There are a number of cacti that are used for their hallucinogenic properties. The most common is the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), found from central Mexico to southern Texas.
Peyote contains relatively large quantities (one to six per cent of the plant's weight) of mescaline - a strong hallucinogen. Other cacti include the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi), from around the Andes, Doñana (Coryphantha macromeris) from northern Mexico and three related mescaline-bearing species from South America.
Hallucinogenic cacti are quite rare in the UK, though the peyote cactus can be bought mail order or directly from some cacti-specialists or head shops.
Hallucinogenic cacti are not illegal in the UK, unless prepared for consumption as a hallucinogen. This could include drying them, or cutting them into edible 'buttons'. It usually takes six to ten of these buttons to gain the desired effect. The cacti's effects are in some ways similar to LSD, but longer lasting and more physical. Users typically vomit before entering a dreamlike state where sound and scale distort and visions appear. The trip can last up to 12 hours with the user deep in trance and detached from the world around them.
San pedro cacti The peyote experience is different from that of pure mescaline - the former being more intense and complex. This is due to the presence of many more alkaloids that affect mind and body such as hordenine, pellotine, anhalinine, anhalonine and tyramine. Some of these chemicals potentiate the effects of the mescaline, altering characteristics of the experience.
The hallucinogen mescaline is a class A drug in the UK. In the USA mescaline and the peyote cactus are Schedule 1. Members of the Native American Church are permitted the ritual use of peyote, though not mescaline.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a drug that is found in tea, coffee, cocoa, many soft drinks such as colas and some chocolates. It is also used in a wide variety of medicines especially cold remedies.
Caffeine can be manufactured in a laboratory but it mainly comes from the Arabian coffee shrub, commercial tea plants, cocoa beans and kola nuts. Coffee is grown in many areas of the world including Africa, Arabia, Central and South America, Java and Sumatra and the West Indies. Tea is mainly grown in eastern Asia and South America especially India, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Japan. Most of the world's cocoa is grown in West Africa.
On average in the UK, we drink nearly 123 million cups of tea per day, each cup containing about 40mg of caffeine, but more if the tea is left to brew longer.
Coffee is almost as popular with 90 million cups of coffee consumed a day. About 70 per cent of this is instant coffee containing around 60mg of caffeine per cup
Tea and cocoa have been drunk for thousands of years. Earliest use of tea was probably in China before the 10th century BC. Coffee use is much more recent and the first record of its cultivation was in Arabia about 675 AD. Tea was first imported to Europe in about 1600 by the Dutch East India Company and first came to the UK in about 1660.
Coffee was first introduced to the UK as a medicine but became very fashionable to drink in the 1670s. Coffee houses sprang up in London. They attracted literary figures such as Hogarth and Swift, political revolutionaries and financial entrepreneurs - some of the first banks and the Stock Exchange were started in coffee houses. Coffee houses caused much controversy. The authorities saw them as recruiting places for political radicals and women's groups protested that they damaged family life. The authorities moved to close down all the coffee houses in London. A compromise was reached where coffee houses could remain open so long as they did not allow the sale of political books and pamphlets or political speeches.
Coffee houses became less popular and changes in commerce saw coffee consumption fall. England turned to tea drinking and remains the only country in Europe that consumes more tea than coffee. In recent years concerns about the effects of caffeine have led to the manufacture of decaffeinated coffees and teas. Roasted coffee beans.
There are no legal restrictions on the sale or use of coffee, tea, cocoa, soft drinks and chocolate confectionery. Certain medicines which contain caffeine may only be available on a doctor's prescription.
Caffeine is an 'upper' and helps stimulate the body, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. It combats tiredness and drowsiness and makes people feel more alert and able to concentrate. Many people have a cup of tea or coffee every morning to 'get going'. However, people also drink tea and coffee to help them relax. Caffeine also makes people urinate more. High doses can result in people having headaches and feeling very irritable.
People who drink more than six to eight cups of normal strength tea or coffee a day usually become dependent.
They may find it difficult to stop using and experience withdrawal symptoms if they try. This can include feeling tired and anxious and suffering headaches.
"I don't know if I could do without coffee. That first cup in the morning gets me up. Off to work and the first thing is coffee. Basically I drink at least eight cups a day and the stronger the better. If you said to me don't drink coffee tomorrow I would get very anxious about trying to do it. I don't think I would last very long without it."
Research into the health effects of long term use of caffeine is inconclusive. However, some reports have suggested that it can lead to a higher incidence of asthma, peptic ulcers, kidney, bladder and heart disease and blood pressure problems.
