Oh, weed. Enthusiastic users all over the internet claim it unlocks our brain’s full potential. They say marijuana shows us more dimensions than we can imagine, like three weren’t enough. On the other hand, the image of your mom waiting, slipper in hand — is a cogent enough argument against it.
When it comes to talking about weed, this is one of the biggest problems we face. Not our moms, but the fact that each person has an extreme stance on it — either too conservative or too lax. When it comes to talking about marijuana, the arguments are usually centred around why it should or shouldn’t be used. We rarely talk about what it is or isn’t. Only when we look at it objectively can we have an open discourse about it.
Boiled down, marijuana is a mixture of mainly two components — an active ingredient called THC, and a component called CBD. THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the main mind-altering or psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Both components interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system but produce greatly different results. THC is responsible for the ‘high’ that most people seek. Cannabidiol, or CBD on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis. It is responsible for providing the therapeutic effect that cannabis is so famous for.
The first recorded use of cannabis was recorded in 2737 BC, by the Chinese emperor Shenyang, who used it as a medicine for gout, malaria, and poor memory. Over the course of time, it spread throughout Eurasia. In India, it was mixed into drinks called bhang. Europeans brought it to the Americas, where it became a major crop.
However, around the 17th century, attitudes towards drugs changed because of growing alcohol and opium addiction. Drugs were believed to cause mental illness. Mexican immigrants started pouring into the USA, and they brought their weed with them. This xenophobia further fueled the paranoia around drugs. It’s because of America’s worldwide influence that drugs gained notoriety worldwide.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon launched “the war on drugs” to eradicate drug use in the country. The US classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same classification given to heroin. Even hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines were classified only as Schedule 2 drugs.
However, this didn’t affect the supply of weed. Prices dropped, demand increased, strains got stronger and total weed consumption increased dramatically. This begs the question — was the harsh crackdown really warranted? Well, marijuana does have its fair share of demerits.
Cannabis is mainly ingested by smoking it, which is not advisable at all since it adversely affects lung health. It has been found that it poses a cancer risk, though it is unclear whether cannabis itself is the reason since its use often overlaps with tobacco use. Since it directly affects the brain, excessive use of cannabis has been found to impair brain health — often going so far as to affect learning, memory, and attention. These effects can be permanent in some cases.
Cannabis users also have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses. Repeat users were found to be more prone to suicidal thoughts. Marijuana use was also found to worsen some existing mental issues, like bipolar disorder. Another major problem is that cannabis is a gateway drug. What this means is a person who tries cannabis is much more likely to try other, more dangerous drugs — which could lead to a lifetime of drug abuse. Cannabis use at an early age leads to underdevelopment of brain function. Cannabis use may also contribute to low performance at school or the workplace, posing a major threat to overall progress in society.
On the other hand, ingesting cannabis does have its benefits. To start off, cannabis is great for relieving stress. It releases feel-good hormones and is known to help cope with PTSD and depression. While certainly addictive and not harmless, it is just as addictive as coffee, and may even be less harmful depending on the frequency of usage. Compared to the most commonly used recreational substance in the world, alcohol — weed is certainly a safer alternative.
Cannabis is also a natural painkiller. The benefit it has over other painkillers is that it doesn’t adversely affect your kidneys. UFC fighter Nate Diaz is known to smoke weed after his fights to relieve the pain. Cannabis derivatives are also being researched for their property to cure cancer.
Apart from the medical benefits, legalising weed also ensures that the government can monitor the supply and prices. This makes it difficult for underage users to obtain the substance, reduces gang violence, and stops the strains from getting stronger and more harmful.
As you can see, our friendly neighbourhood ganja has its perks and its downfalls, two sides which still need plenty of research to be carried through. At the end of the day, the fact that marijuana is a substance remains unchanged. What can be changed though, is the way it is perceived by society. So, the next time you see someone blindly touting its benefits or outright dismissing them, be sure to make an informed decision.
Written by Sabarish Padmakumar and Swagat Sarkar for MTTN
Edited by Radhika Taneja for MTTN
Featured Image from Santa Fe Reporter