What is it about marijuana that has practically put all sectors of human society in a constant state of ambivalence for hundreds of generations? Is it good or bad, do we love it or hate it, should it be legal or not, eat it or smoke it? etc.
The main psychoactive agent in marijuana is delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short. It is the marijuana plant’s claim to fame, its most psychoactive chemical compound or its most potent.
The plant’s leaves and buds produce resin, from which THC is extracted. Over 500 other compounds (yes over 500 – we did say it is a lot of things) chemically related to THC can be extracted as well, among them more than 100 are called cannabinoids.
History of Marijuana
Marijuana use may be traced as far back as the time of the ancients, but believe it or not, it wasn’t until 1964 when Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his colleagues Dr. Haviv Edery and Dr. Yehiel Gaoni were finally able to isolate and elucidate which among the compounds found in the plant was causing all the mental stimulation that has brought marijuana to the attention of the world.
Dr. Mechoulam, dubbed “The Father of Cannabis” was with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel at the time and looking for research subjects. From his readings, he realized just how little was known about the compounds in cannabis compared to the coca leaf (for cocaine) and the opium poppy (for morphine) which have been around for some 150 years already. He found it strange that the active component of cannabis was uncknown.2 He then began his research using the 5 kilograms of Moroccan hash donated by their local police upon his request. With the help of his colleagues, he was soon able to painstakingly but successfully ISOLATE each and every compound present in the cannabis plant.
But which ones were psychoactive? Which ones were causing the “high” associated with marijuana? Dr. Mechoulam’s team tested each individual compound on monkeys and to their surprise only one of those compounds, delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produced any effect. The monkeys looked sedated or drunk.
He took home a dose of THC and asked his wife to put it in her cake recipe. That was the first and only time the Father of Cannabis got high. More importantly, his findings are proving useful to present-day studies about medical marijuana – that each person has a different reaction to THC. One of his friends demonstrated trance-like behavior, another showed paranoia, someone talked non-stop and another was all giggly.3
Chronological Evolution of Marijuana
Marijuana is known as one of the most widely used illicit substances worldwide. Interestingly, its origin began many centuries ago. Below is the detailed chronology of marijuana documented in W. Scott Ingram's Junior Drug Awareness: Marijuana:
The earliest evidence of cannabis being used for fiber is found in Taiwan.
Textiles made of hemp are used in China.
Use of cannabis as medicine in China is first recorded.
Bhang (dried cannabis leaves, seeds, and stems) is mentioned in Hindu texts as one of the five sacred plants of India. It is used medicinally and in religious ceremonies.
Hemp is introduced into northern Europe by the Scythians. An urn containing leaves and seeds of the cannabis plant is unearthed in Germany and dated to about this time.
Hemp spreads throughout northern Europe.
Dioscorides mentions the use of cannabis as a Roman medicine.
Hashish use spreads through Arabian Peninsula.
Cannabis is introduced in Egypt.
Marco Polo's journeys bring the first reports of cannabis as an intoxicant in Asia to the attention of Europe.
The British cultivate cannabis in their American colonies.
Soldiers returning to France from wars in Egypt bring cannabis and hashish with them.
In the United States, medicines containing cannabis are widely used.
The Pure Food and Drug Act is passed in the United States, regulating the labeling of products containing alcohol, opiates, and cocaine, among other substances.
Marijuana begins to be prohibited by states, including California (1915), Texas (1919), Louisiana (1924), and New York (1927).
Cannabis is made illegal nationwide in the United States with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act.
The Shafer Commission, a federally sponsored group, urges legalization of cannabis in a similar manner to tobacco and alcohol. The recommendation is ignored.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration establishes a program for medical marijuana.
A Drug Enforcement Administration judge finds that marijuana has medical uses and should be reclassified as a prescriptive drug. His recommendation is ignored. In June 2003, Canada is the first country in the world to offer medical marijuana to its patients.