"We have seen several well-marked cases of coffee excess.... The sufferer is tremulous, and looses his self-command; he is subject to fits of agitation and depression; he looses colour and has a haggard appearance. The appetite falls off, and symptoms of gastric catarrh may be manifested. The heart also suffers; it palpitates, or it intermits. As with other such agents, a renewed dose of the poison gives temporary relief, but at the cost of future misery'.
Sir T.C. Allbutt and H.D. Rolleston A system of medicine 1909.
There have also been concerns about the amount of caffeine consumed by young children particularly in soft drinks and chocolate. Some commentators have suggested that children who consume a lot of caffeine may become hyperactive. A child drinking one can of cola will be taking the equivalent caffeine intake as an adult drinking four cups of coffee.
Bhang, black, blast, blow, blunts, Bob Hope, bush, dope, draw, ganga, grass, hash, hashish hemp, herb, marijuana, pot, puff, Northern Lights, resin, sensi, sensemilla, skunk, smoke, spliff, wacky backy, weed, zero etc.
What is cannabis?
Cannabis is a plant found wild in most parts of the world and is easily cultivated in temperate climates such as the UK's. Some names are based on country of origin such as Afghan, Colombian, homegrown, Lebanese, Moroccan, Pakistani etc. Cannabis comes from Cannabis sativa, a bushy plant that grows in many parts of the world and is also cultivated in the UK. The main active ingredients in cannabis are the tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). These are the chemicals that cause the effect on the brain.
Types of cannabis
Different forms of cannabis come from different parts of the plant and have different strengths. 'Hashish' or 'hash' is the commonest form found in the UK. It is resin scraped or rubbed from the dried plant and then pressed into brown/black blocks. It is mostly imported from Morocco, Pakistan, the Lebanon and Afghanistan (or Nepal as below).
Herbal cannabis is made from the chopped, dried leaves of the plant. It is also known as 'grass' , 'bush' and 'ganga' and in America as 'marijuana' and is imported from Africa, South America, Thailand and the West Indies. Some is 'homegrown' and cultivated in this country, sometimes on a large scale to sell but usually by individuals in their homes or greenhouses for their own use. Herbal cannabis is usually not as strong as the resin form. However, some particularly strong herbal forms such as 'sinsemilla' and 'skunk' have been cultivated in Holland and this country.
Cannabis oil is the least common form of cannabis found in the UK It is made by percolating a solvent through the resin.
Making of Red Lebanese hash
Raw cannabis plant is firstly grated down Further grating and sieving reduce it to powder Which is pressed into blocks or chunks.
Making of Nepanese hash
The resin is rubbed off And collected on the hands This is then scrapped off into paste
In the UK cannabis is usually smoked rolled into a cigarette or joint, often with tobacco. The herbal form is sometimes made into a cigarette without using tobacco. Cannabis is also sometimes smoked in a pipe, brewed into a tea or cooked into cakes.
Hemp is the fibre of the cannabis plant. For centuries to the present day it has been used to make all sorts of products including rope, mats, clothing, cooking oil, fuel, fishing nets, cosmetics, herbal remedies, paints and varnishes.
Many people believe that cannabis is becoming stronger. The EMCDDA released an European review of cannabis potency in June 2004. The study revealed that when the overall potency of cannabis products on the market is calculated, there is no evidence of a significant increase in potency. This is because, in most EU countries, imported cannabis dominates the market and this has remained stable over many years. A report of the study can be found on EMCDDA Drugnet (July-Sept 2004)
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK and easily the illegal drug most likely to have been tried by young people. Drug Misuse Declared: Findings from the 2004/05 British Crime Survey show that 9.7 per cent of 16-59 year olds reported having used cannabis in the last year. In total over 9 million people in the 16- 59 age group have used it at least once with just over 3 million having used it in the last year.
Figures from the Department of Health survey Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among young people in England 2004 show that cannabis use by 11- 15 year olds decreased from 13 per cent in 2003 to 11 per cent in 2004. Prevalence of taking cannabis was slightly higher among boys (12 per cent) than girls (10 per cent)and increased with age: 1 per cent of 11 year olds had taken the drug in the last year compared with 26 per cent of 15 year olds.
There has been much debate about the legal status of cannabis. In general, government-commissioned reports in the English speaking world have recommended relaxation of the existing cannabis laws. These views are shared by a number of academics, politicians and senior law enforcers.
During the 1990s, on the back of renewed interest about drug use among young people, the cannabis reform lobby took various guises ranging from the Green Party and the UK Cannabis Alliance to supportive editorials in the broadsheets and in particular the pro-reform campaign of the Independent on Sunday. The Liberal Democrats have supported legal changes and lobbied for a Royal Commission to explore the issues.
