Cannabis can be smoked, eaten and vaped – and is the UK’s most widely-used illegal drug
How it looks, tastes and smells
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.
How do people take it?
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 – either because they prefer it that way or to avoid becoming dependent on nictotine.
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. Like with joints, using tobacco in bongs increases the risk of nicotine dependence.
Eat and drink it (edibles)
People do this by mixing it into cakes (hash brownies), tea, yoghurt or sweets (gummies/lollipops). The amount of cannabis in these products can vary greatly and sometimes other harmful drugs are added too. The effects of consuming edibles are unpredictable and it can be very easy to accidentally take 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.
Smoking cannabis with tobacco increases the risk of becoming dependent on nicotine. To avoid this, don’t use tobacco in bongs and spliffs.
How it feels
How does it make you feel?
The effects of cannabis can vary massively. Some people say feeling ‘stoned’ makes them feel chilled out and happy in their own thoughts, while others say it makes them giggly and chatty. But it can also make people feel lethargic, unmotivated and some people become paranoid, confused and anxious.
The sort of experience you have depends on a lot of thinks like;
- the kind of person you are (e.g. outgoing or shy)
- the mood you’re in, (if you’re feeling down it will probably make you feel worse)
- the environment you’re in (you’re more likely to feel paranoid or anxious if you don’t feel comfortable where you are or if you’re with people you don’t trust)
- how much THC it has (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis)
- how much CBD it has (which is thought to make users less likely to feel anxious and paranoid)
- how much you take
- how often you take it
Cannabis changes how you think and some people say it gives them a different perspective on things. It does affect your judgement though and people often think conversations or thoughts they have (whether good or bad) are much more deep or important when they’re stoned than they would do normally.
It can also make you hungry, known as having ‘the munchies’, or make you feel sick, known as ‘a whitey’. It can make you feel drowsy or sleepy and can give you the sense that time is slowing down.
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
Smoking cannabis can;
- make you wheeze and out of breath
- make you cough uncomfortably or painfully
- make your asthma worse if you have it
There’s been less research on it but smoking cannabis is likely to have many of the long term physical health risk as smoking tobacco (even if you don’t mix the cannabis with tobacco). So smoking cannabis can also;
- increase the risk of 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. 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 when growing the cannabis.
Tobacco is often mixed with cannabis, 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.
The main active chemical in Cannabis (Weed) is THC which can have various effects on the brain. Find out the effects, the risks and the law from FRANK.
Medical Marijuana FAQ
In this Article
In this Article
In this Article
- What is medical marijuana?
- What is medical marijuana used for?
- How does it help?
- Can medical marijuana help with seizure disorders?
- Has the FDA approved medical marijuana?
- How do you take it?
- What are the side effects of medical marijuana?
- Which states allow medical marijuana?
- How do you get medical marijuana?
While every state has laws dictating the use of medical marijuana, more than two thirds of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have actually legalized it for medical treatments and more are considering bills to do the same. Yet while many people are using marijuana, the FDA has only approved it for treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Why hasn’t more research been done? One reason is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, and likely to be abused and lacking in medical value. Because of that, researchers need a special license to study it, says Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, a substance abuse specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
That may not change anytime soon. The DEA considered reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug like Ritalin or oxycodone, but decided ito keep it as a Schedule I drug.
The agency did, however, agree to support additional research on marijuana and make the process easier for researchers. “Research is critically needed, because we have to be able to advise patients and doctors on the safe and effective use of cannabis,” Bonn-Miller says.
He shared some background on medical marijuana’s uses and potential side effects.
What is medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana uses the marijuana plant or chemicals in it to treat diseases or conditions. It’s basically the same product as recreational marijuana, but it’s taken for medical purposes.
The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine. THC also produces the “high” people feel when they smoke marijuana or eat foods containing it.
What is medical marijuana used for?
Researchers are studying whether medical marijuana can help treat a number of conditions including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Appetite loss
- Crohn’s disease
- Diseases effecting the immune system like HIV/AIDS or Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Eating disorders such as anorexia
- Mental health conditions like schizophrenia and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle spasms
- Wasting syndrome (cachexia)
But it’s not yet proven to help many of these conditions, with a few exceptions, Bonn-Miller says.
