What does it look like?
Soft black resin, furry green leaves and hard brown lumps, cannabis can look very different depending on its type – but it all comes from cannabis plants.
You’re most likely to come across these types:
Also known as grass, weed is made from drying out the leaves and flowering parts of the cannabis plant. It can look like dried herbs and is usually brownish-green in colour.
This is the name given for particular strains of grass that are very strong. Skunk’s become very popular in recent years and is often bright, pale or dark green in colour and covered in tiny crystals.
Not nearly as common as it used to be, hash (or hashish) is made from the resin of the cannabis plant and can be black, brown, soft or hard – depending on the type.
This is a dark, sticky and honey-coloured substance that’s much less common than other types.
These are highly concentrated forms of cannabis that are extracted using butane. They come in a solid form known as 'dab' or 'shatter' and can be used as e-liquids in vape pens.
What does it taste/smell like?
Cannabis has a musky, sweet smell. Some of the more potent types of cannabis can have a stronger smell, but this isn’t a reliable guide to the strength of any particular batch.
In the UK, most people mix it with tobacco and roll it into a cannabis cigarette known as a spliff or joint. Some people don’t use tobacco at all and make weed-only spliffs.
Users do this mix by mixing the drug with tobacco and putting it in a pipe, lighting it, and then inhaling the smoke through water out of a large tube. There are many types of bongs, and not everyone uses tobacco.
Eat and drink it (edibles)
People do this by mixing it into cakes (hash brownies), tea and even yoghurt. The effects can take longer to kick in if you take it this way and last longer. You might also accidentally end up taking a larger dose than you wanted to.
This method has become more popular in recent years. Most people use a vapouriser which heats the cannabis, rather than burning it. Very little is known about the health impact of vaping cannabis.
Is there a safer way to take cannabis?
The general advice is to only take cannabis when you’re feeling happy and relaxed, in a safe environment, and with people you’re comfortable with.
Stronger forms and strains of cannabis are more likely to cause paranoia and mental health issues. Try to avoid these if you can and take cannabis that’s lower in THC, and which contains CBD instead.
Smoking cannabis with tobacco increases the risk of becoming dependent on nicotine. To avoid this, don’t use tobacco in bongs and spliffs.
How does it make you feel?
Cannabis is classed as a hallucinogenic and sedative drug. It can make people feel more aware of their senses and more relaxed (stoned), and its hallucinogenic effects can give you the feeling that time is slowing down.
It can also make you very hungry, known as ‘the munchies’, or make you feel very sick, known as ‘a whitey’.
People who take cannabis say they feel:
- chilled out
Its effects vary massively depending on:
- the kind of person you are
- what you take (some types of cannabis are stronger than others)
- the environment you’re in
- how much you take
- how often you take it
THC & CBD
The hallucinogenic effects of cannabis are mainly due to a compound in cannabis called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
The other important compound in cannabis is CBD (cannabidiol). Skunk and other forms of strong cannabis contain high levels of THC but very little, or no, CBD.
It's thought that CBD can balance out some of the effects of THC and make users less likely to feel anxious and paranoid. You can’t tell from looking or smelling cannabis whether there's a balance of CBD and THC in it, but in general, hash may have more CBD than skunk.
How does it make people behave?
Cannabis can make some people giggly and chatty, and other people paranoid, confused and anxious – it really depends on the type of person taking it and the circumstances they take it under.
Experience mild hallucinations if they take particularly strong cannabis.
Become lethargic and unmotivated.
Have problems concentrating and learning new information. This is because studies suggest that cannabis effects the part of the brain we use for learning and remembering things.
Perform badly in exams. Because cannabis impacts the part of the brain we use for learning and remembering things, regular use by young people (whose brains are still developing) has been linked to poor exam results.
How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size, whether you’ve eaten and what other drugs you may have also taken.
To kick in:
When smoked, it normally takes a minute or two to feel stoned. If you eat cannabis, it can up to an hour.