Resin costs around £80 per ounce or £16 for an eighth of an ounce. Herbal cannabis costs anything from £70 per ounce to £120 for strong strains such as skunk. (source - Independent Drug Monitoring Unit Drug Prices) Heavy and regular cannabis users might use an eighth of an ounce per day. Many people only smoke occasionally.
Recently, stronger types of herbal cannabis have become available with names like northern lights and super skunk. They are grown from specially cultivated seeds, often imported from Holland.
The effect of these strains are more pronounced and can cause hallucinogenic effects. Some people may find them too strong and the experience of smoking them very disturbing, while others may enjoy the greater effects. Increasing amounts of these strains are being homegrown for private use or sold on the cash market and among friends.
The public and political debate
The trend in UK public opinion, particularly among under 35s, is towards support for decriminalisation of cannabis use (but not for other illegal drugs) though not necessarily full scale legalisation. There is also widespread support among all age groups for doctors being able to prescribe cannabis to patients. Many commentators see politicians as lagging far behind public opinion.
The key issues
The debate about the law on cannabis centres on a number of important legal and social issues concerning civil liberties and personal choice, legal coherence and International agreements. In addition, there are arguments about the link between cannabis and use of other drugs, whether law changes would increase or decrease drug problems and exactly what changes might take place.
Perhaps the most hotly debated social issue is that of civil liberties and personal choice. This argument hinges on the point at which it is appropriate to legislate to stop individuals from doing something that may do them harm and/or may result in substantial costs to society, even though such legislation is an infringement of personal choice.
Underlying this issue is fierce debate about exactly how dangerous cannabis use actually is. While some people see cannabis as a relatively harmless drug others see it as having detrimental impact on individual users and wider society.
The impact of criminalising otherwise law abiding mainly young citizens, the detrimental impact on their future lives and careers (for example losing jobs or not being able to work in jobs with children) and damage to the relationship between police and communities also need to be taken into account. Concerns over such issues were highlighted sharply by serious rioting in London.
Cannabis was first documented as a herbal remedy in a Chinese pharmacy text of the first century AD. It was widely used in the Middle East, India and China as a medicine, to manufacture a range of products (such as clothes, rope and sacks), for religious ceremonies and for pleasure.
Cannabis was first introduced into Western medicine in the 1840s by a doctor who had been working in India. It was used for painkilling purposes particularly in childbirth and for period pains. Rumour has it that Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis by her doctor. In the late 19th century and early part of this century cannabis was used by many people as a herbal remedy for a range of conditions.
Use of cannabis for pleasure also dates back to ancient China and India. The drug was brought to Western Europe by soldiers in Napoleon's army who had been fighting in north Africa at the beginning of the 19th century.
Non medical use of cannabis was first banned in the UK in 1928 after South African and Egyptian delegates at an international conference about opium persuaded other countries that cannabis drove people mad.
"Hashish absorbed in large quantities produces a furious delirium and... predisposes to acts of violence and produces a characteristic strident laugh... [With habitual use] the countenance of the addict becomes gloomy, his eye is wild, and the expression of his face is stupid... his intellectual faculties gradually weaken and the whole organism decays. The addict very frequently becomes neurasthenic and eventually insane."
Dr El Guindy, Egyptian delegate, Second International Opium Conference, 1924.
This idea that cannabis drove people mad and that it led to them being out of control was popularised in the 1930s and 1940s in America by the head of the Narcotics Bureau, Harry Anslinger. He organised pamphlets, stories in magazines and newspapers and even a film called 'Reefer Madness' to convince people that terrible crimes were committed by people who used cannabis.
At the time cannabis was hardly used in the UK and up to the mid 1960s its use was confined mainly to the London jazz scene and some West Indian communities. In the 1960s its use grew rapidly, especially among young university and college students. In 1973, as part of the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act, the government decided that cannabis had no medical uses and banned it being available on a doctor's prescription.
Although with the passing of the 1960s 'hippy' period, use of cannabis became less newsworthy, its actual use spread to other groups in society beyond middle class students and media personalities. There was more attention for cannabis during the reggae boom of the mid 1970s and once again more recently on the back of the general rise in drug use among young people in the 1990s.
Cannabis is controlled under Class B of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The government's decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was announced by Home Secretary on 7 May 2008. Cannabis was reclassified to Class B on 26 January 2009.
In 2008, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended that cannabis remain a Class C drug, as a result of a review of the evidence on the harms posed by cannabis.
