By Cheryl Critchley
One in three adults and one in seven teenagers has tried cannabis.
Cannabis is Australia’s most popular illicit drug and many of today’s high-school parents have tried it. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 35 per cent of Australians reported using cannabis at least once, with 10 per cent using it in the past year. A 2011 Australian high-school students’ survey found cannabis was the most commonly used illicit substance by this age group, with 15 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds reporting they had tried it.
Most people who use cannabis seek a sense of mild euphoria and relaxation, often referred to as a “high”. Cannabis causes changes in the user’s mood and also affects how they think and perceive the environment. Everyday activities such as watching television and listening to music can become altered and more intense.
Generally speaking, people who start smoking cannabis at a younger age and smoke heavily are more likely to experience problems. This may include mental health problems, and more general life problems, such as conflict at home or school/work, financial problems and memory problems.
If a teenager has a genetic vulnerability, such as close family with depression, psychosis, bipolar disorder or anxiety, or if they have an existing mental health issue, cannabis should be avoided.
WHAT IS IT?
Cannabis is derived from the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). The main active ingredient is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. This is the part of the plant that gives the high. THC potency varies greatly between cannabis products.
OTHER NAMES FOR CANNABIS
Marijuana, grass, pot, dope, mary jane, hooch, weed, hash, joints, brew, reefers, cones, smoke, mull, buddha, ganga, hydro, yarndi, heads, choof.
HOW IS IT USED?
Cannabis is usually smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes (known as joints) or in special water pipes (bongs). These pipes or bongs can be bought or made from things such as orange-juice containers, soft-drink cans or even toilet rolls.
Cannabis is used in three main forms:
- Marijuana: Made from dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It is the least potent of all the cannabis products and is usually smoked.
- Hashish: Made from the resin (a secreted gum) of the cannabis plant. It is dried and pressed into small blocks and smoked. It can also be added to food and eaten.
- Hash Oil: The most potent cannabis product, this is a thick oil obtained from hashish. It is also smoked.
DOES IT CAUSE MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Medical professionals and researchers have not found conclusive evidence that cannabis use causes mental health problems, but research does show a strong relationship between cannabis use and experiencing mental health problems.
The causes of psychosis are not fully understood, but a relationship has been found between cannabis use and psychosis. It may cause symptoms similar to psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, which can last several hours or, in rare cases, up to three days. In many cases the symptoms disappear when cannabis use is stopped.
DOES CANNABIS CAUSE SCHIZOPHRENIA?
Research has shown a relationship between cannabis use and mental health problems such as schizophrenia. However, despite major increases in cannabis use in Australia during the past 30 years, schizophrenia levels have not increased. There is evidence that regular cannabis use increases the likelihood of schizophrenia symptoms in people with certain risk factors, with the main one being a personal or family history of mental health problems.
There is evidence that people with schizophrenia who use cannabis tend to have their first psychotic episode at a younger age than those who don’t.
DOES IT CAUSE DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY?
Research has found a relationship between cannabis use and depression. The effects of cannabis may seem to help ease depression at the time, but is likely to worsen depression in the long term. Regular cannabis users are likely to have higher levels of depression than non-users. There is some evidence to indicate that cannabis use – heavy or frequent use in particular – can cause depression later in life. The relationship between cannabis use and anxiety is less clear, but anxiety and panic attacks are among the most common negative effects reported by users.
DOES CANNABIS LEAD TO HARD-DRUG USE?
A direct link has not been established between cannabis use and the later use of “harder” drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. Anecdotally, those working with disadvantaged young people see some who use cannabis and other drugs.
Youth worker and 20th Man Youth Fund founder Les Twentyman has met hundreds of dependent hard-drug users and says most started with marijuana. He believes as they become more dependent on cannabis they need a stronger “kick”. “So they go from one thing to the next,” he says. Others disagree with this theory.
HOW MUCH DOES CANNABIS COST?
The Australian prices for hydroponic cannabis sourced from The Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug report 2012-13.
- One gram of cannabis head $12-$50 AUD
- An ounce of cannabis head $250-450 AUD
- A single mature cannabis plant $2000-$5000 AUD
TIPS FOR PARENTS IF YOUR CHILD IS AFFECTED BY CANNABIS
- Learn about cannabis use and mental health. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to help.
- Encourage them to get help. Urge them to seek professional help – don’t wait to see if they get better
- Be understanding. Tell them you’re there for them, encourage them and help with their treatment.
- Be patient. Getting better takes time – even if they are committed to treatment. Be prepared for setbacks and challenges.
- Look after yourself. Information and assistance is available for family, friends and people who use drugs. There is no need to deal with drug issues alone.
SOME HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT CANNABIS
- In 1788 Sir Joseph Banks sent cannabis plants to Australia with the First Fleet to produce products such as rope.
- In the 1920’s Cannabis was sold as cigarettes called “Cigares de Joy”. Federal legislation outlawed cannabis importation in 1926. An international approach overseen by the League of Nations saw more drugs banned.
- In the 1960’s a new drug culture emerged as young people used the likes of cannabis, heroin, LSD and other psychoactive drugs recreationally.
By 1970, all Australian states had enacted laws making drug supply a separate offence to drug use or possession. Anti-drug campaigns focused on abstinence and the dangers of drugs. Illegal drugs such as heroin and cannabis became major social issues.
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