stuff. It’s just seen as a, it’s not a hard drug. It’s not a problem. It’s just a bit of skunk. It’s just a spliff. It’s not really a big problem. That’s the general idea around it. 
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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