Cannabis is a weed-type plant that is regarded as native to Southeast and Central Asia. In the UK, it is an illegal drug with a Class B status, alongside substances such as methamphetamine, ketamine and mephedrone. Possessing cannabis for personal use or in larger quantities can land someone a prison sentence, as would growing and selling it.
Here’s a list of the effects of cannabis on mental health, the dangers of using the drug and some detail about the legal situation in the UK to help give an idea of whether legalisation is a good idea.
While marijuana is often described as harmless and with mostly calming effects, the reality is quite different. There are a variety of strains. Indica and Sativa varieties, for example, have different effects on the mind, and taken in excessive amounts (daily intake for example), both can cause disorientation and confusion. Sometimes, if the person taking it is prone to mental health struggles, it can heighten feelings of anxiety and/or depressive thoughts. According to data used by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cannabis use can be linked to suicidal ideation, social anxiety and other mental health conditions.
In the UK, the National Institute of Drug Abuse has multiple studies performed on users of cannabis who carry specific genes, affecting serotonin and other hormones in the human body. Depending on one’s genetic predispositions, cannabis can cause psychosis.
However, the US National Center for Biotechnology Information has multiple resources showing various therapeutic studies being done on the effects and benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids as treatment for multiple conditions, including PTSD, depression, anxiety and glioma.
The most common conditions for which medical marijuana is used in the states of Colorado and Oregon are pain, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, nausea, PTSD, a number of cancer conditions, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and some degenerative neurological conditions.
In the same survey, however, the NCBI mentions the need for replacement substances when withdrawing from cannabis addiction, as well as the dangerous withdrawal symptoms when one decides to lower a marijuana dose. Cannabis addiction is a real problem and, as such, using it as a therapeutic drug requires the assistance of addiction experts and professionals.
Up to 30% of those who use cannabis will develop a substance use disorder related to the chemicals within the drug. This means that withdrawal symptoms will indeed occur when trying to lower intake or quit. Cravings, difficulty sustaining concentration, mood disruptions and physical symptoms can manifest when one stops using marijuana.
Treatment will begin with a detoxification period, where cannabis will be slowly removed from the system in the least harmful way, be it with substitute medicinal approaches, as mentioned by the NCBI, or via non-medical therapies and holistic treatments.
Being aware of cannabis’s dangerous side effects could help prospective users overcome peer and social pressure, but learning alternative coping mechanisms is what will help in the long-term by allowing people to find better solutions to stressors and stressful situations. These can be taught during counselling and behavioural therapy sessions as part of outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation programmes.
UK cannabis reform
Being in possession of a controlled substance incurs the risk of facing prosecution under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is also illegal to sell cannabis. This means that selling it to children or adults is considered e a serious crime.
According to recent surveys, the majority of people in the UK (78%) think that the government should allow cannabis use for medicinal purposes, following the example of many EU countries and US states. Spain, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands are just some of the areas where this substance is legal to own and grow, depending on one’s medical condition.
Many think that bringing in a law to regulate cannabis use and abuse is a better approach than leaving it completely illegal, and having no control over the eventual misuses. In England and Wales, nearly 40% of adults aged 16 to 64, which equals about ten million people residing within the UK, have admitted to trying weed in various forms at least once. This data was released recently in a crime survey.
More than half the British population supports the eventual legalisation, and following regulation, of the drug. 53% of the participants in a survey admitted to being pro-legislation. Motions and petitions in the UK, however, have not reached enough support from government and political persons.
Sentencing in the UK for cannabis-related crimes
With cannabis being a Class B drug, anyone found in possession of the substance faces up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Those found to be supplying or producing cannabis, in any form, are looking at a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Between 2015 and 2019, there were 6,965 sentences for cannabis-related crimes in England and Wales. The data comes from Freedom of Information released by the Ministry of Justice, which includes the prison population for cannabis offenders.