Do You Know… Cannabis
Street names: marijuana (grass, weed, pot, dope, ganja and others), hashish (hash), hash oil (weed oil, honey oil)
What is it?
Cannabis sativa, also known as the hemp plant, has been cultivated for centuries for industrial and medical use, and for its “psychoactive,” or mind-altering, effects. Marijuana, hashish and hashish oil all derive from the cannabis plant.
More than sixty-one chemicals, called cannabinoids, have been identified as specific to the cannabis plant. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid, and is most responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana smoke.
Hemp grown for industrial use has very low levels of THC. Hemp fibres are used to make rope, fabric and paper. Hemp seeds are high in protein and yield an oil with nutritional and industrial value.
Many claims about the medical uses of marijuana have not been scientifically proven; however, research has shown that THC and other pure cannabinoids can relieve nausea and vomiting and stimulate appetite. This can help people who have AIDS or who take drugs used to treat cancer. Further research is needed to establish the medical value of marijauna in relieving pain, reducing muscle spasms and controlling some types of epileptic seizure.
Where does cannabis come from?
Cannabis is native to tropical and temperate climates, but is cultivated around the world. Modern illicit growing operations use sophisticated methods to produce high potency marijuana.
People with a medical exemption from Health Canada may grow their own supply or designate someone to grow it for them. Research-grade cannabis is grown by a producer appointed by the federal government.
What does cannabis look like?
Marijuana is the dried flower buds and leaves of the cannabis plant. It ranges in colour from grayish green to greenish brown and may contain seeds and stems. Hashish is the dried, compressed resin of cannabis flowertops. It ranges in colour from brown to black, and is sold in chunks. Hash oil is made by boiling cannabis flowertops or resin in an organic solvent, which produces a sticky reddish-brown or green substance. The THC content of each variety of cannabis varies, although hash is generally more potent than marijuana, and hash oil is usually the most potent form. Marijuana, hash or hash oil are sometimes mixed with tobacco, and are most often rolled into a cigarette called a joint, or smoked in a pipe. Cannabis is sometimes cooked in foods, such as brownies, or made into a drink.
Synthetic THC (dronabinol) is produced under the trade name Marinol®. A related synthetic cannabinoid (nabilone) is sold as Cesamet®. Both are prescribed to people who have cancer or AIDS.
Who uses cannabis?
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada (after alcohol and tobacco use by minors). However, most cannabis use is infrequent and experimental.
A 2000 study reported that 35 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 18 had used cannabis at some point in their life, and 11 per cent of those who had used it did so in the past year. A 1994 Canadian study reported that about two per cent of the people surveyed used cannabis once a week or more.
Rates of cannabis use among Ontario students have risen in recent years and are currently similar to the peak rates of the late 70s and early 80s. A 2001 survey found that about 30 per cent of Ontario students in Grade 7 to OAC had used marijuana at least once in the previous year, with about three per cent reporting daily use in the past four weeks. These rates of use were significantly higher among males than females.
How does cannabis make you feel?
How cannabis affects you depends on:
* how much you use
* how often and how long you’ve used it
* whether you smoke it or swallow it
* your mood, your expectations and the environment you’re in
* your age
* whether you have certain pre-existing medical or psychiatric conditions
* whether you’ve taken any alcohol or other drugs (illicit, prescription, over-the-counter or herbal).
When people first try cannabis, they often feel no psychoactive effect. With repeated use, however, these effects are felt.
People can have very different experiences with cannabis. Some may feel relaxed, lively, talkative and giggly, while others feel tense, anxious, fearful and confused. What’s more, the kind of high a person has can vary from one drug-taking episode to another. People who are familiar with the drug learn to stop when they’ve had enough, and have more control of the effects, than do people who are new to the drug.
At low doses, cannabis mildly distorts perception and the senses. People who use the drug say that it makes music sound better, colours appear brighter and moments seem longer. They say that it enhances taste, touch and smell and makes them feel more aware of their body. Some enjoy these effects, but others find them uncomfortable.
