Karl Kirkby started smoking cannabis while he was at school.
A straight-A pupil with ambitions of working in the aerospace sector, he went to New College and his usage increased.
Now he’s 37, and has been a recreational user for a large part of his life.
“When you’re on weed you’re not achieving anything or getting anything done, you’re not taking part in life,” he says.
“People say that you find your drug, and for me I found it really soon with weed. It started out being the odd time here and there, we’d have a few giggles and it was a bit of fun. By the time I went to New College in Telford I was smoking quite heavily.
“I remember thinking ‘don’t do heroin, crack or coke, they’re addictive’. I always thought weed was fine and not addictive, and physically it’s not, but psychologically it is and you do feel like you need it.”
Because of cannabis he dropped out.
“All motivation went. It saps your whole life and totally drains you,” he says. “I was struggling to motivate myself to do anything. I ended up in a string of dead end jobs.”
Karl, who now helps people with cannabis problems at TACT in Telford, suffered trouble sleeping, and became increasingly isolated.
“My mental health has been up and down with depression and anxiety,” he adds. “Whether the cannabis was a cause of that I don’t really know.
“I was spending £300 to £400 a week on weed and when you’re not working that’s a big amount of money. I was going without food, things weren’t getting paid – just everything went on weed.
“I wasn’t sleeping and I had a loss of appetite. I was lying to people to get money and it just completely changes you.“
“I was not sleeping for days sometimes, and that has an effect on everything else. I wouldn’t leave the house for weeks at a time and would only go out to see the dealer and get more stuff.”
There is an ongoing debate over whether cannabis could become a legal drug, and whether that would regulate its potency, its supply, and it accessibility.
The different strains that are available do affect what effect it can have, says Aimee – who did not want to give her real name, from Wolverhampton.
“Back when I was doing cannabis it was resin, not like the weed of today,” says the 38-year-old. “Resin is a nice relaxed chill, but the skunk now really causes psycho problems. It gave me a sensation, which is why I started doing it. I wanted to be cool.
“I was saying to myself it was making my mind free-er and my outlook better – it didn’t really.
“I was very intelligent when I was younger. I loved school. I was prefect and then head prefect – I got all A*s at GCSE, but I started doing weed and didn’t do well in my A-levels. Cannabis ruined my short term memory forever.”
Aimee attributes cannabis for causing mental health issues and paranoia and said it was a gateway drug in other things like cocaine.
“I understand why people use it still as it does relax you, but it’s not a feeling I would want to revisit,” she says. “It makes your whole body tingle and slows everything down including your heartbeat. It feels heavy. That’s why I feel I’m going to die if I smoke it. The whole body goes into flop mode. Your mouth goes dry and your eyes go really bloodshot.”
Sian Smith is 18 and has been clean from cannabis for four months.
“I started smoking cannabis when I was about 13,” she says. “At first I loved smoking it and got a high off it. But down the line I had to smoke more to get a high. At first I started smoking one spliff and I was high, but later I was smoking four or five to get me a tiny bit high. I can personally say that me smoking weed has made me have anxiety.
“Now I’m off weed and I’m on prescribed medication for anxiety. It doesn’t work as well as weed, but it was weed that caused my anxiety. I was really paranoid.
“My anxiety was 10 times worse. It was getting worse each time I smoked it.”
Sian had been enrolled on her dream course in animal care at Walford College in Shropshire, but it was an hour and a half trip for her to get there from home.
“I was there for a few months, but because I was smoking weed I couldn’t get out of bed. It would take an hour and a half to get there and I just couldn’t because I would be up smoking weed,” she says.
“I was at one point smoking two to three grams of weed a day. I was stealing off my dad, and when I turned 15 I got income support and lived on my own and all of that went on weed. I never had money, it all went on weed.”
But Sian adds that there is a reason people smoke cannabis.
“It’s not all bad,” she adds. “You get a nice feeling. It chills you out and blocks everything out and makes you feel relaxed and tired, it helps you sleep. But other people are affected differently.”
* Tomorrow we meet people who use cannabis medicinally.