The Government response to the recommendations made by the ACMD in its report Cannabis: Classification and Public Health can be viewed here. The Government accepted 20 of the 21 recommendations made by the ACMD. It did not accept the recommendation that cannabis should remain a Class C drug.
The reclassification of cannabis to Class B has a number of implications for the way that police will respond to offences involving the drug.
Cannabis penalties - supply and production
As a Class B drug, the maximum penalty for supplying or producing cannabis is 14 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. This remains unchanged from when the drug was Class C.
As a Class B drug, the maximum penalty for possession increases from two to five years imprisonment.
'Escalation' penalty system
On 13 October 2008, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced the government’s intention to introduce a new set of penalties for over 18s caught in possession of cannabis. In her announcement Ms Smith indicated the new penalties would come into force at the time of the upgrading of cannabis to class B on January 26 2009. You can read the announcement here.
A new ‘escalation’ penalty system for cannabis possession means that the penalty issued is directly related to the number of times an individual has previously been caught in possession of the drug.
If an adult is caught in possession of cannabis:
1) for the first time - they will be issued with a cannabis warning. A cannabis warning is a spoken warning given by a police officer, either on the street or at the police station. The police have the option of using a cannabis warning when someone is caught with a small amount of cannabis for personal use.
'Cannabis warnings' were first introduced in 2004 as a way for police to respond to cannabis possession offences while the drug was at Class C. However, cannabis warnings issued during the period that cannabis was a Class C drug (bewteen January 29 2004 and January 26 2009) will not be carried forward.
2) for the second time - they will be issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) for cannabis possession. PNDs are tickets that police officers can issue at the scene of an incident or in custody - they carry an on-the-spot fine of £80.
Please note: as of January 23 2009, the introduction of PNDs is awaiting parliamentary approval. The Government has indicated that the introduction of PNDs for cannabis possession will go ahead as soon as possible, subject to the agreement of parliament.
3) for the third time - police officers will consider further action. This could include release without charge, caution, conditional caution or prosecution.
4) any additional times - According to government statements ‘all subsequent offences are likely to result in arrest’.
In the case of someone being brought to prosecution for cannabis possession, as a Class B drug the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment.
Does the escalation penalty system apply to other class B drugs?
No. With regards to drugs the government has said that extensions for the Penalty Notice for Disorder Scheme apply to the possession of cannabis only. According to the Home Secretary ‘there are no plans to extend the scheme to other Class B drugs or any Class C drugs’. Read more here.
Does escalation penalty system for cannabis possession apply across the UK?
No. The new policing approach to cannabis possession only applies to over 18s in England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, anyone found in possession of cannabis will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal (Scotland) or Public Prosecution Service (Northern Ireland) where a decision on cautioning or prosecution will be made.
What happens with under 18s ?
According to the government ‘the current procedure for under-18s caught in possession - which uses a reprimand, final warning and charge - will remain unchanged as it provides an appropriate escalation mechanism.’
According to the Home Office, a young person found to be in possession of cannabis will be arrested and taken to a police station where they can receive a reprimand, final warning or charge depending on the seriousness of the offence. This must be administered in the presence of an appropriate adult.
Following one reprimand, any further offence will lead to a final warning or charge. Any further offence following a warning will normally result in criminal charges. After a final warning, the young offender must be referred to a Youth Offending Team to arrange a rehabilitation programme.
Does being issued with a PND or cannabis warning result in a criminal record ?
Neither a PND nor a cannabis warning is a conviction so therefore they will not result in a criminal record. However, the fact that a cannabis warning or PND has been issued may be recorded by the police. At present the recording of cannabis warnings is a matter for individual police forces at a local level.
Recent cannabis laws (before 2009)
Between 29 January 2004 and 26 January 2009, cannabis was a Class C drug. The 2004 reclassification to Class C, from Class B, was seen as one of the biggest developments in British drug policy for 30 years. It was based on evidence provided in a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
In March 2005 the Home Secretary asked the ACMD to examine new evidence on the harmfulness of cannabis, and to consider whether this changed their assessment of the drug's classification. On 19 January 2006 the decision was taken to keep cannabis as a Class C drug, but for there to be further research into the links between cannabis and mental illness and for there to be a public information campaign advising of cannabis's dangers.
Between January 29 2004 and January 26 2009, cannabis was a Class C drug. 'Cannabis warnings' were introduced as a way for police to respond to cannabis possession offences while the drug was at Class C. A cannabis warning is a spoken warning given by a police officer, either on the street or at the police station. The police have the option of using a cannabis warning when someone is caught with a small amount of cannabis for personal use. Between January 29 2004 and January 26 2009, someone could receive more than one cannabis warning without any further penalty.
