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Giving up smoking

Cannabis, alcohol and coffee and smoking

Cannabis

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.

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Thinking about smoking weed, how would you smoke? Would you smoke hash? Would you smoke grass? Or…

Both, all of the above. Kind of whatever was available and I could afford. I think there, there was definitely a point, particularly at university where it was almost like… I guess that you get, you get a drinking culture with some groups of lads and stuff where it’s all about how much you can drink, and how much strong drink you can drink, all that sort of stuff, and we kind of did the same thing with cannabis. We were very experimental with it in university, making contraptions and all sorts of things and getting really strong skunk and stuff, that, I hadn’t smoked that before I went to uni, the stuff we used to get back home was kind of, pretty bog standard resin and crappy weed that was mostly twigs and seeds. So I hadn’t really come across the really strong stuff. But, yeah, there was definitely a kind of, there was a bit of a, like lads get competitive with drinking, there was a little bit of that with how caned can we get and still stand up and have a conversation and… yeah. So no, it was everything. Whatever was going, and people we used to buy stuff off, would often say ‘oh we’ve got this, this and this,’ you know, so we’d try a little bit of various things. I, I guess at first I didn’t mind what it was. I probably preferred the stronger stuff, ‘cause it was a cheaper way to get caned, ‘cause you didn’t need as much of it. But then later on I didn’t, I kind of went off the really strong stuff. It was just a bit too much. I liked, like normal weed that wasn’t skunk, and there’s, what I particularly liked was like polleny hash, so kind of quite nice resin that went really fluffy when you made a joint with it. That was my favourite thing. Because it was a slightly different kind of buzz that you got off that, than you got off skunk and weed and things.

So sort of going back to the conversation we had about school kids and so on. Which groups of people at university smoked weed?

It seemed for a while that it was everybody, yeah. And our group was kind of, we were, like at school we all were into the same music, went to the same places, you know, liked the same TV shows, all that sort of stuff. Then at uni we were a bit more of a kind of disparate group, ‘cause you are thrown together a bit. I guess, in some ways we were very similar, like does tend to gravitate to like I suppose, especially when you get thrown together at uni.

But I mean, looking at how all those guys have turned out, and different lives that we’ve had, we didn’t really have that much more in common than we liked each other’s company and particularly liked getting caned with each other. There was a guy that was, that played rugby, there was a guy that had, he was like he was a bit of a mystical figure because he’d had a gap year, you know, not many people had gap years in those days. And he’d been to India and come back with kind of really exotic smoking paraphernalia, and he had long hair and big side burns, and we thought he was cool. And then there was people like me, that liked football and getting caned, and yeah. So I guess we didn’t really have a group identity as such, which, yeah, because there wasn’t any particular thing that sort of made us the same, other than, you know, yeah like I said, we enjoyed each other’s company and we all liked getting stoned.
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’.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
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But prior to that my health had pretty much deteriorated. I wasn’t in a awful state, there were a lot of people well worse than me, but I knew my lungs were in a bad state, because I’d spent most of uni, the know the time at uni I was a chain smoker and I was smoking a lot of cannabis as well. And that degree of smoking continued when I returned to Birmingham, so I was chain smoking then, and rolling tobacco one after the other. And if I managed to get hold of, you know, by this time when I returned as well, I was well prepared to get my own sort of little kind, as you call it a stash of cannabis and keep it and smoke that. And I’d kind of like smoke loads of that until it until it knocked me out really, so yes.

So how you smoke, did you smoke spliffs or …?

Yes, yes, yes. I smoked yes, yes, yes.

Was it skunk or…?

There was a lot of that going round. I didn’t do much of that when I was at university. I mean strangely enough there was a period where, before I returned to Birmingham that was cut out, but it was mainly because I didn’t know where to get the supply from. You know, I ended up in parts of the country where we didn’t know enough people or we didn’t know where to… So there was a period where I didn’t do that. But when I returned, pick up with very good friends, where I rejoined my friends and they were doing it. I mean, obviously, this was, I’d been smoking at uni anyway, but there was, once I’d finished my undergraduate degree, the period between that and 2002 before I returned, I didn’t have much of that. But when I returned I got back into it again. Spliffs. You know, you get your stash, hang out with your friends, or on your own, whichever way really.

