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People have used marijuana as a medical treatment for thousands of years. Marijuana has been hailed as a prescription for many ills and physicians once used it to stimulate the appetite, relieve chronic pain, and treat asthma and migraines.

Many people are not aware of the fact that this has been so even in modern America as this plant was listed in the US Pharmacopeia, a list of the approved drugs in the United States, up until the 1940s.

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Statistical data

There were an estimated 2.6 million new marijuana users in 2001. This isn't anything unusual and this figure is similar to the figures got in the researches that have been performed each year since 1995. In 2002, over 14 million Americans age 12 and older have used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed, and 12.2 percent of the marijuana users who have been using it the previous year, used marijuana on 300 or more days in the past 12 months. This means that 3.1 million people are using marijuana on a daily or almost daily basis over a 12-month period.
 

Percentage of 8th-Graders Who Have Used Marijuana:
Monitoring the Future Study, 2003

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What exactly is marijuana?


Marijuana, also called the  grass, pot or weed, is the common name for a crude drug made from the plant called Cannabis sativa. It is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of this plant. Other forms of cannabis include

    * sinsemilla,
    * hashish, and
    * hash oil

Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette called a joint, or in a pipe or a bong. Marijuana is also being used as a blunt, which is a cigar that has been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana, sometimes in combination with another drug, such as crack. It can also be mixed into foods or used to brew tea.

Human consumption

Smoking

This is one of the most common usage methods.There are several methods of smoking Cannabis and the most popular include the joint, the bong, the pipe, the shotgun, and the one-hitter.
To create a joint, cannabis is rolled up into a cigarette, using a rolling paper. Cannabis cigars or blunts, can also be created by using the wrapper of a standard cigar.
A bong is a water-pipe through which cannabis smoke is filtered. Pipes are usually made of blown glass, wood, or non-reactive metals.

A shotgun involves two people. During the procedure one person takes a hit then puts the joint into his mouth, while another person then places his mouth over the front end, and first person exhales through the joint.

Oral consumption

Cannabis sativa may be consumed orally by blending it with ethanol or lipids. What are the “benefits” of this way of consumption? It takes longer for the effects to start but they last longer and may be perceived as more physical than mental.

Vaporization

Cannabis can be heated to a temperature of about 185 °C. On this temperature, all the active ingredients are released into gaseous form.

Knifing

Knifing is a process in which the tips of two knives are heated to a very high temperature, and then the marijuana is pressed between the heated knife-tips, rapidly combusting it. A consumer then uses plastic bottle-top, empty pen, or other hollow tube or funnel to inhale the vapors.

Marijuana effects

There are several effects of marijuana and some of the most common are:

    * Impairment of the short-term memory in some users – It is proven that Marijuana's damage to short-term memory seems to occur because THC alters the way in which the information is processed by some parts of the brain such as hippocampus


    * Enhancement of many other drug effects such as alcohol, Ecstasy, tobacco, heroin, cocaine…
    * Auditory or visual hallucinations
    * Amnesia
    * Increased appetite
    * Induced sense of novelty
    * Increased or decreased sexual pleasure
    * Increased sensations
    * Increased awareness of patterns and colors
    * Respect for music and other arts
    * Increased mental activity
    * Meditative states of mind
    * Gain or loss of some inhibitions
    * Varying degree of euphoria, ranging from feelings of general well-being to lengthy pointless laughter
    * Relaxation or stress reduction
    * Mild tachycardia
    * Mild, temporary dry mouth
    * Varying amounts of paranoia and anxiety in some users

It is proven that people who smoke marijuana regularly may have many of the respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have. These problems include daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses, a heightened risk of lung infections and a greater tendency toward obstructed airways. In fact, more cancer-causing agents have been found in Marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke.

Active components

The active ingredient in marijuana is a substance called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - a very strong psychoactive substance. It is responsible for the potency and effects of marijuana intoxication. Different types of marijuana have different levels of THC in it, but  it is evidenced that, over the past two decades, THC levels of marijuana in the United States have increased.

Other active components include:

Cannabinol and cannabidiol

These compounds have some of the properties of THC, but cause less psychoactive effects.

Dronabinol (Marinol)
Dronabinol is a man-made version of THC available by prescription. It's used to prevent nausea and vomiting after cancer chemotherapy and to increase appetite in people with AIDS.

Mechanism of action

When smoked or ingested, THC and other active components that can be found in marijuana are targeting and attaching to two types of receptors on the cells in the body.

CB1 receptors

 These receptors are found mainly in the brain, especially in the areas that control body movement, memory and vomiting. This is why marijuana affects balance and coordination and impairs short-term memory and learning, and why it can be useful in treating nausea, pain and the loss of appetite.

CB2 receptors

These receptors are found mainly in the immune system tissue, such as your spleen and lymph nodes, although in much smaller numbers. The function of these receptors is not well understood.

How fast do the effects occur and how long do they last?

    * When marijuana is smoked, its ingredients reach their peak levels in the body within minutes and the effects can last up to an hour and a half.
    * When marijuana is eaten the ingredients may take several hours to reach their peak levels in your body, and their effects may last for hours.
    * When used as a pill or an oral capsule (Marinol),it takes effect in about 30 minutes, and can continue to stimulate appetite for more than a day.

Possible medical uses of marijuana

Experts who have been studying marijuana's potential and medical uses of marijuana found out that it can be used to treat many different conditions in order to cure them or speed up the recovery time. Some of these conditions are:

Glaucoma and high blood pressure


This disease is caused by the increased pressure in the eyeball, which can lead to vision loss and complete blindness. However, the experts in this field discovered that smoking marijuana reduces the pressure in the eyes. The exact reason is still unknown. Smoking marijuana may reduce the blood pressure too, which also isn't explained yet.
Problem with this type of therapy is that it can lose its effectiveness over time. Experts are working on the development of the cannabis-based medications that can be put directly on the eyes.
Pain

People have used marijuana for pain relief for hundreds of years. It is proven that THC may work as a mild pain reliever in treating cancer pain.

Multiple sclerosis

Several researches done in the past have shown effectiveness of Cannabis in the treatment of the muscle spasms and pain in multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is a serious disease of the nervous system which can cause a lot of pain because of the severe nerve damage.
It is proven that Marijuana may protect nerves from the kind of damage that occurs due to this disease.

Other purposes

There are several other effects that can be considered beneficial such as:

          o Increased appetite due to the fact that food subjectively tastes better.
          o Reduced nausea
          o Dilation of air sacs in lungs, resulting in deeper respiration.
          o Increase in productive coughs
          o Dilation of blood vessels (vasodilatation)
          o Increased blood flow and heart rate
          o Reddening of the conjunctivae
          o Induces drowsiness , so it can be beneficial to sufferers of insomnia and sleep deprivation
          o Relaxation
          o Reduced stress

Is there a lethal dose?

It is generally considered impossible to achieve a lethal overdose by smoking cannabis. According to the several researches and experiments, the lethal dose for 50% of rats tested is 42 mg/kg of body weight although it was done by inhalation. If we transfer these results to humans, that is equivalent to a 75 kg man ingesting the 21 gram cigarettes of high-potency cannabis buds at once. 

Marijuana addiction

A lot of young users are saying that it’s not possible to be addicted to marijuana. This, of course, isn’t true. Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction for some people, which means that they use the drug compulsively even though it interferes with their family, school, work, and recreational activities. When a person is chemically dependent on marijuana, it means that he needs to use more and more to get the same effect. The most common withdrawal symptoms are: depression, trouble sleeping and nausea.

  • www.nida.nih.gov
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marijuana
  • Photo by shutterstock.com
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