Cannabis is the third most widely used recreational drug in New Zealand. Read more about the effects of cannabis and tips for safety in teenage years.

Cannabis is illegal in New Zealand and so people who use it or sell it are breaking the law and could be charged.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a drug which has been used for centuries. It is derived from the cannabis sativa plant and can be used in different forms:

  • As marijuana the leaves and flowers can be dried and smoked as a joint, with tobacco
  • Hashish, the resin extracted from the plant, can be smoked or eaten in cookies. It is more potent that the leaves or flowers
  • Hash oil, which is an even more concentrated form of the drug.

Cannabis contains a chemical (THC) which is a depressant, in that it slows down reactions, alters mood, feelings and states of mind.

Cannabis is also known as spliff, dope, ganga, pot, grass and weed.

What are the medical indications for cannabis?

Cannabis has been used world wide for centuries to treat over 200 different ailments! Most commonly acknowledged are the use of cannabis as:

  • An anti emetic (to relieve nausea) in cancer, hepatitis and AIDS
  • A pain reliever in arthritis, migraine and spinal disorders
  • An anti spasmodic in epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Some countries approve its medical use, via prescriptions, whereas in others it is illegal, even if medically prescribed. In New Zealand cannabis is illegal and although medical cannabis use can theoretically be condoned through the Ministry for Health, this has never happened in practice.

How does cannabis have its effect?

When cannabis is smoked it is breathed into the lungs and passes into the circulation rapidly. The chemical is stored in the body’s fat cells, which is unusual. This means that there is a potential for toxicity as the chemical is not being broken down and excreted immediately.

The chemical THC affects the brain by depressing the brain’s reactions. This may feel pleasant to some people and induce relaxation and a feeling of happiness. As the drug is illegal the potency is not carefully measured (as with alcohol in a bottle of beer, for example) and therefore it can affect people in different ways at different times. On other occasions the effects may be unpleasant, scary and the person may feel frightened, out of control and dizzy. An individual’s reaction will also be affected by their general mood, whether they are used to taking depressant drugs, whether it is mixed with alcohol or whether they feel safe in the place they are taking the drug.

Cannabis can affect:

  • Perception of colour, making them seem more vivid,
  • Balance making you more likely to fall over
  • Normal inhibition, making you feel more sociable and outgoing
  • Concentration levels, making it difficult to have a normal conversation
  • Feelings of reality, causing hallucinations and paranoia.

Some people find the experience and the after effects unpleasant and frightening, particularly when they are not used to it.

What are the problems associated with cannabis?

Many of the population view cannabis in association with other illegal drugs and the image that portrays is negative and harmful.

The possible risks of cannabis include:

  • Lung and respiratory cancers or breathing difficulties, associated with the fact that it is often smoked with tobacco
  • Heavy use may affect the person’s sex drive, learning ability and motivation – this is usually reversed on stopping habitual use of cannabis
  • Low birth weight babies are associated with cannabis use – a direct causal effect has not been proven
  • Cannabis use increases the heart rate by 20-30 beats per minute, therefore if a person already has cardiac/circulation problems this could be exacerbated and be dangerous
  • Cannabis use can worsen mental health problems, particularly paranoia.

When illegal drugs are bought and taken there is no way of knowing the potency or purity of the drug. This adds to the risk of taking drugs, which all carry a certain degree of risk. Getting stoned or ‘out of it’ puts young people at risk of getting into trouble that common sense would keep them away from normally.

Drug use is associated with dropping out of school/college, date rape, crime and violence. The drug does not cause these things to happen, but the altered judgement gets in the way of normal responsible behaviour – the keeping out of trouble head is out of it.

Teenage Tips – Staying safe

Everyone’s doing it – well that may seem true, but is it cool for you too?

And if you do, how will you stay safe?

  • Make sure you’re with close friends who care about you
  • Make sure you don’t drive
  • Don’t mix drugs and alcohol
  • Don’t mix cannabis with other drugs
  • Remember the effects can last a long while, don’t keep taking more if you think it’s not having an effect
  • A low mood will just be worsened by cannabis use – if you’re feeling down it won’t help
  • Don’t coerce others into taking it.
Stay safe. Stay cool.

Useful articles

If you want more information on smoking tobacco, click here

For advice on Quitting Smoking, visit our Kiwi Families article

For information on staying safe around Alcohol at Parties, visit our teenager-friendly article.

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Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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