Cannabis has emerged as a widely regarded substance and is gaining a lot of traction around the world with legislators.
According to a global survey of drug use from 2014, Cannabis was the third most used drug throughout the world. In the United States, it was the second most used drug with a 69.9% usage of all survey respondents, making it more popular than Tobacco. This large popularity of weed in the United States is in part from the legalization efforts prior to 2014.
Colorado and Washington made weed a recreationally legal substance in 2012 with many states having already legalized it for medical use. In 2016, BDS Analytics released a report that attempted to account for both legal and illegal Cannabis sales in the United States. This report showed a total annual sales of $53.3 dollars. To put this in context, wine sales in 2016 accounted for $38 billion. This goes to show how large the Cannabis industry currently is and could become with further legalization.
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Despite Cannabis being a hugely popular substance in the United States and throughout the world, we still do not know a whole lot about it. This ambiguity comes from the wide variety of psychoactive compounds within the plant. To make things even more complicated, these psychoactive compounds have synergistic properties when used together. Some users will even go as far as calling Cannabis a psychedelic due to these synergistic properties. We’ll explore this position further within this guide. Cannabis is a well-known psychoactive plant. Yet, we do not have a deep understanding of the plant due to its complexity.
What is Cannabis
Cannabis is part of the plant family Cannabaceae. This family also contains the plant Hops, Humulus lupulus, widely known for its use in producing beer. In the past few decades Cannabis has seen a recent resurgence in usage due to the legalization efforts in the United States and the rest of the world. It is such a popular substance due to its generally low risk, high reward effects with users, reporting a higher level of creativity and sociability. Currently recreational use is legal for adults over 21 years of age in eleven states and 33 states have legalized Cannabis for medical use. These legalization efforts have skyrocketed the use of this substance.
Cannabis has a wide range of street names that include:
- Devils lettuce
Some of these names have a purpose. They refer to the form in which Cannabis is consumed. A joint typically refers to Cannabis rolled in paper that is smoked like a cigarette. A spliff is the same thing as a joint except it usually includes tobacco within the paper as well as Cannabis. Blunt refers to cannabis rolled in a dried tobacco leaf.
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants within the Cannabaceae family. There are three different species within this genus; Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are the most popular of these species due to their higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a chemical contained in Cannabis. It is responsible for the majority of the psychological effects a user will experience after using the plant. This compound acts very similarly to the cannabinoid chemicals naturally made within the body.
Forms & Ways of Consumption
The effects of Cannabis works by releasing THC into the body through consuming a baked good infused with Cannabis, smoking or vaporizing the dried flower, or vaporizing extracted THC. Once released into the body, THC binds to various cannabinoid receptors in the brain. It can bind to these receptors due to a structural similarity to naturally produced anandamide. This will then cause the psychological and physiological effects associated with Cannabis.
There is a wide variety of forms and ways of consuming Cannabis. The most common way of consuming cannabis is by smoking the dried buds that grow directly on the plant. It is typically be ground up and placed in a pipe, or rolled into a cigarette or cigar. Another way of consuming Cannabis is by extracting the THC and other cannabinoids in the plant, then either smoking or vaporizing the extract.
Smoking flower and extracts have slightly different effects because all of the psychoactive compounds in the plant are usually not extracted. With the legalization of Cannabis, infusing it into various foods has increased in popularity due to the ease of use. There have also been infusions into tinctures and balms. Tinctures are either sprayed or dropped directly into your mouth. Balms can simply be rubbed onto your skin to produce psychoactive effects.
Dosages for Cannabis is a little complicated due to the wide range of forms and strengths the substance can be consumed in. Dried Cannabis can range in THC concentrations from under 10% to as high as 30%. Extracts vary widely as well. They can have as low as 60% THC content to as high as 98% THC. Edibles measure the milligrams of THC in a single dose, so they are easier to determine an appropriate dose. Most legalized states recommend a starting dose of 5mg THC.
Recent research confirms Cannabis use dates back at least 2,500 years ago in Western China. Since smoking pipes weren’t available at this point in time in Western China, they burned Cannabis in wooden braziers. This was performed during mortuary ceremonies at the Jirzankal Cemetery. Scientists were able to confirm this use through a phytochemical analysis on the remains of charred wood.