How long it lasts:
This depends on how much you smoke. Generally, the effect is strongest for about 10 minutes to half an hour after smoking cannabis, but if you smoke a lot, you may still feel stoned for a couple of hours. If you eat cannabis, the peak effects can last for 2 to 4 hours, and there may even be a few more hours before the effects wear off completely.
People may still feel the effects the next day, particularly after a heavy session.
How long will it be detectable?
If you’ve used cannabis as a one-off, it will show up in a urine test for around 2 to 3 days afterwards.
However, this can go up to a month for regular users.
How long a drug can be detected for depends on how much is taken and which testing kit is used. This is only a general guide.
Physical health risks
Many of the physical health risks linked to smoking cannabis are the same as those caused by smoking tobacco (even if you don’t mix the cannabis with tobacco). Smoking it can:
- make you wheeze and out of breath
- make you cough uncomfortably or painfully
- make your asthma worse if you have it
- give you lung cancer
- increase your heart rate and affect your blood pressure, which makes it particularly harmful for people with heart disease
- reduce your sperm count if you're male, affecting your ability to have children
- suppress your ovulation if you’re female, affecting your ability to have children
- increase the risk of your baby being born smaller than expected if you smoke it while pregnant
Mental health risks
Using cannabis can:
- affect your motivation to do things
- impair your memory so you can’t remember things or learn new information
- give you mood swings
- disturb your sleep and make you depressed
- make you anxious, panicky, or even aggressive
- make you see or hear things that aren’t there (known as hallucinating or tripping)
- cause hours (or days) of anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, which only settle down if the person stops taking it – and sometimes don’t settle down at all
- cause a serious relapse for people with psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia
- increase your chances of developing illnesses like schizophrenia, especially if you have a family background of mental illness and you start smoking in your teenage years
What is cannabis cut with?
Lots of things – including glass, henna, lead and aluminium.
Dealers cut hash with similar-looking substances or heavy materials to increase the weight of the drug and make a bigger profit.
Although not all cannabis is cut, it’s very hard to know when it is or isn’t – so you could be smoking, eating or vaping chemicals from all sorts of unknown substances, including pesticides used to grow the cannabis.
Tobacco is often mixed with cannabis too, for making joints or smoking bongs. If you mix cannabis with tobacco you’ll be taking on the same risks you get from smoking tobacco.
These are: addiction to nicotine (the drug in tobacco), coughs, chest infections and in the longer-term, cancer and heart disease.
Is it dangerous to mix with other drugs?
Yes, any time you mix drugs together you take on new risks.
For example, if you drive when stoned or high you double your chances of having a fatal or serious injury car crash, but if you drive after mixing cannabis with alcohol, you’re 16 times more likely to crash.
Smoking or vaping cannabis with tobacco increases the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine which is the addictive drug in tobacco.
Can you get addicted?
Yes. Heavy cannabis users often get cravings and find it hard not to take the drug – even when they know it’s causing them physical, mental or social problems.
When heavy users do try to stop they can:
- feel moody and irritable
- feel sick
- find it hard to sleep
- find it hard to eat
- experience sweating and shaking
- get diarrhoea
If you roll your spliffs with tobacco, you’re also at risk of getting addicted (or staying addicted) to nicotine.
This is a Class B drug, which means it’s illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.
Possession can get you up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Supplying someone else, even your friends, can get you up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Like drink-driving, driving when high is dangerous and illegal. If you’re caught driving under the influence, you may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence.
If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a home, club, bar or hostel, they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any other person concerned in the management of the premises.
Additional law details
Cannabis is different to other Class B drugs as it comes under the discretionary warning scheme.
This means that a police officer can choose to issue you with a street warning only (which doesn’t form a criminal record, though it will be recorded), so long as:
- you're in possession of a small amount of cannabis only, and for your personal use
- it’s the first time you’ve been caught with an illicit drug and you have no previous record of offence
- you are compliant, non-aggressive and admit that the cannabis is for your own use only
If you're caught with cannabis and it's your second offence, the police can issue with a fixed-term fee notice, which is an on-the-spot fine for £80.
As long as you pay that within 21 days, there's no criminal record. If there’s a third occasion, you will be arrested and taken to the police station.