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CN NK: Edu: University's Used and Abused: Marijuana


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Few people would recognize 9-tetrahydrocannabinol without its abbreviation as THC. Even as THC, for many it remains an esoteric chemical substance - in fact it is the active molecule in marijuana and it is this week's featured drug in University's Used and Abused.

Of the three drugs covered so far, caffeine, alcohol, and marijuana, marijuana is by far the least common. Nonetheless, a full 16 percent of the population between ages of 15 and 64 has used marijuana this year. If you break that demographic down, the population between 15 and 24 has marijuana usage approach 30 percent annually. Of that group, four percent use it daily. Despite the fact that it's illegal, marijuana must have a lot going for it; no other illicit drug comes even close to rivalling weed as the world's favourite flower.

Marijuana is cultivated from the dried mature flowers and the pistillate leaves of the Cannabis sutiva plant. Only the female plants produce THC and thus male plants are rarely cultivated. In nature, THC is used by plants to ward off herbivores and pest insects. Among humans, it's used for its psychotropic effects and several medical indications.

The history of cannabis usage goes back several millennia; Vedic texts from ancient India describe marijuana as "a gift to all the world" from the god Shiva. Quasi-historical references mention a sect of Muslims during the crusades that specialized in killing prominent political figures and had a fondness for eating the trichomes of the cannabis plant. Marco Polo made an obscure reference to the group, calling them the hashashim ( grass eaters ); it has been postulated that this is the origin of the word "assassin." As a plant native to central Asia, it features prominently in the shamanistic traditions of many peoples.

The pharmacology of THC is exceedingly complicated and has eluded scientists for many years; for a drug that induces such psychedelic experiences, no simple explanation would have sufficed. It is now known that receptors in the brain bind cannabis chemicals specifically. Called cannabinoid receptors, they are responsible for a variety of physiological effects focussing on "stress relief." Anyone who's ever experienced the mellow of marijuana will know from first hand experience that this goes without saying. Physiologically, cannabinoids are used to recover from the flight or flight response.

That there are receptors in the brain ready and waiting for THC to bind means that there must be some natural hormone in the body that THC is capable of mimicking. In fact, just such a chemical was discovered in 1993. The first "endocannabinoid" was named anandamide after the Sanskrit word for internal bliss, a fitting tribute to the chemical's unique properties.

Because THC dissolves in fat, rather than water, very little of it reaches the brain and what amount does make it to your grey matter does so very slowly. This explains the long duration of marijuana's high and is the reason why smoking is the most effective way to administer marijuana as it can secrete through the mucous membranes of your nasal or oral tract. Other methods of administering THC include orally ( i.e. eating it, preferably in a brownie ), intravenously ( in a medical setting ), or as a suppository ( it may come as a surprise that this particular method of administration has never found much support within the cannabis culture ).

Marijuana's subjective effects are varied and highly idiosyncratic. What's more, the vast majority of THC's effects are entirely psychological. In tests, subjects who are given brownies that have been secretly laced with marijuana are often unaware of any subjective change. Alternatively, subjects told they've eaten brownies laced with marijuana, but in fact receive no THC whatsoever, report feeling high and euphoric.

Subjective effects are well known to pop culture and include euphoria, dreaminess, fits of laughter, bloodshot eyes due to the dilation of blood vessels in the whites of the eyes, and a severe bout of the "munchies" after about 3 hours. Many of these effects are medically useful and advocates of medicinal marijuana point out that there is strong evidence for marijuana's effectiveness in treating nausea ( medical marijuana for this function is sold under the trade name Marinol ), glaucoma, and spasticity. Marijuana's ability to create the munchies is used in AIDS patients and those undergoing chemotherapy to stimulate their lost appetite.

Marijuana's negative effects are disputed and in discussion about them, scientific fact usually yields to ideology. Nonetheless, it is the case that marijuana has been shown to interrupt sleep patterns, reduce sensory perception ( despite what users may say of their heightened senses while high ), and interfere with short-term memory formation. Marijuana and driving is also a dangerous combination. Marijuana does not necessarily reduce driving skills, rather it reduces your attention as to what you should be reacting to, for example a pedestrian or a red light. Finally, any smoked substance carries with it the risk of lung cancer. Regardless of what you're smoking, whether tobacco, weed, or raisins, the inhalation of burning matter into your lungs is never a good thing. The temperature at the end of a joint can reach up to 100 degrees Celsius and inhaling burning leaf bits is a sure way to irritate the lungs and throat.

The last thing to consider with marijuana is that, despite its prevalence, it is in fact illegal in Canada. Even the Netherlands, known worldwide for their acceptance of marijuana, still lists marijuana as a banned substance; they simply have made it a policy not to enforce this law. There have been numerous attempts to change the legal status of marijuana in Canada with mixed results ( think: The Marijuana Party of Canada ) It is the case that the Government of Canada is currently growing marijuana for use in the medical system. Also, on a number of occasions, there have been changes to the criminal code dealing with drug enforcement. Most recently, the Liberal government of Canada introduced a bill that would have removed simple possession from the criminal code. However, that bill died on the order paper when the former government fell and the current Conservative Government of Canada has taken its drug enforcement policy in the opposite direction, vowing to enforce and strengthen existing laws.

Ultimately, history has variously demonized and beautified marijuana; it remains to be seen what the future holds for this colourful chemical.

Source: Argosy, The (CN NK Edu)
Copyright: 2007 Argosy Publications, Inc.
Contact: argosy@mta.ca
Website: The Argosy.ca
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