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Cannabis

Also known asMull | Pot | Dope | Weed | Gunja | Marijuana |Synthetic Cannabis | Kronic | Spice | Incense

Cannabis is difficult to classify pharmacologically because it has a variety of effects. It is primarily a depressant drug. However, it can have hallucinogenic and some stimulant properties.

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. This chemical affects a person’s mood and perception. Marijuana, hashish and hashish oil come from the cannabis plant.  

  • Marijuana is made from the dried leaves and flowers and looks like herbs or tea. Its colour ranges from greyish-green to greenish-brown.
  • Hashish (hash) is the dried, compressed resin extract from the flowering tops of the female plant. Hashish ranges in colour from light brown to nearly black. It is more potent than cannabis.
  • Hashish oil is a thick and oily liquid extract from the cannabis plant. It is reddish-brown in colour. The THC is very concentrated and a small amount will produce marked effects.

What is synthetic cannabis?

Synthetic Cannabis is generally plant materials that has been sprayed with ‘synthetic cannabinoids’. Synthetic cannabinoids have similar physical and psychoactive effects to THC the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. These products are commonly sold as incense and are labelled as ‘not for human consumption’.

Extensive testing by ChemCentre has found that the contents of synthetic cannabis brands such as Kronic found in Western Australia (WA) varies even though the packaging may look the same.  Further testing has shown that these products in WA can contain psychoactive substances other than synthetic cannabinoids, such as synthetic stimulants.  These mixtures of different new psychoactive substances can have unpredictable results when taken.

Where does cannabis come from?

Cannabis is the short name for the hemp plant Cannabis Sativa. It is thought to have originated in Asia and reached Europe more than a thousand years ago.

How is cannabis used?

Cannabis is usually smoked or cooked in foods and eaten.  When smoked, the effects are felt within minutes and when eaten it can take from 1 to 3 hours to feel the effects, this means it can be easy to have too much. The effects can last up to 5 hours. 

How many people use cannabis?

The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey reported that 11.3% of Western Australians aged 14 years and older had used cannabis in the previous 12 months.

The effects of cannabis will vary from person to person depending on characteristics of the:

  • Individual (user) – mood, physical size, health, gender, previous experience with cannabis or synthetic cannabis, expectations of the drug, personality, whether the person has had food and whether other drugs have been taken.
  • Drug – the amount used, the content of the THC or synthetic cannabinoids, and whether it is smoked or eaten.
  • Setting (environment) – whether the person is using with friends, on his/her own, in a social setting or at home, at work or before driving.

Short-Term Effects of Cannabis Use

Short-Term Effects of Higher Doses of Cannabis

Long-Term Effects of Cannabis Use

Loss of concentration

 

Confusion and restlessness

Decreased concentration

Reduced coordination, balance and reflexes and increased risk of injury

Detachment from reality

 

Decreased memory and learning abilities

Reddened eyes

 

Excitement

 

Interference with sexual drive and hormone production

Tunnel awareness – where a person focuses their awareness on one thing

Hallucinations

Mental health problems in those who are vulnerable

Talkativeness, loss of inhibitions and feeling of wellbeing

Anxiety & panic attacks

 

Dependence

Increased appetite

 

Respiratory problems.

 

Bronchitis

Increased heart rate

 

Mental health problems in those who are vulnerable

Lung cancer 

Tolerance

Regular, heavy cannabis use can lead to tolerance. This means that a person needs more cannabis is achieve the same effects they did previously with smaller amounts 

Dependence

Regular, heavy cannabis use can lead to dependence. This means that the drug becomes central to a person’s life and they feel they cannot function properly without it.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal – this occurs when a person either significantly reduces the amount of cannabis they use, or stops using cannabis altogether. When withdrawing from cannabis, symptoms can include sleep and appetite disturbances, anxiety and depression 

Overdose

The toxic effect of cannabis is low relative to other substances. There have been no confirmed deaths directly from cannabis overdose.  However, cannabis use can lead to a number of long-term negative health consequences and can increase the risk of injury to yourself and to others.

 

Cannabis use can increase the risk of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, paranoia and psychosis, especially in young people and those with a vulnerability to mental health problems. This risk increases with frequency and amount of cannabis use.

People who use cannabis in their teens may also have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. This risk also increases with frequency and amount of cannabis use.

The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that:

  • 25.3% of people who had used cannabis in the previous month and 21.2% of people who had used in the previous 12 months reported they suffered one or more of the following mental illnesses: depression, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder or other form of psychosis.

Frequent use of cannabis can affect the brain by decreasing the user’s ability to concentrate and remember things and can also impact on learning ability.

