Cannabis

The New Zealand Drug Foundation website pothelp.org.nz is tailor-made for Kiwis who are struggling to give up cannabis. It includes stories from people who have struggled with pot, a comprehensive e-therapy tool, lots of information and details for support agencies. If pot is your drug of choice, or the substance which is causing trouble for your family or a close friend, head over there and check it out.

What it is

Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand. The drug comes from hemp plants, including cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Usually the dried bud of the plant is smoked. It can also be made into an oil or resin (hash), which is generally more potent.

The Ministry of Health’s Drug Use Survey 2007–2008 found that 46.4% of people aged 16–64 had used cannabis in their lifetime.

Cannabis is a Class C drug in New Zealand. It is illegal to grow, sell, distribute or possess it. The more potent oil and resin forms of cannabis are Class B, and there are more serious penalties for growing, selling, distributing or possessing them.

What it does

The effects of using cannabis will vary from person to person, depending on:

  • how much cannabis is taken, the way it is taken and the form in which it is taken
  • how strong it is
  • how experienced the user is
  • the general physical health of the user
  • the mental health of the user
  • the user’s mood when they start taking the drug
  • the setting in which the drug is taken
  • whether other drugs are taken as well

Short-term effects

Cannabis is a depressant, and people who use it often feel stoned or ‘out of it’ when they are using. Although it is classed a depressant, using cannabis does not mean the user will get depressed — just that it has a mellowing effect on the user. They can also feel very happy, relaxed or uninhibited. However, not everyone has such a positive experience when using cannabis. Some people may feel anxious, self-conscious or have paranoid thoughts.

Cannabis can impair short-term memory and attention span, which makes it harder to complete tasks or concentrate.

Young people who use cannabis can suffer impaired concentration and motivation, which can affect how well they do at school.

Myths and legends

Cannabis isn’t addictive

Cannabis does have addictive properties. People who smoke pot regularly can develop dependency on the drug because they are used to functioning and doing certain things when they are stoned.

Cannabis isn’t as bad as other drugs

Pot might not have the same street cred as something like meth, but there are a number of risks associated with using it. Smoking pot may cause similar health risks as smoking cigarettes, especially because cannabis users inhale the smoke more deeply and hold it in their lungs for longer than tobacco smoke. Some people have experienced psychosis triggered by using pot.

Risks

Taking any type of drug creates risk to the health and wellbeing of the user. There is evidence that prolonged use of cannabis can increase the risk of developing cancer. There is also an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis, damage to the lungs and other respiratory problems.

People with mental health problems are particularly sensitive to the effects of cannabis. It can exacerbate conditions such as paranoia, depression and anxiety. Chronic use can affect fertility in both men and women.

Cannabis withdrawal

Withdrawal can occur if a person suddenly stops using pot after long periods of use — in some cases it can be a short amount of time. They may suffer physical symptoms for about a week, including anxiety, loss of appetite, an upset stomach and irritability. Some people find their sleep is disturbed for a few weeks, but this goes back to normal in time. 

It is possible for a person to become dependent on pot especially if they become accustomed to carrying out daily tasks or being in certain situations while under the influence. 

Reducing the harm

The New Zealand Drug Foundation’s message is clear: no drug use is the safest drug use. However, we know there will be occasions when people ignore warnings and use drugs in a dangerous manner. To help keep communities safe, here is some information about proven methods of drug harm reduction.

There is growing evidence that cannabis use, especially long-term and heavy use, causes harm to the brain and affects mental health. If users wish to reduce the risks of neurological and psychological harm they should only use cannabis occasionally.

People who have a history of, or pre-disposition to, mental illness risk harm to themselves if they use cannabis, and should avoid cannabis use altogether.

Do not use cannabis before driving or operating machinery. Cannabis impairs reaction times and hinders concentration, significantly increasing the risk of an accident.

Combining cannabis and alcohol compounds the effects of both drugs. The effects can be unpredictable and lead to nausea, vomiting, anxiety and panic attacks. Vulnerable users also put themselves at greater risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms when combining cannabis and alcohol. The compounding effect of these two drugs also increases the risk of ‘greening out’.

If someone is having a bad reaction to cannabis – or ‘greening out’ – they may look pale and sweaty, feel dizzy and nauseous, and may begin to vomit.

The best way to help is to take them to a quiet place with fresh air. Sit them in a comfortable position, and give them water or something sweet to drink (not alcohol). 

If they begin to vomit, stay with them. Never leave them alone. Lay them on their side so they do not choke on their vomit. Keep them in a safe spot until they begin to feel better. If they do not improve or their condition worsens, call 111 for an ambulance.

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PotHelpThis website offers stories and tools to help anyone sick of using cannabis to quit or cut back.

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