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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Regular use of cannabis

Young people often see cannabis as the least dangerous of the ‘street’ drugs. Some much preferred it to other substances, including alcohol, and described a very casual approach to smoking cannabis. Raphael said he would often have a smoke while walking to the shops and Craig said he might roll a joint while waiting for a bus. Jim commented that he used to smoke cannabis like others smoke cigarettes.

Young people we talked to sometimes described themselves as ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ cannabis users; but the meaning of ‘regular’ use varies a great deal from one young person to another. Some said they’ll have a few puffs on a joint occasionally after dinner with friends, while others use it several times a week.  ’Regular’ use often builds up over time and depends on being able to get hold of cannabis.
 

Peter started smoking cannabis more regularly when he was able to buy it from his cousin.

Peter started smoking cannabis more regularly when he was able to buy it from his cousin.

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
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Probably I didn’t start regularly. Again I intermittently used cannabis after that and I probably started regularly smoking around 19 at which point one of my cousins was selling it. So he was, it was a lot more readily available to me from then.
 
So obviously because it was more readily available it was something I enjoyed doing. I’d buy it and I’d smoke it.
 
How often were you, I mean?
 
I’d probably say I was purchasing it once a week. Smoking it every second day perhaps daily. Some weeks it might be every day. Some weeks it would be like every second day or something like that.
 
Some weeks I might not smoke all through the week and only smoke on a weekend.
 
In which situations were you likely to smoke?
 
Social situations.
 
Social?
 
Social situations. No I don’t think cannabis is the right drug to smoke on your own because I think it makes you consider things. It makes you think about things a lot and I think if you sat on your own you’re not having that social interaction.
 

I mean I don’t know actually. I smoke it on my own now. Perhaps at that age it’s not the right thing. You’re very insecure with yourself as an adolescent. 

 

Jen may have the odd puff if friends are lighting a joint but she doesn’t like the way weed makes her feel and doesn’t know how to get hold of it.

Jen may have the odd puff if friends are lighting a joint but she doesn’t like the way weed makes her feel and doesn’t know how to get hold of it.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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But on those occasions when you smoked weed where were you?
 
Just with friends. Me and [husband] have smoked weed occasionally together, that’s my husband. Yeah just with friends usually. I’ve got two friends who are a lot more party-tastic than I am and often at the end of a dinner party or whatever they’ll have a joint. So we might. It’s like kind of like having an after dinner drink, so have that instead. But I will generally just have one or two puffs. I’m not. I just, I don’t like the way it makes me feel in my head. It just makes me feel really groggy.
 
You know people find it really relaxing and stuff and I just felt like I couldn’t move [laugh]. And I also had quite a few experiences when I obviously over imbibed and was sick. So all those things I was just like, ‘Ah I just can’t’ kind of. And again it’s the same, the same problem of knowing where to get it from. Because I do have friends and stuff that smoke weed but you’re never really sure of the social etiquette of asking people to get, to get you weed or so yeah.
 

So I’m quite happy with a glass of red wine and cigarettes. 

The variety of cannabis (weed, skunk and resin) young people smoked was linked to what was available where they lived and what their friends used. Sam initially smoked block (resin) but he and his friends switched to the much stronger skunk when it became available in his local area. He doesn’t have a clear memory of what happened during that time but remembers having been ‘stoned’ all the time which didn’t help with his schooling or relationships at home.

Becoming a regular cannabis user 
For some young people their use of cannabis depends on circumstances like the people they spend time with or having a place to smoke. As a teenager, Michelle smoked cannabis with her best friend and some older male friends. They went to friends’ houses whose parents allowed them to smoke cannabis. 

Moving out of home and going to university, or moving in with friends, allows freedom to experiment. Joe said that he smoked cannabis most regularly when he was 19 and sharing a house with friends. Jen smoked ‘a bit’ of weed during her first year at university because that was what a lot of her friends did but now that she works full-time she doesn’t come across cannabis that often. Lauren drank alcohol and smoked cannabis every weekend with her school friends but not now that she is at university.
 

Lauren smoked cannabis every weekend with her school friend but her new group of friends don’t do drugs.

Lauren smoked cannabis every weekend with her school friend but her new group of friends don’t do drugs.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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Going back to drugs did you sort of try anything else apart from cannabis?
 
No.
 
How often were you smoking cannabis?
 
Every week.
 
