The Secret Life of Cannabinoids

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Cannabis is the most commonly used controlled drug in Ireland. It comes from the cannabis plant and can be used in a number of ways. The cannabis plant is complex and contains hundreds of compounds called Cannabinoids'. The main psychoactive compound which gets people high' is called THC (delta9 tetrahydrocannabinol). Another well-known compound is CBD (a non-psychoactive compound which is thought to make people less likely to feel anxious and paranoid). Plants are grown to contain different concentrations of various cannabinoids and therefore different varieties will have different effects.

In addition to the cannabinoids which are in the Cannabis plant, there are also now laboratory created cannabinoid chemicals which are called synthetic cannabinoids.These are sometimes sprayed onto dried plant material and sold in products to be smoked. They are known my many names such as Spice'. They are often much more potent than cannabis and appear to cause increased side effects.

Appearance

Cannabis comes in many forms, below are commonly known varieties. Cannabis resin (hash) Hash or resin is a black or brown lump made from the resin of the cannabis plant. It is made by separating the sticky resin from the buds and leaves and comes in blocks.

Herbal cannabis (grass / weed) Herbal cannabis is common and is generally made from the dried leaves and flowering parts of the female plant and looks like tightly packed dried herbs in brown/green shades. In Ireland, herbal cannabis is often grown indoors using techniques involving artificial light and nutrient solutions to produce higher levels of the chemical THC. Stronger variations, higher in THC mean increases risk to the user's mental health.

Skunk Skunk is a general term given to stronger forms of cannabis that contain more THC. This term may be less commonly used in Ireland.

Cannabis oil Cannabis oils can vary in consistency or thickness and could be amber, gold or dark brown. Oils may be sold in droppers, syringes or capsules. Oil extracted from cannabis plants can contain varying amounts of THC and CBD.

Concentrates Shatter' These are highly concentrated forms of cannabis that are extracted using a solvent. This production process is risky to perform and produces glass like shatter' with the smoking process in a pipe known as dabbing'.

Edible products Cannabis edibles' are food products infused with cannabis. Edibles come in many formsincluding baked goods, sweets, 'gummy bears', 'cannabis gummies' chocolates and lozenges. They have many different names that include 'space cakes', 'Gummies', 'THC sweets'. Learn more here.

How cannabis is used

Cannabis is mostly smoked in a joint', pipe or bong', or can be vaporised. It can also be made into food or tea.

How it's consumed will impact on it's effects. When inhaled, effects occur almost immediately. Eating cannabis products will lead to a delay in the effects, which may not reach their peak for a couple of hours. It is harder to know the amount being taken when eating products which can lead to over consumption. This can cause prolonged negative and frightening effects or cannabis poisoning which is similar to an 'overdose' when you take too much of a substance.

Short-term effects of cannabis

The onset of effects will vary depending on how the cannabis is used and the potency of the product, this could change from time to time. The short term effects include:

  • You may feel relaxed, chilled out and introspective (thoughtful)
  • Some people feel happy, chatty and giddy
  • Some people feel tired or withdrawn
  • Bloodshot eyes, dry mouth.
  • You may get the munchies' or feel hungry after use.
  • Effects for some can include feeling confused, anxious or paranoid. These effects could be more severe for some people than others.
  • You may experience mild hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that do not exist). Risks of this increase if you take particularly high potency products such as shatter or edible products which are available on the market. People may experience anxiety or hallucinations for a number of hours.
  • Coordination and reaction time can be impaired, which can cause problems if riding a bicycle or driving a car.
  • Memory and the ability to learn can be affected while stoned.
  • Edible products have been linked to people experiencing negative experiences due to their potency.
Long-term effects of cannabis

Like any substance, frequent use can lead to issues for some people. Each person will have a different relationship with cannabis.

  • Smoking could damage your lungs and lead to breathing problems. Risks are increased if you use tobacco and plastic bottles as bongs'.
  • Frequent cannabis use has been linked with mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or paranoia for some people.
  • Using products with higher levels of THC further increases the risk of mental health problems over time
  • Regular use may affect your memory, mood, motivation and ability to learn.
  • People may become dependent and develop a number of issues including drug related debt.
  • Risks increase for people with a family history of mental health and substance use issues, for people who begin use at a young age and for people who use frequently.
Dependency

Cannabis dependency is now the most common reason for young people in Ireland (under 25 years old) to need addiction treatment, even more common than alcohol dependence. As with all other types of substance dependence, cannabis dependence is associated with:

  • Difficulty in sticking to self-imposed limits on the amount of use
  • Increased time spent getting cannabis, being stoned and recovering from the effects of use
  • Mental health or social problems caused by use
  • Cravings to use (i.e. a compulsion to use even if you would rather not use)
  • Less time spent doing other activities and less time with peers and people who avoid cannabis use.
  • An inability to cease or reduce use, even after having made a definite decision to do so.
Withdrawal

After prolonged use some people may experience withdrawal if they stop using. Withdrawal symptoms could include:

  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Urge or cravings to smoke
  • Sleep problems, restlessness
  • Loss of appetite

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