And there was a period when, when my Dad died where I ended up doing quite a lot. There was a lot of skunk going around, you know, and that became the prevailing thing, just because it was so easily available. And did that and over the four or five, four years, five years that I did that, kind of really messed up my kind of outlook on the world, because it just disables you really, you know. You can’t function. So I did that. Then decided right enough of that, no more. I’ve got to get on with life and then I sort of cut that out, but I was still smoking weed. But I could tell all along the impact on my lungs was really bad. Because I was chain smoking, you know, rolling tobacco, cigarettes and then chain smoking pot whenever I got that. So yes.
 

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.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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What made me want to smoke dope I’ve got no idea apart from it being a social thing. I became, I mean Cornwall was, that was probably sort of when I was 20, 21, 22. I used to go down there. Basically just to doss and do what I wanted to do. No real, no real purpose to life at all. And you still have holiday jobs and then out of season you used to just go home and do what you wanted to do. Smoking dope seems to have been part of it.

And dope then became what alcohol had been I’d moved away from North Wales where I was sort of one of the lads down the pub, every Friday, Saturday, Sunday playing pool for a pub team. And I moved away from that and sort of, I don’t know, if I’d continued that I probably would have had a drink problem as well. But then I started smoking dope as a replacement. And it was a nice feeling, relaxed. I liked the fact that there was no aggression when people smoked, you know, there was with alcohol. And it seemed a much more sort of peaceful way of just living your life, rather than this racu..., this loud, this loud pub environment. And this was just ego sort of affected by alcohol.

So yes, it just seemed a good thing to do at the time. And it became a habit. And you know, the consequence of is that there’s a lot, a lot of my life that I don’t actually remember. It’s, I don’t know, if I went back I’d probably still do exactly the same. So I’ve got no real regrets. I enjoyed all of my time, which I find quite weird when someone sort of says can you remember when we were 60 whatever it was, and we did this, I can’t remember. I mean it wouldn't have been 60, it or 80 whatever, but I can’t actually remember that. I vaguely remember being somewhere but I don’t actually remember. I remember concerts I went to but I don’t actually remember the concert. I remember going to the concert at Milton Keynes Bowl and REM, but I don’t actually remember who else was playing. I don’t remember, I just remember sort of having a ticket and going. It might have been a dream. It’s, I can’t remember, I don’t how the hell to describe it. You know that you did something but you can’t remember what you did. I sort of vaguely remember a couple of the people I would have gone with, but who else I would have gone with, who I spoke to while I was at the gig, it’s weird.
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.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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I then discovered that, if you haven’t smoked for a while and you have a cigarette, it makes you feel quite ill, just like it does when you first…so I used to have this thing, where I’d think okay I want a cigarette now, but actually I can’t have what I’m craving, because if I have that first cigarette it’s going to taste vile, so I’m like, you know, I actually don’t get what I want as a result of, you know, I can’t, it’s actually totally impossible for me to satisfy this craving at this point in time. All I can do is get hooked and then satisfy it in about a week’s time, but that doesn’t, sort of defeats the object. So I think that was kind of, that was what stopped me, you know, having serious relapses.

But then I moved back home and I remember, I mean I think I sort of keep thinking it was probably like, it was a similar sort of thing to why I started smoking in the first place, I think people feel really put out that I wouldn’t smoke dope. So it was sort of like, okay, well, you know, just to make you feel better I will have a bit of it, so you won’t feel quite as stupid. And then, but obviously there was nicotine involved in smoking. And then I think that kind of turned in, turned into a thing where I then started to crave the nicotine again and then, you know, slowly but surely, I kind of could get what I wanted straight away, because I was used to smoking nicotine again. And I sort of drifted back into it. But gave up again. I think I just I think I might have re-read, did I re-read the book or maybe it was just sort of …
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.