“The greatest amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relate to its ability to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and spasticity [tight or stiff muscles] from MS,” Bonn-Miller says.
How does it help?
Cannabinoids — the active chemicals in medical marijuana — are similar to chemicals the body makes that are involved in appetite, memory, movement, and pain.
Limited research suggests cannabinoids might:
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce inflammation and relieve pain
- Control nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy
- Kill cancer cells and slow tumor growth
- Relax tight muscles in people with MS
- Stimulate appetite and improve weight gain in people with cancer and AIDS
Can medical marijuana help with seizure disorders?
Medical marijuana received a lot of attention a few years ago when parents said that a special form of the drug helped control seizures in their children. The FDA recently approved Epidiolex, which is made from CBD, as a therapy for people with very severe or hard-to-treat seizures. In studies, some people had a dramatic drop in seizures after taking this drug.
Has the FDA approved medical marijuana?
The cannabidiol Epidiolex was approved in 2018 for treating seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. In addition, the FDA has approved two man-made cannabinoid medicines — dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and nabilone (Cesamet) — to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. The cannabidiol Epidiolex was approved in 2018 for treating seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
How do you take it?
To take medical marijuana, you can:
- Smoke it
- Inhale it through a device called a vaporizer that turns it into a mist
- Eat it — for example, in a brownie or lollipop
- Apply it to your skin in a lotion, spray, oil, or cream
- Place a few drops of a liquid under your tongue
How you take it is up to you. Each method works differently in your body. “If you smoke or vaporize cannabis, you feel the effects very quickly,” Bonn-Miller says. “If you eat it, it takes significantly longer. It can take 1 to 2 hours to experience the effects from edible products.”
What are the side effects of medical marijuana?
Side effects that have been reported include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Fast heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
The drug can also affect judgment and coordination, which could lead to accidents and injuries. When used during the teenage years when the brain is still developing, marijuana might affect IQ and mental function.
Because marijuana contains some of the same chemicals found in tobacco, there have been concerns that smoking it could harm the lungs. The effects of inhaled marijuana on lung health aren’t clear, but there’s some evidence it might increase the risk for bronchitis and other lung problems.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can be addictive and is considered a “gateway drug” to using other drugs. “The higher the level of THC and the more often you use, the more likely you are to become dependent,” Bonn-Miller says. “You have difficulty stopping if you need to stop. You have cravings during periods when you’re not using. And you need more and more of it to have the same effect.” Learn more about the long-term effects of marijuana use.
Another issue is that the FDA doesn’t oversee medical marijuana like it does prescription drugs. Although states monitor and regulate sales, they often don’t have the resources to do so. That means the strength of and ingredients in medical marijuana can differ quite a bit depending on where you buy it. “We did a study last year in which we purchased labeled edible products, like brownies and lollipops, in California and Washington. Then we sent them to the lab,” Bonn-Miller says. “Few of the products contained anywhere near what they said they did. That’s a problem.”
Which states allow medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
States allowing legal recreational use include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington
States that allow restricted use only include: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina,South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
How do you get medical marijuana?
To get medical marijuana, you need a written recommendation from a licensed doctor in states where that is legal. (Not every doctor is willing to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.) You must have a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana use. Each state has its own list of qualifying conditions. Your state may also require you to get a medical marijuana ID card. Once you have that card, you can buy medical marijuana at a store called a dispensary.
Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, adjunct assistant professor, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws.”
National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Facts: Is Marijuana Medicine?” “Is Marijuana Addictive?”
Drug Enforcement Administration: “Drug Schedules.”
Department of Health and Human Services.
Kaur, R. Current Clinical Pharmacology, April 2016.
PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board: “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ).”
Schrot, R. Annals of Medicine, May 2016.
Epilepsy Foundation: “Learn About Medical Marijuana and Epilepsy.”
News release, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office.
WebMD shows you how medical marijuana works where it’s legal, what it’s used for and what side effects it might cause.