Smoking larger amounts may intensify some of the desired effects but is also more likely to produce an unpleasant reaction. Too high a dose may result in feelings of losing control, confusion, agitation, paranoia and panic. Pseudohallucinations (seeing things such as pattern and colour that you know are not real) or true hallucinations (where you lose touch with reality) can occur.
The physical effects of cannabis include red eyes, dry mouth and throat, irritated respiratory system (from smoking) and bronchodilation (expansion of breathing passages). Appetite and heart rate increase, while blood pressure, balance and stability decrease. Cannabis may cause drowsiness or restlessness, depending on the amount taken and individual response to the drug.
How long does the feeling last?
When cannabis is smoked, the effect is almost immediate and may last several hours, depending on how much is taken. When swallowed, the effect is felt in about an hour, and lasts longer than when smoked. Although the high lasts only a few hours after smoking, THC is stored in fat cells and expelled from the body over a period of days or weeks, depending on the frequency of use and the amount used. This is why drug tests for cannabis use can give a positive result long after the effect of the drug has worn off.
Is cannabis dangerous?
While no one has ever died of a cannabis overdose, those who use cannabis should be aware of the following possible dangers, and take measures to avoid them:
* Cannabis impairs depth perception, attention span and concentration, slows reaction time, and decreases muscle strength and hand steadiness – all of which may affect a person’s ability to drive safely.
* Cannabis and alcohol, when taken together, intensify each other’s effects and can cause severe impairment.
* Cannabis intoxication affects thinking and short-term memory. Using cannabis while at school or work may interfere with learning or work performance.
* Unless you have a medical exemption, it is illegal to grow, possess or sell cannabis.
* Illicit cannabis products are not subject to any health and safety standards, and may be contaminated with other drugs, pesticides or toxic fungi.
* Large doses of potent cannabis, especially when swallowed, can cause “toxic psychosis.” Symptoms include auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoid delusions, confusion and amnesia. When cannabis use is stopped, these symptoms usually disappear within a week.
* Cannabis use raises the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. People with angina or other coronary artery disease may increase their risk of heart attack if they use cannabis.
* Using cannabis during pregnancy may affect the baby. Research suggests there may be a link between cannabis use during pregnancy and subtle cognitive problems in children. Cannabis smoke contains many of the same chemicals found in cigarette smoke, which are dangerous to the fetus.
Is cannabis addictive?
It can be.
People who use cannabis regularly can develop psychological and/or mild physical dependence. People with psychological dependence crave the high. The drug becomes overly important to them, they may feel they need it, and if they can’t get it, they feel anxious. Long-term frequent use can lead to physical dependence. People who develop physical dependence may experience a mild withdrawal syndrome if they suddenly stop using cannabis. Symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, upset stomach, loss of appetite, sweating and disturbed sleep. These symptoms generally last for a week or so, although sleep problems may continue longer.
What are the long-term effects of using cannabis?
Healthy adults who occasionally use cannabis in low doses are not likely to have any harmful long-term effects. However, people who use cannabis heavily or regularly, or people with certain medical or psychiatric conditions, risk the following possible long-term effects:
* Cannabis smoke contains tar and other known cancer-causing agents. People who smoke cannabis often hold unfiltered smoke in their lungs for maximum effect. This adds to the risk of cancer.
* Smoking cannabis irritates the respiratory system. Chronic marijuana smoking has been linked to bronchitis. One study estimated that three to four joints per day causes the same damage as smoking 20 or more tobacco cigarettes.
* The constant intoxication associated with heavy cannabis use often reduces motivation for work and study, although this usually returns when drug use is stopped.
* There is a possible association between heavy regular cannabis use and the onset of schizophrenia. It is not clear, however, whether cannabis use releases latent symptoms of schizophrenia, or whether people use cannabis to help them cope with the symptoms of an emerging psychosis. Evidence suggests that continued cannabis use in people with schizophrenia accentuates psychotic symptoms and worsens the course of the illness.
