Cannabis has been used for spiritual, medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years and continues to be widely used around the world. In Malta, statistics from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) Malta Report (2019) highlight that over 4.3% of the local population made use of cannabis at least once and that most drug law offences are related to cannabis. Official statistics by the government released in April 2020 highlight that this percentage continues to increase, estimating over 40,000 cannabis consumers in Malta and totaling to circa 8% of the population.
The flowering tops, containing the largest concentration of cannabinoids, particularly the predominant psychoactive component THC, are used to obtain an altered state of consciousness frequently described as a ‘high’. From a medicinal perspective, THC is greatly beneficial for patients suffering from chronic pain, insomnia, loss of appetite, muscle spasticity and other conditions. Other parts of the plant, including the seeds, leaves and roots too contain a number of cannabinoids beneficial for the user and are sometimes brewed in the form of tea or extracted to produce oil and other products.
From a non-medical perspective, the effects caused by THC or of being ‘high’ are linked to a sense of relaxation, laughter and the ability to perceive differently the surrounding environment and usual thought processes. The effects greatly depend on the type of cannabis being used, methods of consumption, different metabolism, frequency of use, the concurrent use of other substances and the general state of mind of the person. Therefore, the word ‘high’ captures only in part the subjective effects caused by cannabis and as cannabis consumers will explain, there are different levels of ‘high’ and different types of ‘high’. Furthermore, together with THC, other cannabinoids and terpenes collaborate together in an ‘entourage effect’ and create very subjective and different experiences for the person.
I want to try cannabis, what should I know?
Strain type and CBD: THC levels
As has been explained above, it is important the consumer knows the THC levels of the cannabis plant and therefore can make informed decisions on quantity and potency levels.
(If a particular strain has a THC level of 10% it will produce different effects from a strain with 30% THC. Unfortunately, due to the illegal sourcing of cannabis in Malta it is very difficult to know the strain and THC levels of cannabis).
Beware Synthetic Cannabis
The emergence of synthetic cannabis in local markets is a cause of great concern and potential consumers should know how to identify natural cannabis from synthetic cannabis. Synthetic cannabis does not produce the same effects of natural cannabis and various people have experienced serious psychological discomfort and problems when using synthetic cannabis. Usually, synthetic cannabis comes in granular like form and is not in the form of a cannabis bud.
Natural Cannabis bud (notice the presence of the stem attached to the bud and the compact form of the cannabis bud)
Synthetic cannabis (notice the granular form and no resemblance to the natural shape of a cannabis flowering bud)
Methods of consumption … Tobacco? A big NO NO!
The predominant method of consumption is by smoking cannabis in a joint, bong or pipe. Burning cannabis, especially when mixed with tobacco, negatively contributes to escalating problematic use and health related issues. Other methods to consume cannabis include vaping, eating ‘edibles’ and tinctures. Different methods of consumption have different onset levels and different effects. Therefore, cannabis smoked via a joint or pipe will quickly enter the system and produce the desired effects in less than 10 minutes. When cannabis is mixed with food the psychoactive effects take longer to affect the person (between 30min and 2 hours) and produce a different experience. When it comes to edibles, a person needs to take extra attention to potency and dosage and should start with a very small piece and wait before eating some more.
- Do not try cannabis on your own and make sure you trust the people you will be sharing your first experience with
- Don’t feel pressured to try something just because others are doing it, or there is a general hype about it
- Not all people who try cannabis enjoy the experience. If you try it and don’t like it, stop and do not let others convince you to do otherwise
- Remember to never take cannabis on an empty stomach or to mix it with alcohol, as this will lead to rather nasty outcomes and experiences
- If you feel unable to control the ‘high’ or feel dizzy, find a comfortable and safe space where to unwind. Drink water and beverages high in sugars and minerals and if needed find an area where to lay down. Explain to the persons around you that you are experiencing a ‘whitey’ and you need time to calm down. Remember this feeling is transitory and the effects will wean off after a while. Refrain from engaging in strenuous activities or using machinery for some time.
- If you feel unwell after consuming cannabis, do not be afraid to speak about it with your friends and if needed seek medical attention