Cannabis is the most widespread illicit drug in the world.
What is the reason of its popularity and how does it actually work?
Cannabis is a flowering plant originated in Asia. It is currently cultivated on almost all world continents because of its numerous recreational and medical benefits. There are the other names for the plant: marijuana, weed, pot, hash, grass etc. Cannabis relates to the category of depressant drugs, which mean that it can influence the work of the nervous system, slowing its activity down.
- APPEARANCE: Cannabis plant include a stem with 5 to 7 branches, leaves and the flowering top that is covered with a sticky cannabis resin where major compounds are located.
- COLOR: The color of cannabis is bright green. A yellow coloring on the leaves is a signal that a plant does not receive enough nutrients or suffers from stressful environmental conditions.
- SMELL: Fresh marijuana has a pungent grassy smell. Most weed lovers value cannabis for its unique scent and give preference to smoking or the other ways of consumption which allow to save the scent. However, there are people who use cannabis for its health benefits and dislike the smell; they usually select odorless ways of consumption like eating edibles or taking cannabis pills.
- POTENCY: The plant potency depends on the cannabinoid content that is different for all the strains. The most potent strains contain up to 30% THC. Moreover, there are cannabis concentrates, where the sky is the limit: distillate and isolates are almost a 100% pure cannabinoids.
History and legalization of marijuana
The first traces of cannabis cultivation date back to ancient times. 30,000 years ago it was used only for textile purposes. In the ancient period, cannabis was considered a treatment of many medical problems, and only in 6th century BC, psychoactive effects of marijuana have been discovered.
Cannabis became popular as a medicinal treatment in 1840 when a doctor called William O’Shaughnessy brought different marijuana varieties from his trip to India. Marijuana became the main component of newly discovered medicine for treatment of asthma, migraine, menstrual pain, insomnia and opium addiction. Unfortunately, this medicine has not been too effective because of improper dosage due to the lack of research in this field.
In 1960s, there began the era of the recreational use of cannabis. Psychoactive properties of the plant attracted a great number of admirers, and growers set their sights on cultivating the most psychoactive marijuana strains. The increased public interest caused the immediate opposition, and in 1961, cannabis was legally defined as a drug that was dangerous to the society. The «Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs» started the period of cannabis prosecution. Today, marijuana is still classified as Schedule 1 drug together with cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
The first state to legalize medical marijuana use was California (1996). The major purpose of its use was the end of life treatment of patients with severe illnesses. More than ten other states immediately followed the California`s example. It was only in 2012 when the first states vote for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
United States are not the only ones who introduced marijuana to their lives. Many countries round the globe currently reconsider their attitude to cannabis; some of them introduce it strictly for medical purposes. The main stopping factor is currently the lack of research. Too little time has passed from the first wave of marijuana legalization so it is hard to evaluate the outcomes.
Marijuana plant anatomy
Understanding the anatomy of marijuana plant will help to avoid many mistakes when choosing and buying cannabis for personal consumption.
Cannabis flower includes the following parts:
- flowering top.
Cannabis flowers can be male or female. Female plants are the ones that produce buds, so growers are most interested in their cultivation. Presence of male plants is the necessary requirement for pollination.
Marijuana flower is covered with sticky resinous crystals that are visible to the eye. These crystals are called trichomes. They consist of main elements: stalk, gland and cells between them. Gland is the place where terpenes and cannabinoids are generated; and the yield frequently depends on the type of trichome. The most wanted are glandular trichomes — they have the biggest gland that can be separated from the stalk without physical efforts.
How cannabis works in human body
The most valuable compounds in cannabis flowers are cannabinoids and terpenes. They are responsible for all the medicinal and psychoactive effects that cannabis provides. Learn more about them and the way they operate in a human body.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are specific to cannabis flower. They can make a person high or reduce an anxiety, create the energy boost or help to get sleepy. They are widely used in a treatment of various diseases and are appreciated for euphoria it provides to recreational users. How do they actually work?
In human body, there is the endocannabinoid system that regulates our life cycle activities. Cannabinoids are able to bind to the same receptors natural endocannabinoids do. There are two sets of receptors cannabis interacts with. The first one is CB2 group that is responsible for the work of immune system of human body. The second is CB1 and it determines our emotions, memory operation and cognitive functions. Check how two most popular cannabinoids interacts with these receptors:
- THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). This cannabinoid has a unique capability to directly influence the CB1 group of receptors. Due to this ability, it can influence the work of human brain and the emotions people feel. Cannabis products with high THC level make users intoxicated, or high. This sense of euphoria is what recreational users are about. However, together with the desirable effect, THC brings the number of adverse effects including cognitive and memory impairment. THC also binds to CB2 receptors and they have plenty therapeutic effects that come together with intoxication.
