What is cannabis?
Cannabis (marijuana, hashish, pot) is a drug derived from the female hemp plant. The resin of the plant contains psychoactive substances (cannabinoids) that make you feel high or stoned. The most common ones are cannabinol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The low doses cannabis is a downer. In high doses cannabis is a psychedelic.
The effect a substance will have depends on the characteristics of the substance, but also on the set and setting of the user. Here we describe the effect of cannabis in general.
Cannabis is mostly a consciousness changing substance (psychedelic). It will alter your mood and perception. The THC will make you high and excited. CBD actually inhibits the THC and has a calming and anti-anxiety effect. This creates the ‘stoned’ feeling. You can gain different insights into yourself or your environment when using cannabis. Physical effects include a slightly faster heart rate and an increase in appetite. See the table below for a complete overview of possible effects.
|Positive effects||(negative) Side effects|
Altered sensory perception
How you perceive your environment changes, this can affect all of your senses. Sometimes, this could make it seem as if your surroundings differ from reality. More information about tripping and hallucinations can be found here.
Some drugs make you sluggish.
Reduction of stress, uneasiness, sadness, panic, and feelings of depression.
Forgetfulness. Short term, failure to remember events shortly after ingestion.
Altered thought pattern
Thoughts are described as more creative and daydreaming may take place. You are able to make connections in your head that you otherwise wouldn’t. This can be very interesting, but also a bit scary. The world can then seem to be a little less logical. This can work both positively and negatively for you.
Dilation of the blood vessels in the eyes causes red eyes.
Spontaneous and uncontrollable laughter, sometimes without anything humorous happening.
Stimulation of sympathetic pathways decrease saliva production, this causes the mouth to feel dry.
Increased appetite, and possible weight gain. Sometimes called “munchies”.
Paranoia and delusions
Anxiety, paranoia and delusions (e.g. the idea that people are talking about you).
Confusion and restlessness
Confusion and restlessness
An uneasy and tense feeling in the abdomen, which may cause discomfort. Nausea often precedes vomiting.
Irritation of the airways
Smoking can cause coughing or a burning or tickling sensation in the throat.
Increased heart rate
This drug can increase the rate at which your heart beats.
Lowered blood pressure
Some drugs can lower the blood pressure in your body.
Decreased muscle tension
Decreased general tone (= relaxation) of muscles.
Dose and route of administration
Marijuana and hash can be smoked, vaporised, or swallowed in solid or liquid form.
In the Netherlands, cannabis is usually rolled with tobacco into a joint and smoked. After inhaling the smoke, the active ingredients reach the brain quickly via the lungs. In the brain the active substances will sort out their effects. Users indicate that they can sense when they have had enough while smoking cannabis; with strong weed, this can be after just one or two hits, while with lighter weed, half or a whole joint is sometimes smoked. Inexperienced users quickly take too much and become sick or nauseous. So when smoking weed, wait for the effect before taking more. This will prevent you from getting ill or having a bad trip.
As with cigarettes, smoking cannabis does carry risks; smoking is harmful to the lungs and carries a risk of addiction. Cannabis is usually smoked in the form of a joint or stickie: a cigarette containing some crumbled weed or hash, sometimes supplemented with tobacco. When rolling a joint a ‘tip’ (a kind of filter, for example from a rolled up piece of sturdy paper) is often used in order to be able to smoke the entire joint without getting tobacco or weed in your mouth. You can also make a joint by brushing hash oil over the paper and then smoking it with regular tobacco.
An alternative way to smoke weed or hash is through a water pipe (also known as a bong). Such a bong works like a cooling system: the weed is burned, after which the smoke ends up in the water. The water cools the smoke, so you inhale the smoke less hot than with a joint or hash pipe. However, the water has no filtering effect; all harmful substances remain in the smoke.
A less harmful alternative is vaping or ‘vaping’ weed or hash. In a vaporizer, the hash or weed is not burned, but heated. At a temperature between 180 and 200°C, a gas is released that contains only the active substances and is also free of tar and carbon monoxide.
