What is Cannabis (Marijuana)?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana or cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. According to the figures of 2019, the largest age group of current marijuana smokers in the United States is eighteen to twenty-nine-year-olds

Marijuana, also popularly referred to as cannabis, is a mixture prepared from the shredded leaves, stems, and dried flower buds of the plant Cannabis sativa. It is greenish-brown or gray in color.

It is called by many street names: weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, and a host of other slang words.

Being an illicit psychoactive drug, it finds use for recreational purposes and also in medicine. It alters your mood and creates a high, which makes you feel lightheaded, happy, and relaxed.

What does marijuana contain?

Marijuana contains more than 100 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Each exhibits different properties. Its two major compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which have opposing effects.

However, the main psychoactive ingredient responsible for its intoxicating effect is delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabidiol (THC).

THC stimulates the part of your brain that is associated with pleasure. This releases the secretion of a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel euphoric. This is what makes it one of the most commonly used addictive drugs.

THC is found in the leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant. Hashish contains the highest amount of THC and is taken from the tops of female marijuana plants.

It also contains other active compounds like cannabidiol or CBD that do not have any intoxicating effects, meaning it does not cause “a high”. Studies suggest that CBD may help you with both falling asleep and staying asleep. Its effect in lowering pain is still under study.

Legalization

While some states in America have legalized the use of marijuana, other states still classify it as illegal to use. Furthermore, some states allow its use for medical purposes, while others permit its use for recreational purposes also.

To be precise, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In addition, 33 states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In spite of it being made legal in some states, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, putting it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

Countries that have legalized the recreational use of cannabis are Canada, Georgia, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay, the Australian Capital Territory in Australia and 21 states, 2 territories, and the District of Columbia in the United States.

WHO Re-Classification of Cannabis

The World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to reclassify globally the addictive potential of marijuana

The WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) at its 41st meeting in Geneva in November 2018 decided that United Nations member states re-classify cannabis.

This was communicated in a letter from the WHO to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

It recommends a re-evaluation of cannabis and its ingredients, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol).

According to the experts, the current classification of cannabis in the same group as heroin is not justified. At the same time, the experts recognize the medical benefit of cannabis.

WHO recommends that cannabis flowers and hashish (cannabis resin) should be removed from the list of the most dangerous drugs and only remain on the list of less dangerous drugs.

It states that CBD preparations should be completely removed from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as long as the THC concentration does not exceed 0.2 percent. This is to facilitate its medical use.

However, currently In the United States:

  • President Joe Biden has called for a review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
  • Presently, it is classified as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Is marijuana safe?

Though the Food and Drug Administration has not declared cannabis safe or effective in the treatment of any medical condition, cannabidiol, present in cannabis, received approval in June 2018 for treating some types of epilepsy.

There is a drive towards its legalization through the widespread belief that cannabis is effective in treating health ailments. However, there is a lack of scientific knowledge on its effects.

Over the years, research has shown that cannabis may be beneficial in treating some health conditions. But, its use also has health risks.

Both harms and benefits of cannabis do exist. But, one thing is certain, more research is needed to fully understand the health impact of rising cannabis use.

Many health bodies, including the American Cancer Society (ACS), have declared the need for more scientific research on the need to use cannabis and cannabinoids to treat medical conditions.

While cannabis is useful for pain relief, people who have a history of mental health problems should abstain from using it. Besides the risk of addiction, the cannabis withdrawal syndrome makes it more difficult to stop using marijuana.

It is best to always speak to your doctor before taking any new medicine.

Uses

Marijuana finds uses in medicine and as an illicit drug in substance abuse. There are various ways how people use it:

  • smoking or vaping it
  • as a tea
  • in the form of edibles, such as brownies or candies
  • eating it raw
  • oil for applying on the skin
  • taking it in capsule form

Smoking and vaping the THC-rich extracts from the marijuana plant is the most common way it is used and is on the rise.

Uses in medicine

Medical marijuana, also called Marinol (Dronabinol), is used in the treatment of medical conditions in places where it is legalized. More than half the states in the United States and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana. This is because various studies have established the medicinal value of cannabis.

Medical marijuana is a synthetic form of marijuana. It is available in capsule form with strengths of 2.5 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg capsules.

The active ingredient in Marinol capsules is Dronabinol. It is synthetic delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC), which also occurs naturally in Cannabis sativa L. (Marijuana).

The U.S. FDA has approved it for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These rare and severe forms of epilepsy develop during childhood and in which controlling seizures is challenging.

These syndromes respond dramatically to a CBD strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web. It does not alter the mental status. It also helps to relieve insomnia, anxiety, and pain.

Medical marijuana is most commonly used to treat severe pain such as that of a broken bone or after surgery.

Other benefits and uses include:

  • Gives good relief from the pain of multiple sclerosis, and neural pain.
  • Is a good muscle relaxant and, therefore, helps lessen the tremors in Parkinson’s disease and relieves muscle spasms such as that of Charley Horse.
  • Used for relief from chronic pain in health conditions such as fibromyalgia and endometriosis.
  • Finds use in glaucoma by virtue of its ability to reduce intraocular pressure by 25% in about 65 percent of people with or without glaucoma.
  • Used in people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) to treat anorexia (poor appetite and poor food intake) with associated weight loss. The dose prescribed for this condition is 2.5 mg once or twice per day before lunch and dinner.
  • Used in people on chemotherapy to control nausea. The dose prescribed is 5 mg, up to three hours before a chemotherapy cycle and every two to four hours after for up to six doses per day.

Uses for recreation

There are several ways in which marijuana is used as an illicit drug and the effect of each varies.

  • It is ground and rolled up in rolling paper to be smoked as a cigarette (joint). Similarly, it can be smoked in a partially or completely empty cigar (blunt) or in a pipe.  Marijuana smoke has a characteristic pungent odor.
  • Some people use vaporizers.
  • Some consume it by mixing it with food such as with brownies or cookies or its leaves are brewed as tea. These are known as edibles.
  • Some eat it raw
  • It is used as a topical application on the skin.
  • It is taken as capsules or supplements

How long does the high from marijuana last?

Usually, the effect of marijuana is highest at about 10 minutes to half an hour after smoking it. However, if you smoke a lot, you may still feel high for a couple of hours.

If you eat cannabis, the peak effect of edible cannabis can last for 2 to 4 hours, and it may take a few more hours for the effects to wear off completely.

How quickly you feel the effect and how long it lasts depends on how you have used it and the potency of the marijuana consumed. Drugs and Me gives the following timeline:

  • With smoking or vaping, you can begin to feel the effects of cannabis within 2 to 10 minutes. You feel the kick fast because it is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream through the lungs within minutes of inhaling it. The effects typically last 1 to 3 hours, though they can remain for up to 8 hours.
  • Edible cannabis is consumed. Edibles take 30 to 60 minutes to feel the kick, but can sometimes take as long as 2 hours. This is because your digestive system takes time to metabolize it.  The effects with edibles typically last 1 to 3 hours, though they can linger for up to 8 hours.
  • Dabbing. With this method, a highly concentrated form of marijuana is smoked through a special pipe. Due to the higher THC content, Dabs kick in almost instantly. The effects of dabbing usually last 1 to 3 hours. However, with a high THC concentration, the effect can last an entire day.