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Cannabis (drug)

Cannabis, also known as

marijuana or ganja is a
psychoactive product of the plant
Cannabis sativa. The herbal form of
the drug consists of dried mature
flowers and subtending leaves of
pistillate ("female") plants. The
resinous form, known as hashish, consists primarily of
glandular trichomes collected from the same plant

A dried flowered bud of the Cannabis sativa plant.

The major biologically active chemical compound in

cannabis is Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-
tetrahydrocannabinol), commonly referred to as THC.

Humans have been consuming cannabis since

prehistory, although in the 20th century there was a rise
in its use for recreational, religious or spiritual, and
medicinal purposes. It is estimated that about four
percent of the world's adult population use cannabis
annually and 0.6 percent daily. The possession, use, or
sale of psychoactive cannabis products became illegal in
most parts of the world in the early 20th century. Since
then, some countries have intensified the enforcement
of cannabis prohibition while others have reduced the
priority of enforcement.
1 History
1.1 Medical use
1.2 New breeding and cultivation techniques
2 Criminalization and legalization
3 Effects
3.1 Health issues
3.2 Relationship with other drugs
3.3 Classification
4 Methods of consumption
4.1 Smoking
4.2 Vaporization
4.3 Eating
4.4 Other methods
5 References

1 History
Evidence of the inhalation of cannabis smoke can be
found as far back as the Neolithic age, as indicated by
charred cannabis seeds found in a ritual brazier at an
ancient burial site in present day Romania. The most
famous users of cannabis were the ancient Hindus of
India and Nepal, and the Hashshashins (hashish eaters)
of present day Syria. The herb was called ganjika in
Sanskrit The ancient drug soma, mentioned in the Vedas
as a sacred intoxicating hallucinogen, was sometimes
associated with cannabis.

Cannabis was also known to the Assyrians, who

discovered its psychoactive properties through the
Aryans. Using it in some religious ceremonies, they
called it qunubu (meaning "way to produce smoke"), a
probable origin of the modern word 'Cannabis'. Cannabis
was also introduced by the Aryans to the Scythians and
Thracians/Dacians, whose shamans (the kapnobatai
—“those who walk on smoke/clouds”) burned cannabis
flowers to induce a state of trance. Members of the cult
of Dionysus, believed to have originated in Thrace, are
also thought to have inhaled cannabis smoke. In 2003, a
leather basket filled with cannabis leaf fragments and
seeds was found next to a 2,500- to 2,800-year-old
mummified shaman in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur
Autonomous Region of China.

Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual use and is

found in pharmacological cults around the world. Hemp
seeds discovered by archaeologists at Pazyryk suggest
early ceremonial practices like eating by the Scythians
occurred during the 5th to 2nd century BCE, confirming
previous historical reports by Herodotus. Some
historians and etymologists have claimed that cannabis
was used as a religious sacrament by ancient Jews and
early Christians. It was also used by Muslims in various
Sufi orders as early as the Mamluk period, for example
by the Qalandars. In India and Nepal, it has been used
by some of the wandering spiritual sadhus for centuries,
and in modern times the Rastafari movement has
embraced it as a sacrament. Elders of the modern
religious movement known as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic
Church consider cannabis to be the Eucharist, claiming it
as an oral tradition from Ethiopia dating back to the time
of Christ, even though the movement was founded in
the United States in 1975 and has no ties to either
Ethiopia or the Coptic Church. Like the Rastafari, some
modern Gnostic Christian sects have asserted that
cannabis is the Tree of Life. Other organized religions
founded in the past century that treat cannabis as a
sacrament are the THC Ministry, the Way of Infinite
Harmony, Cantheism, the Cannabis Assembly and the
Church of Cognizance.

The production of cannabis for drug use remains illegal

throughout most of the world through for ex.
International Opium Convention of 1925, the Marijuana
Tax Act of 1937, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic
Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic
Substances, and the 1988 United Nations Convention
Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances, while simple possession of small quantities
is either legal, or treated as an addiction rather than a
criminal offense in a few countries.

1.1 Medical use

A synthetic form of one chemical in marijuana, Delta-9
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is a controversial treatment
for medical use. The American Marijuana Policy Project,
a pro-cannabis organization, claims that cannabis is an
ideal therapeutic drug for cancer and AIDS patients, who
often suffer from clinical depression, and from nausea
and resulting weight loss due to chemotherapy and
other aggressive treatments.