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I think throughout we still kind of managed to go to lectures and do the stuff that we had to do, but it was a daily thing. Some days if I didn’t have lectures, it would be a breakfast thing. Some days, if I knew I didn’t have to be up in the morning before I went to bed the previous night I’d roll a joint and put it by my bed so I could wake up and smoke it. That’s really rank isn’t it? I’d wake up and smoke it straight away. Yeah, so it was all times of day, all, all occasions. Probably tell because I’m smiling, I’m thinking about it. It was sort of ridiculous at times. And I think there, this was part of the competitive thing as well, what kind of normal activity can you do while you’re really caned? [Laughs]. Going into the bank and performing some sort of transaction in the bank, can you do that? Can you go to Asda and do the big shop while you’re caned, kind of thing. Because it was partly about doing it and then partly about being able to tell the story about it afterwards I suppose. But it was ridiculous, and we were sort of in an experimental phase with it I suppose. But, and then later on, it just kind of, it became more like, you know, some people get home from work and have a drink, and I get home from work and roll a spliff. And do a bit more of it at weekends. But yeah, certainly at uni there was a point at which yeah, you certainly didn’t need an excuse.

I was going to say how did it change when you were working and you were saying you got caned to cope with a boring job?

Well, yeah, this is partly, this is partly kind of I guess, wrapped up a little bit in the personal relationship that I had, the guy that I lived with. ‘Cause we’d met in, we met at work, and we then ended up kind of... for various reasons he he’d split up with a girlfriend and he was looking for a place to live. The shared house I was in, people were going their separate ways, and I had got to the point where I thought, it would be quite nice to just live with one other person. And so I, we moved into a flat together, so we worked the same hours, in the same job, we lived in the same place, you know, we were like, completely living the same life the whole time. And he liked to get caned, so did I. But we had to both get up for work and stuff. So then it kind of became we’d, we’d both looked forward to it at the end of the day, and then kind of, when you’re in a shit job, it takes you a while to realise how shit your job is I think sometimes. But then ‘cause we had each other to kind of remind each other how shit it was, that kind of, that really sort of reinforced it probably for both of us, and it got to a point where it moved from being like ‘oh yeah, in a couple of hours we can go home and have a spliff, brilliant’ to kind of like ‘oh fucking roll on half past four.’ Do you know what I mean? And ‘oh I’ve got to get home, and I’ve got to get caned and stop thinking about this stupid job.’ I don’t know how it would have been different if I had been just me doing the shit job, or whether I’d have left it earlier. Yeah, I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about that, but that, yeah weirdly after we’d, after we moved out of that flat and he, I’m trying to think what he did after that, I think, yeah, he moved into another shared flat, and I moved in with my girlfriend, and we kind of we barely spoke for about two years after that. It had been a really intense relationship. We spent all our time in each other’s company pretty much apart from when we went out different places. All day at work, every evening at home and stuff. So yeah, I think there was, it was partly about the job where it changed, and just kind of partly about just kind of growing up a bit more I suppose.
 
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Judith worried about the risks of smoking stronger varieties of cannabis. Quitting cannabis and cigarettes together is a ‘double hurdle’.[TEXT ONLY]