At the same time that cannabis was moved to Class C, the penalties for supply, dealing, production and trafficking of Class C drugs was increased to be equal to those for Class B. This meant that between January 29 2004 and January 26 2009, the maximum penalty for supply, dealing, production and trafficking of cannabis was 14 years imprisonment. This remained the same after the reclassification of cannabis to Class B in January 2009.
Between January 29 2004 and January 26 2009, penalties for possession of cannabis were reduced from five years to two years imprisonment. The penalty for possession increased to five years following the reclassification of cannabis to Class B in January 2009.
Smoking cannabis causes a number of physical effects including increased pulse rate, decreased blood pressure, bloodshot eyes, increased appetite and occasional dizziness. Effects start within a few minutes and may last several hours depending on how much is taken. When eaten the effects take longer to start but may last longer. Eating cannabis may mean a large dose is taken in one go making it difficult to avoid any unpleasant reactions.
"When I first started it was just to relax. It reduced the tension after a days work. We just used to sit around giggling and playing music and then getting the munchies and eating our heads off. And next morning I felt fine. No hangover at all".
Cannabis has a mild sedative effect but the experience can vary greatly depending on the users mood and what they expect to happen. Many people find that when they first use cannabis nothing much happens. Generally cannabis makes people relax. They may become giggly and very talkative or alternatively quieter and subdued. Users often report that they become more aware of music and colours and that time seems to stand still.
"Music is beautiful when you're high. Every note is separate, perfect and complete - similarly every word. Beauty and love is epitomized in each note. Your hearing becomes so acute - you can hear sounds miles away and differentiation between different tones, notes, sounds, no matter how close in tone they might be to one another, is heard without any effort or thought. Your eyesight is affected also. Things become more defined, distinct, more silhouetted - colours are more beautiful. There's nothing I enjoy more when I'm smashed than to sit in a garden full of flowers, with birds singing, while the sun is going down. I really saw God in his own wonder then, for the first time."
J. Berke and C. Hernton, The cannabis experience. Peter Owen, 1974.
Whilst under the influence of cannabis short term memory (such as recall of what has just happened or been thought about) may be affected but this stops once the effects of cannabis wear off. Co-ordination can be affected meaning accidents may be more likely especially if people drive or operate machinery whilst stoned.
Loss of inhibitions may mean people are more likely to get into sexual situations they later regret and that they are less likely to practice safer sex and use condoms.
Cannabis can be harmful to physical health. It can increase heart rate, which may be dangerous to those with coronary artery disease or high blood pressure. Smoking cannabis can worsen asthma and can cause at least as much damage to the lungs as smoking cigarettes. Severe cases of lung damage have been reported in young, very heavy users.
Some people find that cannabis makes them very anxious, panicky and paranoid (feeling everyone is out to get them). This can happen with inexperienced users or if people are already anxious or consume strong varieties or high doses of cannabis. Heavy use by people who already have mental health problems may lead to very distressing experiences.
"I once had what is known as 'the horrors' when I had not been smoking long. The marijuana was a very strong variety, far stronger than anything I had ever smoked before, and I was in an extremely tense and unhappy personal situation. I lost all sense of time and place and had slight hallucinations - the walls came and went, objects and sounds were unreal and people looked like monsters. It was hard to breathe and I thought I was going to die and that no one would care. This feeling receded every now and then and I glimpsed reality. It lasted about half an hour and then I feel asleep."
J. Berke and C. Hernton. The cannabis experience. Peter Owen, 1974.
There is no physical dependence associated with cannabis use. Regular users who stop smoking do not suffer withdrawal symptoms in the same way as with drugs like heroin. Even so regular users can become psychologically dependent and come to rely on using cannabis to get them through the day. Cannabis dependent users who stop can experience psychological craving , decreased appetite, lethargy, mood changes and insomnia. It is not unknown for some people to use cannabis so frequently that they are almost constantly stoned.
"Now I need to smoke it most of the time. At the moment it's all I really think about. My daily routine is work, think about a joint, get stoned, sleep, back to work. I can't imagine life without it. Whilst I'm stoned my memory sometimes goes. Where did I put the keys? Why did I walk into this room? What have I got to do? I've reached a point where I was smoking so much and I couldn't take any more spliff. The paranoia was too much. Your life tends to float along in a haze".