Studies show that marijuana is the largest cash crop in the United States.
Street Names for Marijuana
Marijuana is popularly called by the following street names:
Marijuana Drug Type
THC has stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogenic properties.4 As Dr. Mechoulam’s experiment over 50 years ago, the drug affects each person differently:
As a stimulant, THC boosts confidence, enhances mood, raises self-esteem and makes some people feel elated. These stimulating properties of THC cause a person to become ecstatic, lively and talkative.
As a depressant, THC acts like a mild sedative, causing drowsiness and extreme relaxation. Others become withdrawn.
As a hallucinogen, THC distorts a person’s perception. Colors and sounds become heightened. Hallucinogens can cause paranoia.
Routes of Marijuana Administration
THC may be produced from different parts of the marijuana plant.
Herbal cannabis (marijuana) – This form consists of the dried leaves and flowers of the female plant. It looks like dried herbs and is smoked by itself or with tobacco. It may also be eaten/ingested by adding it to food products or brewed like tea.
Hash/Hashish – This is a strong form of marijuana with high THC It is extracted from the dried resin of the female plant and pressed into cakes, bars, balls, sticks, etc. Hash may be smoked or eaten by mixing with foods like brownies.
Cannabis oil/Hash oil – Less common but is the strongest form available, with a high THC If the oil is dark red or gold like honey, it is considered high quality. It is extracted thru the use of solvents.
Effects of THC on the Brain
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main active ingredient in marijuana. It is responsible for many of its known effects which can last from 1 to 3 hours. When marijuana is smoked, the THC content rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries the chemical to organs throughout the body, including the brain. Whereas, if marijuana is consumed in foods or beverages, the effects appear later-usually in 30 minutes to 1 hour-but can last up to 4 hours.
According to Tedd Gottfried'sThe Facts About Marijuana, the way the drug affects each individual vary on many factors, including:
User's previous experience with marijuana;
How strong the marijuana is;
What the user expects to happen;
Where the drug is used;
How it is taken; and
Whether the user is drinking alcohol or using other drugs.
There are two kinds of cannabinoids that affect the body: endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid (endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter). Endogenous means it is naturally produced in our brains. It sends chemical messages between neurons in the nervous system. Anandamide regulates our thinking processes, memory, moods, senses, sleep, coordination, movement, appetite and our perception of time.
THC is a phytocannabinoid. Phyto is the Greek root for “plant”. THC, therefore, is a cannabinoid that comes from a plant; in this case, marijuana.
Anandamide and THC are chemically similar in structure. The body, therefore, is able to recognize THC allowing it to attach to the same cannabinoid receptors that anandamides bind to and affecting the same physical and mental functions mentioned above. For example, THC is able to change the workings of areas of the brain that form new memories and shifts a person’s focus. It results in a person’s inability to learn new tasks and do complicated jobs. THC also interferes with the cerebellum and basal ganglia, resulting in impaired balance, coordination, posture and reaction time. Large doses of THC may also cause acute psychosis – delusions, hallucinations and losing a sense of self. THC also activates the brain’s reward system and the responses to pleasurable activities like sex and eating.
Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
Some people argue that marijuana is not addictive but many studies show that it is possible, even if it occurs much less compared to other drugs. When one suddenly stops using marijuana some of the following withdrawal symptoms may be experienced.6
The scientific and medical communities have determined that smoked marijuana is a health danger, not a cure. Although research has confirmed that the cannabis plant contains active ingredients with therapeutic potential for relieving pain, controlling nausea, stimulating appetite, and decreasing ocular pressure, there is no medical evidence that smoking marijuana helps patients. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved no medications that are smoked, primarily because smoking is a poor way to deliver medicine. Morphine, for example, has proven to be a medically valuable drug, but the FDA does not endorse smoking opium or heroin.
Myth2: Legalization of marijuana in other countries has been a success.
Reality: Liberalization of drug laws in other countries has often resulted in higher use of dangerous drugs.