Cannabis has seen frequent and well-documented use for religious and ceremonial purposes. For instance Hindus in Nepal will consume Cannabis to aid with meditation and during religious festivals. Some Sadhus, a Hindu holy person, believe Lord Shiva encouraged the use of Cannabis. A recent survey in Nepal during a Shiva festival revealed that most Sadhus are daily users of Cannabis and a third promoted the use of Cannabis for Hindus.
Hinduism has a strong belief system that aids in positive and healthy Cannabis use. One aspect of this belief system is only using low potency preparations of the substance. The primary form of consumption is edible drinks, either bhang or thandai. They strongly discourage using charas, a form of extracted Cannabis. This all stems from the belief that consuming too much Cannabis can decrease an individual’s motivation, but consuming in small amounts will actually increase their overall motivation. There is an understanding within Hindu communities that Cannabis has a complex effect on a person’s overall happiness and satisfaction.
Arab physicians believed in and studied the healing properties of Cannabis to help their communities overcome illness. This resulted in Arabic communities using Cannabis as a diuretic, anti-epileptic, anti-inflammatory, painkilling and antipyretic. Some communities still use it to this day because of the beliefs these physicians held.
Modern Day Research
The psychoactive effects of Cannabis were not scientifically realized until the late 1800s. Thomas Barlow Wood, a professor at the University of Cambridge, was the first person to identify cannabinol, or CBN. CBN is the metabolite of THC which is what causes the psychoactive effects of Cannabis. He published his findings in 1899 within the Journal of the Chemical Society.
In 1940 cannabidiol, or CBD, was discovered within the Cannabis plant. This chemical impacts the psychoactive effects of Cannabis and many users believe it has various positive health effects when consumed by itself. This description of CBD called it a toxic substance without any explanation of why they considered it a toxic substance. This article was then used to push legislation to further criminalize Cannabis despite there being no basis or reasoning for CBD to be considered toxic. Eventually the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 passed, making CBD an illegal substance within the United States. Despite having no basis for calling CBD a toxic substance, it wasn’t legalized until the 2018 Farm Bill passed. With this bill, CBD derived from hemp is legal to sell, purchase, and consume within the United States.
THC was first discovered in 1964 by Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. This is when scientists first began to really understand the psychoactive effects of Cannabis. In about 1995 the CB1 and CB2 receptors were discovered. Discovering these natural receptors gave us further insights into not only how Cannabis works, but also how our bodies work. These receptors play a large role in our overall health and further any substance that acts on these receptors could have important therapeutic properties.
Notable Events, Findings, Studies
French physician, Jacques-Joseph Moreau, and Irish physician, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, were the first to study the potential medicinal benefits of Cannabis in the early 1800s. Jacques-Joseph Moreau theorized that hashish could be used to help treat mental illness. He thought it could help with replicating mental illness to help patients overcome their underlying mental illnesses. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy introduced the medicinal benefits of Cannabis to the western world. During his time in India he observed how the native people of India used Cannabis to treat various illnesses. He then successfully used Cannabis to relieve pain caused by rheumatism and stop the convulsions of an infant. This is how he showed England the medical benefits of Cannabis.
During this time, Cannabis was a completely legal substance in the United States. It wasn’t even taxed until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 passed. This tax passed once the Federal Bureau of Narcotic noticed it becoming an increasingly popular substance. The government realized they were missing out on a large stream of revenue by not regulating it.
It wasn’t until 1970 that it became an illegal substance under President Richard Nixon. He campaigned on “villainizing” any and all drug use aside from Alcohol. In the 1990s during an interview with one of Nixon’s top advisors, John Ehrlichman, the true reasoning behind villainizing all drug use was revealed. John Ehrlichman stated “by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities… We could arrest their leaders. Raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” This legislation is still in effect today.
There has been some progress made in legalizing CBD in the United States. In 2018, the World Health Organization declared there are no public health risks or abuse potentials found in cannabidiol. This led to the United States passing the 2018 Farm Bill in early 2019. This bill legalizes the purchase, sale, and possession of CBD derived from a hemp plant.
