Marijuana, also known commonly as weed or pot in the United States, is the dried and shredded hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). Different variations of this plant may be seen in other regions like Cannabis indica that is more widely available in south Asia. Marijuana is often touted as a ‘soft’ drug that is not addictive and therefore safe to use. It still remains one of the cheapest drugs on the market and needs no processing other than drying the harvested plant and shredding it. Of the many chemicals in the marijuana plant, it is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) that is the main physiologically-active ingredient in this drug.
How is Marijuana Used?
Marijuana is usually smoked in a cigarette form (joint), pipe or water pipe (hookah, ‘hubbly’, bong). Often a cigarette or cigar is emptied of tobacco and then stuffed with marijuana along with a small amount of the original tobacco. Sometimes other illicit substances are added to the marijuana mix like cocaine, heroin, phencyclidine (PCP) or methaquolone.
A disturbing trend in recent years is the mixing of certain HIV drugs (antiretrovirals) with marijuana which is then smoked. Marijuana may also be ingested usually when incorporated into a foodstuff. Typically cookies, cakes and muffins are used for these purpose as the marijuana can be easily integrated into the mixture. This is referred to as a ‘space cake’.
Effects of Marijuana on the Human Body
When marijuana is smoked or eaten, its active ingredients can enter the bloodstream through the vessels in the lungs and gut. It quickly travels to the brain where it has its most pronounced effects although it does act on almost every system in the body. THC binds with cannabinoid receptors in the brain which are more abundant in those regions responsible for pleasure, memory and sensory perception. It starts taking effect within minutes and reaches a peak within 15 to 20 minutes of entering the bloodstream.Marijuana has the following effects on the central nervous system and other systems of the body :
- Alters space and time perception.
- Impairs concentration, memory and coordination.
- Abnormal sensory perceptions like numbness, tingling, ‘pins and needles’ and perceived hypersensitivity.
- Increases the heart rat and blood pressure.
- Reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
- Suppresses the appetite.
- Irritates and inflames the lining of the airways.
- Disrupts normal activity of the sex hormones in both males and females, thereby affecting the menstrual cycle, sperm count, fertility and even delay puberty if utilized from a young age.
- Exacerbates any psychiatric disorders and contributes to anxiety, depression and panic attacks in larger doses.
Regular smoking of marijuana increases the risk of developing COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and lung cancer.
When the hemp plant is prescribed for the treatment and management of certain medical conditions, it is known a medical marijuana. There is growing evidence to suggest that it may be of use in pain management, easing nausea and vomiting in patients on chemotherapy (cancer treatment) and for the management of certain psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. The dosage is carefully monitored and the drug is administered in more a controlled manner than is the case with its illicit use. Medical marijuana, however, is still a highly controversial topic and not approved for use in every country.