* Chronic, heavy use of cannabis may impair people’s attention, memory and the ability to process complex information for weeks, months and even years after they have stopped using cannabis.
Cannabis and the law
A first-time conviction for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana can result in a six-month jail sentence or a $1,000 fine (or both) – and a criminal record, which limits employment and travel. Subsequent convictions and possession of larger amounts can result in more severe penalties. A first offence of possession of small amounts of cannabis usually results in a fine or discharge. In 1995, 31,299 people were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana; this was about half of all drug arrests in Canada for that year. In an ongoing debate lasting many years, various government, health, police, policy and legal groups have suggested that criminal punishment for the possession of cannabis is too severe, and that our laws do not reflect the practice of our police and legal system.
One option to current laws is to “decriminalize,” which would reduce the legal penalty for possession of cannabis, and another is to “regulate,” giving cannabis a legal status similar to alcohol, with a legal but restricted source of supply available to adults.
Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was changed to permit the cultivation of industrial hemp in 1998, and to provide access to marijuana for medical use in 2001.
Do You Know… Cocaine
Street names: blow, C, coke, crack, flake, freebase, rock, snow
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug. Stimulants make people feel more alert and energetic. Cocaine can also make people feel euphoric, or “high.”
Pure cocaine was first isolated from the leaves of the coca bush in 1860. Researchers soon discovered that cocaine numbs whatever tissues it touches, leading to its use as a local anesthetic. Today, we mostly use synthetic anesthetics, rather than cocaine.
In the 1880s, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud wrote scientific papers that praised cocaine as a treatment for many ailments, including depression and alcohol and opioid addiction. After this, cocaine became widely and legally available in patent medicines and soft drinks.
As cocaine use increased, people began to discover its dangers. In 1911, Canada passed laws restricting the importation, manufacture, sale and possession of cocaine. The use of cocaine declined until the 1970s, when it became known for its high cost, and for the rich and glamorous people who used it. Cheaper “crack” cocaine became available in the 1980s.
Where does cocaine come from?
Cocaine is contained in small amounts in the leaves of several species of the erythroxylum (coca) bush, which grow on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. For at least 4,500 years, people in Peru and Bolivia have chewed coca leaves to lessen hunger and fatigue. Today, most of the world’s supply of coca is grown and refined into cocaine in Colombia. Criminal networks control the lucrative cocaine trade.
What does cocaine look like and how is it used?
Cocaine hydrochloride – the form in which cocaine is snorted or injected – is a white crystalline powder. It is sometimes “cut,” or mixed, with things that look like it, such as cornstarch or talcum powder, or with other drugs, such as local anesthetics or amphetamines.
Powder cocaine can be chemically changed to create forms of cocaine that can be smoked. These forms, known as “freebase” and “crack,” look like crystals or rocks.
Cocaine is often used with other drugs, especially alcohol and marijuana. Cocaine and heroin, mixed and dissolved for injection, is called a “speedball.”
Who uses cocaine?
A 2001 survey of Ontario students in grades 7 to OAC reported that
* 4.3 per cent had used cocaine at least once.
* Two per cent had used crack cocaine at least once in the past year.
A 2000 survey of Ontario adults reported that
* 6.4 per cent had used cocaine at least once.
* 1.2 per cent had used it in the past year.
How does cocaine make you feel?
How cocaine makes you feel depends on:
* how much you use
* how often and how long you use
* how you use it (by injection, orally, etc.)
* your mood, expectation and environment
* your age
* whether you have certain medical or psychiatric conditions
* whether you’ve taken any alcohol or other drugs (illicit, prescription, over-the-counter or herbal).
Cocaine makes people feel energetic, talkative, alert and euphoric. They feel more aware of their senses: sound, touch, sight and sexuality seem heightened. Hunger and the need for sleep are reduced. Although cocaine is a stimulant, some people find it calming, and feel increased self-control, confidence and ease with others. Other people may feel nervous and agitated, and can’t relax.