If you prefer not to smoke, you can also choose to process your hash or weed in food. Examples are hash bonbons or a space cake; a cake containing hash or weed. Foods with weed or hash in them are also called edibles. Usually during the preparation a little hash or weed is melted and dissolved in the butter. This distributes the cannabis evenly over the cake. The effect of eating is generally a lot more intense, but also less predictable than the effect of smoking. It takes at least three quarters of an hour to an hour and a half before it starts to work. Inexperienced users may be tempted to eat an extra piece. So it can quickly happen that you eat too much and get higher or stoner than you intended. So wait at least two hours after eating to see what effect it has before you consider taking more.
Probably not the first idea that came to mind, but it is possible: drinking hash or weed, for example as tea. You can steep some crumbled weed in a tea infuser, but a better option is to dissolve it in milk; THC dissolves better in fat than in water. Just like with food, it takes 45 minutes to an hour and a half after drinking weed or hash for the effects to take effect. In addition, it is even more difficult to estimate how much hash or weed is too much. This also increases the chance of things going wrong.
The dosage has a lot of influence on your experience while using cannabis. Cannabis contains a lot of psychoactive substances. The amounts of these substances and the proportions between them can vary considerably per plant. If there is a lot of THC in it and little CBD, you are more likely to experience anxious and restless feelings. A lot of CBD actually leads to a ‘stoned’ feeling. It is not possible to see exactly what is in the weed or hash. We do know that the concentration and ratio of THC and CBD can differ quite a bit and that the THC values in Dutch hash and weed are often much higher than those in foreign hash and weed. Due to the varying proportions, it is very difficult to indicate a good dosage. The way of intake also has a lot of influence on how strong the effect is.
We have already mentioned that it is difficult to dose cannabis. This also makes it difficult to estimate the duration of effect of cannabis. This depends, among other things, on how much you use and how you use it. After smoking one joint, it takes about 2 to 3 hours for the effects to fade. When you eat hash or weed, it can take an average of 4 to 6 hours before you start to feel normal again, but sometimes longer; after-effects can last up to 12 hours. In either case, whether you smoke or eat cannabis, the more you take, the longer you feel the effects. You also increase the risks!
Cannabis is mainly mentally addictive. Long-term users who stop may experience withdrawal symptoms: you feel irritable and restless and have trouble sleeping. You may also suffer from sweating, shaking, cold and headaches. However, the symptoms are very mild compared to those of heroin or alcohol.
With heavy users you sometimes also see some tolerance development; they need more to feel the effects. For example, tolerance occurs for the acceleration of the heart rate – novice users sometimes suffer from this, but experienced users much less.
Short term risks
Intense feelings of fear.
(Nederlands) Flauw vallen
Long term risks
Increased risk of pneumonia or smoker’s cough (only with smoking)
Smoking this drug increases the risk of pneumonia (bronchitis) and a smoker’s cough.
Increased risk of mouth, throat, esophagus or lung cancer (only with smoking)
Smoking this drug increases the risk of developing mouth, throat, esophagus or lung cancer.
Damage to vocal chords (only with smoking)
Smoking this drug can damage the vocal cords.
Combining different types of drugs can be risky and unpredictable. When you combine drugs you can have a higher risk of health problems. In the following paragraphs you can read about the effects and the risks of a number of combinations that occur frequently and also a about few that are extra hazardous. Also check our theme combining drugs.
Alcohol and cannabis
How you will feel depends on, among other things, the order and the amounts you take. And whether you smoke and/or drink more often.
If you drink first and then smoke weed, there is a good chance that you will feel quite nauseous. You may have to throw up. The more you drink, the more likely it is.
Smoking weed first and then drink? Then the amount of alcohol someone drinks is often much smaller than the other way around. You can then easier feel what is still pleasant. And it’s easier to stop drinking if you notice that you’re feeling a bit nauseous.
The combination of smoking and drinking therefore increases the risk of nausea and vomiting. You can then feel really bad. So before you take the ‘second’ drug, think about whether it will make you feel better. If in doubt, stick to one of them.
Cannabis and psychedelics
If you smoke weed during a trip, it can make for a more intense trip. Keep that in mind. There are users who have later experienced that they relived certain trip effects while smoking weed, as a kind of vivid memory of a previous experience. This can be very scary and confusing. If you experience this, we advise you to stop smoking weed.
It can also suddenly change the direction or vibe of a trip. This new direction isn’t always positive. So before you smoke weed, think about whether it will improve the experience.
