What Does It Actually Feel Like to Smoke Weed?
The Debrief: We asked a stoner, and a medical expert…
Stevie thinks of himself as a highly-functioning stoner. ‘Smoking weed is akin to how some people like to crack open a beer at the end of the work day,’ he tells The Debrief. ‘It’s not a massive hit or a buzz, but more like a change in the atmosphere.'
Stevie, whose name has been changed, smokes cannabis regularly and has done so for a number of years. He describes it as relaxing and something that doesn’t interfere with his daily life: ’I can still carry out most normal activities, just with a silly sheen.’
Cannabis, also known as marijuana or weed, is Britain’s most commonly used drug. The most recent Home Office statistics found approximately 2.1 million adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have taken it. It can have both sedating and hallucinogenic effects. Stevie described it as having a more noticeable mental effect than physical one.
'It’s not so much changing your senses but the way you think,’ he says, ‘You start thinking on weed time, which exists in a slightly different place to the rest of the world. Watching, reading, listening and tasting things – you think about them all in different ways.’
Stevie says this is most noticeable when ‘getting baked’ and trying to watch a movie. ‘Watching films when you're stoned is like watching a completely different film,’ he says. Stevie will notice things about the plot he hadn’t picked up on before, or get distracted by its production techniques. ‘That's really the fun of it – you’re giving yourself a different perspective.’
Dr. Brian Thomas, a scientist at the nonprofit research institute RTI International in the US and expert in medicinal marijuana, says there’s a physiological reason for Stevie’s alternative film reading: 'Our subjective perception of the world around us is, in part, encoded through our genetic background and its blueprints for the neurochemical systems functioning in sensory perception, information integration, learning and memory, and decision-making,’
'Alteration of these “normal” cellular processes through the administration of exogenous chemicals [such as cannabis] can modulate brain signalling pathways involved in perceptions, affect, and reward.’ In simple terms, smoking weed alters the way your brain works, interfering with the signals it’s sending you.
Weed comes from the naturally-occurring cannabis plant but the active compound that gets people high is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).Cannabis also contains another compound, cannabidiol (CBD), which is an anti-psychotic that counteracts the THC.
High-potency strains of weed, known as skunk, contain elevated levels of THC and next to no CBD. This type of cannabis use has been linked to an increased risk of mental health issues and is what harm reduction experts are most concerned about. Skunk is estimated to make up between 80-90% of the UK market.
Stevie, who mainly smokes skunk, says he’s not had any negative experiences from it. However, he agrees that cannabis can negatively impact others: ‘Even some of my friends that I smoke weed with a lot don't react in the same way I do.
‘I can smoke and go out or be in a social situation, whereas other people wouldn't feel so happy doing that.’
Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK, meaning it’s illegal to possess or sell it. Activist groups have long campaigned for cannabis legalisation on the grounds that the government’s current drug strategy is failing and legalising weed would curb crime and addiction. After the US state of Colorado legalised cannabis for medicinal and recreational use, teenage use took a sharp downturn.
There is also a growing body of research that supports the idea that cannabis has medical benefits. ‘Nausea, hunger, neuropathic pain, and other therapeutic uses are currently approved or are being researched,’ says Dr Thomas. He adds that cannabis could be a less risky alternative to opioid-based pain relief, such as morphine and codeine: ’Particularly with pain management, THC appears to decrease the dose of opioids required, thereby reducing addiction liability and the severity of withdrawal.’
In the UK, cannabis is not recognised as having medicinal value and as such is illegal. It is, however, legal to prescribe a cannabis-derived medication called Sativex. It’s used to treat multiple sclerosis, but it’s almost impossible to get on the NHS and very expensive to buy privately.
Dr Thomas also noted that even in the US, despite many states passing medicinal marijuana laws, there’s still no federally-approved herbal cannabis, only synthetic medications. In relation to taking cannabis for medicinal purposes, he insists ‘Use only approved medications or get access to a clinical trial.’
Harm reduction advice for people taking cannabis recreationally is to use it with people you know, to avoid it if you’re suffering from mental health issues and to not drive while under the influence.
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