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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I think the only thing that I would may be say, is, that for a certain age group it’s cigarette smoking and for a certain age group it’s much more cannabis smoking. And I think to try and give up both at once, because if you’re a cannabis smoker, you’re generally a cigarette smoker as well. If you try and give up both at once it’s a double hurdle. But again, it’s, it’s a very personal thing and some people could do that, some people couldn’t, but I do think there is a sort of age thing where you will have people who have never smoked joints and you will have a younger age bracket where really all you smoke joints, and I don’t know much of that is getting tackled. It never led on to anything else for me, drug wise. Occasionally, I could count on the one hand the amount of times I’ve taken speed and that was really because I’ve never really been a drinker and it was to keep up with people to just go out and be able to stay up at the same kind of... to the same time as them. Not on the same level obviously, because they got wrecked and I was still ch-ching. But yes, I think cannabis is always seen as the start of something worse, and actually cannabis itself is worse. And it’s a real problem, and the amount of people that I’ve seen just in the last week alone, just smoking joints on the street, and as an ex joint smoker, I know exactly what a) it looks like, b) it smells like, and all the rest, and there’s this really blasé attitude about it. It’s almost like, it’s almost like a sort of, what we would think Amsterdam is like, but even they have more control than we do now. You know, they have specific places you can go and smoke it, whereas it just seems to be everything. It really does. And it seems to be the norm. Yes. And it’s so debilitating not just in health, physical health, but the mental health side of things. And manjana that you get from it, you know, the, I can’t do it now, I’ll do it later, and things never get done. That’s the really sad thing. I’ve wasted so much of my life, just not being able to deal with it through just being too stoned generally. Yes.

But it’s got me to where I am now. I wouldn’t regret it. I’m sad it happened, but I had to go through that journey to get out the other side and to get so amazingly happy. Just palpably happy. It’s, I just didn’t ever think I could get to this point in my mental health journey as well as my physical health journey. With the bridges that I’ve kind of come across. And yes, it’s all possible
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.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
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I think all your friends started smoking and it was, it looked quite cool. And especially in those days, I think, especially when you were down the pub, sort of to have a sort of pint in your hand and a cigarette, I think, was the sort of done thing in those days. I think we, at the age of 18, I think we were aware of the health risks and all the government promotion which was given at that time, but you know, being 18, you just totally think you’re immortal. So we continued, well I continued smoking and it then obviously formed very much a habit.

And I think it was sort of in my twenties, my early twenties I first of all thought oh I don’t like the stains on my fingers after a heavy night’s you know, sort of smoking and things like that, so I tried to give up, but I think that by that time obviously the habit had sort of become quite addiction. And I think one of the real difficulties for me was there was always smoking at a particular time in the social, in the social life, so certainly I found it really difficult to actually avoid having a cigarette when I had a pint down me, at the local pub or with friends or even may be having a coffee in a coffee bar or something else like that. It was a sort of almost knee jerk reaction to pick up a cigarette and to start smoking.
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.

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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And then you get to the point where, you know, all of a sudden you’re not ticking off the hours, you’re ticking off the days and then you’re ticking off the weeks. And, I think that for me is the, that’s when it started becoming something in the back of your head, instead of it being something that over, you know, that occupies your every waking thought. It was just something that you could start ignoring. It was just something I quite fancy a cigarette rather than I really need a smoke. I quite fancy a cigarette. And it would get more and more in the background in your head and rather than going away completely it just became easier to ignore, and you get to the point where you suddenly realise that you’re sort of two months down the line. You might still fancy a cigarette, you’d still be in a situation where you would, you can just go oh well that’ll pass. I’ve dealt with hundreds of these, ten, you know, a thousand time worse than that I can deal with it.

Of course there are others ones as well when you’re giving up. The difficult situations, like the first time you go to the pub, the first time you go to the pub and start drinking. You know, it doesn’t matter how many…. you know, I think for me it was probably about a week giving up. Because I tried to avoid the situation. And I got to the point where I just couldn’t avoid it any more. So I ended up going to the pub and I thought, well this’ll be a test. And [laughs] I think I just drank an awful lot that night [laughs]. I think instead of having a cigarette I would just drink more beer. Every time I fancied a smoke, I’d just drink more beer, and I think I got through an awful lot of beer. But there isn’t, you know, there are worse things to do with your time. But I think that’s probably how I dealt with it. I think I also ate a lot more when I gave up. I think that’s probably fairly typical as well.
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.

​Last reviewed August 2018.
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