A recent study by scientists in Italy has also shown that

cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical found in marijuana,
inhibits growth of cancer cells in animals.

FDA and comparable authorities in Western Europe,

including the Netherlands, have not approved smoked
marijuana for any condition or disease. The current view
of the United States Food and Drug Administration is
that if there is any future of marijuana as a medicine, it
lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and
their synthetic derivatives.

A synthetic version of the cannabinoid THC named

Dronabinol has been shown to relieve symptoms of
anorexia and reduce agitation in elderly Alzheimer's
patients. Dronabinol has been approved for use with
anorexia in patients with HIV/AIDS and chemotherapy-
related nausea.

Glaucoma, a condition of increased pressure within the

eyeball causing gradual loss of sight, can be treated with
medical marijuana to decrease this intraocular pressure.
There has been debate for 25 years on the subject.
Some data exist, showing a reduction of IOP in glaucoma
patients who smoke marijuana, but the effects are short-
lived, and the frequency of doses needed to sustain a
decreased IOP can cause systemic toxicity. There is also
some concern over its use since it can also decrease
blood flow to the optic nerve. Marijuana lowers IOP by
acting on a cannabinoid receptor on the ciliary body
called the CB receptor. Although marijuana is not a good
therapeutic choice for glaucoma patients, it may lead
researchers to more effective, safer treatments. A
promising study shows that agents targeted to ocular CB
receptors can reduce IOP in glaucoma patients who have
failed other therapies.

Medical marijuana is used for analgesia, or pain relief.

“Marijuana is used for analgesia only in the context of a
handful of illnesses (e.g., headache, dysentery,
menstrual cramps, and depression) that are often cited
by marijuana advocates as medical reasons to justify the
drug being available as a prescription medication.” It is
also reported to be beneficial for treating certain
neurological illnesses such as epilepsy, and bipolar
disorder. Case reports have found that cannabis can
relieve tics in people with obsessive compulsive disorder
and Tourette syndrome. Patients treated with
tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive chemical
found in cannabis, reported a significant decrease in
both motor and vocal tics, some of 50% or more. Some
decrease in obsessive-compulsive behavior was also
found. A recent study has also concluded that
cannabinoids found in cannabis might have the ability to
prevent Alzheimer's disease. THC has been shown to
reduce arterial blockages.

Another use for medical marijuana is movement

disorders. Marijuana is frequently reported to reduce the
muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis; this
has been acknowledged by the Institute Of Medicine, but
it noted that these abundant anecdotal reports are not
well-supported by clinical data. Evidence from animal
studies suggests that there is a possible role for
cannabinoids in the treatment of certain types of
epileptic seizures. Marijuana "numbs" the nervous
system slightly, possibly preventing shock. A synthetic
version of the major active compound in cannabis, THC,
is available in capsule form as the prescription drug
dronabinol (Marinol) in many countries. The prescription
drug Sativex, an extract of cannabis administered as a
sublingual spray, has been approved in Canada for the
treatment of multiple sclerosis. Dr. William Notcutt
states that the use of MS as the disease to study “had
everything to do with politics”.

1.2 New breeding and cultivation techniques

It is often claimed by growers and breeders of herbal
cannabis that advances in breeding and cultivation
techniques have increased the potency of cannabis
since the late 1960s and early '70s, when delta-9-
tetrahydrocannabinol was discovered and understood.
However, potent seedless marijuana such as "Thai
sticks" were already available at that time. In fact, the
sinsemilla technique of producing high-potency
marijuana has been practiced in India for centuries.
Sinsemilla (Spanish for "without seed") is the dried,
seedless inflorescences of female cannabis plants.
Because THC production drops off once pollination
occurs, the male plants (which produce little THC
themselves) are eliminated before they shed pollen to
prevent pollination. Advanced cultivation techniques
such as hydroponics, cloning, high-intensity artificial
lighting, and the sea of green method are frequently
employed as a response (in part) to prohibition
enforcement efforts that make outdoor cultivation more
risky. These intensive horticultural techniques have led
to fewer seeds being present in cannabis and a general
increase in potency over the past 20 years. The average
levels of THC in marijuana sold in United States rose
from 3.5% in 1988 to 7% in 2003 and 8.5% in 2006.