There is clear evidence that cannabis use may worsen mental health problems and lead to relapse in some people, but over the past few years there has been growing concern as to whether cannabis may cause psychotic illnesses, including schizophrenia. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has concluded (January 2006) that there may be an association between cannabis use and the onset of psychotic illness, although current evidence suggests that the risk of developing schizophrenia as a result of using cannabis is very small (for individuals the risk increases "at worst" by 1 per cent). The Council concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish that frequent or heavy users were at greater risk of developing chronic psychotic symptoms (or, by implication, that irregular users were at less risk). Despite evidence of a link between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia, the Council recommended that it remain a Class C drug as it remains "substantially" less harmful than Class B drugs such as amphetamine or barbiturates.
There have been comments in the media and elsewhere suggesting that "skunk" (a stronger form of cannabis) maybe responsible for episodes of 'cannabis psychosis' but this has not been conclusively proved. In 2004 the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction published a report reviewing the situation in Europe regarding cannabis potency.
Someone who uses cannabis excessively may appear apathetic, lack energy and motivation and perform poorly at their work or education. This state may carry on for weeks after stopping use of the drug. However, such a condition seems rare and is similar to what would be expected from someone who drinks too much or regularly uses tranquillisers.
It has also been claimed that cannabis use leads to use of drugs like heroin and cocaine. Most heroin and cocaine users have used cannabis but the vast majority of people who have used cannabis have never used heroin or cocaine. In other words cannabis use does not automatically lead to use of other drugs
Cannabis has a very long history as a folk remedy and for medical use. It was only in 1973 that an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 prohibited the medical use of cannabis and its derivatives, which had in any event become rare.
Since then in America and now in Britain, there has been increasing interest in the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives for a wide range of conditions.
There is considerable research and anecdotal evidence that cannabis has therapeutic value for complaints such as asthma, glaucoma, treating mild to severe pain and muscle spasms, muscular spasticity, multiple schlerosis, anorexia, mood disorders, and convulsive disorders. The recent identification of anandamide, a cannabinoid receptor in the brain and body, has also led to speculation that cannabis and some cannabinoids may be effective as treatment for a number of psychological or physical disorders.
Individual members of the medical profession, as well as the BMA, have added their support to the campaign for medical cannabis. In contrast to patients who often want smokable cannabis the BMA advocates cannabis derivatives (in medicinal form) being made available to patients shown to benefit from its administration. The 1998 House of Lords Select Committee Report 'Cannabis - The scientific and medical evidence' reached similar conclusions and suggested that the law should be changed so that doctors could prescribe cannabis and its derivatives in a similar way as they now can for drugs like heroin and methadone.
Internationally a lot of research is being carried out to identify cannabis extracts and develop them into medicines. In future the law might change to allow doctors to prescribe a range of cannabis-derived medicines in non-smokable form - possibly tablets, inhalers, sprays, rectal suppositories, skin patches etc. Smokable cannabis is unlikely to become a prescribed drug. The Government and the BMA say that smokable forms are difficult to administer in precise dosages, contain a number of carcinogens, tars and toxins that can damage health and have negative mood altering properties. Underlying the debate is the issue of who controls medicines and medication. The question is also posed as to whether it is right to allow patients to self administer drugs which might not just have positive medical effects but may also make them feel pleasantly stoned.
The legal sale of drugs derived from cannabis has not yet happened. GW Pharmaceuticals, which specialises in developing clinical drugs from cannabis, has completed clinical trials of its spray-administered Sativex drug. It is still awaiting approval.
For cathinone, see page on khat
For cathinone derivatives, see page on mephedrone, methadrone and methylone
Coca paste - basuco, cocaine, C, charlie, coke, dust, Gianlucca, gold dust, Percy, lady, snow, toot, white crack - base, freebase, gravel, rock, stones, wash.
What is cocaine?
Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca shrub, which grows in the mountainous regions of South America in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.
Cocaine is used in a number of different forms. South American Indians who live in the Andes mountains where the shrub grows will chew or suck a wad of leaves pushed into the cheeks.
A popular South American tea called mate de coca is also made from the leaves of the coca shrub.
Coca paste (also known as basuco) is a smokeable form made from the leaves and mainly used in countries where the plant grows.
In Britain and America the most common form of cocaine is as a white crystalline powder. Most users sniff it up the nose, often through a rolled banknote or straw, but it also sometimes made into a solution and injected.
Crack is a smokeable form of cocaine made into small lumps or 'rocks'. It is usually smoked in a pipe, glass tube, plastic bottle or in foil. It gets its name from the cracking sound it makes when being burnt. It can also be prepared for injection.