MRI techniques using cognitive tasks have shown diminished activity in the brains of regular cannabis users, even after 28 days of abstinence.

Cannabis intoxication can impair short-term memory, attention, control of emotion, motor skills, reaction time and skilled activities, increasing the risk of injury.

Regular cannabis use can increase the risk of respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory tract infections, emphysema and lung cancer.

Reports from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) suggest that that there is concern around smoking cannabis compared to smoking tobacco which is due to cannabis being generally smoked with a prolonged and deeper inhalation than tobacco. People also tend to smoke cannabis with a shorter butt length and at a higher combustion temperature. This results in approximately a five times greater carboxyhaemoglobin concentration, a threefold greater amount of tar inhaled and retention of a third more tar in the respiratory tract.

Only a limited amount is known about the effects of cannabis on the unborn child. However, the use of cannabis during pregnancy is not recommended. If cannabis is used in pregnancy the baby may be born smaller and lighter than other babies. Low birth weight can be associated with infections and breathing problems.

Little is known about the effects of cannabis smoking on breastfeeding. It is believed that some of the drug will pass through the breast milk to the baby, with risks to the child.

It is recommended that women discuss with their doctor (or other health professional) if they are using or planning to use any drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding, including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

Using cannabis with other drugs increases risks. If cannabis is used in conjunction with other depressant drugs the depressant action generally increases. When cannabis is combined with alcohol it can frequently lead to behaviour which causes injuries. For example, because cannabis interferes with a person’s motor and coordination skills, vision and perceptions of time and space, the ability to drive safely and complete tasks that require concentration can be impaired, resulting in an accident. This impairment increases substantially when cannabis is used with alcohol.

Cannabis and relationship problems

Drug use can lead to social and emotional problems and affect relationships with partners, family and friends. For example, one of the effects of cannabis can be loss of inhibitions. This may lead to a person saying or doing something that they would not normally do. This in turn may lead to embarrassing or regrettable situations.

Cannabis can also impact on other things in a person’s life. Some adolescents have commented that their friends who are cannabis users won’t go out with them as often and can’t be bothered doing things.

Cannabis use can create major problems in families.

Cannabis and financial problems

The street price of cannabis varies depending on availability, how it is grown and market trends. The cost of purchasing cannabis can lead to financial problems for both occasional and regular users.

Cannabis and the law

In Western Australia, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981, it is illegal to use, possess, cultivate or supply cannabis, or to possess pipes and other smoking implements containing detectable traces of cannabis. It is also illegal for shops to sell or display cannabis smoking paraphernalia.

Offences under this Act carry heavy fines and/or prison sentences. Penalties range from a cannabis intervention requirement to a $100 000 fine and/or imprisonment for 25 years. A person convicted of a drug offence can receive a criminal record, which can lead to difficulties in getting a job, health insurance, credit and/or visas for overseas travel.

What is a Cannabis Intervention Requirement

Under the Cannabis Intervention Requirement (CIR) Scheme, police may issue a CIR notice to eligible people found in possession or use of small amounts of cannabis, and/or possession of a smoking implement containing traces of cannabis.

However, a person found in possession of a small amount of cannabis may still be charged with the more serious offence of possession of cannabis with intent to sell or supply, if police have relevant evidence.

The CIR Scheme does not apply to offences involving the possession or cultivation of cannabis plants, or possession of any quantities of cannabis resin (hash), hash oil, or other cannabis derivatives. These offences will be prosecuted through the courts.

A person who has been given a CIR will be required to book and complete a Cannabis Intervention Session (CIS) within 28 days or elect to have the matter heard in court. If you book and complete a CIS you will not be required to appear in court. No further action will be taken against you for the alleged offence and you will not receive a criminal conviction.

For more information on the CIR scheme visit the WA Diversion Program

Synthetic cannabis and the law

From 1 May 2012 synthetic cannabinoids were banned Australia wide, and these include:

  • Benzoylindoles
  • Cyclohexylphenols
  • Dibenzopyrans
  • Naphthoylindoles
  • Naphthylmethylindoles
  • Naphthoylpyrroles
  • Naphthymethylindenes
  • Phenylacetylindoles
  • Synthetic cannabinomimetics.

This means that all synthetic cannabinoids are banned nationally, except when separately specified.

The quantities of synthetic cannabinoids that have been banned mirror those for cannabis in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981:

  • Schedule III – Amounts of prohibited drugs determining court of trial - 500g
  • Schedule V – Amounts of prohibited drugs giving rise to presumption of intention to sell or supply same - 100g
  • Schedule VII – Amounts of prohibited drugs for purposes of drug trafficking - 3.0kg.

