What is Cannabis?

What is Marijuana? What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is known by many names. In the United States, the drug is known as marijuana. It is also known as grass, pot, weed, Mary Jane, draw, dope, puff, hash, pot, spliff, wacky backy or weed. In the UK we generally call it Cannabis (which is the agreed international term used in much legislation.) It is one of the most controversial illegal substances around the world today.

What Is The Cannabis Plant?

To understand the difference between the terms marijuana and cannabis, it’s important to realise that marijuana is not a plant of any kind. Marijuana is simply a name used to describe the dried flowers or leaves of a specific type of Cannabis plant. Cannabis itself is a group of flowering plants. Within that group are specific cannabis plants such as Cannabis Sativa. If you pick the leaves or flowers of a Cannabis Sativa plant and dry them out, they will usually be referred to as marijuana.

Cannabis isn’t always used for its leaves, however. In addition to the leaves (the least powerful drug from the cannabis plant which are smoked or sometimes eaten), cannabis plants excrete a thick sap-like resin which can be compressed, dried, and formed into small cubes used for smoking or eating—these cubes are known as hashish. Even more potent than hashish, naturally occurring oil from hashish called hash oil can also be obtained from cannabis plants and is also used for smoking.

Where Does the Term Marijuana Originate?

The term cannabis dates back as far as 440 BC where it was mentioned in Ancient Greek texts in relation to recreational use.

The word marijuana, on the other hand, has not been around for nearly that long. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first time marijuana was ever used in an English recording was toward the end of the 19th century.

The most likely origin for the term marijuana is most likely from somewhere in present-day Latin America. Most agree that the term marigu-ano, a Brazilian Portuguese word that means “intoxicant” or the Mexican Spanish word mariguana are the original sources of the term. A slightly more colourful explanation for the origin of the word, though less likely, is that it came from the Mexican military slang term “Maria Juana” (Mary and Jane) which, at the time, meant prostitute. Regardless of the early origins, by the 1900s the term marijuana was frequently used in Mexico and eventually made its way into the English language shortly thereafter.

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug among 11-25 year olds.

What Does Cannabis Look Like?

Cannabis comes in many forms. Resin, a thick substance that can be taken from the plant, is a hard brown substance that has a slight resemblance to liquorice. More commonly the seeds, stalks and leaves of the plant (often referred to as grass or weed) are a brown or dark green colour slightly resembling tobacco when dried. A dark oil taken from the plant is also fairly common.

How Do Users Take Cannabis?

The most common way to take cannabis is by smoking. The leaves, stems, and even flowers of the plant are dried and often rolled into cigarette paper (commonly referred to as a joint or spliff) before being smoked. Some users smoke the leaves directly in special pipes or other devices like bongs and hookahs.

Many users seek a more intense experience when using cannabis and prefer to cook and eat the leaves or steep them in tea to be drank. While the effects are stronger, they are also harder to control when not smoked.

What Short-term Effects Come From Cannabis Use?

Once inhaled, drank, or eaten the effects that cannabis has on users is almost instantaneous. Users start to become more relaxed, less socially anxious, and begin to laugh, talk, and giggle more than they would.

Using cannabis not only affects the mood of users; once taken concentration levels can drastically decrease and short-term memory loss is often a common symptom. Some research has shown that it can lower fertility levels in women as well.

A lack of energy, motivation, and paranoia are often encountered with cannabis users and—in a addition to a slowed reaction time—there are a lot of vehicular accidents when smoking cannabis Is involved.

How Does Cannabis Effect Users in the Long-term?

Because the mainstream advocacy of cannabis is a relatively recent event, it’s difficult to say what the exact long-term effects cannabis will have on users will be. Many of the studies being conducted now, however, show that smoking cannabis—just like smoking cigarettes—can cause lung and respiratory infections, heart problems, and addiction.

Another study has revealed that there could be a very powerful link between cannabis use and negative effects on mental health. Sudden mood swings, irritability, and irrational behaviour have been observed in many experiments in the last 20 years.

What Class Drug Is Cannabis?

In the United Kingdom the government made a change the drug classification for cannabis from a class C drug to a class B drug in 2009. The maximum penalty for possession of Cannabis is 5 years in jail plus an unlimited fine. The maximum penalty for supplying or intent to supply is 14 years in jail plus an unlimited fine.

Photo Credit: Michael Fischer

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2013.


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