We’re here to clear the smoke on cannabis science. If you took Botany you probably were disappointed that your science teacher didn’t cover the most popular medicinal plant in the plant sciences: marijuana.
The plant sciences began in prehistory as herbalism, the study of plants and their medicinal properties as herbal remedies. Marijuana has had a long, somewhat hazy history but its medical benefits have largely been known for millennia. It’s known that marijuana is native to Central Asia with its first roots likely in Mongolia and Southern Siberia.
Cannabis may have even been among the first plants cultivated; hemp rope imprints on pottery were discovered in China dating back to 10,000 B.C. As early as 4,000 B.C. marijuana was used as an anesthetic during surgery in China and the first physical evidence of medicinal cannabis appeared sometime between 315 to 392 A.D in Jerusalem.
And yet, marijuana still hasn’t made its debut in botany or other more relevant science fields like the life sciences, biomedical science, biological science, etc., even in fully legal marijuana states. Why not?
Why is marijuana illegal in the US at the federal level?
That’s a good place to start. Marijuana has been illegal at the federal level since 1937 when the United States passed the Marijuana Tax Act prohibiting its use. Many states have legalized medical marijuana since then but few states are considered recreational marijuana states, until recently. Progress made in 2020 aside, you sure wouldn’t want to get caught in Wisconsin or any other fully illegal state where possession of less than one ounce of cannabis is punishable by six months in jail and a fine of $1000.
In short, marijuana isn’t included in our science classes because it’s still seen as a dangerous drug in many places around the world, in spite of sciences’ tango with marijuana since 4,000 years before Christ. That’s quite some time to only make marijuana illegal just under 100 years ago. Although it is clear that marijuana’s illegal history has been far shorter than its legal medicinal history across the globe.
Is weed bad for you?
Given marijuana’s smokey history with the police after the sanity of the Wild West (wink) many wonder, is marijuana bad for your health? I mean first off, it wasn’t just tobacco what those cowboys were chewing. It was good ol’ Mary Jane.
Let’s get back to the science. In our “Is Weed Bad for You” article we cover the health benefits and potential risks of smoking cannabis over the long-term. Thankfully, there is no evidence that marijuana causes lung problems for moderate users; there have been no known cases of lung cancer for people who smoke marijuana exclusively. Harvard Health even went to say that moderate use may help to improve lung function. So is smoking weed now a workout for your lungs and chest muscles? We’re not going that far. In contrast, heavy marijuana users experienced pulmonary issues in a 20 year study.
That said, daily marijuana users can intake cannabis in a variety of forms including joints, blunts, bongs, vaporizers, dab rigs, tinctures, drops, gums, edibles, capsules, infused drinks, even patches and transdermals. The smokeless alternative of edibles has the additional benefit of giving its users a high that lasts normally 6-8 hours, compared to smoking at 1-3 hours, if you wondered “How Long do Edibles Last”. Given the variety and frequency people are smoking pot these days it makes you wonder, is weed addictive?
Is marijuana addictive?
Daily smokers who try to reduce the frequency or amount of cannabis they smoke may find it difficult to. People can be addicted to gambling, porn, sex, food and the list goes on. Considering that coffee, sugar and tea are unquestionably addictive, if marijuana is also addictive, is that necessarily a bad thing? Science knows that whether it’s good or bad really depends on your unique biology.
Marijuana addiction actually has a name. It’s called Cannabis Use Disorder or CUD but it is very uncommon impacting only 1.5% of the adult population. Interestingly; however, the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that 30% of marijuana users had some degree of CUD. This insinuates that CUD is a spectrum with nearly a third of people who use marijuana experiencing symptoms. But what are the symptoms?
Early signs include a preoccupation with using marijuana, using it alone over socially, memory impairments or missing work or school. Marijuana users who stop may experience withdrawal and experience irritability, restlessness, mood difficulties, cravings and even physical discomfort. Makes you wonder, have I felt that way once? It also makes you wonder about all the other ways marijuana makes you feel when you’re high.
Is weed a depressant, stimulant or hallucinogen?
It turns out it’s all three. Weed does it all!
You probably already know broadly that a sativa is a very different high from an indica. Some weed strains, primarily indicas, have more depressant effects. They will make you feel more relaxed, sleepy and less anxious overall. Some of the strongest indica strains such as Chemdawg have 32% THC and give insomniacs the relief they need, an uninterrupted deep slumber as good as any horse tranquilizer (not advised).
Other marijuana strains like Green Crack will act as a stimulant, making you feel alert and energetic. Most interestingly is that weed can also act as a hallucinogen, altering your sense of time and space, increasing your heart rate and losing control over your motor skills. Trippy right?
What is CBD?
And what if you want the health benefits from marijuana but not the high? You’ve seen the oils, creams and perhaps edibles. CBD, unlike THC, is not psychoactive so it won’t get you high. So what does CBD do? It’s been used most popularly and extensively for pain management but has promising results for numerous diseases as varied as dystonia, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, autism, social anxiety disorder, arthritis and even dementia. So how does CBD make you feel? Interestingly, Dr. Chin said on Health.com that, “you won’t feel sedated or altered in any way” which is true to a degree.
CBD triggers feel good effects though since it interacts with the endocannabinoid which manages pain, sleep, inflammation and several other key functions in your body that support well being. CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have created an impact that has changed the negative stigma around marijuana and the stereotype of its consumers.
Evolving perception of marijuana
The shift in perspective brings us back to why cannabis science and its impact on marijuana policy is actually quite fascinating. Marijuana legislation and regulations are constantly evolving as the perception of the plant evolves through scientific findings. As marijuana becomes legalized state-by-state, we’re here to help cannabis consumers, scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers and the public alike learn about the latest developments in cannabis science.