"Skunk" cannabis is a potent strain of cannabis, grown

through selective breeding and usually hydroponics, that
is a cross-breed of Cannabis sativa and C. indica. Skunk
cannabis potency ranges usually from 6% to 15% and
rarely as high as 20%. The average THC level in
coffeehouses in the Netherlands is about 18–19%.

The average THC content of Skunk #1 is 8.2%; it is a 4-

way combination of the cannabis strains Afghani indica,
Mexican Gold, Colombian Gold, and Thai: 75% sativa,
25% indica. This was done via extensive breeding by
cultivators in California in the 1970s using the traditional
outdoor cropping methods used for centuries.

In proposed revisions to cannabis rescheduling in the

UK, the government is considering scheduling the more
potent cannabis material as a separate, more restricted

A Dutch double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled,

cross-over study of male volunteers with a self-reported
history of regular cannabis use aged 18–45 years
concluded that smoking of cannabis, with higher THC
reflecting the content levels of netherweed (marijuana
with 9–23% THC) as currently sold in coffee shops in the
Netherlands, may lead to higher THC concentrations in
serum (the internal dose). Smoking of cannabis with
higher THC concentrations leads to an increase of the
occurrence of effects, particularly among younger or
inexperienced cannabis smokers, who do not adapt their
smoking to the higher THC. Smoking of cannabis with
higher THC concentrations was associated with a dose-
related increase of physical effects (such as increase of
heart rate, and decrease of blood pressure) and
psychomotor effects (such as reacting more slowly,
being less concentrated, making more mistakes during
performance testing, having less motor control, and
experiencing drowsiness).

What was well observed in the Dutch study was that the
effects based from a single dose—the smoking of one
piece of a joint for 20–25 minutes—lasted for more than
eight hours. The reaction time was still significantly
slower about five hours after smoking. At that time, the
THC serum concentration was low, but still present. This
means that even when individuals have the impression
that their state has returned to baseline and that they
can smoke another piece of joint, the effect of the first
joint may be still present. When subjects smoke on
several occasions per day, accumulation of THC may

Another study showed that 15 mg THC result in no

learning whatsoever occurring over a three-trial
selective reminding task at two hours. In several tasks,
delta(9)-THC increased both speed and error rates,
reflecting “riskier” speed–accuracy trade-offs.

2 Criminalization and legalization

U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics

PSA used in the late 1930s and

Since the beginning of the 20th

century, most countries have
enacted laws against the cultivation, possession, or
transfer of cannabis for recreational use. These laws
have impacted adversely on the cannabis plant's
cultivation for non-recreational purposes, but there are
many regions where, under certain circumstances,
handling of cannabis is legal or licensed. Many
jurisdictions have lessened the penalties for possession
of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by
confiscation or a fine, rather than imprisonment,
focusing more on those who traffic the drug on the black
market. There are also changes in a more restrictive
direction such as the closing of coffee shops in the
Netherlands, the closing of the open drug market in
Christiania, Copenhagen, the Gonzales v. Raich rule in
2005 that the Commerce Clause of the United States
Constitution allow the federal government to ban the
use of marijuana, including medical use anywhere in the
United States and the proposal for higher minimum
penalties as in Canada.

Some jurisdictions use mandatory treatment programs

for frequent known users with freedom from narcotic
drugs as goal. Simple possession can carry long prison
terms in some countries, particularly in East Asia, where
the sale of cannabis may lead to a sentence of life in
prison or even execution.

3 Effects
Cannabis has psychoactive and physiological effects
when consumed, usually by smoking or ingestion. The
minimum amount of THC required to have a perceptible
psychoactive effect is about 10 micrograms per kilogram
of body weight (which, in practical terms, is a varying
amount, dependent upon potency). A related compound,
Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin, also known as THCV, is
produced in appreciable amounts by certain drug
strains. This cannabinoid has been described in the
popular literature as having shorter-acting, flashier
effects than THC, but recent studies suggest that it may
actually inhibit the effects of THC. Relatively high levels
of THCV are common in African dagga (marijuana), and
in hashish from the northwest Himalayas.

