Being stoned in the Real World

The risks of actually being stoned, what can go wrong? There are two different sorts of risk connected with actually being stoned, how you react to things around you and what the drugs cannabis contains do to your body. It's worth mentioning in passing that cannabis - what it actually does - varies greatly depending on what type (or 'strain') of cannabis you get.

In this section

Hard, sharp or fast things
Getting the Worries
Getting a whitey
Blood pressure
Asthma
Getting hooked moving on and missing it
Short term memory, er...
Getting stoned when pregnant

It goes without saying that the more stoned you get, the more outof it you will get. This means you will be less able to judge what's gonig on around you.

Hard, sharp or fast things

Maybe it doesn't always feel like it, but the real world carries on as normal no matter how stoned you get.

When you get stoned your perception of time is changed; you think of other things, you are not at your most alert. That isn't the best state of mind to be in when you're aiming a car or waving a chain saw around for example.

When you get stoned you're not really up to driving or working any kind of dangerous, fast or sharp machinery.

To be fair, you'll probably know this to be true without being told, so chances are you'll try to be careful if you do these things, but it's not a guarantee that you will be able to compensate for how stoned you are.

Some people argue that stoned drivers are safe because they are aware of how stoned they are. Indeed, this is supported to an extent by research - although cannabis does reduce reaction times and tracking ability, stoned driving isn't such a major danger as drunk driving, but try telling that to the plod doing the impairment test when you get pulled over, or worse, after a crash...

Also remember it may not be so easy to understand what's happening around you or how other people are behaving.

UKCIA research section - cannabis and driving

The advice is really simple, don't drive or do anything that requires alertness or fast reactions when stoned.

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Getting the worries

Otherwise known as "The Horrors" or "the frights" by stoners, or "attacks of paranoia" by shrinks, it's perhaps best described as a feeling of anxiety . If you get the horrors you can think that people are watching you and talking about you, it can be really scary.

This is why it's always important that everyone you're with knows you're getting stoned or at least doesn't mind. The last thing you want is to be nagged or worse, threatened.

Hard core stoners will tell you this is all a part of getting stoned and they'll spin you some story of how they coped when it happened to them, perhaps glossing over how they actually felt at the time, but they are basically right in most cases. Most of the time it doesn't last long and more often than not you realise you were in fact doing something to draw attention to yourself and what really happened was no more than a confused awareness that you were the centre of attention.

If things do get scary, go somewhere quiet if you can, or at least away from too many people, just keep remembering that you're stoned and that you'll come through it.

For the vast majority of people it's no more serious than that, but not everyone fits into the "majority of people" bracket and some people are put off using cannabis for life when this happens.

How to make it happen

Although it can happen for no apparent reason, perhaps the best way to get the horrors is to get very stoned very quickly in an unfamiliar place with people you don't know.

If it happens, stop toking and ride it out. Go find something "friendly" to do and take yourself out of the place you're in.

If you've eaten a strong hash cake there's no going back, this is the biggest problem with eating cannabis and it's why you should always have just one weak cake, take your time and wait for it to kick in before having a second. Not knowing the strength of the hash cake in advance doesn't help.

Can it be serious?

Most of the time it isn't serious, but in rare and very extreme cases a paranoia attack can resemble a form of psychosis and this is one of the things that's lead some people think there is a connection between cannabis use and mental illness.

For some people the horrors are enough to make them decide never to touch cannabis again. If it gets like that then perhaps cannabis isn't for you, never ignore a warning sign.

The concern is that cannabis might trigger schizophrenia in vulnerable people particularly when they are young, "bringing on" an illness which may not otherwise have happened. Alternatively it could be that cannabis gives an early warning of a developing problem to people who are going to become ill anyway. Which ever way, having paranoia attacks as a result of getting stoned - especially if it always happens and is very upsetting - may be a warning sign.

Using other drugs, in particular (but not only) speed and/or cocaine can certainly cause a similar psychotic condition which is serious. If you are using other drugs, cannabis may make their psychotic effect more severe.

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Getting a Whitey

A whitey is nausea sometimes with a short loss of consciousness coupled with falling over. Someone experiencing a "whitey" will lose colour from their face - hence the name.

It usually happens if you smoke after drinking alcohol, or smoked joints rolled with a heavy tobacco, but isn't unknown with pure cannabis especially very strong stuff taken quickly.

Not very enjoyable at best but it's easily avoided. Using cannabis like this isn't treating it with respect and a whitey is a definite warning sign that you aren't doing so.

Some people suggest eating something sweet after having a whitey, but whether this has any real beneficial effect is unknown. Usually the only way to cope is to sit on the toilet and promise yourself not to do it again.

Better advice is not to have a whitey in the first place, or if you do, make sure the floor you're about to hit is soft.

The claims by the Government's anti drug advertising camapign that cannabis makes people "puke" is, hower, not generally true. Indeed it is highly unusual for cannabis alone to actually make someone be sick.

Getting stoned quickly - especially after drinking alcohol - is a good way to whitey. You won't enjoy it and it's a warning. Always treat cannabis with respect, if you do, it shouldn't happen

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Blood pressure

Not a problem for most people , but people who have had strokes or suffer from serious heart problems are best advised not to use cannabis as it can affect blood pressure.

According to the British Heart Foundation "At low doses, cannabis inhalation results in an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This may increase the risk of stroke or heart attack in patients with existing high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. In high doses, it causes a slow heart rate and a low blood pressure".

