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When talking about the drug, marijuana and cannabis both have the same meaning. When talking botanically – talking about the plant genus – we use the word Cannabis. Cannabis is a flowering plant genus that includes three (3) acknowledged varieties:
- Cannabis Sativa
- Cannabis Indica
- Cannabis Ruderalis
The three types originally come from South and Central Asia.
Cannabis has been used for hundreds of years by humans, for fiber (hemp), seed oils, seed, medical treatment and recreationally.
This article focuses on cannabis’ medicinal and recreational aspects.
The word “Marijuana”
The word marijuana, with its current meaning, is said to come from Mexican Spanish, which then spread to other Spanish-speaking nations, and then made its way into English, and other languages as well. Marijuana, which means “Maria” (Mary) and “Juana” (Joan or Jane), is sometimes misspelled as marihuana or mariguana.
However, the Oxford English Dictionary says that the term comes from the Nahuatl word mallihuan, which means “a prisoner”. Nahuatl is the language spoken by the Aztecs of Mexico. Some linguists dispute this connection between the Nahuatl word and the term marijuana.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term “marijuana” came into usage in the English language at the end of the 19thcentury.
What is Cannabis, the drug?
The drug, cannabis, is produced from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant is related to hops and nettles. Cannabis grows wild in many parts of the world.
Cannabis, the plant, contains over 400 chemicals, including a penicillin-like antibiotic, cannabidiolic acid. The Cannabis plants’ chemical derivatives can be used for either recreational or therapeutic (medicinal) purposes.
As a recreational drug, cannabis can come in a variety of forms, including:
- As a dried plant (herbal)
- A resin
- In powder form
- As oil
There are several slang terms for cannabis, including hash, hashish, grass, pot, weed, dope, etc.
What are the main active ingredients of Cannabis?
The main active ingredients are called:
- THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol)- tests have shown THC has mild to moderate painkilling (analgesic) effects, and can be used for the treatment of pain. THC alters transmitter release in the spinal cord, resulting in pain relief. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol)- tests have shown THC has mild to moderate painkilling (analgesic) effects, and can be used for the treatment of pain. THC alters transmitter release in the spinal cord, resulting in pain relief. The compound is also known to stimulate appetite (informally known as “the munchies”), it induces a relaxed state, as well has having effects on the person’s sense of smell, hearing and eyesight. It can also cause fatigue. In some people, THC may reduce symptoms of aggression. Some limited studies have shown that THC shows promise for the treatment of nausea and/or vomiting – it may have anti-emetic qualities.
- CBD (Cannabidiol)- animal laboratory tests have shown than it has a sedative effect; it has also been found to increase alertness in some studies. However, experts say that CBD may interfere with THC metabolism in the liver – THC clearance from the body may slow down. Some studies have also demonstrated or indicated that CBD can relieve the symptoms of nausea, anxiety, inflammation and convulsions. Some oncologists suggest it may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Scientists in more recent studies say CBD may be useful in treating atypical psychosis in schizophrenia patients, as well as relieving dystonia symptoms. Dystonia is a general term which describes involuntary movements and extended muscle contractions – the patient has tremor, unusual or awkward postures, and twisting body movements.
Skunk, a type of cannabis, is especially powerful because it contains up to three times as much THC as other types. The three types of Cannabis plants. Cannabis indica has a higher CBD/THC ratio than Cannabis sativa. Higher-ratio Cannabis has a lower risk of producing anxiety.
What are the effects of recreational Cannabis?
Cannabis, or marijuana, is most commonly known as an illegal drug that is sold “in the street”. It can be rolled into a “joint” (like a cigarette), a “blunt” (using cigar paper), placed into a pipe, brewed as a tea, or added to foods.
When cannabis is consumed, it has both physiological and psychoactive effects. For any perceptible psychoactive effect, approximately 10 micrograms of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) per kilogram of body weight is needed.
When cannabis is consumed for recreational purposes, the following effects are possible:
- A subjective change in perception. It can have slight hallucinogenic effects, making users see reality in a distorted way.
- Alteration in mood – some may experience euphoria, become more animated, while others enter a state of relaxation. Getting “high” or “stoned” (euphoria) is the main reason most recreational users consume marijuana
- Increased heart rate
- A reduction in blood pressure
- Impairment of working memory
- Impairment of short-term memory
- Impairment of concentration
- Reduced psychomotor coordination
- Can cause nausea, despite the fact that cannabis can treat the symptoms of nausea
- Can increase appetite (“the munchies”)
- More rapid breathing
What are the possible therapeutic (medical) benefits of Cannabis?