Cannabis and stimulants like speed, 4-FA, ecstasy, MDMA
Some users find it a pleasant combination. Cannabis can soften the ecstasy rush, especially at the end of the experience. However, it can also make the experience a bit more vague, which is not always positive.
Sometimes people use cannabis after or while using speed to calm down or fall asleep more easily. Cannabis can soften the amphetamine effects, especially at the end of the amphetamine rush. However, this is not recommended for everyone, some people may feel anxious or restless. If you suffer from insomnia after using speed, it is advisable to time your use better. Keep in mind what time you want to go to sleep and do not take any more about 12 hours before you want to go to sleep.
Cannabis and tobacco
In the Netherlands it is customary to roll joints with tobacco. This is actually an weird habit. It is easy, but it also increases the risks.
The experiences of people who combine cannabis and tobacco as opposed to pure use vary. Some combiners experience a stronger high, while others indicate that the high is less. Pure smoking would make you energetic and active. Although of course it also depends on the type of cannabis you have.
Smoking for tobacco or cannabis?
If you fancy a joint, do you fancy the tobacco or the cannabis? Your body quickly gets used to tobacco and because tobacco is very addictive, it may well be that your body is actually subconsciously asking for tobacco. You then think you feel like using cannabis, but maybe your body just asks for tobacco. People who switch to vaping or pure cannabis regularly report that they are using less often.
Cannabis users often inhale joints of tobacco deeper and longer. This causes more damage to the lungs. The use of tobacco increases the risk of various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, pneumonia and reduced functioning of the immune system of the lungs.
Combined use of cannabis and tobacco increases the rewarding effects in the brain. The use of tobacco in a joint therefore promotes an addiction. Cannabis is mainly mentally addictive. The tobacco ensures that a joint also has a physically addictive effect. Smoking a joint with tobacco also increases the chance of relapse if you want to stop using cannabis.
Cannabis and sex
Cannabis can get you into a mellow mood. You may feel less inhibited and your body may be more sensitive to contact with other people. But heavy cannabis use over the longer term can dampen your sexual desires. The effects of cannabis vary per individual person, and they also depend strongly on atmosphere and surroundings.
There is no 100% safe use of cannabis, but you can limit the risks. For this we at Unity have the following tips for you:
- Do not buy cannabis on the street, but at a trusted address or in a good coffee shop
- Do not use daily, but on special occasions or on weekends. This makes sure smoking cannabis does not become a habit unnoticed
- Use only if you feel good physically and mentally
- Use for your pleasure and not to suppress problems or feelings
- Do not use if you have to participate in traffic
- Do not use before or during school, study or work
- Do not use if you take medication or suffer from depression, anxiety attacks or psychosis
- Do not use if you are pregnant
- Hash and weed are risky, among other things, because of the chance of aggravating psychological problems. Especially people with a predisposition to develop psychosis or other psychological complaints are strongly discouraged from using cannabis
Unity tips when smoking cannabis
The main risk you have when smoking weed is that the smoke can damage your mouth, throat and airways. Not every way of smoking weed or hash is equally suitable. We have ranked the different ways to smoke cannabis for you from least to most harmful:
- Using a vaporizer is the best option. When used correctly, very little or no harmful combustion products (such as carbon monoxide and tar) are released. You can read more about this method of use on the Vaporizer Info website.
- Use a pipe and make sure that it consists of glass or stainless steel. Chemical substances can be released when a pipe made of wood or plastic is heated.
- The unfiltered, pure joint. Do not use tobacco and use paper that is as thin as possible. Use unprinted paper to roll the roach. When you use printed paper, the ink particles can be released and end up in your lungs.
- Next up is the water pipe and the filtered pure joint. These filter out relatively much THC compared to tar.
- Joints with tobacco are at the bottom. You can reduce the risks to your lungs by smoking cannabis in the above ways without tobacco. Tobacco also works against cannabis: so you need a bit more weed/hash to have the same effect. In addition, nicotine is highly addictive. So you may end up smoking more, because your body is actually craving for the nicotine, not the cannabis.
It makes no sense to keep the smoke in your lungs longer than a few seconds! Nearly all THC is absorbed into your blood by your lungs within those seconds. So you don’t get extra high if you keep the smoke in for longer period of time, it only increases the exposure of your lungs to harmful substances.
