Cannabis is known by the street names puff, draw, weed, herb(s), soap, chronic, skunk, grass, ganja, hash, dope and Bob Hope (among others).
Cannabis is one of the world's most commonly used leisure drugs; it is estimated that at least one person in ten in the UK has used it. Its use in human cultures spans millennia, often in religious, mystical or ritual settings. The drug comes from the hemp plant, which grows in a variety of climates and can reach up to 15 feet in height. The leaves are lance-shaped, with saw-toothed edges. In addition to the psychoactive drug, hemp is the source of many other products. There are three subspecies of the plant: Sativa (the most prominent), Indica and Ruderalis.
Cannabis comes in three main forms: cannabis resin (hashish), herbal cannabis (marijuana) and cannabis oil. These different forms are historically associated with different cultures in various parts of the world. Hashish is a sticky brown substance, the compressed resin exuded by the plant, while marijuana is composed of dried leaves. Oil is the concentrated extract of THC, the drug’s primary active ingredient.
Cannabis is usually smoked, but can be eaten or consumed in drinks such as coffee. When swallowed, the effect takes longer to come on but is stronger, and may be very strong indeed, causing hallucinations and extreme mental confusion. It is often smoked in a joint, in which the drug is added to tobacco, and can be smoked pure in a pipe or water pipe such as a bong.
In recent decades the illicit market has partially moved on from producing on large farms in Morocco and Pakistan to growing the plant indoors under artificial lighting and with controlled nutrition. This has resulted in the production of “skunk”, a strong strain with a higher than average THC content. (Skunk was originally a specific cross-bred strain of indoor product, but the term is now generic). Skunk has generated alarm in political circles, and some medical authorities believe that cannabis can cause mental illness. It is likely that in some cases it plays a role in a complex of genetic, social and psychological influences. Those whose nervous systems are maturing or who have pre-existing psychological problems should be wary of heavy cannabis use.
Cannabis is a Class B Schedule 1 drug. It is illegal to possess, supply or produce this drug.
Special police guidelines exist in relation to arrest for possession of cannabis.
Possession of Class B drugs carries a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and a fine. Trafficking offences carry maximum sentences of 14 years imprisonment and a fine.
Free, confidential information and advice is available by calling the Release Drugs Helpline on 0845 45 00 215