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What is Cannabis?

Close up of Cannabis plant

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis, also called marijuana, dope, pot and weed (to name only a few!), has been used for thousands of years, but has been demonized in the last few decades. Today, an ever-growing body of scientific research is proving (once again) that this plant offers some amazing health benefits. Here is what you need to know about cannabis and its benefits.  

So, what is Cannabis? Cannabis actually refers mainly two strains of the cannabis plant – Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis-based products are made from the flowers, leaves, stems and seeds of the plant.  

The cannabis plant contains substances known as cannabinoids. There are more than 113 different types of cannabinoids, of which THC and CBD are the most abundant in the plant. THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol and it is a psychoactive substance. The second chemical is CBD, or Cannabidiol, and it is more of a relaxant. It is these two substances that have the greatest impact on the effect that cannabis has on a person.   

The consumption of cannabis includes smoking, eating or drinking it with edibles, or even using it as tinctures, balms or oils that can be applied topically.  

A Short History of Cannabis 

Do you know that people have used the cannabis plant to treat their ailments for more than 3,000 years? The plant originated in Central Asia in southern Siberia, Mongolia, South Asia, the Hindu Kush Mountains, the Huang He River Valley and Afghanistan.  

The first documented use of cannabis dates back to 4000 BC, when it was used as an anaesthetic. But it was the Chinese herbalist, Emperor Sheng Nung who documented the first case of its consumption in 2700 BC. He documented the consumption of cannabis as a treatment for rheumatism, gout, malaria and many other diseases.  

Ancient Indian documents written in Sanskrit show that cannabis was used for meditation as well as a treatment for anxiety!  

Cannabis spread to other parts of the world with the establishment of trade and the Silk Road. By 1292 BC, cannabis use had spread to Iran, Anatolia, Egypt and other parts of Africa, Greece, Russia, Ukraine and other parts of the western world.  

While the original use of cannabis was for medicinal purposes, it began to be used as a recreational drug. By the 18th century, cannabis in all its forms began to be considered harmful and by the early 20th century, the herb was deemed illegal in the United States, which was at the forefront of discrediting cannabis use.  

The move to make marijuana illegal was based on economics, politics and culture – and not the actual effects of the herb. Leaders of the time spread the fear that marijuana or cannabis consumption would lead to depravity and crime. There was also a racist element promoted that the biggest consumers of this drug were the minority communities (the blacks, Hispanics and other foreigners) and keeping it legal would encourage them to migrate to the United States, thereby threatening the white communities.  

The panic about marijuana use reached fever pitch in the mid-1900s, when it was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it had a high potential for misuse and no medicinal value. This classification greatly impacted research into the benefits of this herb.  

Over the decades, there were stalwarts who fought against this demonization of cannabis and they worked tirelessly to prove that this herb had medicinal value (as was proved in ancient times). But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the American government began to change its stance towards marijuana and other cannabis-based products.  

Today, states across the US and countries around the world are beginning to legalize the use of medical and even recreational marijuana (and other cannabis related products).  

Scientist examining development of Cannabis

Benefits of Cannabis 

Modern research is once again proving what the ancients knew – that there are many benefits to using cannabis. Here is a list of some of the biggest and most well-document benefits of using cannabis: 

Pain Relief 

It has been proven that medical marijuana can help giving relief from many types of pain. Pain caused by arthritis, multiple sclerosis or chronic pain in adults can be relieved by the use of cannabis.  

Fights Cancer 

A study published in a medical journal (Molecular Cancer Therapeutics) showed that Cannabidiol had the ability to stop cancer by inhibiting the Id-1 gene. Another report published by San Francisco’s California Pacific Center showed that the use of cannabis could prevent the spread of cancer. And the American Association of Cancer Research has shown that the use of marijuana help slow down the growth of tumors in lung, breast and brain cancers significantly.  

Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease 

A study carried out by Kim Janda from the Scripps Research Institute revealed that the use of THC could actually slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. The research found that THC was responsible for reducing the formation of amyloid plaques which kill the brain cells and lead to Alzheimer’s.  

Controls Epileptic Seizures 

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robert J DeLorenzo carried out a study on epileptic rats, which was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. He administered marijuana to the test subjects and found that its use stopped their seizures for a period of 10 hours.  

There are also numerous anecdotal reports of cannabis helping humans with epilepsy.  

Eases Parkinson’s Disease Tremors 

Studies carried out in Israel have revealed that the use of marijuana can reduce the tremors and the accompanying pain that Parkinson’s patients experience. It also helps them sleep better. The use of this herb also improved fine motor skills in these patients.  

Treating Anxiety 

Research carried out at Harvard University in 2010 suggests that the use of cannabis can help with people suffering from anxiety. Another study carried out by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute shows that THC in small doses could help decrease anxiety (but at higher doses could increase the patient’s condition) and CBD in all doses reduced anxiety.  

These are only some of the benefits of using cannabis. Studies are still revealing even more benefits of this herb.  

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