Cannabis Addiction – UK status, effects and treatment

Cannabis remains illegal in the UK

There is just one illegal drug that has been campaigned for to be legalised, for so many reasons and for so many years, and that is Cannabis. It remains true that in many way cannabis addiction has much in common with other drug addictions,

Currently, in the UK, Cannabis is classified as a class B drug.  Anyone caught with a small amount of the drug, less than one ounce, will have the police take it from them and if it is deemed it is for personal use, they will issue an on the spot fine.  Above the amount of one ounce, it would be seen as not for personal use and seen as dealing in cannabis. This can result in an unlimited fine and imprisonment for up to 5 years.  For those caught producing and supplying cannabis, they can be liable for up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

A little-known fact is that it remains illegal to smoke cannabis anywhere in the UK, including your own bedroom.

Therefore, in the UK, it is a very definite NO, but in certain other countries around the World they openly allow the use of Cannabis or Marijuana for recreational purposes or they have decriminalised it to make possession a non criminal offence. In some States of America they are even allowing its use for medical reasons.

Why Cannabis was downgraded to class C and then upgraded to class B

In the UK, cannabis was classified as a downgraded Class C drug between the years 2004 and 2009.  At the time, it was thought that the drug was less harmful and it also freed up the police to concentrate on more serious crime. However, new research led to the drug being reclassified in 2009 as it was clinically proven that Cannabis was far more dangerous, with a continued daily use, than had been previously thought.

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The origin and content of Cannabis

Cannabis or Marijuana refers to three plants with psychoactive properties known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.  The  flowers, fruits, stems and leaves are dried from the female plants and this creates one of the most common drugs in the world, also known as Weed or Pot.  You do not need to have a pharmaceutical degree, anyone can grow the plants and ridiculously on You Tube there are the instructions on how to farm them on a large scale.

Cannabis is made up of more than 120 components, which are known as cannabinoids. Two of these have been clearly identified.  CBD is singled out to help reduce pain and inflammation but will not get you high. THC is the main psychoactive compound and is responsible for creating the “high” that most people associate with Cannabis.

Looking back to the 1960’s and 1970’s, the quality of the product was a lot lower in its THC content, around 5% to 10%, thus producing a lower or more mellow “high’ than is available today. Back then there was the ordinary strain of Weed and also the higher potency grade called Skunk. Now, there are producers providing Cannabis with a 22% plus THC content and by producing new strains they are producing a different and more varied product.

Cannabis use

Cannabis can be used in different ways, but the most common is to include it in a personally rolled up cigarette or a pipe.  It can also be added to certain foods and even drunk, as in, added to a hot drink.

Long term use of cannabis – the effects of cannabis and cannabis addiction

The effects of long term use will be similar to any addictive behaviour in that it will be life changing and for the worse. To try and get a similar effect then the amount that we will be smoking will increase as our body becomes tolerant to the drug.  We will start to isolate more with our increased daily use and this is very common amongst cannabis smokers.  Specifically, with Cannabis it affects the central nervous system to produce feelings of being relaxed, mild euphoria, increased appetite, and a loss of real time.  There is increased danger for those starting using at a young age as the THC element can have an effect on their brain: clinical studies have shown it has a clear detrimental effect on the development of the brain, producing cognitive impairment and a lower IQ. For other long term users, chronic psychotic disorders can develop, including higher levels of anxiety, increased paranoia and potentially schizophrenic episodes. For the older user, there is an increased heart rate for up to three hours after smoking which in turn raises the risk of a heart attack.  Also, cannabis users can develop intense nausea and vomiting and this condition has a medical name of Cannabis Hypermesis Syndrome. 

When someone starts smoking cannabis the reward will be a “high” and the brain responds by producing larger quantities of Dopamine, which in turn produce positive feelings and sensations.  Over time, the dopamine will only be produced when we are smoking cannabis, and our feeling will revert to a low mood when we are not. This means we will quickly learn that the more often that we smoke the more we will be able to feel in a better mood. Therefore, our drug addictive behaviour increases to maintain a better feeling. In time though, the heightened feelings will diminish no matter how much you smoke, leaving you in a constant state of feeling low, depressed and with episodes of paranoia. 

Treatment for Cannabis addiction

At the Haynes Clinic, we have seen the number of individuals seeking help for Cannabis addiction steadily rise. More and more people have become psychologically addicted and their addiction has become debilitating and damaging to the point that they need help. Cannabis is similar to Cocaine, in that there is no recognised medically assisted withdrawal medication used to detox from the drug.  The safe environment of the rehab unit is of prime importance and the knowledge that you are in residential care with others with a similar problem.  Being away from your using environment is critical in order to get well and to have sufficient time, a residential period of 28 days is recommended,  to change the daily behaviour.  

Our denial of the extent of our problem and the delays in seeking help and gaining access to residential help is potentially linked to the ways that Cannabis / Marijuana is viewed so differently around the world.