3.1 Health issues

Whilst some studies and tests have proven inconclusive,
a recent study by the Canadian government found
cannabis contained more toxic substances than tobacco
smoke. It contained 20 times more ammonia, (a
carcinogen) and five times more of hydrogen cyanide
(which can cause heart disease) and of nitrogen oxides,
(which can cause lung damage) than tobacco smoke.
Cannabis use has been linked to psychosis by several
peer-reviewed studies. A 1987 Swedish study claiming a
link between cannabis use and schizophrenia was
criticized for not differentiating between cannabis use
and the use of other narcotics, and its results have not
been verified by other studies. More recently, the
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development
Study published research showing an increased risk of
psychosis for cannabis users with a certain genetic
predisposition, held by 25% of the population.

In July 2007, British medical journal The Lancet

published a study that indicates that cannabis users
have, on average, a 41% greater risk of developing
psychosis than non-users. The risk was most pronounced
in cases with an existing risk of psychotic disorder, and
was said to grow up to 200% for the most-frequent

Although long terms effects of cannabis use is polarised

in the scientific community preventing any firm
consensus of its effects, short term effects are well
documented. Effects such as short-term memory and
attention loss, loss of motor skills and dexterity, reduced
reaction time, and lower abilities to perform skilled
activities can be hazardous to human life if combined
with potentially hazardous activities such as driving.
Cannabis use can also lead to anxiety and panic
reactions. There is also evidence that some of the above
effect can become permanent with heavy usage

Multiple studies have shown that chronic heavy cannabis

smoking is associated with increased symptoms of
chronic bronchitis, such as coughing, production of
sputum, and wheezing. Lung function is also significantly
poorer and there is a significantly greater amount of
abnormalities in the large airways of marijuana smokers
than in non-smokers.

All of these health issues can potentially be exacerbated

by a cannabis dependence syndrome.
3.2 Relationship with other drugs
Since its origin in the 1950s, the "gateway drug"
hypothesis has been one of the central pillars of
cannabis drug policy in the United States. The argument
is that people, upon trying cannabis for the first time
and not finding it dangerous, are then tempted to try
other, harder drugs. This model of cause and effect has
been debated. Some argue that the purported
relationship between marijuana and more illicit drugs, as
proposed by the "gateway theory," is methodologically
flawed. A common argument is that a new user of
cannabis who doesn't find it dangerous will see the
difference between public information regarding the
drug and their own experiences, and apply this distrust
to public knowledge of other, more powerful drugs.
Some studies support the "gateway drug" model. An
example from 2007: A stratified, random sample of 1943
adolescents was recruited from secondary schools
across Victoria, Australia, at age 14–15 years. This
cohort was interviewed on eight occasions until the age
of 24–25 years. At age 24 years, 12% of the sample had
used amphetamines in the past year, with 1–2% using at
least weekly. Young adult amphetamine use was
predicted strongly by adolescent drug use and was
associated robustly with other drug use and dependence
in young adulthood. Associations were stronger for more
frequent users. Among young adults who had not been
using amphetamines at age 20 years, the strongest
predictor of use at age 24 years was the use of other
drugs, particularly cannabis, at 20 years. Those who
were smoking cannabis at the age of 15 were as much
as 15 times more likely to be using amphetamines in
their early 20s.
Analysts have hypothesized that the illegal status of
cannabis is a possible cause of a gateway drug effect,
reasoning that cannabis users are likely to become
acquainted with people who use and sell other illegal
drugs in order to acquire cannabis. But it is said that
Marijuana is not as harmful or addicting as any other
drug. Some contend that by this argument, alcohol and
tobacco may also be regarded as gateway drugs.
Studies have shown that tobacco smoking is a better
predictor of concurrent illicit hard drug use than smoking

Comparison of dependency vs. physical harm for 20

drugs as estimated by an article in The Lancet

A current doctoral thesis from Karolinska Institutet,


on the neurobiological effects of early life cannabis

exposure, gives support for the cannabis gateway
hypothesis in relation to adult opiate abuse. THC
exposed rats showed increased motivation for opiate
drug use under conditions of stress. However, the
cannabis exposure did not correlate to amphetamine

A study published in The Lancet on 24 March 2007 was

twenty drugs were assigned a risk from zero to three. Dr.
David Nutt et al. asked medical, scientific and legal
experts to rate 20 different drugs on nine parameters:

*Physical harm (Acute, Chronic, and Intravenous harm)

*Dependence (Intensity of pleasure, Psychological

dependence, Physical dependence)
*Social harms (Intoxication, Other social harms, Health-
care costs)

Cannabis was ranked seventeenth of twenty for mean

physical harm score and eleventh for mean dependence
score. Not shown is the mean social harm score, which
rated ninth, in a tie with Amphetamine.

