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Marijuana and the effect on humans

 

Where and how it all began...

Most people would not be able to guess how long marijuana's history goes back in time. Thousands of years ago is when cannabis was first cultivated. There is written documentation that dates back to 28 B.C. talking about the medicinal use of marijuana in China. This equates to over 2,000 years of proven marijuana growth among the world's cultures. There are also different forms of evidence showing that marijuana may have been used by Egyptians before then with mummies containing traces of THC, which would mean that marijuana has been around for over 3,000 years. Now, the THC could have come from another source, but as of right now, that source is unknown. Most people throughout the world would recognize Cannabis-Sativa as the shape shows up everywhere from drug-prevention campaigns to the media, and clothing to school textbooks. Marijuana leaves typically radiate out from the center, similar to fingers radiating out from the palm of a hand. While most people recognize this plant, they simply do not know or understand the history about the horticulture of cannabis.

The Cannabis-sativa

The Cannabis-sativa plant is thought to have come from India, where it appears to have begun slightly north of what we now call the Himalayan mountain range. It is an annual that grows to 13-18' (4-5.4 m) each year, with flowers blooming between early September and late October. There are typically only male and female plants, with the occasional hermaphrodite. The flowers on male plants have long pollen clusters with leaves that become yellow and immediately die after the plant blossoms. The female has flowers that look like clusters of spikes, remaining dark green nearly a month after they blossom. This is when the marijuana seeds ripen. The more powerful counterpart to marijuana, hashish, is created by the resin that each marijuana flower creates. A marijuana plant has over 400 chemicals in it, and at least 60 of them are considered cannabinoids. THC is one of those chemicals, but it happens to be recognized most often when it comes to marijuana's side effects. Some of the other chemicals are eugenol, piperidine, choline and guaicacol. The potency of each crop is dependent on growing environment, the genetics of the variety you are growing and how you process your final crop. We will explain the potency of marijuana and THC later in this guide.

The effects of marijuana in the human body

The only way for THC to enter the human body is by ingestion, either inhalation from smoking or absorption through eating the marijuana. Once in the bloodstream, these chemicals flow to the brain, followed by the other parts of the body. THC, also known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is considered the most intense chemical found within marijuana because of the ability of this chemical to produce a "high" that people often associate with marijuana. Most people who use marijuana, smoke it. It is the quickest way to get THC into the bloodstream because as people inhale, the lungs immediately absorb the chemicals, including THC. The alveoli, or sacs of air within your lungs that exchange oxygen for gasses, make the exchange of THC and the other chemicals incredibly easy. That is due to how much surface area the alveoli have. It is equivalent to about 90 times the surface area of your skin. If you eat the marijuana, your stomach is what absorbs the THC and other chemicals. If you happen to eat as your form of marijuana ingestion, you will notice lower levels of THC within your body, but the "high" will last longer than if ingested through your lungs.

The effects of marijuana on the human brain

THC is considered quite potent in the line of psychoactive drugs. So much so that a dose via IV of just one milligram will have a serious effect on a patient, giving him or her psychological and mental effects. THC can reach the brain in mere seconds after a person inhales the smoke, and it immediately goes to work. Most users describe their experience as euphoric with a mellow and relaxing overtone that is often associated with a light-headed and hazy feeling. Sometimes the pupils will dilate, creating a more intense color experience, giving the user a feeling that all senses are enhanced. Some users also experience panic and paranoia when the mellow relaxation wears off. These feelings are usually caused by the process of THC interacting with different brain chemicals. In order to understand just how marijuana can affect your brain, the first step is understanding the different portions of the brain that can be affected through THC use.

This is a basic overview:

  • The cells that are responsible for processing information within the brain are the neurons. Neurotransmitters are what allow the different neurons to speak with each other.
  • Neurotransmitters fill up the synapses, or gaps, between the different neurons, binding with protein receptors, enabling different functions and allowing the body and brain functions to turn on or off.
  • Some of the neurons have a few thousand receptors that look for a specific neurotransmitter.
  • THC and other chemicals can block or mirror these actions, causing interference with the body's normal functions.