Every week so when you met with your friends for sort of a drinking session you were also smoking a bit of weed?
 
Yeah
 
And that changed recently or...?
 
Yeah at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.
 
Ok has your group of friends changed also?
 
Yeah
 
Yeah
 
They got out. It’s normally the crowd that you’re in, the sort of friends you have and they influence that upon you and that’s why you start doing it. But now my group of friends have changed.
 

Joe mainly smoked cannabis at age nineteen after he moved out of his parents’ house. He said that...

Joe mainly smoked cannabis at age nineteen after he moved out of his parents’ house. He said that...

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I think it was probably just a few weeks later we were at a party and they were having, having a joint and I got involved, and went on and smoked that with them after having a couple of beers, and like a few, a few drinks, not many, but just maybe three or four bottles , yeah we smoked, smoked cannabis , which I enjoyed , and I think over the next couple of years I probably smoked more than I drunk I think, I’d smoke, cannabis during the week at, like have a, have a, have a joint at night whereas I wouldn’t have a drink, so I think, personally yeah I was, I had more experience with that at that age than, than alcohol probably over the...
 
So between the ages of... sorry, between the ages of seventeen and nineteen?
 
Yeah, about that. Smoked quite a lot when I was nineteen, once I’d moved out of home and moved into a flat with, with friends, and yeah I could smoke in, well I was smoking in my flat so I hadn’t done that at home, but there I felt I could so, probably had it more frequently and stopped smoking it when I was about nineteen, twenty suppose, yeah must have been about, just about twenty . 
 

Once she stopped enjoying cannabis Stephanie gave it up without much difficulty. She says she had...

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Once she stopped enjoying cannabis Stephanie gave it up without much difficulty. She says she had...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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You smoked Cannabis?
 
Yeah.
 
Are you still smoking?
 
No, but I mean very rarely, very rarely, I’ve kind of finished with that, again I just think I’ve kind of grown out of that stage now.
 
Okay so how old were you when you were smoking Cannabis?
 
From the ages of maybe seventeen to twenty-one. I mean that would be the most I would ever do it but, I mean on and off between those ages but yeah, that would be the main time.
 
And in which context were you? Were you with friends?
 
With friends, yeah with friends and occasionally on, I would just do it on my own, I would just have it on my own, I would think nothing of, having one on my own yeah, I would, at school, sometimesat school as well and again I would think nothing of that I thought I could function perfectly, thinking back I probably wasn’t functioning perfectly but I thought I was, but mostly I had a big group of friends who would do it and I really, I mean really enjoyed it so, I would do it then, but as soon as I stopped enjoying it I just kind of stopped, it wasn’t a big problem. 
Why do people use cannabis regularly? 
Young people stressed the social aspect of smoking cannabis, as something that it is done with friends for fun and relaxation. Peter doesn’t think people should use drugs when they’re on their own, particularly teenagers who are less secure about themselves.

Peter had bad experiences with alcohol and now prefers to smoke weed than drink alcohol, although he wonders whether he could find another way of taking cannabis without tobacco. Peter likes the way that smoking cannabis helps him think about problems.
 

Peter is programmer and says that smoking weed helps him to come up with solutions to technical problems at work.

Peter is programmer and says that smoking weed helps him to come up with solutions to technical problems at work.

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
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What are your motivations for continuing smoking?
 
I think that I have a nicotine addiction because sometimes I get an urge to have a joint. So I do think I must have some form of nicotine addiction. I enjoy smoking cannabis. A lot of my friends continue to smoke cannabis so there’s the social aspect. I like the effects of it. I don’t know it’s hard to put into words actually what the effects are but I think, I can really think when I smoke cannabis. I mean I come up with some of my, because my job’s programming I’ve come up with some of my best solutions. I don’t actually do the programming whilst I’m under the influence but sometimes I’ve been sat at home thinking about a problem I’ve had a work and that’s when I figured it out whilst I’ve been high I tend to read a lot, things like that. I don’t know I, for me I think it enhances me. Whilst I don’t think it’s a drug of choice for everyone I think in my instance it probably enhances me.
 
And now how often do you use?
 
I, these days I’d probably say 3 to 4 times a week, 3 to 4 times a week only ever on a night once my son’s sleeping.
 
Has having a son now sort of made you think about this or no?
 
