Cannabis and Mental Health

What is Cannabis?

Many young people want to know about drugs. 

Often you will be taken by people around you, and you may wonder how they will make you feel. You may even feel pressured to take drugs in order to be like everyone else, or to be 'cool'.  You may have heard that cannabis is no worse than cigarettes, or that it is non-hazardous.  

The cannabis plant is a member of the nettle family, which has been growing wild worldwide for centuries. People have used it for many reasons, besides the popular relaxing effect.


It comes in two forms:

  • resin, a brown lump also known as bhang, ganja or hashis 
  • herbal cannabis, which is made from the dried leaves and flower heads, and is called grass, marijuana, spliff, weed, etc. 

'Skunk' cannabis is made from a cannabis plant that has more active chemicals (THC) in it, and the effect on your brain is stronger. Because 'street' cannabis varies so much in strength, you will not be able to know exactly how it will make you feel at a given time. 

Cannabis is currently a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommended that it be moved to Class C, which means that possession of cannabis would not be treated as crime thereafter. However, at present, there are plans to legalise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, and permission for an emergency license for cannabis oil was first granted on 18 June 2018 for a child with severe epilepsy. 


What does it do for you?

When you smoke cannabis, the active compounds quickly reach your brain through your bloodstream. It then attaches / clings to a special receptor in your brain. This causes your cellular nerve to release various chemicals, and causes the effects you feel. These effects can be nice or unpleasant. 

Often, the undesirable effects take longer to emerge than the desired ones. 

  1. Good / pleasant effects: You may feel relaxed or talkative, and colors or music may appear stronger. 
  2. Unpleasant effects: Feeling unwell / panicked, feeling paranoid or hearing voices, feeling depressed and spontaneous. 

Unfortunately, some people become addicted to cannabis, so they struggle to stop using it even when they don't enjoy it. 


How does cannabis affect your mental health?

Cannabis use causes mental health problems for people who seemed fine before, or it can exacerbate existing mental health problems. 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, the risk of having these disorders is higher when you use cannabis. 

The younger you are when you start using it, the higher your risk. This is because your brain is still developing and is more easily damaged by the active chemicals in cannabis. If you stop using cannabis after you start having symptoms of mental illness, such as depression, paranoia or hearing voices, the symptoms may go away. However, not everyone will get better just by giving up smoking. 

If you continue to use cannabis, the symptoms can get worse. Also, if your doctor gives you a prescription for treatment, it may not work as well if you continue. Your illness may return faster and more often if you continue to use cannabis after recovery. Some people with mental health problems feel better for a while if they use cannabis. Unfortunately, this does not last or do anything to treat the illness. In fact, you may end up getting the help you need because of this and the illness could get worse in the long run.


What can you do?

If you have any concerns at all about the effect that cannabis may have on your mental health, talk to someone about it. You could talk to friends, family or any professional, for example: 

  • doctor or nurse 
  • teacher / school / college counsellor - young people's counsellor
  • social worker. 

There are many people who can help you decide if you have a problem, and what to do about it. However, if you don't talk about it, you're unlikely to get help. 

Mental health problems generally improve if you treat them quickly. 

Here are some things you can do in the meantime to help yourself: 

  • have a day without cannabis 
  • avoid bulk buying 
  • avoid people, places and activities that you associate with using cannabis 
  • not use it if you are sad or depressed 
  • STOP if you are have hallucinations 
  • ask for help. 


Case study: The story of Louise, aged 16

When I was 16, I had my first joint. I took it to help me revise for my exams. My friend said it would help me relax, and that I would be able to revise It worked better at first, I felt less agitated and relaxed, but then I started to forget things I had reviewed and became more anxious, and eventually I relied on 'weed' to cope, and I started to smoke more and more every day, and in time that was the only way I could enjoy myself and have fun. 

My mother noticed that my eyes were always red, but she thought I was sick. She took me to the doctor, who gave me a blood test - which showed that I was using a drug. They arranged for me to get help, and showed other ways to get rid of my stress. 

I gradually reduced my cannabis use, and have now given up smoking altogether. 

In retrospect, I realise how stupid I was - starting to smoke so close to my exams. I had to repeat a year in sixth form, and I regret that I became so dependent on cannabis. 

Although it seemed to help me at first, it didn't help in the long run. I now know that drugs are not the answer if I want to do good in my life.


Here are some websites that you may find useful if you want to know more about the effects of cannabis and other drugs on your mental health, and what you can do. 

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 drug information helpline and information. Phone 0800 77 66 00. 

YoungMinds- A charity dedicated to improving the mental health of all children and young people.  A website that can help you assess your cannabis use, its impact on your life and how to make changes if you want to.