The Cannabis Plant and Its Effects
What is cannabis?
Cannabis is the name of a genus in the family Cannabaceae with possibly three species of plants known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The exact number of cannabis species is a matter of debate among scholars. The plant is also known as hemp and marijuana.
The United States government defines hemp as cannabis and its extracts, cannabinoids, and derivatives containing less than 0.3% THC concentration and excludes hemp from the controlled substance schedule. This means that products which meet this criterion are legal to sell, purchase, possess, and transport in the U.S.
Cannabis is usually consumed for its relaxing and calming effects. It can also be prescribed for people suffering from a wide range of medical conditions including chronic pain, general anxiety disorder, glaucoma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The medicinal compounds in cannabis are located in the plant’s flowers. When the flowers are harvested and dried, they can be consumed directly through smoking or vaporizing since heat is needed to activate the plant’s chemicals in the human body, or they can be further processed into derivative products such as tinctures and topical salves.
What are the components of cannabis?
Cannabis contains over 120 known chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Experts are still working on increasing our understanding of exactly how these cannabinoids interact with the human body. Further research is still needed, but scientists have a much better knowledge about two major cannabinoids known as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
- CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you “high” and is often used to help reduce inflammation, ease pain, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and relieve many other conditions.
- THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, and is responsible for the “high” that is associated with cannabis.
Cannabis also contains certain smell molecules called terpenes. The ratios and interactions between various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes may explain why there are different general effects associated with individual genetic strains of cannabis, which all contain unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles.
What are the short-term effects of cannabis?
Cannabis users report a range of short-term effects. Some of the more beneficial short-term effects include:
- Enhanced sensory experience, such as sights and sounds
- Increased appetite
- Altered perception of time and space
These effects are often minimal in products containing very high levels of CBD compared to THC, possibly due to CBD’s moderating effects on the psychoactive properties of THC.
Cannabis can also have certain negative effects for some people. Side effects may include:
- Delayed reaction time
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
Again, these effects are not as prevalent for people using products containing a higher CBD to THC ratio.
The way in which you consume cannabis also has an impact on the way it affects people in the short-term. For example, if you smoke cannabis the effects are felt more quickly and their duration is somewhat shorter than if you ingested an edible, which could take hours for you to feel the onset of effects.
What are the long-term effects of cannabis?
More research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of cannabis consumption in humans. Legal restrictions have made such studies difficult, and much of the knowledge we have learned is through tests on animal subjects.
Brain cell damage myth
The claim that cannabis kills brain cells is based on a 1971 speculative report that was later disproven through more modern brain imaging technology. In fact, most medical studies actually support cannabis as a neuroprotective agent with a therapeutic effect on a range of neurological diseases.
Cannabis does not cause physical dependence. Studies have ranked cannabis as less addictive than caffeine. Research suggests that psychological dependence occurs in about 9% of marijuana users at some point, compared to 15% of cocaine users and 24% of heroin users.
Withdrawal symptoms can and do occur, although symptoms tend to be mild and transitory. They include restlessness, insomnia, nausea, decreased appetite, and sweating.
Gateway theory myth
Cannabis is the most popular federally illegal drug in the United States. People who use other drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, or heroin are also likely to have used cannabis.
This correlation is not causal, meaning there is no statistical link between cannabis and other drug use. In fact, the correlation has varied over time and between groups.
In the 1960s and 1970s, cannabis use rose while heroin use declined. Cocaine was popular in the early 1980s but cannabis use went down. In the 1990s, cannabis use was on the rise before it dipped again in the early 2000s.
Data from the recent opioid crisis shows that cannabis is likely more of an exit drug than a gateway to harder substances.
Is cannabis legal?
Cannabis is illegal in many locations, but governments are starting to legalize it for both recreational and medical use. In the United States, cannabis remains illegal under federal law, with the exception of hemp. However, several states have legalized recreational and medical cannabis.
The laws around cannabis also vary from country to country. Some places allow the use of products containing only CBD, while others consider any kind of cannabis use a serious crime. It is best to research the laws in your area or in places you are considering traveling to before trying cannabis.
Cannabis is a wonderful plant that is increasingly used to relieve a number of medical conditions. It has a range of short- and long-term effects, which can be both positive and negative. If you want to try trying cannabis, start by checking if it is legal in your area.
Also, consider talking to a medical practitioner about possible drug interactions and the potential benefits and risks to your health.