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Red eye

This is certainly a sign of (heavy) indulgence, but is it a risk?

Cannabis widens blood vessels (vasodilation). The eyes contain blood vessels which widen when you are stoned; hence the blood within the vessels is more visible against the white of the eye causing red-eye.

When the vasodilator is metabolized (when it wears off), the blood vessels return to normal and the red eye disappears.

Cannabis induced red eye is not the same as the red eye caused by inflammation, allergy or injury

The increase in the heart rate is linked to this widening of the blood vessels. The heart beats faster because the pressure is lowered. This is an effort to restore the pressure to normal, part of what's meant by homeostasis. Everything in the body is linked and balanced.

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Asthma

There are many people who claim cannabis helps with their asthma, but there are also a lot of studies showing it makes it worse due to the way cannabis is normally used - by smoking.

Smoking anything is bad for asthma, especially if the smoke is hot. However cannabis contains THC which as stated above has the effect of dilating blood vessels, hence many people report that cannabis helps with their asthma.

The studies which show cannabis to be a problem for people with asthma seem to make a strong argument against smoking it.

This is another issue where there are clear signs that cannabis has a medicinal use which needs to be investigated.

Some studies about cannabis and Asthma

Effects of Smoked Marijuana in Experimentally Induced Asthma
and
Acute effects of smoked marijuana and oral d-9-thc on specific airway conductance in asthmatic subjects

Cannabis can help treat asthma, but smoking it can make the condition worse. Prohibition is preventing the production of many useful medicines that can be made from cannabis.

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Getting hooked, moving on and and missing it

The "progression theory" is the most often stated reason for cannabis being illegal. The claim is if you smoke cannabis, you'll end up a heroin junky. This is, of course, rubbish. It's often claimed that "all heroin addicts started with cannabis" which simply isn't true. Most heroin users first drug was either tobacco or alcohol, cannabis was usually just their first illegal drug.

But if you want to get into the habit of wasting the day away, cannabis can be just the drug for you. Just slob out, skin up and watch the world go by - or watch the TV anyway. Cannabis won't make you lazy, it won't make you put things off if you don't want to put them off, but it can fit "a slob" lifestyle if you let it.

Getting hooked - as in addicted like a heroin addict - isn't going to happen with cannabis; it isn't physically addictive like heroin, crack or tobacco. You won't get in the situation of needing cannabis for your body to function normally, which is what happens with physically addictive drugs.

As always though, that is far too simple.

Some people spend all day getting wasted in front of the TV and their life just passes by. Of course, some people spend all day watching TV without getting wasted and that's no better, TV is well known for causing psychological dependence in its own right but that's another story. This can become hard to break - you feel you need the cannabis but actually you don't, not really.

Psychological addiction, or to give it a more general term, "dependency", can happen with almost anything and once again, cannabis is no exception. Using cannabis can become associated with doing pleasurable things, or worse, just passing the time. If that happens being stoned comes to be a big part of your life.

There are few withdrawal effects from cannabis, even after years of regular use. Perhaps the most noticeable withdrawal effect is intense dreams, which may lead to disrupted sleep for several days after stopping.

Dependence - psychological addiction

What to watch out for:

Cannabis is taken in larger amounts or over longer period than you intended.

You want to do other things, but need a toke first or worse give up doing things in order to get stoned.

You spend ages trying to buy some and make it the most important thing you do that day.

You feel it's not doing you any good, but carry on anyway.

If you don't have any cannabis, you feel angry, unsettled or agitated.

Tobacco

Of course, if you smoke cannabis mixed with tobacco you will become addicted to the tobacco and tobacco addiction is very real and very hard to break, it is both psychological and physical. If you only smoke tobacco in joints, then you might find you're smoking cannabis to satisfy a tobacco addiction. This can mean you end up smoking a lot more cannabis than you would otherwise have done. Best advice here is not to smoke cannabis mixed with tobacco. See the Tokepure section.

Smoking cannabis with tobacco is not a way to save money on cannabis

If you feel cannabis is becoming too important in your life, break your routine, do other things that don't involve getting stoned
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Short term memory, er...

Being stoned is not the best state of mind to try to remember things in. There are many old stoner jokes which involve forgetting what you were saying in the middle of a sent.... er, sorry, what was I saying?

Mostly, it's just a part of being stoned and is evenmaybe apart of the attraction, it only becomes a problem when you need to remember things.

What this means is being stoned at school or when studying isn't going to make you student of the year.

It is true that being stoned can allow you to be very creative in some ways, especially allowing you to "think around" a problem and perhaps especially with music and the arts (like maths, physics and IT programming).

But those wonderful logical thoughts you had whilst stoned can be easily forgotten.

Don't use cannabis when you're studying or doing anything that requires learning - save it for after.

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Getting stoned when pregnant

Cannabis has long been used as a medicine to ease the pains associated with pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that using any drug during pregnancy is likely to have some impact of the unborn child.

It's good advice not to use any drug when pregnant without medical advice

Don't get stoned or use any drugs when you're pregnant unless you really have to for medical reasons and always do so with the advice of your doctor.

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Want more?

The NHS has published (2011) a summary of the risks of drug use document, which includes cannabis, see here

The know cannabis website run by the Liverpool based drugs advice agency HIT has more information and advice. Although this site is spoilt by carrying the governments prohibition message, there is some good advice there.