AKA Spliff, Grass, Weed, Marijuana, Dope, Ganja, Hash(ish), Smoke, Joint, Pot, Puff, Blow…&c.
…and it’s been about for a bit…
Cannabis has been used for countless years as an aid to relaxation and pain relief. Six million British people have used it, including a third of the current Shadow Cabinet (November 2000). The recent UK textile fling with all things hemp is nothing new. Before prohibition in 1925, products derived from Cannabis Sativa [hemp] included bird food, paints, varnishes, rope and coarse cloth. And people smoked it to get stoned, too. The cannabis plant is a native of Asia, and has been introduced throughout Europe and America as it grows well in any temperate climate.
Like any psychoactive plant, there are a lot of complex chemicals that are thought to combine to produce ‘the effect’. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the primary psychoactive element of Cannabis in any form is “delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol”, shortened to THC. Organisations that produce therapeutic pharmaceuticals have produced drugs derived from THC or using synthesised THC. Because of the highly-regarded benefits of drugs that reduce unwanted symptoms and the low regard for drugs that produce a desirable high, from a Political perspective, these drugs tend to isolate specific ‘therapeutic’ effects of THC whilst keeping the “high” which Cannabis users seek to a minimum. Some of these drugs are already available under brand names including “Nabilone”, “Levonantradol” and “Dronabinol”. These drugs are prescribed to suppress nausea and for pain relief, and sometimes to enhance appetite.
A cynical friend of mine once suggested that people seeking the benefits of these medicines would do better to grow their own hash, and pointed out that this would be both cheaper and better for the environment. Being a cynical person, he pointed out that the financial return to any drug company encouraging this course of action would be nil, and that the only way to justify charging vast sums of money for a less effective medication would be to invest vast sums of money into working out how to stop people enjoying the medication whilst it reduced their symptoms. Not only cynical, my friend is also mildly paranoid. Maybe because of the vast quantities of particularly high-THC content cannabis he consumes, or maybe because people really are out to get him. It’s sometimes worth remembering that just because you’re feeling paranoid, it doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.
In the West, The most popular way to consume cannabis is to smoke it, either on its own or with tobacco. It can also be eaten, although this is less common. Smoking does of course bring health risks. Inhaling cannabis smoke brings on the effects rapidly, whereas eating cannabis produces a longer-lasting high that also takes longer to begin and develop. In the UK, the health costs of smoking cannabis have been cited as a reason for not legitimising its use as a medicine.
and smokin’ what?
In the UK, the most commonly used form of cannabis is cannabis resin. Cannabis is a plant (several different species of plant), and the resin is produced by the plant as it grows, particularly by the flowering head of the female plant. Cannabis resin is imported into the UK from producer countries in a variety of forms. In recent years the UK has been the largest consumer in Europe of a form of cannabis resin called ‘soap bar’, mainly because it is formed into small bars (which are, surprise surprise, the size and shape of bars of soap) by the producer. Soap-bar is generally at least 10% bitumen, providing a good solid base for the low-quality cannabis resin that it binds together. Just in case you’re wondering whether this means you should start smoking the top-coat of that recently-laid road just around the corner, no. Bitumen will not get you high. It just holds the shit together. Was it Cheech or Chong who said “this shit is shit”? The memory is, strangely, a little fuzzy…
And other forms of cannabis resin produce different experiences (generally producing fewer headaches). Double zero (00) is the first press of cannabis resin taken from the plant. Popular imports of later presses include ‘flat press’ (err…it’s flat) and ‘red seal’ (it’s wrapped in red plastic). The resin is, of course, only as potent as the plant it has been produced by. 00 produced by a good quality skunk plant will render you unable to speak for some time, and unable to speak any sense for a good deal longer. Like lots of other plants, and other organisms, there are genes that produce different qualities. We can’t all win Olympic gold medals for the 100m sprint, and if you could ethically clone someone who could win an Olympic gold, you’d have a sure-fire winner. Fortunately for cannabis-related botany, the ethical considerations for developing quick-gowing mass-producing high-THC content cannabis are few, other than the belief that the law as it relates to cannabis production and consumption is misplaced.
and smokin’ how?
Well, hey, I was going to leave this bit out entirely, and then I thought that someone might be reading ‘just for interest’. Bear with it. Most people smoke cannabis as part of the ubiquitous “spliff”. Usually a mixture of resin and tobacco, sometimes a mixture of the dried flowering buds (“grass”) and tobacco, and sometimes just the buds. All wrapped up in the cigarette paper of your choice (skinned up in a skin, or three) before lighting the blue touch paper and wheeeee! Cannabis can also be smoked in a pipe, or a bong (a water pipe, where the smoke is pulled through water first to cool it down).
Cannabis Oil is sometimes used, which can be spread on a normal cigarette, or included in any home-baking.
I’m not going to go all Delia on you, and if you want to choose your favorite cookie recipe then do. Just make sure you add the cannabis into whatever fats you are using, as it’s fat soluble and the important bits won’t dissolve in water. They will bind to butter, milk, oil…or dissolve in alcohol. You’ve heard of flavored vodka. Ever tried flavored brandy?