Well it’s made me not want to. It’s made me not smoke. Like occasionally I’d smoke when I got straight in from work before I had a son. I wouldn’t do that with my son. One I don’t think you should smoke around children and two I wouldn’t want to be in an altered state of mind whilst with my son. You know I don’t think it’s fair he should get to see me. You know at the end of the day if I’ve got something that I get pleasure out and enjoy doing but I can do away from him then I should do I away from him not around him.
 
Would you like kind of to stop smoking?
 
No.
 
No?
 

In fact maybe I’d like to stop smoking, maybe I’d prefer another method of ingestion. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a vaporiser. Perhaps I’d prefer to vaporise than smoke.  

Comparing cannabis with other drugs 
People who used cannabis regularly were quick to separate cannabis from the other, harder drugs like cocaine or heroin. Stephanie said that she has heard that cannabis can be damaging but she knows many people who use it without it being a problem. Some said they hadn’t heard of people having bad reactions to cannabis.

Sometimes, regular cannabis users experimented with other street drugs like ketamine, cocaine or ecstasy. Jen and Peter for instance, both said they had had a line of cocaine just once. Stephanie said that she never felt the need to try other drugs and, like Jen, was scared of the health consequences of drugs like cocaine. Kim has often been offered cocaine in clubs but wasn’t interested because it’s too addictive and expensive. Heroin was the drug that young people seem to be the most wary about.
 

Kim has smoked cannabis a few times but would never consider using other drugs. She is concerned about becoming addicted.

Kim has smoked cannabis a few times but would never consider using other drugs. She is concerned about becoming addicted.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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To be honest when I was at school I maybe smoked a few cannabis joints but nothing. I never, I’ve never ever touched anything else so.
 
Have you been offered anything else?
 
Yeah.
 
Where?
 
Probably in more, recently in the last maybe three years and a lot of people take a lot of cocaine and things in clubs but I’m not really interested in anything like that. It’s too much money so.
 
So it was a financial thing?
 
Yeah and it’s very addictive as well so it doesn’t interest me at all.
 
Did you continue smoking cannabis or?
 
No it was just if you were out and somebody was smoking a cannabis joint you would maybe have a couple of draws of it. But I would, would never have bought it myself or anything like that.
 
And what are your views on drugs? I mean why don’t you do it? Is it just the money or are you concerned about something.
 
I’m probably more concerned about being addicted to drugs and things and you see what drugs do to people also. It doesn’t interest me at all, drugs. 
 

Alex would never consider using heroin. One of his cousins was treated for heroin addiction.

Alex would never consider using heroin. One of his cousins was treated for heroin addiction.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Have you tried heroin?
 
No. I wouldn’t.
 
You wouldn’t?
 
No.
 
Why not?
 
I know how dangerous it is really.
 
In which way dangerous?
 
I now sort of... but being so highly addictive sort of risk of death, overdosing. I’ve actually got a sort of second cousin who went to the Priory who was addicted to heroin and then she had a pretty awful time. And just generally, you know, it’s just something I wouldn’t even consider.
 
So you saw her when she was?
 
No, no I didn’t see. I was quite young at the time but she’s well now but, you know from what I heard, it was a pretty awful time for her. 
 

Jamie uses cannabis occasionally when having a few drinks with friends. He says it is a good way of relaxing but he wouldn’t consider using it when sober.

Jamie uses cannabis occasionally when having a few drinks with friends. He says it is a good way of relaxing but he wouldn’t consider using it when sober.

Age at interview: 26
Sex: Male
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The effect that I felt was pretty much what I expected. And it was just, to me, felt very similar to having a drink, I kind of felt relaxed and just kind of just, enjoyed the kind of relaxed feeling that I got really with it, and yeah your inhibitions kind of went down a little bit and as far as it went that, you know, that was about it really. , I have since kind of had a little dabble now and again but it, it’s not something I kind of, it’s not the kind of thing I could tell I do on a weekly or even monthly or even a yearly basis, you know, it’s very infrequent but if the opportunity presents itself then I kind of don’t refuse it really. but that, that, that kind of, I’m not put in that position very often and I don’t seek that.
 
So in which context do you do it? With friends, at a party or?
 