Crack and related equipment
Freebasing is the manufacturing process whereby cocaine hydrochloride powder is dissolved in water and heated with a chemical reagent such as baking soda or ammonia to 'free' the cocaine alkaloid 'base' from the salt. Without salt the drug can combust better and provide more cocaine-containing smoke.
The term 'freebase' covers not only this process, but the action of smoking cocaine that has undergone this process as well as all varieties of smokeable cocaine whatever the production method.
Drug users in America (and Britain) have been smoking and freebasing cocaine for many years. Cocaine and crack are strong, but short acting, stimulant drugs. Crack in particular has strong but short lived effects.
Cocaine is to some an expensive drug and closely associated with the rich lifestyle enjoyed by rock and film stars. This is largely true, though things appear to be changing. The price of cocaine has seen a drop, particularly in the South East and London, where a gram that cost £70 seven years ago, can now be bought for £40. There also appears to be more of it about, with seizures increasing year on year.
Large amounts of cocaine are seized in the UK, but relatively few people present to services for the treatment of cocaine dependency. There may be many reasons for this including the fact that those who can afford to have a cocaine problem can often afford to attend a private clinic.
There appears to be an increase in more general use of the drug. Cocaine use is appearing in more clubs around the dance and party scene alongside ecstasy and other drugs, possibly replacing the use of ecstasy in some cases. Recent surveys show that seven per cent of 20 to 24 year olds have taken cocaine in England and Wales.
Cocaine powder costs between £40 and £80 per gram. In urban areas such as London and Manchester, cocaine tends to sell for £45 a gram or £25 a half gram. A gram of cocaine can make between 10 and 20 lines for snorting, depending on its strength, which can last two people anything from a couple of hours to a whole night, depending on their tolerance, appetite for the drug and its strength. Crack is around £20-25 for a small rock the size of raisin, but a rock may have slivers cut from it which are sold for perhaps £10.
Although the UK crack problem is not as significant as predicted some years ago, crack use is on the increase in certain inner city areas bringing with it reports of problems of dependence, drug-related crime and violence.
Crack, like heroin, still remains a relatively uncommon drug among the general population. General prevalence figures from the British Crime Survey (BCS 2004/05) show that crack use is still very rare with only 0.1 per cent of 16-59 year olds reporting having used it. Crack is also the only drug more prevalent among black people, particularly young black men, than whites or other ethnicities. Use of crack, unlike cocaine, is often localised and linked with social exclusion and deprivation in inner city areas. For example, seizures and arrests for crack are greatest in the London area, making up 60 per cent of the UK's seizure figures.
Recent figures also show arrests and seizures are on the increase. Since 1994, for example, the number of seizures for crack for the UK rose from 1,321 to 2,507 in 1999 and 4,260 in 2002.
Coca leaf chewing as an aid to work may have been common amongst South American Indians as long ago as 2500BC.
Cocaine was first extracted from the leaves in 1855 and by the 1870s it was a popular stimulant and tonic and used in a range of patent medicines for all sorts of ailments. The famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, recommended its use for a range of medical and psychological problems, including alcohol and morphine addiction. However, he changed his mind after he recommended cocaine to his friend for morphine addiction and the friend died of a cocaine overdose
Doctors also used cocaine as a local anaesthetic for eye surgery and in dentistry.
Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective in Arthur Conan Doyle's books, was a regular cocaine user. Coca laced wines were enjoyed by popes and royalty in the 19th century. Vin Mariani, for example, was popular in the 1800s, receiving enthusiastic endorsements from Pope Pius X and the Grand Rabbi of France, extoltings its 'life giving properties'. Coca Cola was originally sold as 'a valuable brain tonic and cure for all nervous afflictions' and until 1904 contained small quantities of cocaine.
At the turn of the century doctors began to warn of possible dependence and problems with its use. In America fears developed among white people about 'cocaine crazed' black people who were rebelling against new discriminatory laws. In Britain concerns arose about the use of cocaine by troops during the First World War. Hysterical press reaction claimed that this was a German plot to destroy the British Empire. In 1916 emergency laws were rushed in to ban possession of cocaine (and opium) and limit its medical use.
At the time there was very little recreational use of cocaine in Britain, although when a young actress died of an overdose in 1918, it provoked the beginnings of what became the typical exaggerated press reaction to drugs and drug using that we see today. Cocaine was always available in this country, but it was not until the mid 1970s that cocaine became more commonly used. Sniffing cocaine became fashionable among the 'smart and successful' middle classes and was seen as a glamorous and expensive drug.