- CBD (cannabidiol). This cannabinoid combines therapeutical benefits with absence of psychoactive effects. It interacts only with CB2 group of receptors, which gives a chance to perform immunoregulative functions. CBD is getting more and more widespread among medical users who do not want any high in their busy lifestyles. Moreover, CBD is proven to neutralize the intoxicating effects of THC by its presence. It is able to «break the connection» between THC and CB1 receptors. That is the reason CBD-based medicine is frequently used for treating THC-induced psychosis.
Except THC and CBD, there are more than a hundred cannabinoids in marijuana flower. All of them have specific characteristics and health benefits. Cannabinoids may turn from one form to another: for example, if THC is exposed to oxygen for long, it converts to CBN (cannabinol) that is non-psychoactive.
Terpenes are natural compounds produced by a cannabis plant. They are the essential oils responsible for the flavor of the plant. As well as cannabinoids, terpenes are generated within a trichome gland. In marijuana, there are currently more than 120 different terpenes recognized, the most famous of which are pinene, myrcene, limonene, and caryophyllene.
Though, terpenes are not only about aroma. They greatly add to all therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids. Earlier, it was believed that the more potent a cannabis product is, the stronger effects it will produce. This belief had stayed until the entourage effect was discovered. The essence of this effect is that cannabinoids and terpenes produce best results only if they work in synergy. The natural balance between major compounds should not be disturbed to increase the effects.
Despite the obvious advantages, terpenes can also be dangerous. However, this happens only when they get vaporized at extremely high temperatures, for example, during dabbing. There is anecdotal evidence that in these conditions terpenes might produce dangerous toxicants that are harmful for human body.
Because of the entourage effect, terpene-rich products got more popular. They include smoking weed, full spectrum extracts and any other products where the harmony between cannabinoids and terpenes has been preserved.
Ways to consume cannabis
There are thousands of ways to consume cannabis. Fortunately, they can all be divided into six main groups:
Cannabis can be smoked in a variety of ways: using blunts and joints, pipe or bowls, or the bong. Smoking is the most traditional way of consumption that allows to fully evaluate the scent, taste and potency of marijuana flower. Despite its popularity, smoking is hazardous to health: it causes respiratory irritation and increases the risk of lung injuries and cancer.
Vaping appeared as a safer alternative to cannabis smoking that does not involve the plant combustion. This method of cannabis consumption allows to get the highest cannabinoid intake with reduced risks. Cannabis flower and oil are vaped with the help of vaporizing devices: pen and portable vaporizers for extra mobility and desktop vaporizers for home vaping with advanced settings. Though vaping is not as heavy on lungs as smoking, it cannot be considered entirely safe: due to its intensity and regular use, vaping can be potentially more dangerous than smoking.
Dabbing is the most effective and the most dangerous way of cannabis consumption. It supposes inhaling the vapor of greatly heated cannabis concentrates. These concentrates are very high on cannabinoids: the THC level varies from 50 to 100% depending on the concentrate type. Concentrates are created using two methods: solvent-based and solventless. The first group has hidden dangers: if the solvent that was used in the extraction process has not been fully vaporized, its residuals might induce significant harm to user`s health. To dab, it is necessary to have special equipment, the most common is a dab rig (oil rig). The concentrate is placed on the pre-heated nail and it starts vaporizing instantly. The consumer inhales the vapor to get psychoactive and other effects. It is worth noting that potent strains lead to cannabis psychological dependence.
This is the most appealing method of cannabis consumption. What is better than a combination of taste and potency? Dispensaries are rich on different edibles: you can find candies, chocolates, brownies and beverages for your taste. The difficulty with edibles is the frequent cases of overdosage. Why do they happen? First, because it is often impossible to reduce a tasty-looking cannabis treat. Secondly, because unexperienced users do not know when to expect the effects and repeat the initial dose. Edibles do not work immediately; the absorption of cannabinoids through the digestive system takes time, and the effects might come unexpectedly even in few hours. The only one exception is a candy: it is absorbed sublingually and comes to the bloodstream in minutes.