In 1997, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine released a study of 394 individuals to determine the effect smoking Cannabis has on lung function. They determined there was no effect on lung function based on whether or not an individual smokes Cannabis. Further, they determined no correlation between lung function and the frequency in which someone smoked Cannabis. There was however a decline in lung function among Tobacco smokers.
Laws and Legal Status
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 made Cannabis an illegal substance within the United States. Since then many states have legalized recreational and medicinal use of the substance. Currently 11 states have legalized the recreational use of Cannabis and 33 states have legalized the medicinal use of Cannabis. The legalization of medicinal cannabis started in 1996. However, during this time the federal government could still interfere in Cannabis use within these legalized states. In 2014 the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment passed prohibiting the federal government from interfering with state implemented medical cannabis laws.
Canada legalized recreational Cannabis use in 2018. They regulate the sale, purchase, and possession of Cannabis through dispensaries across the country. Australia made Cannabis legal to grow for medicinal purposes and scientific studies in 2015. This further expanded in 2016-2017 to include medicinal usage.
Most of the world’s policies on Cannabis use stem from the United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. Uruguay and Canada are the only Sovereign states to have fully legalized the purchase, sale, and use of Cannabis throughout their nation. Georgia and South Africa have legalized the use of Cannabis, but it is still illegal to sell and purchase the substance. Spain and the Netherlands passed policies of limited enforcement. Meaning, it is still illegal, but the law is not enforced by their governments.
The overall pharmacology of Cannabis is still relatively unknown due to the strict government regulations scientists must navigate in order to study the substance. We do know the basic pharmacology of the substance. The cannabinoids contained within Cannabis cause the psychoactive and therapeutic effects of the plant. The primary psychoactive substance is THC which metabolized into CBN once ingested. CBN then binds to the cannabinoid receptors within the brain.
Before we can discuss whether or not Cannabis is toxic, we first need to define what makes a substance toxic. Toxicity is defined based on different levels of exposure required for a substance to cause harm to a human or animal. The level of toxicity measures the dose required to cause harm to a human as even water can be toxic in too high of a dose and lethal snake venom can be non-toxic in a small enough dose. A common measurement of toxicity is the LD50 which measures the lethal dose for half of the tested organisms.
According to the Australian Department of Health, the LD50 is approximately 130mg/KG of THC. This means for an average human the lethal dose of THC would be 8.45KG, or nearly 19 pounds, of THC. Considering a strong strain of Cannabis that contains 25% THC, this would be approximately 75 pounds of smoked Cannabis prior to reaching a lethal level of THC in the body.
There were reports of Cannabis having a high potential for abuse similar to that of cocaine and heroin. A meeting of over 25,000 neuroscientists debunked these findings.
According to WebMD the largest concern for interactions between Cannabis and other substances are with sedatives and theophylline. Due to Cannabis causing drowsiness, a combination with a prescribed sedative could potentially cause a dangerous level of drowsiness. This can increase the chance of an individual falling asleep while doing something dangerous such as driving. Cannabis can decrease the effectiveness of theophylline in therapy for respiratory diseases. This can result in respiratory diseases causing dangerous effects.
The table below shows other potential drug interactions with Cannabis:
Many consider Cannabis to be one of the safest drugs available in the world. According to the Huffington Post, a documented death caused by Cannabis overdose has yet to occur. The CDC reports roughly 88,000 deaths caused by Alcohol in the United States each year. They also report Tobacco causes roughly 480,000 deaths each year in the United States alone. Compared with Alcohol or Tobacco, it becomes clear why many consider Cannabis to be safer than many legal drugs.
The effects of Cannabis vary widely based on the strength and strain consumed. This is due to the wide range of psychoactive compounds found in the Cannabis plant. These compounds vary in amounts between different species and strains. They also have synergies between the compounds meaning the effects are different based on the amounts of their synergistic counterparts.
The Journal of Clinical Investigations established a link between CBD use and decreased blood pressure. In a trial of nine healthy males, resting blood pressure decreased by about 6mmHg and stroke volume by about 8ml. During this trial they also looked at the effect CBD had on blood pressure during exercise and cold stress. They determined it lowered blood pressure, increased heart rate, and reduced stroke volume during exercise with similar results during cold stress. These results could lead to further studies for finding whether or not CBD could be used as a treatment for various cardiovascular illnesses.
