Marijuana 101: What is it?

Dr. Sebastian Kohn, M.D.

Dried Cannabis, also referred to as marihuana or marijuana, is a tobacco­like greenish or brownish material consisting of the dried flowering, fruiting tops and leaves of the cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa.

The plant contains over 460 known chemicals, out of which more than 60 are referred to as cannabinoids. A few of these cannabinoids account for most of the known pharmacological actions of cannabis. See next page, The Science of Marijuana, for more information.

The most well­studied cannabinoids are {delta}9­tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant responsible for the characteristic euphoria (high) from smoking cannabis, in addition to many other effects on the body. CBD shares many of the actions of THC and exhibits its own specific effects, but it does not produce the euphoria. Several synthetic cannabinoids have also been produced and marketed.

Among the effect of cannabis that make it prone to recreational use and abuse are euphoria and relaxation, changes in perception, time distortion, changes in attention span and memory, and impaired motor function.

Use of cannabis may negatively impact mental and physical health, cognitive functioning, the ability to drive a motor vehicle, and pre­ and postnatal development among offspring. Cannabis is a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The acts and procedures of growing, possessing, distributing, and selling cannabis in Canada are only legal if they are performed under authorization and in accordance with the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.

Cannabis and its products have a long history of medicinal use in many countries.

In Canada, the most recent Canadian Addiction Survey (2004) showed that 29% of those Canadians who used cannabis within the past year, reported using it with the purpose of treating pain, nausea, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, depression or another medical condition.

Before the modern pharmacological era, cannabis was used in North America for the treatment of pain, nausea, convulsions and sleep disturbances. In the 20th century, however, it was largely replaced by specific pharmacological agents such as synthetic opioids for analgesia, barbiturates for sleep disturbances and as anticonvulsants, etc.

The interest to cannabis as a medicine has been slowly reviving in the Western countries since 1970s, partly because of its increased recreational use, and partly due to its reported ability to sometimes relieve symptoms refractory to first­line therapies, without the characteristic side effects of the synthetic drugs.

Most common routes of administration of cannabis include smoking/vapourizing, and ingesting cooked plant material.

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