Cannabis and driving

In Western Australia, it is against the law for anyone to drive with the presence of an illicit drug prescribed within the Road Traffic Act 1974, or impaired by a drug. 

Using cannabis affects a person’s driving ability by:

  • Slowing the driver’s reaction time.
  • Distorting the driver’s perceptions.
  • Decreasing the ability to coordinate appropriate reactions when driving.

Driving while under the influence of cannabis is dangerous and greatly increases risk to the user and others on the road. When combined with alcohol use, the risk increases significantly. In Western Australia, it is against the law for anyone to drive under the influence of drugs, including cannabis. 

Planning on quitting cannabis?

People decide to quit using cannabis for a lot of reasons including it is harming their physical and/or mental health and wellbeing; their relationships with friends and others they care about, or because they are starting new employment and may be drug tested.

Thinking about cutting down and/or quitting your cannabis use? Worried you may struggle? You are not alone. Help is only a phone call away. The Alcohol and Drug Support Line can also assist in planning your quit attempt, and talk with you about the options available to assist you (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024 (country callers).

Sometimes it can be scary thinking about cutting down or quitting cannabis as you don’t know what to expect. Some people may find it easy to cut down or quit cannabis use, but some people may find it a little harder and may experience some withdrawal symptoms. Remember this is normal.

Tips for quitting cannabis

Some helpful tips for cutting down or quitting your cannabis use:

  • Make a list of the advantages quitting cannabis will have on you. Whether its saving money, better health or having more energy and motivation or having fewer arguments with your family - keeping these advantages as reminders can help keep you on track!
  • Delay having your first smoke of the day for a few hours and gradually increase this delay.
  • Do something else so you are not concentrating on using cannabis – go for a walk, or to the gym. Delaying use by doing something else when you are craving cannabis can allow time for the urge to pass.
  • Set limits to what times, days and amount you can use.
  • Distance yourself from cannabis and the triggers associated with using cannabis.  
  • Stop buying cannabis and decrease or minimise contact with your friends who are still using cannabis.  
  • Clean out all your smoking paraphernalia. e.g. pipes, bongs,  
  • If you are using other drugs, re-consider this and whether this will increase or decrease your likelihood of relapsing.  
  • Set a date, get support from family members or friends
  • Consider seeing your GP or psychologist – some people may benefit from this especially if the withdrawal symptoms are making it difficult for them to stay stopped.  Some people may need some level of medication if this occurs. Often once someone has quit for a while, say 6 to 8 weeks, some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression can lift because the anxiety or depression were being made worse by the cannabis use.

Sometimes it can help to speak to someone, whether a family member, or a friend, or even a qualified drug counsellor – they are there to support you.

There are lots of resources and support to assist you in quitting.

Getting through withdrawal can be easier if you take it one day at a time and focus on activities that help you cope with the effects of withdrawal. Knowing the symptoms to expect can help you get through. Following are some tips on how to cope with the various withdrawal symptoms you may experience:

Common withdrawal symptoms that users may feel when trying to cut their cannabis use are: 

  • Cravings to use – These can be quite strong and if you feel anxious then this can intensify your cravings. Sometimes hunger will also be confused with having a craving. Make sure you eat regularly and ensure you are properly hydrated.
  • Irritability – It is very common to get agitated and irritable during withdrawal, so it will be important for you to do things that will help you relax.
  • Sleep disturbance – This can occur if you are used to falling asleep being stoned and so when you stop smoking cannabis you may find it hard to fall asleep. It is about getting used to “sleeping without cannabis”. You may also find that when you stop smoking you often tend to dream more or at least remember your dreams more. Learning meditation and relaxation techniques can be very handy here.
  • Feeling nauseous or losing your appetite – This may be related to the fact that cannabis can increase your appetite. So it would make sense that you may feel a bit sick because you are used to the way cannabis affects your appetite.
  • Feelings and reactions of anger, depression and/or grief – These emotions can occur as they are due to the interrelated physical and psychological dependence on the effects of the drug.

Some people may become very dependent on the way that cannabis makes them feel, so when they stop using it, it can be very difficult.

Don’t be afraid to ask for support or help to plan your quit attempt. Don’t give up if you slip up - a slip up is not a relapse! Consult with your GP or other qualified health professional if you have any concerns about your withdrawal. Alcohol and Drug Support Line can also assist, and talk you through the options and services available to assist you (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024 (country callers).

The Cannabis Information and Helpline is available on 1800 304 050 which operates 11am – 7pm AEST (8am to 4pm Western Australian time). 

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