Cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana, is a fibrous plant that grows natively across the world. The male plant is known as hemp and historically was used to make paper, rope, canvas, and many other essential products. The female plant produces flowers that when dried and ingested, have a mild psychoactive effect. Cannabis has been used throughout history in many different regions. In the middle east, it is cultivated and condensed into a sticky, wax-like substance known as hashish, or hash for short. In the Kush regions of India, cannabis has been cultivated for centuries, both for the female plants properties as well as the protein-rich hemp seed being used for food.Marijuana has a reputation for being “harmless,” but can be addictive.
In America, cannabis was widely used both recreationally and medicinally until the 1930’s, when newspaper monopolist William Randolph Hearst embarked on a campaign to demonize the drug, mainly because he had bought lumber companies and wanted hemp to be declared illegal so that that he could profit from wood-pulp paper being used nationally. His newspapers sought to capitalize on the xenophobia of the day by renaming cannabis “marijuana” in a effort to link it to use by Mexican immigrants. These actions, combined with the need for the newly formed Drug Enforcement Agency to have a prohibited substance to combat (and thus justify their existence) led to cannabis being becoming a banned substance in 1937, a federal ban that has persisted until this day.
Cannabis can range from a mild sedative effect to nearly being hallucinogenic in its stronger, more concentrated forms. Illegal growing that has continued through the decades has increased its potency greatly. Although typically smoked, cannabis can also be taken orally in food, where it is much stronger and has a longer-lasting effect. Typical effects of Cannabis intoxication are:
- Distracted thoughts
- Redness of the eyes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased hunger
More negative side effects that are common are:
- Loss of motivation
- Extreme paranoia
- Mild hallucinatory effects
- Tolerance building and risk of mental addiction
In 1996, California became the first state to permit cannabis use if approved by a medical doctor. This was mainly to help cancer patients and other sufferers of severe illnesses, as cannabis has been shown to greatly reduce the harm of chemotherapy treatments. However, this also means that people with less severe illness may capitalize on the system and obtain access to cannabis as well. More and more states have been decriminalizing the plant or passing laws that permit its medical use. While medical marijuana may be legal, caution should still be used when ingesting the plant—it is unsafe to operate heavy machinery or drive a car under the influence of any kind of narcotic, legal or not.
Cannabis has been a part of human culture since the dawn of time, and is not going away anytime soon. There is a good deal of literature that outlines the risks of the plant as well as a good deal praising it, but the simple fact is that it affects its’ users greatly, one way or another. Whether or not it can be responsibly used by society as a whole remains to be seen.