Also known as: Marijuana, weed, pot, grass, hash, ganja, sativa, indica, bongs, joints, dab, THC, many other names.
What is cannabis?
The dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical which can work as a hallucinogen, depressant or stimulant depending on the individual.
Appearance and use
There are three main forms of psychoactive cannabis:
- Marijuana — the dried leaves and flowers typically containing 10–20 per cent THC.
- Hashish/hash — a concentrated resin/extract typically containing higher levels of THC
- Hash oil — another concentrated form made by grinding the organic material of the plant and processing it with chemicals to produce a gel. This is the strongest and arguably most harmful form of the drug due to its strength and the chemicals used in manufacturing.
Cannabis can be smoked in a joint, bong or pipe, eaten in ‘edibles’, or vaporised using an ‘e-cigarette’ or vape pen.
Cannabis use within Australia:
- 35 per cent of Australian aged 14 years and over have used one or more times in their life
- 10.4 per cent of Australian aged 14 years and over have used in the previous
- 68.7 per cent of 12 to 17-year olds have never tried it.
Other than alcohol and caffeine, cannabis is also the most commonly used drug globally and is becoming more common as various jurisdictions around the world legalise its use for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Cannabis also contains cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive substance that is becoming more commonly used for medicinal purposes. CBD will not produce a high.
Why is cannabis addictive?
Cannabis contains the THC and CBD chemicals that react to our brain receptors, long-term use of cannabis will lead to physical and psychological changes of the body.
When the body gets used to the regular intake of cannabis, the body will adapt to it, this is the basis of tolerance. People who have higher tolerance due to the regular use of cannabis will need a higher amount to obtain the same effects. However, increasing the dose also means becoming more dependent upon cannabis.
The loss of control over use is a key characteristic of dependence. People who become dependent upon cannabis will find it hard to reduce or stop using the drug, even when they are fully aware of the problem.
Effects of cannabis
The THC in cannabis activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of receptors, therefore causing the sensation of “high” or “stoned”.
- hunger and food cravings (aka "the munchies")
- dry mouth
- bloodshot eyes
- loss of inhibition and co-ordination
- fatigue, relaxation or drowsiness
- hallucinations and psychosis
- severe anxiety or paranoia
- impaired memory and learning
- dependency and addiction
- decreased motivation
- risk of respiratory problems.
The risk of death by cannabis overdose is low — there has never been a reported case. However, cannabis has been reported as a contributing factor in the overdose of other drugs.
Overdose can still make you feel very unwell. Common symptoms of overdose include uncontrollable vomiting, irregular heartbeat, psychosis and paranoia.
While many people think cannabis use is harmless because it is not ‘physically’ addictive, many people still experience behavioural or psychological dependence. 9–30 per cent of people who use cannabis may report feelings of dependence. This risk of higher among people who used before the age of 18.
Cannabis use can increase the risk of various health issues:
- Respiratory: Just like smoking cigarettes, smoking cannabis can lead to chronic bronchitis and also raises the risk of lung cancer.
- Fertility: Cannabis use may decrease sperm production and ovulation.
- Driving: Many people think it is safe to drive under the influence of cannabis, but it actually increases your risk of being injured in a road traffic accident.
- General: Cannabis use increases the risk of heart or liver disease.
- Psychological: There is evidence that cannabis increases the risk or presentation of schizophrenia if regularly used during adolescence
- Cognitive: Many users report that they feel cannabis affects their cognitive functioning and ability to concentrate.
Is it safe to mix cannabis with other drugs?
Mixing cannabis with other drugs including alcohol can increase the risk of psychosis, lung disease, and accidents due to intoxication.
The possession and use of cannabis is illegal in most of Australia, except for the ACT, where personal use has recently been made legal.
Many long-term cannabis users who try to quit has reported experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms, these include:
- grouchiness: constant feeling of irritation and quick to complain
- sleeplessness: insomnia, sleep difficulties, unpleasant dreams
- stomach problems: decreased appetite
- psychological issues: increase the feelings of depression and anxiety
- cravings – sweating, chills, loss of focus
Withdrawals usually last around a week but sleeping problems may go on longer.
Treatment and support services
At Counselling Online, we offer free, confidential 24/7 access to trained counsellors who can help you work through your goals and identify services to help you in your area. Have a chat to one of our counsellors if you’re not sure where you’d like to get started.
Interventions for problematic use of cannabis typically involve psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which teaches individuals strategies to change their thinking and enhance self-control.
For further assistance, check out these services:
The National Alcohol and Other Drug Helpline: 1800 250 015
Peer support services:
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- SMART Recovery
- Counselling Online forums
- Nar-Anon Family Groups (Support for Families and Friends)
What can I do next?
- Take a self-assessment to help you decide if you should consider seeking help.
- Get support from others who have been where you are now, in our peer support forums.