Topicals are the safest way of cannabis consumption. Various balms, lotions, sprays and lubricants work only on the surface of skin. They do not get to the bloodstream and thus produce no psychoactive effects. Instead, they treat local problems like pain, inflammation, sore muscles, etc.
Medical users often look for the easiest ways of medication. Smoking, dabbing and vaping are highly unwelcome: they need the special equipment and are followed by the weed taste and smell. The most popular ways to medicate are using tinctures and capsules. They help to determine the dose carefully and provide satisfaction to the user. For immediate relief, it is better to use tinctures (because they are absorbed sublingually), and for long-lasting effects, it is better to turn to pills and capsules.
Strains of chemotypes?
Not all marijuana flowers are alike. Different genetic types have different looks and medical qualities. There is the taxonomic classification of genetic types of cannabis that allows to distinguish two main chemotypes:
General outlook: short plant with broad green leaves.
Cannabinoid content: high CBD to low THC.
Medical qualities: Indica has a potent calming effect on the user. It provides relaxation to both brain and the body (relaxes muscle tension, reduces anxiety, etc.) Moreover, it is useful for treating pain, nausea and inflammation.
General outlook: tall and thin plant with light green leaves.
Cannabinoid content: high THC to low CBD.
Medical qualities: Sativa is responsible for the high effect and brain stimulation. It provides a mind boost and fights stress. THC-rich strains are used for severe pain, appetite stimulation or depressive mood conditions.
There is also a Hybrid strain, which is actually not a chemotype itself but a mixture of both Indica and Sativa that is achieved by the crossbreeding of two strains. Levels of CBD and THC significantly vary depending on the chosen sample.
Despite its popularity, the classification based on different cultivars proved to be insufficient, because within one cultivar there is a wide range of different chemotypes with different terpene and cannabinoid composition and, as a result, with different effects on human body. The solution of the problem is the creation of the modern chemotaxonomic classification that distributes cannabis plants into fixed chemovars with definite composition of its main compounds. The development of such a system is already initiated, but it requires further research.
Effects of cannabis consumption
Cannabis is consumed for two reasons: recreational and medical. And it does not matter whether the person is a medical user or not; medical weed is just the same as the regular weed. In some U.S. states, only medical marijuana is legalized but it does not restrain medical patients from using it for their recreational needs. Look through the effects consumers get from cannabis:
The most popular cannabinoid choice for getting recreational benefits is THC. Its ability to influence brain and emotions is what most users are for. When a person is smoking cannabis rich in THC, cannabinoids quickly get to the bloodstream and the effects are received within minutes. THC sends chemical messages between neurons and increase the dopamine release. Dopamine is the organic chemical that provokes a sense of pleasure within the body.
The main effects from getting high with THC-rich cannabis are the following:
- Feeling of pleasure and happiness.
- Disrupted cognitive skills, memory, and perception.
- Affected body balance, coordination and reaction time.
Additional effects might be hallucinations, reduced blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, increased heart rate and euphoria.
Analyzing these outcomes, it is easy to understand why the intoxicated person does not have a right to drive, perform dangerous tasks, take care of children or communicate with public openly.
For medical users, marijuana is not the source of commitment and pleasure, it is the treatment of their psychological and physical problems. Marijuana has been used for therapeutic needs since ancient times, and the benefits it provides are unquestionable. Though, the latest tendencies to consider marijuana a solution of almost all health problems are just the exaggeration. For example, marijuana has no power to cure people from cancer, but it can be used as the auxiliary treatment that is very helpful in blocking pain and stopping nausea.
Check the list to find out more about the medical conditions for treatment of which cannabis has a proven effectiveness:
THC is the best painkiller, but due to its psychoactive effects, it is prescribed only for severe cases like cancer pain etc. For other cases, CBD works well.
- Inflammation processes.
Though both THC and CBD bind to CB2 group of receptors, cannabidiol performs immunoregulative functions better. It helps to fight all inflammation-related processes including deep arthritis.
An epilepsy treatment with cannabidiol-containing medicine is recognized throughout the world. It is able to significantly reduce the intensity and duration of seizures in adults and children.
Anxiety, stress and depression are the hazards for human overall health. Cannabidiol helps to reduce the stress level and provides a sedative effect on brain. As it is non-psychoactive, it can be recommended even for a daily use (stressful work situations, etc.)
- Low appetite.
THC as well as CBN (cannabinol) increase appetite. This regulation is necessary when the loss of appetite is the consequences of various diseases. As for CBD, despite the popular misconception, it does not reduce appetite or help in losing weight. It can just help to prevent nervous overeating by calming the person down.