To prevent damage to the respiratory tract, you can also take cannabis orally.
Unity tips when eating cannabis
Oral administration is a good alternative to smoking, but it also has a disadvantage: it is more difficult to dose (see: Dosage of cannabis). You can really trip from space cake! We recommend waiting two hours after taking it to make sure you start to feel anything before considering taking more.
If you made the edibles yourself, keep track of which and how much weed you used. If the space cake is too strong or not strong enough, you have a reference for a possible next time.
What can you do when someone has a bad trip on cannabis?
Cannabis, especially in high doses, makes you more prone to paranoid thoughts and fear. That is why the set (how you feel) and setting (where you are) is very important. So only use in an environment where you feel comfortable. Read more about it in our article on drug, set and setting.
If someone is too high, that person can have very paranoid or anxious thoughts. Try to reassure him or her and possibly give him or her something sweet to eat. Fresh air in a quiet place can also help. Other than that, it’s just a matter of waiting for it to pass. It makes little sense to call the first aid or an ambulance. Only do this if someone poses a danger to themselves or their environment.
What about the law regarding cannabis?
Rules for coffeeshops
Cannabis is on List 2 of the Opium Act (soft drugs). It is not permitted by law in the Netherlands to produce, trade, import or possess soft drugs. Penalties are less severe than for List 1 substances (for example cocaine, MDMA, amphetamine). The use of drugs is not prohibited. Therefore, possession of user quantities (up to 5 grams of cannabis) is often tolerated.
There are, however, national guidelines (issued by the Board of Prosecutors-General) on how the law must be complied with. Local prosecutors may deviate from these guidelines, but the guidelines are usually followed.
The guidelines state that coffee shops may exist in the Netherlands and may sell hash and weed, if they follow to certain rules. These are the so-called AHOJ-G rules. The rules are:
A: No advertising. This means no advertising other than the name of the shop on the outer wall.
H: No hard drugs. Hard drugs may not be present in a coffeeshop.
O: No nuisance. Nuisance includes: noise pollution, pollution and/or customers loitering in front of or near the coffeeshop.
J: No sale to minors and no access to minors to a coffeeshop.
G: No high volume sales per customer per transaction. In other words: no more than 5 grams per person per day may be sold.
The Commission has also determined that coffeeshops may not have a trading stock larger than 500 grams.
In 2013, the I criterion (Residents criterion) was added to this. This means that sales may only be made to people who live in the Netherlands. However, this criterion is not followed everywhere. In 2014, the Distance Criterion was also added. A coffeeshop may not be located within a radius of 350 meters from a school.
The local coffeeshop policy is shaped in the so-called triangular consultation. This is a consultation between the mayor, the police commissioner and the public prosecutor. This consultation retains the freedom to deviate from the guidelines. The triangular consultation can therefore decide not to allow coffeeshops in its municipality or to limit the number of coffee shops. Of course, support from the city council for the policy of the triangle is necessary.
Hash oil is so strong that it is listed on List I: hash oil is therefore illegal. This is rare in the Netherlands.
Are there forms of cannabis that are illegal?
Hash oil is illegal. It is on list 1 of the Opium Act. CBD oil that does not contain THC is allowed.
In principal all forms of cannabis are illegal, but it is tolerated. Only medical cannabis is legal, if it was obtained through a pharmacy. Check the theme The law for more info.
How did the use of cannabis start?
History of cannabis
The hemp plant has fulfilled many functions for thousands of years. This age-old cultivated plant is used by humans in various ways: as a medicine, raw material for textiles and of course as a drug, because of its psychoactive properties, whether or not used in religious ceremonies. The hemp plant is originally from Asia. In 2737 BC the effect of cannabis is already described in medical writings. In India, cannabis was praised as a divine drink in religious ceremonies. In Roman times, guests were offered hemp cookies after meals. But it wasn’t just used for its psychoactive properties; the English used cannabis as a raw material for textiles and rope.
In 1912 the first opium conference was held. This conference led to the eventual ban on most (then known) drugs. The import and export of cannabis has been banned in the Netherlands since 1928. At the same time, appreciation for the effects of cannabis spread across the rest of the United States through the artist scene. But in 1937, cannabis was also banned in the US on the grounds that it would lead to murder and insanity.
