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Key things to know
THC is the main chemical in cannabis that makes you high, while CBD is the main chemical that relieves pain and anxiety.▼ More about cannabis
Avoid relying on cannabis to fall asleep.▼ Safer using
Vaping cannabis produces less irritants than smoking it.▼ Vaping and smoking
Avoid mixing with tobacco as the nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive.▼ Info on mixing
If you are using edibles, wait an hour for the effects to kick in before deciding to take more.▼ Staying safer with edibles
What to expect
How does cannabis make you feel?
Cannabis is a depressant, meaning it slows down your body functions. It can make you feel relaxed, giggly and hungry (having the ‘munchies’), slow down your speech and thinking or make you feel paranoid. If you smoke or vape cannabis, the effects can start very quickly (within 2–10 minutes). If you take cannabis orally in an oil or food, it can take 30–60 minutes to kick in; sometimes longer to feel the full effects.
Unpleasant symptoms from taking too much cannabis are often referred to as ‘greening out’. There is not a specific amount of cannabis that can cause this – it depends on your tolerance and your individual body. Remember, a low dose for one person can be a high dose for another as people’s bodies process drugs differently.
A woman reflects on how cannabis makes her feel:
"It makes me feel relaxed and at peace with the world. If I take too much and am in the wrong social situation I can get a bit paranoid, especially as it gets hard to tell whether I am thinking something or if I have said it out loud."
Increased sensory perception
Relaxed and calm
Reduced feelings of pain
Less stressed or anxious
Dry mouth (‘cotton mouth’)
Slurred or slowed speech
Laughing and feeling giddy
Heaviness in limbs
Increased lack of coordination
Drowsy or groggy
Making risky decisions or judgements
Feeling socially anxious
Feeling panicked or having panic attacks
Increased low mood
Very high dose
Intense full-body relaxation
Feeling very hot or very cold
Difficulty moving your body
Severe panic attacks
How can you be safer when using cannabis?
Cannabis is used in lots of different ways and can effect everyone differently. It is a good idea to think about the ways you can be safer when you use.
If you are using edibles, wait an hour to feel the effects before taking more. When cannabis is smoked, the effects kick in quite quickly. However, when you take cannabis in an oil or in an 'edible' (like a weed brownie) it takes a bit longer to feel high. Waiting for an hour before taking more orally will reduce the chance of greening out.
Try to avoid mixing cannabis with tobacco. Tobacco is highly addictive, and if you are mixing it with cannabis often and smoking them together, you might find yourself craving nicotine regularly. It can also do more damage to your lungs.
Consider vaping cannabis instead of smoking it. Although more research needs to be done in this area, there is some research to suggest that vaporizing cannabis, instead of smoking it, can reduce the damage to your lungs.
Avoid using cannabis regularly to help you sleep. This can lead to dependence if it becomes a regular part of your sleeping routine. It can also cause insomnia if you stop using cannabis, which can make withdrawal much harder.
Check your cannabis for signs that it is synthetic cannabinoids. It is a good idea to smell your cannabis before you use it. If it has an unusual or chemical smell it is likely to be synthetic cannabinoids. These drugs have much different and more dangerous effects than cannabis. Unfortunately, cannabis is plant material, so it is difficult for it to be tested at a drug checking clinic using a spectrometer. There are other machines that can more reliably test these drugs, but they are not currently available in New Zealand. There are also no reagent tests available for cannabis.
For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using.
To order PotHelp Workbooks that support people to make changes to their cannabis use and other free resources for safer use, see Resources.
If you've taken too much
What happens if you have too much cannabis?
You cannot die from a cannabis overdose. However, smoking too much cannabis can create an unpleasant experience. It is important to remember that this is only the case if you are using cannabis alone as the effects can change or become more dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs and medications. In some cases, synthetic cannabinoids might be sold as cannabis. These drugs have a much higher potential to cause overdose or serious harm.
