Marijuana is the world's most commonly used psychoactive drug.Last updated: June 1, 2018
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is the most commonly used psychoactive drug featuring positive and negative side effects; uses both medically and recreationally. Currently it is the most commonly used illegal drug, although its legal status has been changing rapidly across the United States.
Marijuana is used in three main forms: flower, resin, and oil. Flower and resin are typically smoked whereas oil can be applied topically or used in meals (typically baked goods). The terms have become more important upon being legalized as the amount of marijuana products available has grown.
The term marijuana is used broadly to describe cannabis, but “marijuana” refers specifically to the combination of dried flowers, subtending leaves and stems of the female cannabis plant.
What is the Difference between Indica and Sativa?
Cannabis indica’s effects tends to cause sedative effects whereas Cannabis sativa is what’s known to cause the more “cerebral high”. All forms of marijuana, hemp, weed, are from the Cannabis sativa species; for example, Cannabis indica is a sub species.
What is in Marijuana?
The main ingredient in marijuana that causes the high is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This psychoactive chemical is produced in the female plant’s leaves and buds. Altogether, cannabis contains over 500 different chemicals with approximately 80-100 of them being directly related to THC. These are referred to as cannabinoids.
Of the 500 chemicals, many have been identified. There are over 80, but potentially as many as 100, cannabinoids in marijuana and these are the primary ingredient in marijuana. Cannabinoids are what cause the high as well as provide the most medicinal value.
Additionally, there are over 120 terpenes in marijuana. Terpenes are what cause marijuana to have its distinct smell. Beyond that however, terpenes are known to be anti-inflammatory as well as feature antibiotic effects.
What are Other Names for Marijuana?
- Magic Dragon
- Mary Jane
- Pot & many others
What Happens When You Use Marijuana?
In a side-by-side comparison, you can see that THC closely resembles the natural brain chemical anandamide. The resemblance isn’t mere aesthetics either, the THC can be recognized as anandamide by the brain which is what results in the different neural functions.
The role of anandamide in the brain is to send chemical messages between neurons (nerve cells). Anandamide influences memory, pleasures, concentration, thinking, coordination, motion, perception of time, and sensory functions. When THC enters the brain, it can attach to cannabinoid receptors to influence these functions.
THC is able to affect the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex which interferes with a person’s ability to learn or perform complex tasks. Additionally, it can affect the cerebellum and basal ganglia resulting in trouble with coordination and balance.
In greater volumes, marijuana can cause depersonalization or a feeling that they’ve lost their identity, acute psychosis, paranoia, and delusions, i.e. that everyone is talking about you and seeing things that aren’t real.
History of Marijuana
In 500 BCE, marijuana was grown as a herbal medicine in Central and South Asia. It was traded around the world (Europe, Africa, Americas) and used for hemp. Hemp of course made up clothing and textiles, but also sails and rope.
In regards to the psychoactive properties of marijuana, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date, but there’s evidence that multiple cultures possessed some knowledge of the psychoactive elements. Various cultures left behind evidence of burnt cannabis seeds in religious. While the amount of THC was nominal compared to modern day marijuana, it’s speculated that some plants were bred to enhance the psychoactive effects for the shamanic rituals.
There is some evidence to suggest that Muslims in India around 1123 CE used marijuana recreationally. As alcohol use was banned by their religious practice, there is a published pamphlet in Cairo accusing Muslims of being “hashish-eaters”. It’s interesting to note that up until the 1500s it appears as though hashish was consumed as an edible as opposed to smoked.
One of the first physicians to write extensively on marijuana was Jacques-Joseph Moreau in 1836-1840. Moreau wrote at length about the drug and its psychoactive properties while serving as a medical officer in Bengal.
The Criminalization of Marijuana
In the 1800s, British colonies including Mauritius, Singapore, and Jamaica, banned cannabis. Allegedly, they were concerned about how cannabis was affecting the Indian indentured workers.
Soon other nations followed suit. In the United States’ District of Columbia, numerous restrictions were placed on the sale of cannabis (1906). Then in the 1920s, cannabis was outlawed in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand.
In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed in the United States prohibiting cannabis and the production of hemp.
Meanwhile, in 1972, the Dutch government did criminalize cannabis to a degree. Possession of 30 grams or less was considered a misdemeanor.
The Decriminalization of Marijuana
The Dutch government modified its stance on cannabis, not long after criminalizing it. By 1976, four years after possession of cannabis was deemed a criminal act (although classified as a low-level or less dangerous drug), possession of 5 grams of cannabis or less was no longer a criminal offense and coffee shops readily sold recreational use of marijuana. They did regularly check and confiscate marijuana in car checks at the border however.
In December 2013, Uruguay become the first country to legalize cannabis and a year later (2014), made it legal to grow up to six plants in a home. The only other country to legalize cannabis is Canada which should take effect July 1, 2018.
The Legalization of Cannabis in the United States
In the United States, marijuana is still illegal by federal law, but many states have legalized the substance. In December 2012, the state of Washington was the first to legalize cannabis with Colorado legalizing the substance a month later (January 2013).
The following states have legalized medical and recreational use of marijuana:
Meanwhile, the majority of states have legalized the use of medical marijuana; some states featuring specific stipulations such as Louisiana that will not allow the medical marijuana to be prescribed and West Virginia that only allows cannabis-infused products.
According to the 2014 United Nations’ World Drug Report, cannabis is “the world’s most widely produced, trafficked, and consumed drug” with estimates as high as 238 million users globally. To put this in perspective, that’s at least four times more than any other drug – and that’s a conservative estimate. If you take the best estimate from opioids, ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines, the number of marijuana users is still twice as much as all of those combined.