Nausea is the unpleasant disease that is often followed by vomiting or diarrhea. To fasten the recovery and to block its negative symptoms, CBD treatment is recommended. The listed conditions are the most popular indications for use of cannabis medicine, but that is not the full list. Cannabidiol has a great therapeutic potential: it is anti-bacterial and anti-fungus, it helps to treat sleep apnea, glaucoma and much more.
Side effects of cannabis consumption
Cannabis is the most controversial drug in history. Even after the legalization, there are numerous discussions as to whether the advantages of marijuana consumption weight more than its potential risks. Most side effects are connected with THC consumption, though, there are risks of CBD treatment as well. Check some of the most widespread side effects:
- Cognitive and memory problems. As THC affect the work of the brain, it also negatively influences most mental processes. Short-term memory reduction, cognitive disorders and disrupted perception of the environment are the most popular problems of users who consume THC rich marijuana on the regular basis.
- Low energy. When a person gets used to get the lift mood and the energy boost with the help of cannabis, he / she forgets how to do it the other ways. Such people are frequently uninitiative and have low self-esteem. The sustainable study about the consequences of long-term marijuana use claims in conclusions that «High levels of cannabis use are related to poorer educational outcomes, lower income, greater welfare dependence and unemployment and lower relationship and life satisfaction.»
- Interference with the work of other medications. Cannabidiol can reduce the efficiency of heart medication and is not recommended if a person has any heart problems.
- Mental problems including paranoia, hallucinations and psychoses. They usually appear after consuming high doses of THC, which often happens with potent extracts.
Addiction and withdrawal
Marijuana is addictive. Despite the public opinion about its overall safety, the research proves the opposite. According to it, concentrated forms of cannabis are as addictive as the other drugs. As for plant marijuana used for smoking or vaping, it is less addictive but it still causes dependence on its use. This dependence is both physical (the body reacts differently when the dose is missed) and psychological (inability to be in a good mood without the dose of cannabis).
Having discovered that they are addicted, many users decide to quit cannabis. Immediate withdrawal from marijuana use is not dangerous for the person but it results in experiencing unpleasant symptoms:
- loss of sleep;
- loss of appetite;
The longer period a person was using marijuana, the more expressed these symptoms will be. To reduce these symptoms, it is recommended not to stop consuming cannabis immediately but to reduce a dosage step-by-step, making preference to plant marijuana or cannabis products that are not high on THC.
Another useful recommendation is to treat THC dependence with the help of CBD. Considering that it helps to alleviate psychotropic effects and breaks the bond between THC and CB1 receptors, it is a useful medication for THC overdosage or marijuana withdrawal.
How to manage through a THC withdrawal:
- keep patient and determined: the most severe period is 1-3 days;
- take CBD medicine: it will reduce the symptoms;
- drink much water: your body needs it now more than ever;
- eat healthy food;
- exercise: sport is the other way to get lifted and fight depression.
Remember that however strong the withdrawal effects are, they all come away very quickly. Moreover, only 12 percent of marijuana smokers experience the withdrawal syndrome.
FAQ on cannabis
What is hemp? Is that the same as cannabis?
Not exactly. Hemp is the other strain of the same marijuana plant. It is never used for recreational purposes since it is not psychoactive. As for medical needs, it is sometimes used for the production of topicals or edibles as the cheaper alternative to cannabis. However, hemp is more intended for industrial needs (textile, construction, etc.)
Can cannabis be mixed with alcohol?
Some people mix cannabis consumption with drinking alcohol the same way they do it with cigarette smoking and drinking. It is not recommended. The main reason is that the combination of marijuana and alcohol make people nauseous and dizzy.
How long can marijuana be detected on the drug test?
It depends on the period user was consuming marijuana. In chronic users, cannabis can be traced up to 90 days after the last consumption, but for irregular users this period is about 10-45 days.
What is the safest way of cannabis consumption?
Using it in topicals. This way is the safest as it has no detected side effects. Keep in mind that local cannabis topical use is always non-psychoactive.
How to help myself if I overdosed on cannabis?
The most important thing is to keep in mind that it will not last forever and that overdosage is rarely dangerous. Measures that can help: taking a shower, drinking much water and orange juice, calming yourself by music, or taking CBD treatment. If symptoms involve increased heart rate or respiratory problems, it is recommended to consult a therapist.