According to an article, Marijuana: The Myths Are Killing Us, which appeared in the March issue of Police Chief Magazine, an official publication of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, drug policy in some foreign countries, particularly those in Europe, has gone through some dramatic changes toward greater liberalization with failed results. Consider the experience of the Netherlands, where the government reconsidered its legalization measures in light of that country's experience.
After marijuana use became legal, consumption nearly tripled among 18- to 20-year-olds. As awareness of the harm of marijuana grew, the number of cannabis coffeehouses in the Netherlands decreased 36 percent in six years. Almost all Dutch towns have a cannabis policy, and 73 percent of them have a no-tolerance policy toward the coffeehouses.
In 1987 Swiss officials permitted drug use and sales in a Zurich park, which was soon dubbed Needle Park, and Switzerland became a magnet for drug users the world over. Within five years, the number of regular drug users at the park had reportedly swelled from a few hundred to 20,000. The area around the park became crime-ridden to the point that the park had to be shut down and the experiment terminated.
Marijuana use by Canadian teenagers is at a 25-year peak in the wake of an aggressive decriminalization movement. While a decriminalization bill was before the House of Commons, the Canadian government released a report showing that marijuana smoking among teens is "at levels that we haven't seen since the late '70s when rates reached their peak." After a large decline in the 1980s, marijuana use among teens increased during the 1990s, as young people apparently became "confused about the state of federal pot laws."
Myth3: Marijuana is harmless.
Reality: Marijuana is dangerous to the user.
Several studies revealed the adverse effects of marijuana use on a person's body. In the United States, marijuana is noted as the most widely used illegal drug which is readily available to kids. Compounding the problem is that the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the baby boomers 30 years ago. Average THC levels rose from less than 1 percent in the mid-1970s to more than 8 percent in 2004. The potency of B.C. Bud, a popular type of marijuana cultivated in British Columbia, is roughly twice the national average-ranging from 15 percent THC content to 20 percent or even higher.
Smoking marijuana can cause significant health problems. Marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, of which 60 are cannabinoids. Smoking a marijuana cigarette deposits about three to five times more tar into the lungs than one filtered tobacco cigarette. Consequently, regular marijuana smokers suffer from many of the same health problems as tobacco smokers, such as chronic coughing and wheezing, chest colds, and chronic bronchitis. In addition, smoking marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, panic attacks, depression, social withdrawal, and other mental health problems, particularly for teens. Research shows that kids aged 12 to 17 who smoke marijuana weekly are three times more likely than nonusers to have suicidal thoughts. Other short-term effects of marijuana use include distorted perception, memory loss, trouble with concentration and impaired problem-solving skills.
Myth4: Smoking marijuana harms only the smokers.
Reality: Marijuana use harms nonusers.
Secondhand smoke is a well-known problem, one that Americans are becoming more unwilling to bear. Secondhand smoke from marijuana kills other innocents as well. Several years ago, two Philadelphia firefighters were killed when they responded to a residential fire stemming from an indoor marijuana grow. In New York City, an eight-year-old boy, Desean Hill, was killed by a stray bullet just steps from his Brooklyn home after a drug dealer sold a dime bag of marijuana on another dealer's turf.
Marijuana smoking can also impair a person's driving skill. According to the estimates released in September 2003 by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), one in six (or 600,000) high school students drive under the influence of marijuana, almost as many as those who drive under the influence of alcohol. For those of you who patrol streets and highways, you know that the consequences of marijuana-impaired driving can be tragic. For example, four children and their van driver-nicknamed Smokey by the children for his regular marijuana smoking-died in April 2002 when a Tippy Toes Learning Academy van veered off a freeway and hit a concrete bridge abutment. He was found at the crash scene with marijuana in his pocket.