When an individual consumes Cannabis, their default mode network, or DMN, slightly deactivates. The DMN “normalizes” your everyday activities and sensations. So, when a person’s DMN partially deactivates that individual will tend to further question their everyday activities. This effect is common among many other psychedelics as well. Due to this, some users have reported a psychedelic effect when consuming Cannabis after having used Ayahuasca.
The Journal of Clinical Investigation has linked Cannabis with having antidepressant-like effects. A lack of neurons in the hippocampal dentate gyrus potentially causes some types of depression. A trial with rats determined that certain cannabinoids have a neurogenesis effect in the hippocampal dentate gyrus.
In an attempt to understand the mechanisms behind a correlation found between people with anxiety disorders and those who use Cannabis, the National Center for Biotechnology Information conducted a systematic review of these cases. They were not able to determine the cause of this correlation or whether Cannabis use could cause long-term anxiety disorders. Further research is required to understand whether or not it could be causing some anxiety disorders, or people with anxiety disorders have a tendency to use Cannabis.
Common Side Effects
Common side effects of Cannabis use include:
- Altered sensations
- Reduced coordination
- Decreased Blood Pressure
- Dry mouth, commonly referred to as cotton mouth
- Increased appetite
- Dry eyes
Some users experience vomiting and nausea after heavy use, but is unlikely. When mixed with other drugs such as alcohol, vomiting and nausea become far more likely.
Cannabis has a small potential for causing a psychological addiction. Studies suggest that somewhere between 5% to 10% of users become daily, habitual smokers at some point in their life. Most individuals who become daily users end up quitting by the time they are 30 years old. In extreme cases, some users have experienced mild withdrawals that usually subside within a week.
There have been links between Cannabis use and later diagnosis of psychotic disorders. It is still unclear whether it caused the psychotic disorder, or the individual would have developed the disorder regardless.
Some chronic users of Cannabis experience Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome. Symptoms include recurrent nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. The root cause of this syndrome is still unknown and is diagnosed based on the symptoms associated with Cannabis use. Users who experience this syndrome report a hot shower or bath provides temporary relief of the symptoms. To fully relieve these symptoms one must stop all use of Cannabis.
A tolerance to Cannabis will build up after repeated use of the substance within a short period of time dulling the effectiveness of the CB1 receptors. This means that after repeated use larger doses will be required to feel the effects. A common practice within the Cannabis community is heavy users take a “tolerance break.” This is a break from using it that can last up to a month to reset a users tolerance. A tolerance to cannabis will begin to secede after two days of abstinence and will completely reset after approximately four weeks.
Since Cannabis has become a legal substance for medicinal use in over half of the United States and many parts of the world, research has increased into its potential medicinal uses. It has also seen use in cosmetics and clothing as well as for industrial applications.
Medicinal Cannabis has use for treating chronic pain, PTSD, HIV, ALS, Asthma, Alzheimer’s Disease, chronic Cystitis, Epilepsy, Dystonic Movement Disorders, Fibromyalgia, and MS. It has shown promising results for all of these disorders when studied under strict scientific requirements. As legalization continues, it will slowly become easier for scientists to study it for its medicinal and therapeutic properties. Further studies are required to understand its full medicinal benefits.
Cosmetic and Clothing
A growing trend in the cosmetic and clothing industry are hemp based products. CBD has shown some properties that have helped some people clear up their skin from acne. This has resulted in CBD becoming hugely popular in skin care and beauty products. CBD infusions have become a trend for the following products with industry leaders following suite:
- Skin Oil
- Bath bombs
- Body butter
There has also been a growing trend of hemp based clothing lines. Hemp is very suitable for clothing of all kinds. It is UV and mold-resistant, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and has three times the tensile strength of cotton. Hemp can even be spun in conjunction with cotton or silk to create clothing that has the comfort of cotton and silk with the durability of hemp.
