Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual use and is found in pharmacological cults around the world. It is known to have been used as long ago as the 3rd millenium BC, by indigenous people of Central and South Asia, ancient Hindus, Indians and Assyrians. Settlements dating back from c. 2200 to 1700 BCE in the Bactria and Margiana regions show evidence of cannabis consumption for religious and spiritual rituals. Cannabis is first referred to in Hindu Vedas between 2000 and 1400 BCE, in the Atharvaveda. In ancient Germanic culture, cannabis was associated with the Norse love goddess, Freya. In India today, “ganja” is offered to the god Shiva.
In modern times, cannabis has been used for recreational, religious, spiritual, and medicinal purposes. The UN estimated that in 2004 about 4% of the world’s population (approximately 162 million people) use cannabis annually, and about 0.6% (22.5 million) on a daily basis. The possession, preparation, sale, distribution and use of cannabis became illegal in most parts of the world in the early 20th century. According to the UN, cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the world.
Cannabis is classified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, making the manufacture, possession, sale, and use of cannabis by anyone punishable by federal law. Cannabis exhibits a combination of stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogenic properties, leaning towards hallucinogenic or psychedelic properties. Though tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is typically considered the primary active component of the cannabis plant, various studies have suggested that certain other cannabinoids like cannabinol (CBD) may also contribute to its psychoactive effects.
Cannabis is consumed in many different ways, most of which involve inhaling vaporized cannabinoids (“smoke”) from small pipes, bongs, joints, or tobacco-leaf-wrapped blunts. Fresh, non-dried cannabis may also be consumed orally. Additionally, cannabis may be consumed as a tea or as an ingredient in baked or cooked foods, such as cookies, brownies, or sauces.
During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) used cannabis as a truth serum. In the early 1940s, it was the most effective truth drug at the OSS labs at St. Elizabeth Hospital, and caused a subject to impart information openly, thoroughly and accurately after ingestion.
In the later part of the 20th century, the medical field began to experiment with cannabis as an alternative medication in treating a variety of conditions, including nausea and vomiting; its use has also been applied to the stimulation of appetite, the discomfort of chemotherapy for AIDS patients, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, depression and anxiety.
Cannabis has psychoactive and physiological effects when consumed. Cannabis causes a subjective change in perception and mood, and the most common short-term physical and neurological effects include increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure; impairment of short-term and working memory, psychomotor coordination, and concentration. Users also experience heightened sexual arousal, euphoria and relaxation. Adverse effects of cannabis use include acute anxiety, visual and auditory hallucinations, fluctuations in body temperature; paranoia, insatiable hunger, weight gain, and psychosis.
Cannabis sativa is known to induce more of a “high” by stimulating hunger and by producing a more comedic or energetic feeling; cannabis indica is known to induce a more “stoned” or meditative feeling.
Various forms of cannabis exist, including hashish, hash oil and kief, among other cannabis-derived preparations. Cannabis exhibits a combination of properties similar to other drugs, such as stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. Therefore, the stimulant effects of cannabis are similar to those of drugs such as nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine; the depressant effects of cannabis are similar to those of drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepine, and heroin and other analgesics (pain relievers); and the hallucinogenic effects of cannabis are similar to those of drugs such as psilocybin (mushrooms), LSD, ecstasy, peyote, mescaline, and salvia. Spice (also known as K2), a drug legally obtained in a smoke shop, is a synthetic psychoactive herbal and chemical product which, when consumed, mimics the effects of cannabis and attaches to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
According to The Lancet, a medical journal in the United Kingdom, cannabis has a lower rate of dependence compared to nicotine and alcohol; however, everyday use of cannabis can be correlated to the development of psychological dependence. An individual who is addicted to using cannabis becomes dependent on the drug because it affects the pleasure centers in the brain. Repeated use makes it more difficult for the person to remember events, learn new ideas or skills, and adapt to changes appropriately. This impairment can lead to depression, and the cannabis addict may continue to use the drug as a way to deal with the feelings of emptiness and hopelessness that accompany this disorder. The side effects of cannabis use may also lead to anxiety when the person tries to quit.
Symptoms of withdrawal from cannabis include agitation, insomnia, irritability; nausea, sweating, tremors, and weight loss.
The most common cannabis withdrawal symptom is low-grade anxiety. This type of anxiety is produced by withdrawal, craving, and detoxification from almost all drugs of abuse. It is not the kind of anxiety that can be avoided by thinking positively or staying busy.
A peptide known as corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) is linked to this kind of anxiety. The process of detoxing from cannabis can now be demonstrated as a neurochemical fact. Cannabis increases dopamine and serotonin levels through the intermediary activation of opiate and GABA receptors. So, when the brain stops producing these chemicals abruptly, it must reset and begin to produce them at normal levels on its own.
Consuming cannabis at high levels can result in intensified changes in perception and mood, increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure; impairment of short-term and working memory, psychomotor coordination, and concentration, as well as acute anxiety, visual and auditory hallucinations, fluctuations in body temperature; paranoia, insatiable hunger, weight gain, and psychosis.