Marijuana Effects on Pregnancy
In the book Medical Use of Marijuana: Policy, Regulatory, and Legal Issues, author Tatiana Shohov noted that according to research babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness, and a high-pitched cry, which may indicate problems with neurological development. During infancy and preschool years, marijuana-exposed children have been observed to have behavioral problems and poorer performance on tasks of visual perception, language comprehension, sustained attention, and memory. In school, these children are more likely to exhibit deficits in decision-making skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.
Teenage Marijuana Use
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2009, there are 16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older who used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed. The figure is significantly higher than the rates reported in all years between 2002 and 2008. There was also an increase among youth aged 12-17, with current use up from 6.7% in 2008 to 7.3% in 2009, although this rate is lower than what was reported in 2002 (8.2 percent). Past-month use also increased among those 18-25, from 16.5% in 2008 to 18.1% in 2009.
Meanwhile, the result from a 2009 Monitoring the Future survey revealed that as in the past few years, a stall in the decline of marijuana use that began in the late 1990s among our Nation's youth. In 2009, 11.8% of 8th-graders, 26.7% of 10th-graders, and 32.8% of 12th-graders reported past-year use. In addition, perceived risk of marijuana use declined among 8th- and 10th-graders and disapproval of marijuana use declined among 10th-graders.
In the case of children and teenagers, peer pressure is seen as one of the major reasons why they use marijuana. Some young people smoke marijuana because they see their brothers, sisters, friends, or worst, their older family member using it. Others think smoking pot is cool as portrayed by the media on TV and in movies. There are also teenagers who use marijuana as a way to escape from problems at home, at school, or with friends.
Marijuana: Facts for Teens is a published booklet by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) which clearly summarizes the ill effects of marijuana use on teenagers, as well as how it can affect your teens' school performance and activities. Since marijuana affects memory, judgment and perception, the drug can mess up in school, in sports or clubs, or with your teenagers' friends.
Marijuana also negatively impacts on the skills required to drive safely: alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Marijuana use can make it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road.
In one study conducted in Memphis, TN, researchers found that, of the 150 reckless drivers who were tested for drugs at the arrest scene, 33% tested positive for marijuana, and 12% tested positive for both marijuana and cocaine.
Celebrities Busted for Marijuana
Celebrities are idolized for a varied number of reasons. However, for some of them, fame is the main culprit for them to get entangled with drug misuse. For celebrities, marijuana is also a widely abused substance that somehow landed them on the news pages.
American jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong was arrested in 1930 along with drummer Vic Berton, outside the Cotton Club in Culver City, California for marijuana use. Both were kept overnight after the arrest, because "they were still high," and a judge gave them each six-month jail sentences (which were later suspended) and a $1,000 fine.
On March 12, 1969, officers raided the London home of Harrison and Patti Boyd and arrested them for marijuana possession. Both pleaded guilty and were fined 250 pounds each.
In the spring of 1977, while living in London, Marley was arrested and fined by British police for marijuana possession.
In 1980, while on tour with the band Wings, McCartney was detained at Tokyo's Narita Airport after customs officials found half a pound of marijuana in his luggage. He spent 10 nights in jail before being released and deported. He later admitted, according to the BBC, that "it was the daftest thing I've done in my entire life."
In 2000, soulful diva Whitney Houston was detained at an airport in Hawaii after authorities searched her handbag and found 15.2 grams of marijuana. Security reportedly tried to hold the singer, but she walked away and got on her flight to San Francisco, which left before police could arrive. She later pleaded no contest and the marijuana possession charge was dropped.
Child star sensation Macauley Culkin was the passenger in a car pulled over for speeding in Oklahoma City in 2004, and when police searched the car and found marijuana, Xanax and clonazepam, he was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. He was given a one-year deferred sentence on each charge and had to pay a $540 fine.
The O.C. star Mischa Barton was arrested in 2007 for driving under the influence of alcohol, driving without a license, possessing a controlled substance and possessing marijuana. The actress pleaded no contest to misdemeanor driving under the influence and driving without a license and was given three years probation.