With a history of human use spanning as far back as 3300BC, marijuana is one of the oldest psychoactive drugs ever used by people. Also known by it’s botanical name, marijuana is one of three plants from the genus Cannabis, either Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or less commonly, Cannabis ruderalis.
Indica and sativa strains in particular have been selectively bred for thousands of years for potency and flower size.
Cannabis ruderalis, a Russian landrace species, is often used in order to form autoflowering hybrid strains as well as plants which are tolerant to adverse conditions and drought.
Marijuana is noteworthy because of it’s incredible potency compared to some other smokable herbs, as well as it’s safety and clear medical benefits.
Methods Of Use
The active compounds in marijuana, called cannabinoids, are mostly concentrated in the female flower. The cannabinoids are secreted as a thick, sticky oil from glands called trichomes.
These trichomes can be mechanically separated to form hash, or extracted through various chemical and food-safe methods to form extracts.
Cannabis is mostly commonly smoked, vaporized, or eaten. There are a wide variety of products that can be made from the dried cannabis flowers or hash itself, including oils, infused butter, or extractions in propylene glycol.
Pharmaceutically, there also exists a prescription drug sold under the brand name Marinol which orally-active THC, an isolated individual cannabinoid present in marijuana.
Before being used, marijuana is typically cured for a period of two weeks to two months in an airtight container away from light. This curing process further breaks down chlorophyll as well as equalizing the moisture content within the marijuana buds themselves and developing the characteristic odor and flavor of cannabis.
When smoking marijuana many people prefer to use a water pipe, which cools the smoke and removes some tars in order to make it smoother and less harsh on the throat. Vaporizing has become popular more recently because of perceived health benefits as well as a cleaner taste and little to no lingering smell.
The most common effect of marijuana is euphoria, tingling in the limbs, relaxation, hunger, and laughter caused by pleasantly altered thought processes. Different strains of marijuana contain different amounts of the key cannabinoids, which cause various other effects. Some strains are helpful for pain relief while others inspire creativity or even mild psychedelic effects.
Cannabis indica, with it’s sedating, full-body stone is usually preferred for pain management and increased appetite, while Cannabis sativa is often chosen for anxiety and seizure disorders. In practice, however, most marijuana strains are hybrids with either indica or sativa genetics being more prominent.
The effects of marijuana last for between 2 – 6 hours, depending on the method of ingestion, with edible treats lasting longer. The effects of smoked marijuana is felt immediately, while cannabis that’s been eaten can take from 30 – 60 minutes to be felt.
Overdose is incredibly unlikely with cannabis, bordering on impossible, although care should be taken with extracts or extremely potent strains as ingesting too much marijuana can bring on side effects like acute paranoia.
Because of the large number of different active compounds in marijuana, there are many medical benefits. While the list is extensive, some of the most well-known medical benefits of marijuana include pain management, anti-cancer properties, the promotion of hunger and elimination of nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy, and as a treatment for epilepsy and anxiety.
Marijuana has also been shown help prevent the progression of glaucoma, and recent studies have shown that it’s helpful in treating PTSD as well as the tremors associated with Tourette’s syndrome and muscular dystrophy.
Marijuana, unlike a lot of other plant-derived drugs, is psychoactive even in small doses. Another plant-derived drug, digitalis, takes pounds of the herb Foxglove to make even a single dose. In contrast, a fraction of a gram of marijuana is enough to produce an effect in people. This fact alone strongly hints that cannabis will become a source of next-generation drugs after more studies are done, and current research bears this out.
Some users report feelings of anxiety, although this is usually dependent on the strain. Anxiety is usually in the form of paranoia, although in some people, and at high doses, panic attacks can occur. Dry mouth is another common side effect of cannabis use. While it’s usually minor to moderate, marijuana users should have water on hand to counteract it.
Some studies show the potential for cannabis dependence, although it isn’t physically addictive in the sense of some prescription drugs. Cannabis dependence is usually characterized by chronic use, irritability, and mild withdrawal symptoms which, allegedly, include headaches, sensitivity to light, and depression. Marijuana dependence is still hotly debated, in part because of prohibitionists which have greatly exaggerated the potential for addiction.
Marijuana is currently illegal in the large majority of countries, but in the United States cannabis has been in the news for the successful legalization initiatives in the states of Washington and Colorado. In addition to those two states, possession of small amounts of marijuana, usually under an ounce, are decriminalized in a large amount of urban areas and some states. It’s important to research local marijuana laws because they’re so different from state to state, and even individual cities within states. Marijuana is illegal under United States federal law.
Marijuana is also legal with a prescription in 20 US states and the District of Colombia. Many cannabis users choose to get a prescription for a small fee in order to have access to medical dispensaries, which usually stock various strains and products including extracts and edibles.
Dispensaries generally charge a premium for their services, selling marijuana per gram at a higher price than street value, but this is offset by the convenient availability and legal possession of the drug.