From 1960, the popularity of cannabis use in the Netherlands grew. The first coffee shop was opened in 1972. In 1976 the Opium Act was amended and a distinction was made between soft and hard drugs. The law was interpreted as allowing coffee shops to sell hash and weed under certain conditions. The number of coffee shops grew strongly. In 1995 the guidelines were tightened and the number of coffee shops was reduced.
Since 2003, it has been possible to obtain cannabis with a doctor’s prescription from the pharmacist, which is used as a painkiller in, among others, MS and AIDS patients and to stimulate appetite.
Also check out this video from ATTN about the history of cannabis in the US.
I want to combine cannabis with other drugs. Is that a wise idea?
Combining different drugs is extra risky and unpredictable. If you combine, you are more likely to have problems with your health. Here we describe the effects and risks of a number of combinations that are common or that are very risky. For more information, check the theme combination use.
Someone close to me uses this substance almost every weekend. Should I worry?
When someone close to you uses a substance often it is normal to worry. There are risks: to physical health; that he/she will gradually use more and more and become dependent. When only using it on weekends, there is the possibility that he/she is able anymore to go out without using. It can then be useful to have a conversation with each other in an open, non-judgmental way. Mention the impact the use has on you as a person, for example that you are worried. If you would like tips or advice for this, please contact the addiction care institution in your region.
I am planning to use magic mushrooms or truffles and cannabis. What are the risks?
If you smoke weed during a magic mushroom or truffle trip, it can make for a more intense trip. Keep that in mind. There are users who have later experienced that they relived certain magic mushrooms effects while smoking weed, as a kind of vivid memory of a previous experience. This can be very scary and confusing. If you experience this, we advise you to stop smoking weed.
It can also suddenly change the direction of a trip. This new direction isn’t always positive. So before you smoke weed, think about whether it will improve the experience.
What to do if someone has a bad trip?
Always make sure that you are and remain safe yourself. If you are in danger, you cannot help the person in need.
Find a quiet place with the one who is having a hard time. Don’t try to deny that he/she is having a bad trip. Try to reassure him/her: he/she has taken drugs and the effects and thus the bad trip always wear off. Ask the person about what they are experiencing and try to talk the trip on a positive side without downplaying it. For example, by giving a positive meaning to the things he/she sees. Try to do things that make him/her feel comfortable, such as moving or singing. See if it makes sense to talk about pleasant things. Distraction can also help, for example by drawing. Let your voice sound calm and reassuring.
Make sure that the user does not end up in dangerous situations such as traffic. Call emergency services if it becomes unsafe for the user or his environment or if the bad trip is too intense to solve it yourself.
I take medications regularly. Can I use cannabis?
Combining drugs with drugs can be risky. Little research has been done on many combinations. On the Jellinek website there is a medicine matrix where you can read what the risks are per substance and per type of medicine.
What if I have medical complaints after the use of partydrugs?
Some complaints after using drugs can last longer, A medical explanation or even treatment may then be necessary. The Brijder has set up a national consultancy for party drugs related medical complaints. If you have medical complaints after the use of party drugs, you can call the consultancy: 088 – 358 29 40. This service is only available in the Netherlands.
How long is cannabis detectable in the body?
How long a drug is detectable in your blood or urine depends on a number of factors. How often and how much you use and your personal metabolism influences this detection. Metabolism is the rate at which a substance is broken down, especially by your liver. Drugs are longer detectable in your urine than in your blood.
Cannabis can be detected in the urine for up to 5 days (with occasional use) and up to 4 weeks (with chronic intensive use). In some cases even longer.
The breakdown of cannabis, unlike the breakdown of most other drugs, is very slow. This has to do with the fact that THC, the main active ingredient of cannabis, stores itself in your fat tissue and is not directly broken down by the liver (as with ecstasy, speed and coke, for example). Very slowly, the THC is released from the fat tissue and broken down. So there are two steps:
- Delivery by blood to the fat tissue.
- Delivery of the fat tissue to the blood.
Because the release of cannabis from the fat tissue is so slow, cannabis remains detectable in your urine for a long time. With heavy use, THC can be detected in the urine for up to 4 weeks. It’s not like you still feel any of that slow release. The effects are noticeable for a maximum of 4 to 6 hours when smoking, so you will not notice anything of the THC that is later released slowly by your fat tissue.