Poly drug use is not unusual among established users;

statistics from Spain show that cannabis users aged 15
-34 also used amphetamine (9%), ecstasy (11%) or
cocaine (18%) the same year. Aggression and violent
outbursts can occur with benzodiazepines when they are
combined with cannabis.

3.3 Classification
While many drugs clearly fall into the category of either
Stimulant, Depressant, Hallucinogen, or Antipsychotic,
cannabis, containing both THC and CBD, exhibits a mix
of all sections, leaning towards the Hallucinogen section
due to THC being the primary constituent.

4 Methods of consumption

Cannabis is prepared for human consumption in several

*Marijuana or ganja: the flowering tops of female plants,

from less than 1% THC to 22% THC; the wide range is
probably one of the reasons for the conflicting results
from different studies.

*Hashish or charas: a concentrated resin composed of

heated glandular trichomes that have been physically
extracted, usually by rubbing, sifting, or with ice.


(1) the chopped flowering tops of female cannabis

plants, often mixed with tobacco;

(2) Moroccan hashish produced in the Rif mountains;

(3) sifted cannabis trichomes consisting of only the

glandular "heads" (often incorrectly referred to as
"crystals" or "pollen");

(4) the crystal (trichomes) left at the bottom of a grinder

after grinding marijuana, then smoked.

*Bhang: a beverage prepared by grinding cannabis

leaves in milk and boiling with spices and other

These forms are not exclusive, and mixtures of two or
more different forms of cannabis are frequently
consumed. Between the many different strains of
cannabis and the various ways that it is prepared, there
are innumerable variations similar to the wide variety of
mixed alcoholic

beverages that are consumed.

4.1 Smoking


Cannabis can be smoked in a variety of ways, some of

which are more popular than others. The most common
methods of smoking cannabis involve the use of
implements such as bongs and smoking pipes, or rolling
joints or blunts. These methods differ by: the preparation
of the cannabis plant before use; the parts of the
cannabis plant which is used; and the treatment of the
smoke before inhalation.

4.2 Vaporization
A vaporizer heats herbal cannabis to 365–410 °F (185–
210 °C), which turns the active ingredients into gas
without burning the plant material (the boiling point of
THC is 392 °F (200°C) at 0.02 mm Hg pressure, and
somewhat higher at standard atmospheric pressure). A
lower proportion of toxic chemicals are released than by
smoking, although this may vary depending on the
design of the vaporizer and the temperature at which it
is set. A MAPS-NORML study using a Volcano vaporizer
reported 95% THC and no toxins delivered in the vapor.
However, an older study using less sophisticated
vaporizers found more toxins. The effects from a
vaporizer are noticeably different to that of smoking
cannabis. Users have reported a more euphoric
hallucinogen type high, because the vapor contains
more pure THC.

4.3 Eating
As an alternative to smoking, cannabis may be
consumed orally.

Although hashish is sometimes eaten raw or mixed with

water, THC and other cannabinoids are more efficiently
absorbed into the bloodstream when dissolved in
ethanol, or combined with butter or other lipids. The
time to onset of effects is usually about an hour and
may continue for a considerable length of time, whereas
the effects of smoking herbal cannabis are almost

Smoking cannabis results in a significant loss of THC and

other cannabinoids in the exhaled smoke, by
decomposition on burning, and in smoke that is not
inhaled. In contrast, all of the active constituents enter
the body when cannabis is ingested. It has been shown
that the primary active component of cannabis, Δ9-THC,
is converted to the more psychoactive 11-hydroxy-THC
by the liver. Titration to the desired effect by ingestion is
much more difficult than through inhalation.
4.4 Other methods
Cannabis material can be leached in high-proof spirits
(often grain alcohol) to create “Green Dragon”. This
process is often employed to make use of low-potency
stems and leaves.

Cannabis can also be consumed as a tea. Although THC

is lipophilic and only slightly water soluble (with a
solubility of 2.8 grams per liter), enough THC can be
dissolved to make a mildly psychoactive tea. However,
water-based infusions are generally considered to be an
inefficient use of the herb.