So you’ve never tried weed before? Never sampled even a jot of pot? Haven’t a Scooby when it comes to a doobie? Not had so much as a snifter of a bifter? Okay I’ll stop now. If you’re curious about cannabis, then this blog should help provide a quick overview of just what it’s all about. And as we’re talking facts, I’m going to try and keep this one impartial guys.
Marijuana is a combination of shredded leaves, stems and flower buds of the plant Cannabis sativa. The plant itself is common globally and quite resilient. It can grow to 18 feet tall and can flourish in the wild, given the right conditions. It has also been known to appear along roadsides and driveways in suburban areas, as the result of stray seeds. The stem of the plant is thin and the leaves are thin and jagged, with fronds branching out into five to seven fingers. Cannabis flowers are small and green, and grow in clusters called buds – which is where the useable part of the plant comes from.
Cannabis is known by a multitude of slang names: ‘pot’, ‘weed’, ‘grass’, ‘ganja’… the list goes on. Cannabis cigarettes have an equally vast assortment of names, most popularly ‘blunt, joint’ and ‘spliff’. Smoking is not the only way to take weed however: it can also be eaten – perhaps most famously when baked into hash brownies – or drunk as cannabis tea.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used of all illegal drugs. A 2010 survey revealed that 17.4 million US citizens had used marijuana in the past month. In the United States marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This means the government has determined that marijuana:
- Has a high potential for abuse
- Has no currently accepted status as a medicine
- Is unsafe for use under medical supervision
Whilst different states and countries have different laws regarding possession, in most places it is illegal to cultivate, sell or distribute marijuana.
While many drugs can be readily classified as stimulant, depressant or hallucinogen, cannabis can produce effects related to all three categories. It can induce euphoria and hallucinations. It can help to reduce pain. It can reduce nausea and anxiety, but can also cause it. Physical effects frequently include a reddening of the eyes, dryness of the mouth, a sensitivity to heat and cold, muscle relaxation and an increase in heart rate. This last one can be a risk for people with certain heart conditions. There are all sorts of studies showing varied medical benefits from taking cannabis, although I must stress that due to years of prohibition much of this research is still in its infancy.
Physical effects are by and large short-term. The effect of cannabis use on memory can occasionally last longer, however, manifesting as forgetfulness and absent-mindedness for several days after the initial high. All these effects are very much dependent on the strength of the marijuana, how it was taken, as well as the resilience of the user to its effects.
Marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, the most well known of these being tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This is the chemical that can have psychoactive – or mind-altering – properties. The flowering parts of the plant also produce a resin called hashish, in which can be found the highest concentration of psychoactive compounds. Perhaps more interestingly, in this age of possible medical marijuana enlightenment, todays focus is on the CBDs, a family of chemical compounds which are being shown to have powerful and diverse medical effects.
A Potted History
Present day knee-jerk reactionaries may still maintain that Reefer Madness is a modern affliction, but the properties of marijuana have been known and utilised for millennia. Descriptions of cannabis have been discovered in early Chinese pharmacopoeias dating all the way back to 2700 BC. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used marijuana to treat a variety of ailments, leading to word of the herb spreading all across Europe. Official laws forbidding its use first came to pass in 1484, when Pope Innocent VIII banned hashish. Nonetheless weed prevailed, with the Rastafari religious movement of the 20th century incorporating the smoking of marijuana into the faith as a means of spiritual discovery. It is also a way of life for sadhus – Hindu holy men.
In spite of thousands of years of use the dangers and benefits of marijuana are still a matter of hotly contested debate. 23 US states (and the District of Columbia) have legalised the use of marijuana for medical purposes to some degree. But under federal law, marijuana is still illegal to own, trade or cultivate.
‘Industrial marijuana’, otherwise known as hemp, is low-THC marijuana grown for industry for use in a great variety of products. Hemp seeds can be crushed to make oil, and are often used in food and beauty products. Meanwhile hemp fibres can be used to make paper, fabrics and rope.
The practise of hemp farming has gone on for centuries. The ancient Romans used it to make clothing and foodstuffs, the British and American navies used the fibres for rope and sail making. 1645 saw the Puritans introducing hemp to New England, although Europeans were growing it in Chile even earlier than that. George Washington himself grew hemp. However, despite this history and despite THC levels in hemp being so low as to barely exist at all, US federal law today prohibits hemp farming. Even so, hemp products are legal, and are regularly imported into the States from Canada, Russia and China, where hemp farming is legal. Today there is a big push in America and other countries around the world to find some way of bringing back this important and highly productive industry.