You might feel thirsty, dizzy or nauseated; have sore or dry eyes; get headaches or heart palpitations; feel uncoordinated, anxious or mildly paranoid.
- Focus on breathing – try taking slow, deep breaths.
- If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm.
- Do not take more cannabis, caffeine, alcohol or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse.
- Move to somewhere quiet – try to sit or lie down and do something relaxing.
- Drink water to stay hydrated.
If you feel very dizzy or uncoordinated, have an irregular heartbeat, have a panic attack, have vomiting, or have disturbing hallucinations, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116). You won't get in trouble if you tell them you've used drugs. They can talk you through the next steps.
If you have chest pains, experience severe emotional distress, act violently, experience psychosis or lose consciousness, call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on.
If you experience unexpected or concerning effects from cannabis you can notify High Alert to help keep others safe.
A male in his 20s talks about his experience of using more cannabis than he was comfortable with:
“I took a few puffs, and I didn’t feel anything. If I had waited for a bit, it would have kicked in. But instead, I had a lot more puffs. And it was like, a train had just hit me. I was like holy sh*t, I am really high right now. I felt super paranoid and thought everyone was talking about me. When it was pretty obvious they weren’t.”
What do comedowns from cannabis feel like, and how can you feel better?
The effects of cannabis can vary in time depending on how you take it (smoked, eaten), but they generally last from 1–8 hours. Most comedowns from cannabis are mild and start shortly after the effects wear off.
The comedown from cannabis can be unpleasant or unpredictable when mixed with alcohol and other drugs or prescription medications.
- Feel tired
- Feel dehydrated
- Feel agitated, irritable, anxious or low
- Have aches and pains
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Have headaches
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Have memory problems
- Feel nauseous
You can try...
- Get plenty of rest and sleep
- Remember to eat and drink plenty of water
- Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals
- Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support
- Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
- Practise mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feelings
If any of these symptoms intensify or don't go away then call a doctor or Healthline 0800 611 116. They can talk you through the next steps.
If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:
- Have severe vomiting
- Have severe dehydration
- Have psychosis
Call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
What are the long-term effects of using cannabis?
Cannabis can be an addictive substance, and regular use can result in long-term problems for your body and brain. The impacts of cannabis can be more severe if you start using regularly during adolescence or if you have a family history of mental conditions such as schizophrenia.
Regular use of cannabis can have impacts on your memory, attention span and ability to learn new things. There is lots of different research on this topic. Some suggests that these effects will reduce once cannabis use has stopped for several months, and others suggest that long-term use can change brain structures and create lasting problems.
Regular cannabis use has also been linked to mental health disorders. It is believed that cannabis can increase your chances of developing psychosis or schizophrenia if you have a family history of this (sometimes called a genetic predisposition). Research has also shown that regular cannabis use in adolescence can be linked to depression later in life. Cannabis – in particular, CBD – also has positive effects on the brain. CBD is used as a treatment for anxiety and sleep disorders.
Like tobacco, smoking cannabis regularly for a long period of time can have unpleasant effects on your body. When smoked, heavy cannabis use can be linked to chronic lung issues and cancer, especially of the lungs, neck and mouth area.
How do you manage withdrawal from cannabis?
See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.
Cannabis can be an addictive substance, especially when it is used regularly or in high doses. If you use cannabis often, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using. Withdrawal symptoms can start around 1–3 days from your last use and last up to 14 days for most people. The severity and length of withdrawal is different for everyone and depends on how much you use, how often and your individual body.
In some cases, cannabis withdrawal can be very unpleasant, and you may need the support of a doctor or a withdrawal service to help you. If you are worried about withdrawing, you can speak with your doctor about what will work best for you before you start.
- Have strong cravings to use cannabis
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Feel tired or have difficulty sleeping
- Have decreased libido
- Have aches and pains, headaches or stomach-aches
- Feel agitated, irritable or jittery
- Have vivid or disturbing dreams
- Experience changes in weight or appetite, or feel nauseous
- Sweat or feel very hot or very cold
You can try:
- Follow a tapering plan from a health professional to reduce your dose slowly.
