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What is cannabis?

Cannabis, also known as weed, hash, marijuana, dope, grass, pot, puff, or ganja is a psychoactive drug

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks, up to and including possible death.

Cannabis is a psychoactive drug that comes from a plant. Some people refer to cannabis as weed or marijuana, among other names. When someone is 'stoned', it usually means they are high on cannabis.

Cannabis can be smoked (in a pipe, a bong, or rolled with tobacco as a spliff or joint) or eaten, usually baked into cakes or added to sweets. It shouldn't be longer than five minutes before the effects are felt. These may last up to one hour with low doses and for two to three hours with high doses.

What happens when you smoke weed?

The way a person reacts when they smoke weed can be different for everyone. 

Some people feel relaxed, talkative, dreamy, philosophical or giggly. You can get cravings for food called “the munchies” and it feels like you can't get enough food. Other people might have unpleasant reactions, including fearfulness, confusion, severe panic and anxiety, paranoid reactions, and hallucinations. 

Many people also have a heightened awareness of sound, colour and textures, or they may have a light-headed floating sensation. Things like music or TV might suddenly seem endlessly fascinating and unusually moving.

Usual doses of cannabis may also interfere with short-term memory and learning ability, as well as co-ordination (so manual skills are impaired). Moderate doses may interfere with clarity of speech. 

What are the risks of cannabis?

Like taking any drug, there are a number of risks associated with smoking weed.

Damage to throat and lungs

Like cigarettes, smoking cannabis can damage your throat and lungs. It may cause chronic bronchitis, coughing, hoarseness, and other respiratory problems similarly associated with tobacco smoking.

Mental health problems

Users may undergo temporary and in a small percentage of cases, severe psychological distress and confusion. Heavy use amongst those with a mental illness may make their condition worse.

It has also been suggested that there may be a slightly increased risk of developing schizophrenia in those who started using cannabis at a young age (under the age of 18). As with all drugs, it appears that risk increases with use, so someone who uses cannabis daily may be more likely to suffer side effects than someone who only uses it occasionally.

A lack of energy

Users may appear lack energy and perform poorly at work or education.

Fertility problems

Among the other known or suspected long term effects of continuous cannabis use are decreased sperm count and sperm mobility, interference with ovulation and pre-natal development and impaired immune system response. 


It is possible to grow dependent on cannabis. People who smoke weed regularly might find it difficult to cope without it. If you think you might be dependent on drugs, there are a number of services that can help. Find a service near you here or contact the Drugs Helpline on 1800 459 459 to find out about options in your area.

What does the law say about cannabis?

All cannabis products are controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Acts. Cannabis is included in Schedule 1, which prohibits its medical and non-medical use.

It is therefore illegal to grow, produce, supply or possess any of the drugs, except in accordance with a licence from the Minister for Health for research or analysis. It is also an offence to allow premises to be used for cultivating, supplying or smoking cannabis.

In some countries, it is legal to purchase, possess, and use cannabis. There have been attempts to decriminalise cannabis in Ireland, and there could be new legislation in the future that would make it legal to use cannabis. For now however, it is still illegal.

What to do if cannabis users experience feelings of tension and anxiety

  • Calm the person down and reassure them.
  • Talk quietly and explain these feelings will pass.
  • Keep them away from bright lights and loud noises. Encourage them to breathe deeply and slowly in order to prevent hyperventilation.
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Published Feb­ru­ary 19th2013
Last updated Jan­u­ary 24th2019
Tags drugs cannabis
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