What’s the definition of cannabis?
Cannabis refers to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties, known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. When the flowers of these plants are harvested and dried, you’re left with one of the most common drugs in the world. Some call it weed, some call it pot, and others call it marijuana. As weed becomes legal in more areas, names for it are evolving. Today, more and more people are using the term cannabis to refer to weed. Some argue that it’s a more accurate name. Others feel it’s more neutral compared with terms like weed or pot, which some people associate with its illegal use. Also, the term “marijuana” is falling out of favor due to its racist history. Cannabis is usually consumed for its relaxing and calming effects. In some U.S. states, it’s also prescribed to help with a range of medical conditions, including chronic pain, glaucoma, and poor appetite. Keep in mind that while cannabis comes from a plant and is considered natural, it can still have strong effects, both positive and negative.
What are the components of cannabis?
Cannabis is made up of more than 120 components, which are known as cannabinoids. Experts still aren’t sure what each cannabinoid does, but they have a pretty good understanding of two of them, known as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Marijuana—also called weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, and a vast number of other slang terms—is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. Some people smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints; in pipes, water pipes (sometimes called bongs), or in blunts (marijuana rolled in cigar wraps). Marijuana can also be used to brew tea and, particularly when it is sold or consumed for medicinal purposes, is frequently mixed into foods (edibles) such as brownies, cookies, or candies. Vaporizers are also increasingly used to consume marijuana. Stronger forms of marijuana include sinsemilla (from specially tended female plants) and concentrated resins containing high doses of marijuana’s active ingredients, including honeylike hash oil, waxy budder, and hard amberlike shatter. These resins are increasingly popular among those who use them both recreationally and medically.
The main psychoactive(mind-altering) chemical in marijuana, responsible for most of the intoxicating effects that people seek, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The chemical is found in resin produced by the leaves and buds primarily of the female cannabis plant. The plant also contains more than 500 other chemicals, including more than 100 compounds that are chemically related to THC, called cannabinoids.
Cannabis is a complex plant, with major compounds such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, which have opposing effects. The discovery of its compounds has led to the further discovery of an important neurotransmitter system called the endocannabinoid system. This system is widely distributed in the brain and in the body, and is considered to be responsible for numerous significant functions. There has been a recent and consistent worldwide increase in cannabis potency, with increasing associated health concerns. A number of epidemiological research projects have shown links between dose-related cannabis use and an increased risk of development of an enduring psychotic illness. However, it is also known that not everyone who uses cannabis is affected adversely in the same way. What makes someone more susceptible to its negative effects is not yet known, however there are some emerging vulnerability factors, ranging from certain genes to personality characteristics. In this article we first provide an overview of the biochemical basis of cannabis research by examining the different effects of the two main compounds of the plant and the endocannabinoid system, and then go on to review available information on the possible factors explaining variation of its effects upon different individuals.
Each has its own effects and uses:
- CBD. This is a psychoactive cannabinoid, yet it’s non-intoxicating and non-euphoric, meaning it won’t get you “high.” It’s often used to help reduce inflammation and pain. It may also ease nausea, migraine, seizures, and anxiety. (s the first and only prescription medication to contain CBD and be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. This medication is used to treat certain kinds of epilepsy.) Researchers are still trying to fully understand the effectiveness of CBD’s medical use.
- THC. This is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. THC is responsible for the “high” that most people associate with cannabis.
You can find cannabis products that contain just CBD, THC, or a combination of both. But the dried flower that most people associate with cannabis contains both cannabinoids, though certain strains may have much more of one than the other. Hemp has large quantities of CBD,
What are the short-term effects of cannabis?
Using cannabis can have a range of short-term effects. Some are beneficial, but others are more concerning.
Some of the more desirable short-term effects include:
- experiencing things around you, such as sights and sounds, more intensely
- increased appetite
- altered perception of time and events
- focus and creativity
These effects are often minimal in products containing very high levels of CBD, compared with THC.
But cannabis can also have some problematic side effects for certain people. Side effects may include:
- coordination issues
- delayed reaction time
- increased heart rate
- decreased blood pressure
Again, these effects are less common in products containing more CBD than THC.
The short-term effects of cannabis can also vary based on your method of consumption. If you smoke cannabis, you’ll feel the effects within minutes. But if you orally ingest cannabis, such as in a capsule or food, it may be several hours before you feel anything.
What are the long-term effects of cannabis?
Experts are still trying to fully understand the long-term effects of using cannabis. There’s lots of conflicting research on this topic, and many of the existing studies have only looked at animals.
Many more large, long-term studies in humans are needed to fully understand the lasting effects of cannabis use.
According to the NASEM , there is conclusive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids can help manage:
- chronic pain in adults
- nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy treatment
- some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)
There is moderate evidence that it can help with sleep problems relating to sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and MS.
Other conditions that it may be helpful for include:
- low appetite
- Tourette’s syndrome
- anxiety, in some individuals
In 2018, a medication that derives from cannabis, to treat two rare and severe types of epilepsy that do not respond well to other treatments. Epidiolex is a purified form of CBD that does not contain THC.
Three drugs that contain synthetic substances with a structure similar to that of THC have received FDA approval. Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet are treatment options for some kinds of anorexia.
There are different ways of using cannabis, and the method can determine the effects of the drug.
Smoking or inhaling: A sense of elation can start within minutes and peak after 10–30 minutes. The feeling will typically wear off after about 2 hours.
Ingesting: If a person consumes products containing cannabis by mouth, they will usually feel the effects within 1 hour, and the sensations will peak after 2.5–3.5 hours. One study suggests that the type of edible affects the time it takes to feel the effect, with hard candies kicking in quicker.
Topical: Transdermal patches allow the ingredients to enter the body over. This steady infusion can benefit people who are using cannabis to treat pain and inflammation.
What are the effects of secondhand cannabis smoke?
How do cannabinoids work?
The human body naturally produces some cannabinoids through the endocannabinoid system. They act in a similar way to neurotransmitters, sending messages throughout the nervous system.
These neurotransmitters affect brain areas that play a role in memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, sensory and time perception, and pleasure.
The receptors that respond to these cannabinoids also react to THC and other cannabinoids. In this way, cannabinoids from an outside source can change and disrupt normal brain function.
THC appears to affect areas of the brain that control:
- posture, and coordination
- reaction time
Due to these effects, a person should not drive a car, operate heavy machinery, or engage in risky physical activities after using cannabis.
THC stimulates specific cannabinoid receptors that increase the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that relates to feelings of pleasure.
THC can also affect sensory perception. Colors may seem brighter, music more vivid, and emotions more profound.