- Consider counselling or support groups if feelings of anxiety and depression are getting worse.
- Lean on a support network of friends, family and professionals.
- Stick to a routine – waking up, eating well, keeping active and rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy.
- Practise mindfulness by writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating.
If your symptoms get worse or you experience increased mental distress, have ongoing blurred vision, have a panic attack, have ongoing pain, have heart palpitations, have hallucinations or suicidal thoughts, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116). You can talk to your doctor about:
- other prescription medications to help you get through withdrawal
- rehab or withdrawal clinics in your area – visit Health Point to see what services are available.
If you experience extreme agitation or psychosis, feel severely emotionally distressed or attempt suicide, call 111. These are signs you could be experiencing cannabis withdrawal syndrome or that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
For more information on getting support for drug and alcohol use, see Finding support.
Working and driving
How can cannabis affect your daily activities?
Even at low doses, cannabis can affect your daily activities. This is generally the case for cannabis products that contain THC as products that contain only CBD are unlikely to cause impairment. The peak effects of cannabis usually last up to 3 hours, but some can last for as long as 8 hours. If you use cannabis regularly over a long period of time, you may experience longer-term effects, even when you are not high.
Cannabis can cause drowsiness, slowed reflexes, poor judgement and memory problems. People using cannabis may appear and act ‘out of it’ or seem unmotivated and sleepy. Because of this, it is unsafe to drive, operate machinery or do tasks that need concentration or coordination. Cannabis can also cause changes in your perception of the world around you and can make you feel anxious or paranoid in social situations. This can make interacting with others difficult. It can also mean you say or do things that are not usual for you.
Will cannabis show up on a drug test?
Cannabis is usually tested for using hair, urine, saliva (spit) or blood. It is a drug that is commonly tested for, and it is easier to get reliable results than for many other substances.
Cannabis testing windows vary depending on how much you have used, how often and your individual body. For people who use cannabis heavily (several times a week), it is often detectable for longer than if it has only been used once. Generally, cannabis can be detected for 3–30 days in urine, 24–72 hours in saliva up to 48 hours in blood and up to 90 days in hair.
If you fail a drug test, this may affect your employment, government support, court cases or official licences or registrations. At work, you may face legal consequences, especially if you have put the safety of others at risk.
If you are using CBD or other cannabis products for medical reasons, you can speak with your doctor about what to do if you are expecting a drug test. It is legal to use these products with a prescription from a doctor in New Zealand.
Can you test positive for cannabis if you have not used it?
The short answer is yes. Drug testing is not an 100% accurate science and will sometimes give a ‘false positive’ result. This is when a drug test says that a person has a drug in their system, when they actually do not. In these situations, the positive result has been caused by something else like medication or food.
In very rare cases you can get a false positive result for cannabis (THC) if you have eaten hemp food products or been exposed to lots of secondhand cannabis smoke. More commonly, many medications can result in a false positive for cannabis. This includes efavirenz (an HIV medication), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and stomach medication like omeprazole. These may not be the only medications that can show a false positive, and not everyone who takes these medications will have a false positive for cannabis. If you are expecting a drug test for cannabis and you are using a food or medication that may cause a false positive, speak with your doctor or the test provider beforehand to discuss your next steps.
Is cannabis illegal?
Cannabis is legal for medicinal use in New Zealand with a prescription but is still considered a controlled substance. Depending on its form, cannabis is either a Class C or Class B substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Cannabis resin (commonly known as hashish) and cannabis oil (commonly known as hash oil) are Class B. All other cannabis products, including cannabis seeds are Class C. This means that it is illegal to possess these drugs if you do not have a medical prescription. It is also illegal to buy, sell, grow, or import THC and CBD cannabis products in New Zealand. Even if you have a prescription for a cannabis product, you cannot give this to other people.
It is illegal to drive while impaired from cannabis.
To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs, including cannabis see Drugs and the law.