Cannabis, alcohol and coffee and smoking


Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. People we spoke with about their smoking often mentioned smoking cannabis. When asked, other people said that they hadn’t ever tried it, didn’t like it, or preferred not to talk about their use of an illegal substance.

Cannabis occurs naturally – it is made from the cannabis plant. Its main active chemical is tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC for short) and it can make people feel chilled out, happy and content, but sometimes causes them to feel paranoid and can lead them to hallucinate. Cannabis has been linked to long-term and serious mental health problems, including psychotic illnesses, especially if there is a family history of mental health problems. People we spoke to had smoked different kinds of cannabis product such as hash (cannabis resin), grass or weed (dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant) or skunk sometimes also referred to as grass or weed (one of the first varieties of hydroponically* produced cross-breeds which produce a much higher concentration of THC). Cannabis can be smoked on its own, in a pipe, or mixed with tobacco. Research has shown that cannabis has more toxins than tobacco, although it is typically smoked in smaller quantities than tobacco. The jury is still out as to whether cannabis or tobacco is more carcinogenic.

Tom smoked a lot of weed at university with a disparate group of guys who were a bit competitive about using really strong varieties.

Sometimes people were given their first joint at a party or tried it with friends. Cassie tried weed when she was 13 and had a ‘very bad reaction’ so never tried it again. Other people, like Tam, had smoked cannabis in the past, but she found that she enjoyed drinking at the pub more than smoking joints. Although people spoke about the risks of smoking tobacco, they rarely referred to the specific risks associated with smoking cannabis, other than those affecting their everyday lifestyle, such as being too ‘caned’ or ‘stoned’ to get anything done or finding that smoking cannabis made them eat more. Abdul said that eating too many sweets late at night when he was stoned had caused problems with his teeth.

Abdul was a chain smoker and smoked a lot of cannabis at university and particularly after his father died. The effect on his lungs was really bad.

Age at interview 37

Gender Male

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Jules smoked a lot of dope in his early 20s. He preferred the peaceful’ effect to the louder and more aggressive environment of the pub.

Age at interview 41

Gender Male

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Abdul found that he was dependent only on cannabis and tobacco, despite having used various other drugs such as ecstasy and speed. Tom was able to first give up tobacco and then stop smoking neat cannabis a year later. Sometimes people gave up smoking cigarettes but continued to get their nicotine from the tobacco in joints/spliffs. For various reasons this did not always succeed.

Anna had stopped smoking cigarettes, but then started smoking dope with friends and drifted back to tobacco.

Age at interview 47

Gender Female

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People described how getting stoned or caned disrupted their daily lives. Sometimes this was funny and they told stories about it. But at other points it stopped people getting on with their careers, or they found they were just using cannabis because they were bored. Peter started a PhD and consciously decided to switch from smoking pot to smoking tobacco so he could cope with the intellectual tasks.

Tom remembered trying to do everyday tasks, such as going to the bank or doing supermarket shopping, while stoned, and later smoking cannabis to cope with a boring job.

Judith worried about the risks of smoking stronger varieties of cannabis. Quitting cannabis and cigarettes together is a double hurdle.[TEXT ONLY]

Age at interview 36

Gender Female

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Other people, such as Khan and Laura, were aware of the risks of smoking too much cannabis. They felt some of their friends and acquaintances had developed mental health problems as a result of smoking cannabis. Judith saw it as a way of ‘self-medicating’ for an anxiety disorder. Sue says she never did anything illegal, other than smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol when she was under age.

Alcohol and coffee

People often saw smoking and drinking alcohol or coffee as going together, particularly before 2007 when people were still allowed to smoke in public spaces such as pubs and cafes. Whilst a few people said that they didn’t enjoy drinking, didn’t drink for religious reasons, or preferred a smoking (cannabis) culture, rather than the drinking culture, others said that they enjoyed a few drinks.

Miles thought that when he was younger it was a knee jerk reaction’ to have a cigarette with a pint of beer or a cup of coffee.

Age at interview 48

Gender Male

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John said that his contemporaries considered drinking alcohol and smoking ‘rites of passage’. Sue also associated them with being an ‘adult’ in the 1960s. Judith said that having the first few drinks of alcohol was similar to having your first few cigarettes: nobody liked them initially, but people learned to enjoy it. Blodwen felt that she got more pleasure from smoking when she’d had a couple of drinks.

When Andy first gave up smoking, he avoided going to the pub but then tested himself by trying not to smoke there.

Age at interview 31

Gender Male

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The hardest cigarettes to do without were often those associated with drinking alcohol or with coffee after a meal. Tam was happy that she had managed to have a few glasses of wine and not start again, but remembered times when she ‘fell off the wagon’ (started smoking again) at the pub. Chris described smoking as her ‘only vice’ as he didn’t drink much; Munir didn’t drink at all.

*A method of growing plants using mineral plant food solutions, in water, without soil.

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