Each grouping of cannabinoid receptors within your brain is concentrated within numerous different locations. That allows the receptors to have differing effects on many different physical and mental activities,

such as:

  • Coordination
  • Problem-solving
  • Short-term memory
  • Learning

The main neurotransmitter that activates these cannabinoid receptors is called anandamide. This neurotransmitter is part of the cannabinoid chemical line along with THC. THC can mirror the same actions and reactions that anandamide creates, allowing THC to attach to the cannabinoid receptors, activating these specific neurons, adversely affecting a human's body and mind. The hippocampus, basal ganglia and cerebellum are responsible for holding the greatest number of cannabinoid receptors. The brain's hippocampus, located in the brain's temporal lobe, is partly responsible for short-term memory. This allows THC to interfere with the ability to recall recent events when it attaches to the receptors here. The cerebellum is responsible for coordination, allowing THC to affect this portion of the body as well. Then when you refer to muscle movements that are totally unconscious, then you are under the control of the basal ganglia portion of the brain. This is part of the reason why motor skills are not as coordinated when people are "high" on marijuana.

Additional physiological effects

In addition to the brain, the side effects of marijuana reach many other parts of the body. Marijuana is filled with hundreds of chemicals, and when it is burned, hundreds of additional compounds are produced. When marijuana is inhaled or ingested in some other form, several short-term effects occur.

Some of marijuana's side effects are:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks
  • Distorted perception
  • Loss of coordination

The chemicals created by marijuana stay within the human body quite some time, even if the symptoms appear to be worn off after 1-2 hours. The half-life that THC leaves is anywhere from 20 hours to an astounding 10 days, depending on how much marijuana was ingested and how potent the crop was. This boils down to still having 0.031 mg of the THC in your system an astonishing 4 days after ingesting just one milligram of marijuana. The more potent the crop, the longer you can still have THC surging through your body.

People are still arguing over how addictive marijuana really is. Some studies are starting to show withdrawal symptoms after people stop using marijuana. The symptoms of withdrawal typically include nervousness, anxiety, irritability, anger and even depression. The rare symptoms can include significant changes in a person's appetite, interrupted sleep patterns or insomnia, restlessness or violent outbursts. There is also the dependence of the mind, creating a situation where the mind craves that same high that the body is trying to find. Then you also have to include the same risks to your health that other smokers face, like emphysema, bronchitis or bronchial asthma. The smallest symptoms that nearly all users face are red eye, impaired ability to concentrate, motor skills that are not as quick as normal or dry mouth.

Medical marijuana use

There are known benefits of using medical marijuana. Doctor's know that using marijuana can relieve eye pressure for glaucoma patients, relieve or suppress nausea, decrease the number and severity of muscle spasms, reduce convulsions, increase the appetite and nearly eliminate the pain of menstruation altogether. There is now evidence that other conditions can be effectively treated with marijuana use, including: epilepsy (convulsions), multiple sclerosis (muscles), cancer and AIDS treatment (increasing appetite and decreasing nausea) and glaucoma (eye pressure). The problem is figuring out which effects to focus on the good for helping or the bad for the potential harm it causes. Twenty-one states currently allow marijuana use in a medical environment or legalized marijuana in general, and hopefully others will follow soon.

These states include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Colombia [DC]
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampsire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

The potency of marijuana

There is a lot of argument over the potency of today's marijuana compared to the marijuana of just a few decades ago. According to the government, today's marijuana crops are 10-25 times more potent than marijuana was in the 1960s, but no one is completely certain if this is true or not. We all know that the potency of current marijuana plants has increased, but the doubt comes in as to just how much. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Director, Alan Leshner, "There's no question that marijuana, today, is more potent than the marijuana in the 1960's. However, if you were to look at the average marijuana potency which is about 3.5 percent, it's been relatively stable for the last 20 years. Having said that, it's very important that what we have now is a wider range of potencies available than we had in the 1970's, in particular." This was said under testimony in 1999 to the United States House Subcommittee on Crime. This is under debate by those who would like to see marijuana legalized because there were only select locations that had testing during the 1960s and '70s, so the information that is being represented may be skewed.

Many people believe the testing was only done on a specific variety of Mexican marijuana specifically grown for its low THC levels of just 0.4-1.0%. When you compare the results from this variety to other varieties of cannabis, the results look as though potency has dramatically increased over the last three decades. Standard THC levels range from 0.3% on the low end to 4% on the high end, but a few select varieties can have THC levels that top out around 15%. When determining potency, make sure you include the following information:

  • The genetics of the marijuana plant you are testing
  • The environment, including climate, that the marijuana grew in
  • How the marijuana was harvested and then processed

Some of the other factors that can determine potency include the time when each marijuana plant was harvested, if the plant was a male or a female as females have higher THC levels, the maturity of the plant at harvest time and how many different cross sections were taken to test with. If the plant was not fully mature at the time of testing, the cannabidiolic acid would not have converted fully to THC yet, making the results inaccurate. The same goes with tests performed on male plants, further skewing potential results. Back in the 1960s and '70s, cross sections were not tested with, so the accuracy of any comparison would be able to be questioned.