Industrial Uses of Cannabis
Cannabis has also become an industrial plant. Current industrial uses for Hemp include making paper, textiles, biodegradable plastic, fuel, and even a form of concrete. The heavy use of hemp for industrial purposes comes from its cost-effective and environmentally friendly growth. It is one of the fastest growing biomasses on earth requiring very little to no pesticides and zero herbicides. The roots of the plant grow deep preventing erosion. This makes hemp both easy and inexpensive to mass produce.
One unique industrial use of hemp is hempcrete. Made through a mixture of hemp hurds and lime, what makes hempcrete really stand out from traditional concrete is its lack of brittleness. This means expansion joints are not required when using hempcrete. This in turn reduces the cost and labor required in construction. It also acts as an insulator and moisture regulator making it an ideal product in a wide range of climates.
Today, Cannabis use is higher than ever due to legalization efforts and prevalence in pop culture. The Cannabis community widely regards it as a low-risk, high-reward substance due to its mild adverse side effects. These legalization efforts have also opened up Cannabis for further studies on its potential medicinal and therapeutic uses.
Current Studies & Research
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, has recently released a notice that they are working on a study to show the medical uses of Cannabis in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They are attempting to satisfy the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The results of this study are expected to be released by the end of 2019.
Berkeley is currently making heavy investments in studying Cannabis for a variety of reasons. These studies include topics such as policy development and land use, environmental issues, and how legalization of Cannabis will affect people and culture.
UCLA has released a range of articles on Cannabis use as well. One of these studies explores how recreational Cannabis use affects a person’s quality of life. They have also conducted a study on using cannabinoids as a palliative medicine. Another study was conducted to determine whether or not Cannabis use at a young age is associated with anhedonia, a disorder that inhibits a person from experiencing pleasure.
Cambridge University conducted an in-depth study on CBD as a treatment for psychiatric disorders. Through extensive research they were able to determine that CBD has potential as an antipsychotic. It may work to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, general social anxiety disorders, various withdrawal symptoms, and other psychiatric disorders.
Effects of Legalization
The International Journal of Drug Policy made an interesting statistical correlation between the way Cannabis is legally classified in the UK and the number of people admitted for Cannabis psychosis. This study shows that harsher penalties for Cannabis use and possession resulted in a larger number of people being admitted for Cannabis psychosis. The reason for this correlation is still unknown. Scientists believe a potential cause could be from increased anxiety and paranoia when using Cannabis in an area with harsh penalties if caught.
A big concern in legalizing Cannabis is the potential for increased teen use. JAMA Networks released a study on the association between teen Cannabis use and legalization with mixed results. They were able to determine that there was no correlation between increased adolescent Cannabis use and legalization of Cannabis for medicinal use. However, some states that legalized Cannabis recreationally saw increased adolescent Cannabis use, others saw a decrease in adolescent Cannabis use, and some saw no change at all.
How to store Cannabis?
It is best to store Cannabis in an airtight container placed in a dry, cool, dark place. The optimal humidity for Cannabis preservation is at a relative humidity of 59-63%. It is important to store it in a dark place as UV light will degrade cannabinoids.
Can Cannabis degrade?
Cannabis can degrade if stored improperly or for an extended period of time. The primary concern would be mold or mildew growth. If stored in a cold, dark place with low humidity there is a very small chance of mold or mildew growth. UV light can degrade cannabinoids, but they do not become toxic after degradation.
Can you overdose on Cannabis?
There has yet to be a confirmed case of Cannabis caused overdose.
Contributor | Cort Honey
This Cannabis guide is for educational purposes only. While it is our belief that choosing to consume psychedelics is an inalienable human right, many psychedelic substances are currently illegal in the United States.
Our substance guides provide the public with the most accurate and reliable information about psychedelic substances that currently exist. We have compiled research, scientific studies as well as experiences and thoughts from the psychedelic community. We do not include all the scientific research and studies. Rather, we curate each our guides to reflect the most relevant insight backed by the most credible evidence. That being said, we are just at the beginning of studying these substances, and everyday we are learning something new. Knowledge is power! Have a bite. If you have relevant information or updates concerning the research and studies of psychedelic substances, please reach out to [email protected]. We appreciate your contribution. –RS