||What does it do to you?
Lots of young people want to know about drugs.
Often, people around you are taking them, and you may wonder how it
will make you feel. You may even feel under pressure to use drugs
in order to fit in, or be ‘cool’. You may have heard that cannabis
is no worse than cigarettes, or that it is harmless.
What is cannabis?
The cannabis plant is a member of the nettle
family that has grown wild throughout the world for centuries.
People have used it for lots of reasons, other than the popular
It comes in two main forms:
- resin, which is a brown black lump also known as bhang, ganja
- herbal cannabis, which is made up of the dried leaves and
flowering tops, and is known as grass, marijuana, spliff, weed,
Skunk cannabis is made from a cannabis plant
that has more active chemicals in it (THC), and the effect on your
brain is stronger. Because ‘street’ cannabis varies so much in
strength, you will not be able to tell exactly how it will make you
feel at any particular time.
When you smoke cannabis, the active compounds
reach your brain quickly through your bloodstream. It then
binds/sticks to a special receptor in your brain. This causes your
nerve cells to release different chemicals, and causes the effects
that you feel. These effects can be enjoyable or unpleasant.
Often the bad effects take longer to appear
than the pleasant ones.
- Good/pleasant effects: You may feel relaxed and talkative, and
colours or music may seem more intense.
- Unpleasant effects: Feeling sick/panicky, feeling paranoid or
hearing voices, feeling depressed and unmotivated.
Unfortunately, some people can find cannabis
addictive and so have trouble stopping use even when they are not
The effects on mental health
What can you do?
Using cannabis triggers mental health problems
in people who seemed to be well before, or it can worsen any mental
health problems you already have.
Research has shown that people who are already
at risk of developing mental health problems are more likely to
start showing symptoms of mental illness if they use cannabis
regularly. For example if someone in your family has depression or
schizophrenia, you are at higher risk of getting these illness when
you use cannabis.
The younger you are when you start using it,
the more you may be at risk. This is because your brain is still
developing and can be more easily damaged by the active chemicals
If you stop using cannabis once you have
started to show symptoms of mental illness, such as depression,
paranoia or hearing voices, these symptoms may go away. However,
not everyone will get better just by stopping smoking.
If you go on using cannabis, the symptoms can
get worse. It can also make any treatment that your doctor might
prescribe for you, work less well. Your illness may come back more
quickly, and more often if you continue to use cannabis once you
get well again.
Some people with mental health problems find
that using cannabis makes them feel a bit better for a while.
Unfortunately this does not last, and it does nothing to treat the
illness. In fact, it may delay you from getting help you need and
the illness may get worse in the longer term.
If you are at all worried about the effect
that cannabis might be having on your mental health, talk to
somebody about it. This could be friends, family, or any
professional such as:
- doctor or nurse
- teacher or school/college counsellor
- youth counsellor
- social worker.
There are lots of people who can help you
decide whether you do have a problem, and what you can do about it.
However, if you don’t talk about it, you are unlikely to get
Mental health problems generally do get better
if you treat them quickly.
Things that you can do in the meantime to help
- having a day without cannabis
- avoiding bulk buying
- avoiding people, places and activities that you associate with
- not using it if you are feeling sad or depressed
- STOPPING if you get hallucinations
- seeking help.
When I was 16, I had my first joint. It was
to help me revising for my exams. My friend told me that it would
help me relax, and I could revise better. At first it
worked, I felt calmer and more relaxed. But then I started
forgetting things I'd revised and stressing myself out more. I
started smoking more and more, and eventually I was relying on weed
I started smoking more and more every day,
and it ended up being the only way that I could enjoy myself and
have fun. My mum noticed that my eyes were always red, but just
thought that I was ill. She took me to the doctors who tested my
blood, and found out about my drug use. They got me help, and
showed me other ways of getting rid of my stress. I ended
up slowly cutting down on my cannabis use, and I have now stopped
When I look back, I realise how silly I was
to start smoking so close to my exams. I had to retake a year of
sixth form, and really regret developing such a strong
addiction to cannabis. Although it seemed to help at the beginning,
it did not help me in the long run. I now know that in order to do
well in life, drugs are not the answer.
Below are some websites if you want to know
more about the effects of cannabis and other drugs on your mental
health and what you can do.
City of London Substance Misuse Partnership - Has
produced some useful leaflets to provide information and harm
minimisation advice regarding drugs and drug use.
Know cannabis -
A website that can help you assess your cannabis use, its impact on
your life and how to make changes if you want to.
Talk to Frank -
Free confidential drugs information and advice line. Tel. 0800 77
Charity committed to improving the mental health of all children
and young people.
Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
Fifth Edition (2008). Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Fergusson, D. M., Poulton, R., Smith, P. F. et al (2006):
Cannabis and psychosis, British medical Journal
- Patton, G.C., Coffey, C., Carlin, J.B., et
al. (2002). Cannabis use and mental health in young people: cohort
study, British Medical Journal, 325,
- Maddock, C and Babbs,M (2006). Interventions
for cannabis misuse. Advances in Psychiatric
- Di Forti, M. et al (2009): High-potency
cannabis and the risk of psychosis. British Journal of
Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family
Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).
With grateful thanks to Dr Adam Winstock, Dr Virginia
Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy.
This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of
© March 2017 Royal College of Psychiatrists
Due for review March 2020.