Taking high doses of cocaine for a long time can lead to:
* panic attacks
* psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia (feeling overly suspicious, jealous, or persecuted), hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling, etc., things that aren’t real) and delusions (false beliefs)
* erratic, bizarre and sometimes violent behaviour.
With regular use, people may become tolerant to the euphoric effects of cocaine. This means they need to take more and more of the drug to get the same desired effect. At the same time, people who use the drug regularly may also become more sensitive to its negative effects, such as anxiety, psychosis hallucinations, loss of contact with reality) and seizures.
Cocaine also makes the heartbeat and breathing faster, and raises blood pressure and body temperature.
How long does the feeling last?
Not long. Cocaine is both fast- and short-acting.
* Intranasal use, or “snorting,” takes effect within a few minutes, and lasts 60 to 90 minutes.
* Injecting produces a “rush” that is felt within minutes, and lasts 20 to 60 minutes.
* Smoking causes a high within seconds, which lasts only five to 10 minutes.
When the cocaine high fades, the person may begin to feel anxious and depressed, and have intense craving for more of the drug. Some people stay high by “binging,” or continually using the drug, for hours or days.
Is cocaine dangerous?
While many people use cocaine on occasion without harm, the drug can be very dangerous, whether it’s used once or often.
* Cocaine causes the blood vessels to thicken and constrict, reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart. At the same time, cocaine causes the heart muscle to work harder, leading to heart attack or stroke, even in healthy people.
* Cocaine raises blood pressure, which can explode weakened blood vessels in the brain.
* A person can overdose on even a small amount of cocaine. Overdose can cause seizures and heart failure. It can cause breathing to become weak or stop altogether. There is no antidote to cocaine overdose.
* Snorting cocaine can cause sinus infections and loss of smell. It can damage tissues in the nose and cause holes in the bony separation between the nostrils inside the nose.
* Smoking cocaine can damage the lungs and cause “crack lung.” Symptoms include severe chest pains, breathing problems and high temperatures. Crack lung can be fatal.
* Injection can cause infections from used needles or impurities in the drug. Sharing needles can also cause hepatitis or HIV infection.
* Cocaine use in pregnancy may increase risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. It also increases the chance that the baby will be born underweight. Because women who use cocaine during pregnancy often also use alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, we do not fully know the extent of the effects of cocaine use on the baby.
* Cocaine use while breastfeeding transmits cocaine to the nursing child. This exposes the baby to all the effects and risks of cocaine use.
* Cocaine use is linked with risk-taking and violent behaviours. It is also linked to poor concentration and judgment, increasing risk of injury and sexually transmitted disease.
* Chronic use can cause severe psychiatric symptoms, including psychosis, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
* Chronic use can also cause weight loss, malnutrition, poor health, sexual problems, infertility and loss of social and financial supports.
Is cocaine addictive?
It can be.
Not everyone who uses cocaine becomes addicted, but if they do, it can be one of the hardest drug habits to break.
People who become addicted to cocaine lose control over their use of the drug. They feel a strong need for cocaine, even when they know it causes them medical, psychological and social problems. Getting and taking cocaine can become the most important thing in their lives.
Smoking crack, with its rapid, intense and short-lived effects, is most addictive. However, any method of taking cocaine can lead to addiction. The amount of drug used, and how often people use the drug, has an effect on whether people get addicted.
Cocaine causes people to “crash” when they stop using it. When they crash, their mood swings rapidly from feeling high to distress. This brings powerful cravings for more of the drug. Bingeing to stay high leads quickly to addiction.
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can include exhaustion, extended and restless sleep or sleeplessness, hunger, irritability, depression, suicidal thoughts and intense cravings for more of the drug. The memory of cocaine euphoria is powerful, and brings a strong risk of relapse to drug use.
What are the long-term effects of taking cocaine?
Cocaine increases the same chemicals in the brain that make people feel good when they eat, drink or have sex. Regular cocaine use can cause lasting changes in the brain. This may explain the craving and psychiatric symptoms that last even after drug use stops.