How does cannabis work in the brain?
The brain contains substances (neurotransmitters) that play a role in the transmission of signals between brain cells (neurons). These transfer substances can bind to receptors (receivers) in the brain to transfer signals in the brain. Depending on the part of the brain where this happens, certain functions change.
One of the neurotransmitters that we find in the brain is called ‘anandamide’. This neurotransmitter ensures that the reward center in the brain can be stimulated. This makes us feel good. Anandamide can bind to many receptors in the cortex – the part of the brain thought to be involved in cognitive functions such as planning, language and concentration – and the hippocampus (very important for memory).
Cannabis appears in the brain as anandamide, as it were, and can thus bind to the same receptors, producing the same effects. After the cannabis has worn off, the normal situation in these parts of the brain reappears. So far, there is no indication that this causes damage to the brain.
Does cannabis cause braindamage?
Cannabis temporarily affects the functioning of the brain. If one is no longer under the influence, the normal situation returns after a short time. As far as is currently known, cannabis has no lasting influence on the functioning of the brain and no brain parts are damaged.
Is smoking weed bad for your lungs?
When you smoke cannabis through a joint or (water) pipe, you are taking a risk with your lungs. Cannabis smoke contains three times more tar and five times more carbon monoxide than tobacco smoke. The smoke that arises from the burning of cannabis is therefore more harmful than the smoke of tobacco. To illustrate: smoking a joint is roughly equivalent to smoking four cigarettes. Just like with cigarettes, second-hand smoke is also harmful; in that case you do not smoke yourself, but you are in a room where there is a lot of smoking. By comparison, it is sometimes said that being together for 40 hours with someone who smokes continuously is comparable to smoking 5 cigarettes.
Heavy cannabis use increases the risk of chronic bronchitis (inflammation of the lungs) and coughing. The combination of cannabis and tobacco (in a joint) puts your lungs to the test at least twice as hard. In addition, some studies suggest an increased risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and lungs with heavy cannabis use.
What is the effect of cannabis on your sleep?
How does cannabis affect your sleep? Why do people have nightmares after quitting weed? And what effect does cannabis have when you use it when you have had little sleep? Read that in the article Cannabis makes you sleepy at high doses, but do you also get into REM sleep?
Can I get a psychosis from cannabis?
Reports regularly appear about the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis. It has been known for some time that cannabis can exacerbate mental disorders, including schizophrenia. In people with a predisposition to psychosis, smoking cannabis can also ‘trigger’ these disorders: cannabis can, so to speak, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. A study by Maastricht University indicates that a small part of the population carries a certain gene that makes this group more susceptible to developing psychotic symptoms when using cannabis. If there are psychoses in your family (history), we strongly advise against using cannabis (or other drugs).
What can go wrong during my cannabis experience?
If you use cannabis there is a chance that you will become very nauseous or dizzy. This risk is increased when you combine cannabis with alcohol.
Also, with a high dose of cannabis (especially when you eat it) there is the risk of a ‘bad trip’ or difficult experience. You can become completely confused, very frightened or even experience hallucinations. The effects almost always disappear when the cannabis wears off.
In addition, cannabis can also make you pass out (white out). This usually only lasts a short time. The persons that fainted is conscious again after a few minutes.
Because THC is not active in the areas of your brain that regulate heart rate and breathing, you cannot die from a cannabis overdose.
Cannabis can trigger psychosis. Someone must already be susceptible to psychosis. It may be that little push, causing the psychosis to start.
Why do you get the munchies after using cannabis?
THC mimics the action of a brain chemical called anandamide. This substance can bind to various receptors in the brain, some of those are located at the hunger center. When the THC acts as anandamide and binds to these receptors, the nerves in the hunger center are stimulated. This gives you a feeling of hunger (or: ‘munchies’) and makes you reach for the chocolate…
Do you have a hangover after using cannabis?
Most people don’t have a hangover after using cannabis. However, it is more difficult to get up in the morning after an evening of smoking weed. Your attention and concentration capacity are less than normal. That is why it is better not to smoke weed if you have to get up early the next morning, for example for work or study.