Meanwhile in America cocaine use was much more widespread and in the mid 1980s, a new more powerful form of the drug became available, smokable cocaine or crack. This became a major problem for those living in the most deprived areas of the inner city America. Gang warfare, shootings and drug related crime hit the headlines. In Britain the authorities braced themselves in anticipation of a similar situation. But while crack has come to Britain with related violence and criminal activity, it has not been anywhere near the scale of what happened in America.. However, cocaine use has increased among young people in recent years, especially among those attending all-night dance clubs.
Cocaine and crack are controlled as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. It is illegal to be in possession of either crack or cocaine or supply them to other people. Maximum penalties for possession are 7 years imprisonment plus a fine and for supply life imprisonment plus a fine.
Cocaine and crack are strong but short acting stimulant drugs. They tend to make users feel more alert and energetic. Many users say they feel very confident and physically strong and believe they have great mental capacities. Common physical effects include dry mouth, sweating, loss of appetite and increased heart and pulse rate. At higher dose levels users may feel very anxious and panicky. The effects from snorting cocaine start quickly but only last for up to 30 minutes without repeating the dose. The effects come on even quicker when smoking crack but are even more short lived.
"It makes you feel great and powerful and all that. The trouble is it can make you really wired. And it doesn't last that long so the temptation is to have another go. That's why I found it so moorish and it cost me a fortune".
Large doses or quickly repeating doses over a period of hours can lead to extreme anxiety, paranoia and even hallucinations. These effects usually disappear as the drug is eliminated from the body. The after-effects of cocaine and crack use may include fatigue and depression as people come down from the high. Excessive doses can cause death from respiratory or heart failure but this is rare.
Cocaine may be adulterated with other substances and this may make it particularly dangerous to inject.
There is some debate as to whether tolerance or withdrawal symptoms occur with regular use of cocaine or crack. While it is true cocaine and crack are not physically addictive like heroin, it is misleading to define and therefore measure the existence of physical addiction using withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin. Each drug has it own unique physical effects, which in the case of cocaine and crack are very powerful.
A chronic user of cocaine or crack will become very tolerant to the drug and their body also very used to the drug keeping them awake and functional. Once the user stops, which can prove very difficult for a regular or chronic user, they will very quickly start to feel tired, panicky, exhausted and unable to sleep, often causing extreme emotional and physical distress. This can manifest itself in symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, the shakes, insomnia, anorexia and sweating, which for some can prove unbearable. Many chronic users are well aware of these symptoms and, in an attempt to avoid them as well as ensuing fatigue, are very reluctant to stop its use.
As far as crack is concerned, claims have been made that, unlike cocaine, it is instantly addictive making occasional or intermittent use impossible. Certainly, crack appears to induce an intense craving in some users which can rapidly develop into a 'binge' pattern of drug use. However, studies of people who have ever used crack show that nowhere near all go on to daily, dependent use and that when this happens it usually takes a few months. To become a dependent user of cocaine hydrochloride would usually take longer.
For both crack and cocaine, dependency is not inevitable. Whether people become dependent, and if so how quickly it happens, will vary depending on the individual user's mental state and circumstances. The fact that cocaine and crack are expensive means that people who become dependent may spend vast amounts of money. Those who are not wealthy may find themselves involved in crime or prostitution to fund a habit.
With everyday use restlessness, nausea, hyperactivity, insomnia and weight loss may develop. Some regular users become very 'wired' and paranoid. Lack of sleep and weight loss may lead to exhaustion and being very run down.
"Everyone who tries crack will not like the high and everyone who likes the high will not become instantly and hopelessly addicted."
M.G. Beattie, Crack: the facts. Hazelden Foundation, 1987.
"The first hit is always the best...I've never had anything like it. With crack once you've got that hit of the day, no matter how much you take you don't get it back. If the rock is there, I can't leave it, even though I don't get anything off it. But you can't just have one (rock) and leave it, you've got to have more".
Quoted in Crack and cocaine in England and Wales. Home Office 1992
Repeated snorting of cocaine damages the membranes which line the nose. Repeated smoking of crack may cause breathing problems and partial loss of voice. Long term injecting may result in abscesses and infection with the added risk of hepatitis and HIV if injecting equipment is shared.
Pregnant women who heavily use cocaine or crack may experience complications and find that their babies are adversely effected. Much has been made in the American press of so called 'crack babies' and although some babies of crack using mothers may be irritable, difficult to comfort and feed poorly the extent to which this happens has often been exaggerated.
Methamphetamine, 'yaba' (ya-ba, ya ba), zip, meth, speed, go-fast, cristy, christal, tina, chalk, crank, shabu, glass, crazy medicine, L.A.
Please see the Methamphetamine page for our entry on Crystal meth.