Working in Blackpool with young people around the issues of drugs and alcohol is a challenge to say the least, but it’s a challenge I relish daily. The most common characters I encounter are young men who use cannabis daily. Below are 3 points I often discuss with young people around Cannabis, a drug often overlooked as being harmful – perhaps rightly so from a recreational perspective, but when use becomes problematic i.e. daily, users can find themselves in a difficult situation.
Just to note, I am fully aware that a lot of young men experiment with cannabis and enjoy doing so, with many phasing their use out, or manage to maintain a safe level of recreational use. This piece is written with problematic, daily users in mind, where cannabis is having a negative impact on their lives.
In my experience, I’ve found that young men often find cannabis through social circles around the age of 14/15. It usually begins as a vehicle to enhance an experience; get stoned and have some fun, feeding natural curiosity. With levels of poverty, hardship and vulnerability in Blackpool quite high, cannabis use can quickly become a coping mechanism for some, allowing young people, young men in particular, to get high and escape, temporarily, from their troubles. This shift in purpose (from fun to coping mechanism) can lead to use becoming more often, sometimes daily.
Three points to consider:
- THC Levels
The two main active compounds in cannabis are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidinol (CBD). THC triggers dopamine release in the brain (discussed below), which leads to feelings of slight euphoria – or getting high, blazed, wavy or whatever else the kids call it these days. THC also triggers feelings of paranoia, anxiety and overthinking if too much is consumed. CBD offers a more therapeutic purpose, through pain relief and mind and body relaxation. An arguement I hear from young people regularly is “Cannabis must be good, the doctor prescribes it”, whilst this is true, all be it very rarely in the UK and perhaps more often in the US, medicinal cannabis is far different from street cannabis. Medicinal cannabis is around a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD (just to note, I believe the use of medicinal cannabis is valid, if not vital in some cases). Street cannabis in the UK however, often strong skunk, averages at around 15% THC to 0.1% CBD. Daily use of a substance this high in THC could potentially have a tremendous impact on a person’s mental health, with very little counter balance in the form of relaxation from CBD. The body may relax due to the depressant nature of Cannabis but the chances are the mind will more than likely be racing.
Cannabis helps me sleep. I wish I had a pound for everytime I hear this. Yes, cannabis may help a person fall to sleep, but the quality of sleep is up for debate. As humans we rely on sleep to survive. When we sleep we go through natural sleep cycles, including a critical phase of sleep called REM: where dreaming occurs, memory is organised and brain chemistry is refreshed – including dopamine, a key player in the world of cannabis use. Regular cannabis use can lead to the reduction or complete absence of REM sleep: meaning a daily cannabis user runs the risk of not dreaming, struggling with memory and their minds missing out on its nightly refresh. Put simply, instead of a natural sleep cycle, a regular cannabis user would more likely flat-line until the morning, waking up tired, groggy and moody due to the lack of theraputic sleep.
- Dopamine depletion
Dopamine is a chemical within the brain, which when released sends signals through the body and leads to an increase sense of well being. This process occurs naturally through exercise, listening to music or having sex for example. Cannabis use affects the cannabinoid receptors in the brain which in turn trigger a release of dopamine within the brain. Over time dopamine production can reduce due to tolerance levels increasing and lack of a nightly refresh through natural healthy sleep (above). If this decline in dopamine continues over time, getting “high” after use can soon become feeling normal, with no where near as much dopamine being released. In turn, this puts a daily user at risk of “dopamine depletion”, leaving a user with great difficulty in naturally producing dopamine and a continual low-mood, with feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, poor emotional well-being, feelings of stress, anger and anxiety. This is not generally a phase that can be “smoked” through and often users have to abstain from using cannabis for a long period to see an improvement in dopamine levels and ultimately an improvement in mood and quality of life, which is by no means an easy task!
So there we have it, 3 of my favourite things to discuss with young Cannabis users. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert or academic in the field and I hope this information is received in the way it is meant to be, a simplified discussion and some food for thought about a topic which affects a lot of people.
Peace and Love.