Cannabis 101 - Weed in Nutshell.

The legalization of cannabis for recreational use in Canada raises several questions about this plant, which has been used for thousands of years by humans for recreational and medical purposes. Cannabis adapts to almost any climate and there are three varieties:

  1. Cannabis Sativa;

  2. Indica Cannabis;

  3. Cannabis Ruderalis.

The first two are the varieties which have the highest concentration of active product and which are also the best known. Sativa is probably the most widespread on the planet. This plant can reach five meters in height while the Indica will reach one to two meters and is more concentrated in THC, one of the two main active ingredients of the plant.

The chemistry of cannabis.

Several names exist to describe cannabis and the different forms that are found on the illicit, and now licit, market. Marijuana, pot, weed, grass are synonyms of cannabis while hashish, oil, tincture are different presentations of the product.

Cannabis contains more than 565 chemicals and of these, 120 have been identified that are called cannabinoids.

The two most studied cannabinoids are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and cannabidiol. It is mainly these two ingredients that are believed to be responsible for the known effects of cannabis in humans. THC is the psychoactive principle of cannabis while cannabidiol does not have these properties and even seems to protect against the psychoactive effect of THC.

Interesting fact over the years: the various seizures of products on the black drug market in North America by the police authorities have made it possible to observe the increasing increase in the concentration of these active ingredients in cannabis. Thus, the average THC concentration found in products seized in 1988 was around 1% compared to 7.5% in 2002. A significant increase that worries those who study the effect of cannabis use at an age when the brain has not finished developing.

Cannabis through time.

Cannabis has a unique history of acceptance by society and the medical community. From a product officially recognized as a drug in the United States, Canada, and England for more than 100 years, it has become illegal in almost all countries of the world. It wasn't until the 2000s before cannabis was approved for medical use by Holland and Canada.

Its dual-use, for recreational and medical purposes no doubt explains why, even today, the discussion surrounding cannabis is so polarized.

The first description of the therapeutic use of cannabis in Europe takes place around 1830 by a professor of pharmacology and botany from the University of Bonn in Germany. Then, the Queen's personal physician, Sir William O'Shaughnessy, discovers the analgesic, appetite-stimulating, antiemetic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant properties in his patients and publishes his results. O'Shaughnessy also prescribed it to Queen Victoria for her migraines and dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation).

In 1923, Canada included cannabis in the Opium Act of 1908, which became the first ban on the product. Then, in 1929, the narcotic drug law was adopted and this legislation will govern its use in the country until 1997. During all these years, cannabis will be demonized and will be banned in all countries of the world.

Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis in 1973. In the Netherlands, the government will tolerate the cultivation, sale, and consumption of cannabis from 1976. In 2001, Portugal, with its policy of decriminalization of all drugs, will help to initiate a reflection on relevance and performance. of the prohibition on the use of drugs. More recently, Uruguay became the first country to allow the sale of recreational cannabis in pharmacies in 2017, and finally in Canada, Justin Trudeau announced on June 20, 2018, that the consumption and cultivation of cannabis will become legal on October 17, 2018.

The medical use of cannabis.

Although the legal context surrounding the use of cannabis has been very restrictive, the product has never ceased to be studied and used to treat several medical problems. In 1982, a synthetic analog of THC, nabilone (Cesamet) was approved by Health Canada for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. In 2005, Sativex, a mixture of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, was approved as an adjuvant treatment for the relief of neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

Finally, on June 25, 2018, the United States authorized the marketing of Epidiolex, a drug based on purified cannabidiol for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut, two types of severe epilepsy in children.

Several studies already carried out allow us to conclude that cannabis is useful in the treatment of various diseases or clinical conditions. Here is a non-exhaustive list :

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Anorexia and weight loss

  • Chronic Pain

  • Multiple sclerosis

On the other hand, the use of cannabis under the following conditions seems promising:

  • Spinal cord injury

  • Epilepsy

  • Tourette syndrome

And of course, the current, more flexible legislative framework will now allow researchers to study cannabis in several other therapeutic fields without the hindrances of prohibition.

Myths associated with cannabis.

Historically, cannabis has been associated with potential dangers and risks, whether false or real. And these risks have often served to justify prohibition. In the list of myths, we find:

  • Cannabis is a portal drug, which causes the user to switch to hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin. There is in fact no conclusive study that demonstrates this.

  • Cannabis can induce chronic psychosis in adolescents who use it. This statement is used by some health professionals to justify a tightening of the laws surrounding the distribution and use among young people under 25 years of age. Although episodes of acute reversible psychosis can be induced by the use of high doses in some individuals, there are no studies that demonstrate a causal link between the use of cannabis and chronic psychosis.

  • Cannabis creates physical and psychological dependence. Daily use of cannabis can create low physical and psychological dependence. If compared to other psychotropic drugs, the risk of developing dependence during life is 9.1% with cannabis while it is 15% for alcohol and 32% for tobacco.

  • Driving under the influence of cannabis. Because it affects alertness and reaction time, cannabis consumption should be avoided if you are driving a vehicle.

  • A popular belief was that cannabis was criminogenic (increased crime). In fact, alcohol, amphetamines, and heroin are more important criminogenic agents than cannabis.

The effects of cannabis use.

Cannabis is a central nervous system disruptor. Following its consumption, we observe the following effects spread over two phases:

1st phase

  • Euphoria

  • A feeling of well-being and satisfaction

  • The impression of calm and relaxation

  • Disinhibition

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Loquacity

  • Cheerfulness going to the hilarity

  • Sociability

  • Carefree

  • Distortion of time perception (time seems to pass more slowly)

  • Enhancement of sensory perceptions

  • Magic thinking (feeling able to accomplish complex tasks more easily)

2nd phase (approximately one hour after inhaling cannabis)

  • Analgesia (pain relief)

  • Improved night vision

  • Relief of migraine

  • Feeling intoxicated

  • Learning disabilities

  • Reduced attention

  • Concentration problems

  • Decrease in immediate and delayed memory in the short and medium term

  • Speechless speech

  • Tired

  • Weakening of reflexes

  • Reduced ability to plan, organize, reason

  • Slower reaction time

  • Decreased alertness

  • Lethargy (feeling sleepy)

  • Catalepsy (loss of motor flexibility with rigidity, but retention of skills)

  • Decreased ability to perform complex tasks

  • Movement coordination disorders

  • Reduced driving ability of a vehicle

These effects will usually last less than four hours after cannabis use and their intensity is usually related to the dose. In people who are more vulnerable or at higher doses, the following effects may be seen:

  • Dysphoria (General malaise)

  • Anxiety

  • Anxiety attack

  • Panic state

  • Judgment disturbance

  • Sedation and drowsiness

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Confusion

  • Disorientation

  • Depersonalization

  • Depression (can be observed in new users or in heavy consumers)

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

  • Paranoia

  • Toxic psychosis (rare and with large doses)

  • Dizziness

  • Dizziness

  • Convulsions (if the concentration of THC is high and that of cannabidiol low)

  • Hypothermia

  • Redness of the eyes and mydriasis (dilation of the pupils)

  • Reduced salivation and dry mouth

  • Appetite stimulation (especially for sweet foods)

  • Muscle loosening

  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate) which could increase the risk of developing a heart attack in people at risk. This risk seems to increase within 60 minutes of consumption and fades quickly, (according to a survey carried out in more than 3,000 people)

  • Hypoglycemia

  • Increased libido

Note: Many of the information in this article comes from the work of Mohamed Ben Amar, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Montreal, published in September 2018.


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