If you eat cannabis the effects can be confusing – especially if you eat too much, of course. You don’t need to eat any more than you would smoke to get stoned. If it’s baked in a delightful confectionery, there might be different amounts of cannabis in each portion. Don’t forget that you won’t (intentionally) be sharing the contents of your stomach, and you won’t be losing half of the combusted cannabis in smoke. Whereas it usually takes 5-10 minutes before the effects of the drug can be felt when smoking, it can take up to an hour or more when eaten. Bless those people who wait a quarter of an hour, and then have more “just to make sure”.
The slip from “nothing’s happening yet…” to stoned-dom can be sudden, and disorienting. You might find yourself more stoned than you were expecting. Even a seasoned stoner might panic when they find they’re unable to move without great deliberation. Once eaten, the amount of cannabis consumed cannot be regulated as it can when smoking. It still wears off, eventually.
…and stoned, like, how?
Cannabis is a depressant drug, which can also have hallucinogenic qualities. A lot depends on what you’re thinking-feeling, doing, where you are, who you’re with and what you’re expecting before you start and whilst you’re under the influence. I’ve sat with first-time smokers who’ve smoked a shed-load of high quality grass sat in the midst of a group of righteously stoned people saying “nothing’s happening”. It raises a laugh from everyone else. Like most drug use, it takes time and experience to work out how to enjoy the effects of the drug, usually guided by the effects that everybody else is enjoying. Cannabis causes perceptual changes which can make the user more aware of the world around them. It can also help people to feel relaxed and distanced from their ‘ordinary’ experience of ‘reality’ (although less true the more frequently you use it, naturally). Lots of people describe how it enhances the enjoyment of all kinds of experiences like experiencing music, art, being with other people, and gives a general feeling of euphoria.
Please go away. Now.
It can also amplify feelings of agitation or anxiety. High doses, or ‘difficult’ environments can bring on ‘The Fear’ (Withnail and I), paranoia, the heebie-jeebies. In extreme moments, when I’m at my most paranoid, I can feel that everything that is said around me is directed at me or is said about me in a malicious and hurtful way. But why the fuck are you even interested in what I think, anyway? Why do you want to know? You know what’s going on here, don’t you? I can tell from the way that you’re looking at me that you know what’s going on. I’m wise to it, mate. You don’t scare me. I’m alright. I’m just going to go now, that’s all. Shit! I hope no-one from work is reading this. I shouldn’t have said that. Oh fuck! Oh fuck! Can’t you just go away now, please?
Here on the outside, we see…
A number of physical changes – pulse rate increases, blood pressure drops, an alleviation of excess pressure in the eye (reducing the effects of glaucoma), relaxation of muscles around the airway leading to the lungs, suppression of the vomit reflex…
…bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, dizziness, an increased appetite. Short term (the last few minutes) memory loss. All of these effects wear off as the drug is metabolised (over the course of a few hours).
To fatally overdose on Cannabis it is estimated that you would need to eat about one and a half pounds of resin in one sitting. You’d be likely to lose consciousness (it also has depressant effects) before you got there. Cannabis is not physically addictive, although, like anything, it can become linked to a psychological dependency.
Whether cannabis use leads to long term health problems or not is unknown. There has been very little research. It’s unlikely that “cannabis is safer than tobacco” – the plants are very similar, and the damage caused by tobacco to the human body, especially the lungs (which are quite important) is well known. I guess it’s unusual to meet people who smoke twenty spliffs a day, and more common for people to smoke cannabis recreationally whilst recreational tobacco use is exceptional. Or maybe it’s just that people who smoke twenty spliffs a day don’t get out of the house much, being far too stoned to do much more than order in pizza and get to the fridge.
Like any other hallucinogen, the experience is dramatically affected by your state of mind and the environment. Using cannabis to avoid feelings you don’t want to be experiencing is unlikely to lead you into a happy and enjoyable experience. Wallowing in self-pity is more likely. Poor you. If you are already feeling a bit anxious, or suffering the come-down from a stimulant like speed or e, then getting stoned might just lead you into becoming even more anxious, or paranoid.
testing, testing, 1,2,3
Cannabis is fat soluble. Someone who regularly uses the drug will store some of it in their body. It can take up to thirty days for this to be fully metabolised and for the body to be clear of the drug if you use the drug on a regular basis. Particularly sensitive tests can identify cannabis metabolites in urine even later than this. Occasional use is not normally detectable after about one week.
Some testers will use a hair sample instead of the more common urine sample. Any drug use that has occurred during the growth of the hair sampled can be detected from that sample.
The production, sale, possession and consumption of cannabis is illegal in the UK. Cannabis plants and resin are Class B drugs in the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971, as well as Cannabis oil. Cannabis is a schedule 1 drug, meaning that it is considered to have no legitimate therapeutic use.
In 1999, 2,838 people in the UK went to prison for possession of cannabis.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 also makes it an offence to knowingly permit or suffer premises to be used for the consumption of cannabis (or opium). If you are the responsible person or key holder for premises where cannabis is being used and you are not preventing that use you could face a custodial sentence. The Governors of every secure establishment in the UK must spend many chilly Winter dawns waiting for the swoop of the local Regional Crime Squad ready to whisk them off to find out why so many of the people currently enjoying three square meals a day at Her Majesty’s Pleasure are stoned. Or not.