Due to the controversial nature of this topic and the target audience (young people) it is important that the reader reads the complete answer and not
simply one paragraph or a few sentences. Taking one part of the answer out of context can lead to a misinterpretation of the intended message.
Paul Dillon speaks to thousands of students across Australia providing information on alcohol and drugs, particularly in relation to looking after
themselves and their friends. Some young people make contact with him to ask questions that they did not feel comfortable asking in front of their peers.
The Real Deal on Drugs allows young people to ask questions about drugs and provides them with access to accurate and up-to-date information.

Can I be affected (or get stoned) if someone around me is smoking cannabis?

Every time I believe someone is using cannabis near me, I become anxious and fearful that I may experience the same effects of the drug, as has the user. Is this fear irrational? Furthermore, can the effects of being merely exposed to the smoke of cannabis cause noticeable or even negligible effects to the developing brain?

It sounds as though you are someone who has never used a drug like cannabis and you have no intention of ever doing so. If that is the case, it is no surprise that being around those using the drug could worry you. In most parts of the world cannabis is still an illegal drug and being around people who are breaking the law can often result in problems for you, even if you're not actually involved. But as far as the risk of being affected by cannabis due to exposure to the drug by others smoking around you ('passive cannabis smoking'), from what we know from current research it should not be a major concern.

Just being in a room where people are smoking and the smell of cannabis is in the air is not sufficient to cause effects and you should not be worried about such levels of exposure. If you are in a very confined space that is not well ventilated, it is possible, however, to experience mild intoxication from inhaling the smoke of others. Even then, the effect would be at much lower levels. An effect is more likely to be experienced when the newer, stronger strains of cannabis are smoked as they contain higher levels of THC (the chemical that produces the high) that can be found in side-stream and exhaled smoke. Realistically, however, this is a situation that can, and should be, avoided.

The simplest thing to do if you suspect someone is smoking or vaping cannabis near you and that you may be exposed to smoke or vapour is to move away, or excuse yourself politely if you know the person. If you don't feel comfortable about being honest with them and telling them about your concerns, say that you are allergic to the smoke/vapour or you're worried about the smell of the smoke getting onto your clothes or into your hair. Alternatively, simply make an excuse to leave the room when they're using the drug. Even though the risk of being affected by the drug is low, if being around someone who is smoking the drug causes you to become anxious, avoid the situation when you can - it's just not worth the worry!
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How do I know when I can safely put a drunk person to bed?

I have a question that I have thought of about taking care of a drunk friend. One of the things I recall you saying is to try to make sure they don't fall unconscious and try to keep them awake if you possibly can. Some of the people I have looked after have wanted to go to bed, so I was wondering when is it a safe time for a drunk person to be put to bed and go to sleep without me watching them anymore?

The practice of putting someone to bed to 'sleep it off' has been around for as long as alcohol has been consumed and most times the worst thing that happens is that the person wakes up the next morning feeling a little worse for wear or covered in their own vomit. That is not always the case, however, with some drunk people being sick through the night and ending up choking on their own vomit, or others simply stopping breathing due to the depressant effects of alcohol.

The reality is that many drunk people will want to go to bed, particularly if they have been feeling unwell for a while. There are three simple tests that a person looking after a drunk friend can use to see whether you are able to put them to bed and be reasonably sure that they will be safe:

  • Can the person walk? Just a few steps, not a marathon - if they can't walk, they still need to be monitored closely. Putting them to bed at this time is not advised
  • Can they talk? They don't need to have a quality conversation but you need to know that can speak and let you know where they are, preferably in a language you can understand!
  • Can they answer a question? The best question to ask them is something like "What is your full name?" If they don't know what their name is, once again, it is not a good idea to put them to bed!
If they can pass these simple tests, you should be able to put them to bed. It is important, however, that you make sure you put them into bed in the recovery position (you can look at this YouTube video from St John Ambulance if you don't know how to do this), and then put a folded pillow behind their back to ensure that they don't roll back over through the night. Once you have, it is still important to monitor them for at least 30mins to an hour, ensuring that they are breathing steadily, that they haven't vomited or rolled over onto their back.

The major issue with looking after drunk people is that you can never be sure when they actually had their last drink, so you can't know with any certainty that this is as 'drunk' as they'll get. With that in mind, if you are considering put a drunk friend to bed, another good trick is to quickly take their pulse and then wait 10-15 minutes and take it again, making sure that it is now either steady or getting stronger (faster). If it is dropping that means there is still alcohol making its ways to the brain and putting them to bed is potentially very dangerous.

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What is 'greening out' and can it have long-term effects?

I was reading one of your articles online about 'greening out' or what happens when you smoke too much weed. I am overseas and have no health coverage and don't know how I can get this question answered. Long story short I had never smoked weed and decided to try it. I took two hits of a bong and greened out. Experienced nausea, anxiety, cotton mouth and a loss of time. Things such as looking around became strange as well and my body felt light and different. Safe to say it was the first and last time. That was three months ago. I do have this fear that I have 'destroyed' my brain as a result of this or caused some sort of permanent damage. Is that a known side effect? It really is giving me great anxiety ...

To be honest it sounds as though you simply experienced a cannabis 'high' rather than actually 'greening out'! Many people who experiment with any drug, but particularly cannabis, are not completely prepared for the experience and when the drug starts to have an effect it is not as they expected. They then try to fight the feeling and this results in anxiety and panic. That's what this sounds like ... This is why so many people try cannabis once, find out that it doesn't agree with them and choose to never use it again.

'Greening out' (also known as 'whiting out') is often described as a 'cannabis overdose' and is a term used to describe a situation where a person feels sick after smoking cannabis. They go pale (turning 'green' or 'white') and start to sweat; they feel dizzy and nauseous, and may even start vomiting. The experience can be quite frightening and users can become very anxious and start to panic. In extreme cases, the person may experience prolonged vomiting and even hallucinations. Cannabis users often report that the only way they can alleviate these symptoms is to lie down.

Greening out is much more likely to occur if the user has been drinking alcohol before they start smoking. Research evidence shows that because there is alcohol in the bloodstream, the THC (the part of cannabis that gets you stoned) is absorbed much faster. This can result in a much stronger and often far more unpleasant effect than usual. First-time cannabis users can often report similar experiences, although not quite so extreme (but still feeling very unpleasant nevertheless) - they just weren't prepared for the effects of the drug.

This can be a traumatic experience, whether you were on your own or if it happened at a party or gathering with other people around, and it can take some time for a person to recover. Have you 'destroyed' your brain or caused some permanent damage as a result of this 'one-time' experimentation? That is highly unlikely. As I said in a previous posting 'Can smoking weed once have a lasting effect?'you would have to be incredibly unlucky for this to happen as it appears to be regular use that causes the greatest problems. That said, a one-time use can lead to a terrifying experience, usually associated with anxiety or a panic attack, and it may be something you never forget!
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