For decades, reports have been published about the potential medical benefits of Cannabis or substances that exist in Cannabis. Some have been backed by science, while others need further studies. Below are some examples:
- It can improve the appetite and sense of taste in cancer patients.
- It can improve symptoms of chronic (long-term) neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is long-term pain resulting from injury to the nervous system.
- Cannador, a Cannabis plant extract, can effectively relieve pain after major surgery.
- It can help alleviate MS symptoms of spasticity. ‘Sativex’, an oral spray made using cannabis extract, was approved in 2010 in the United Kingdom for use with patients with multiple sclerosis.
- Active chemicals in Cannabis can halt prostate cancer growth.
- It may protect people from osteoporosis later on in life.
- Some memory-loss symptoms similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease were reduced in laboratory mice experiments when scientists treated them with some of the chemicals present in cannabis.
- Substances found in Cannabis may help alleviate allergic contact dermatitis symptoms.
- For patients with chronic pain, adding cannabinoids – the main ingredients in cannabis – to an opiates-only treatment, may provide better results, than opiates alone. Moreover, patients on the combination treatment would benefit from reduced opiate dosages.
- A component of Cannabis could help alleviate pain associated with chemotherapy.
- Therapy with cannabinoids may help reduce or prevent the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome), Israeli researchers found in animal (mice) experiments.
Preliminary studies have also found indications that Cannabis may have therapeutic uses for the following (further studies are needed):
- inflammatory bowel disease
- alcohol abuse
- collagen-induced arthritis
- several digestive diseases
- gliomas (malignant tumor of the glial tissue of the nervous system)
- Huntington’s disease
- sickle cell disease
- Tourette syndrome
What are the forms of Cannabis people use?
Unprocessed – marijuana (cannabis) most commonly refers to the dried flowers, leaves and stems of the female Cannabis plant. This is the most popular presentation of marijuana for recreational purposes, and most probably for its medicinal use too. It is smoked.
Processed forms of Cannabis:
- Hashish – this is a concentrated resin prepared from the flowering tops of the female Cannabis plant. It can be smoked or chewed.
- Hash oil – a concentrated oil with a THC content of between 40% and 90% (high level). It is produced by a solvent extraction of cannabis. It can be consumed orally, by smoking or vaporization.
- Residue (resin) – this accumulates inside utensils people use to smoke marijuana. Typically, when users run out of marijuana, they water-steam the utensil at low temperature and then scrape out the contents.
Should Cannabis be legalized?
Opinions vary widely regarding what the legal status of Cannabis. Some are fervently in favor, while a similar number are strongly against any form of legalization. A number of scientists, as well as patients, especially those suffering from chronic pain, are usually able to see the pros and cons of medical Cannabis more objectively.
At Medical News Today, we receive hundreds of opinions every month regarding the legal status of Cannabis. Below are the most popular ones:
Legalizing Cannabis – favorable arguments:
If Cannabis were legalized it would come under the same stringent scrutiny as other approved drugs. Even producers of alcoholic drinks are under pressure from national food and health authorities to maintain good manufacturing practice.
Criminalizing Cannabis, a “herb” which is less harmful than, for example, alcohol, seems counterproductive. Legalizing marijuana would free up police time and resources to fight real crime.
- Individual freedom – Whether or not marijuana should be used is something the individual should decide, not the state. If one person’s act does not harm other people, the government should not be telling them what they can and cannot do.
There is no good medical reason to ban marijuana. Alcohol is legal, and causes millions of car accidents, domestic violence incidences, episodes of child abuse, and devastating illnesses and conditions every year. Marijuana is nowhere near as bad for the health as alcohol. If alcohol is legal, then why not marijuana?
Governments should only limit people’s choices if the person’s actions endanger others. This is not the case with marijuana.
- The cost – the governments of the USA, UK, Canada, Western Europe and much of the world spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year on the “war on drugs”. Surely, chasing people who consume marijuana as well as harder drugs is a waste of money. The greatest harms come from other drugs, such as crystal meth, cocaine or heroin, not marijuana. Taking Cannabis out of the picture would save public authorities billions of dollars, and lead to better targeted police work. Governments collect money in the form of taxes from the sale of tobacco products and alcoholic beverages; income they do not get from the sale of marijuana. If marijuana were legal, the government would spend less and earn more.
- Medical benefits – Millions of people today suffer with chronic pain because marijuana is illegal. If Cannabis were treated like any other plant, or even tobacco or alcohol, medical breakthroughs would increase. It is known that medical Cannabis can help relieve many symptoms, especially those experienced by people with long-term pain.
Written by Christian Nordqvist