Yeah I mean it will probably be like if a friend has something at his house and we’ve gone out and we’ve had a good night out, and we’ve had a few drinks and that and we come back, and you know, me and my friends are very kind of sit around the garden with another drink or something and like look up at the stars and get all kind of philosophical, and, you know, generally speaking we kind of feel that that kind of compliments that kind of conversation and environment so, we don’t, you know, it’s not something we kind of go out in a club and, you know, decide to roll up a bloody spliff and start smoking, you know, a joint in the middle of a club, you know, that’s not the context, and it’s not the context that you go round to someone maybe sober and kind of, “Oh I’ve come round for a smoke.” kind of thing, it’s an addition to kind of going out and having a drink, a bit of fun with your friends and then kind of at the end of the night rounding it off with just kind of relaxing out and chilling out kind of before you go to bed kind of thing, and that’s always been the context that it’s been in really.
 
Very, very infrequently. It’s obvious, I mean it’s generally my male friends obviously like, there’s not many of the girls that think, seem to do it for some unknown reason. And it’s not like my friends are kind of drug users as such, you know, not, none of them are kind of, you know, I don’t know a friend that has taken Speed, Cocaine or Ecstasy, none of those like hard drugs as I would call it, you know, they, they’re all fitness fanatics if anything, you know, some of them are rowers, some of them are, you know, gym instructors and, you know, private trainers and all that so I mean generally as a group of friends they’re quite fit, it’s just a, a downtime kind of relax, you know, relaxation that we have really.
 
And it hasn’t progressed to anything beyond that.
 
Being a ‘heavy’ user of cannabis 
Craig and Jim said that they smoked cannabis ‘like cigarettes’, with Craig smoking two to three ’joints’ or ‘spliffs’ every day. Chloe was ‘high‘ most days from the ages of twelve to sixteen and Michelle told us that she and her school friends would share a spliff at the bus stop on the way to school or even just before going into an exam.
 

Sam describes what it was like to be a heavy user of cannabis(Played by an actor).

Sam describes what it was like to be a heavy user of cannabis(Played by an actor).

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
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Going back when I was just smoking weed we’d sort of stay up all night. All, actually no it wasn’t we’d go to the club. When we come out of the club sometimes we’d just go and find it, because I was living with my parents. We’d just go and find somewhere to hang out. So it could be like in an empty school, you know, in the playing field or it could be, you know somewhere where people can’t see us. We’d have a smoke, take some more drugs, might even phone up and get drugs delivered to us, like you know. This could be at 4 o’clock in the morning like, you know what I mean. And it’s just what we did, smoke or smoke. 
 
I remember going to the 24-hour garage because we didn’t have no rizlas or fags and that and we couldn’t get no drink. So I ended up like. I had enough money to buy a can of coke so I could make a “hop can” like, you know what I mean, just anything just to keep us going. And like a lot of people used to go back to people’s houses after the club and that so we’d go with them even if we didn’t know them that well. We’d go around the house and sit up doing drugs until fucking it was time to go home, 6'00 in the morning. Do the walk of shame back through the town and that. You know people looking at you like. You’d got drugs all over your face and that and you’re covered in like stains from your beer and you’d been up all night so your eyes are like that [showing]. Then you’ve got to get in past your parents like. That’s always the worst one, trying to get in like. The best way is just to tell them to fuck off and walk up stairs so they think that you’ve had an argument with them.
 
I think by that point we started moving on to skunk and that as well because it was becoming more widely available in our area, like. You know, it was slightly more expensive because we were paying like a tenner for eighth block, like probably a bit less than that sometimes if we knew the kids like, sort of blag them down and that. But yeah like once we started smoking skunk I was like so much better on it. It was worth the extra money and that. And obviously the varieties and that were all different. It was quite hard to keep all my timings together because it’s just. It’s so blurred from what I was doing back then like, you know. And as I get close to present day I’ve got a clearer sort of recollection but back then I was just literally. I must have been stoned every day by that point but by the time I got to my exams.
 
So how old were you 15/16?
 
I’d be yeah, about 16. You know it’s just smoking, smoking constantly like, you know and we, we’d. That’s just what we did like. We’d go out in town and if we didn’t have any block in at home I remember snorting a load of, or hooting sorry, hooting a load of gas because we couldn’t get any smoke like so we got some pressurised lighter gas so we’d be hooting that over the top of a jumper or whatever and just hooting that and it gets you really, really high really quick. We didn’t even think about the fact that it says you can die instantly on the packet or nothing. But...
 
See also Problems with cannabis use.
 
Last reviewed July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.

 
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