The topic of marijuana use is very broad and has an intricate effect on society as a whole, however, for the purpose of this paper; the literature review is based on facts covering a brief overview of the existence, use, and effect of marijuana. The history of the Cannabis plant and the outcomes associated with the use and abuse of marijuana is the major focus of this paper.
What Is Marijuana? Marijuana is a drug obtained from dried and crumpled parts of the hemp plant Cannabis. Cannabis is botanically classified as a member of the family Cannabaceae and the genus Cannabis. There are 3 known species of Cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. (Lorimer 214) Cannabis sativa is a tall plant, generally between 8 and 12 feet. The leaves have long thin fingers and are light green. The more equatorial varieties have more yellow pigments to protect the plant from intense light. Sativa seed pods are long and thin and turn red as they mature in a warm environment. In cooler environments, the buds may be slightly purple. Sativa plants smell sweet and fruity and the smoke is generally quite mild. (Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia)
For thousands of years, the plant cannabis sativa, otherwise known as hemp or marijuana, has been harvested by people and utilized in many different ways. It has been grown to provide food for villages and towns, and used for clothes, rope, and sails on early ships. The Bible was written on hemp paper, as well as the first draft of the US Constitution. (House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, Ninth Report 1998) Marijuana is known by a variety of names such as kif (Morocco), dagga (South Africa), and bhang (India). Common in the United States, marijuana is called pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, bones, etc. (Lorimer 214) The plant contains THC, which gives smokers the psychic effects they seek. The leaves of this plant are smoked but the most highly prized part of the plant is the top, smoked by rolling inside tobacco paper or placing in a pipe. (Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia) It is consumed worldwide by an estimated 200,000,000 persons for pleasure, an escape from reality, or relaxation. (Berger) The use of marijuana is widespread by all classes, races, and cultures. (Smith)
The first definite record of the marijuana plant in the New World dates from 1545 AD, when the Spaniards introduced it into Chile. It has been suggested, however, that African slaves familiar with marijuana as an intoxicant and medicine brought the seeds with them to Brazil even earlier in the sixteenth century. (Lorimer 215) There are no records that the Pilgrims brought marijuana with them to Plymouth, but the Native Americans introduced the Pilgrims to tobacco and other forms of drugs such as Marijuana. The Jamestown settlers did bring the plant to Virginia in 1611, and cultivated it for its fiber, the hemp, which was used to make rope. (Erriod’s Cannabis Vault) Marijuana was introduced into New England in 1629 and from then until after the Civil War, the marijuana plant was a major crop in North America.
The Marijuana Plant played an important role in both colonial and national economic policy. In 1762, Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and manufacture, and imposed penalties upon those who did not produce it. George Washington was growing hemp at Mount Vernon three years later, presumably for its fiber. The fact has been argued that Washington was also concerned to increase the medicinal or intoxicating potency of his marijuana plants. The argument depends on a curious tradition, which may or may not be sound, that the quality or quantity of marijuana resin (hashish) is enhanced if the male and female plants are separated before the females are pollinated. There can be no doubt that Washington separated the males from the females. Two entries in his diary supply the evidence: May 12-13, 1765: Sowed Hemp at Muddy hole by Swamp. (Andrews 34) August 7, 1765: `-began to separate the Male from the Female Hemp Do-rather too late. (Andrews 34) Washington’s August 7 diary entry clearly indicates that he was cultivating the plant for medicinal purposes as well for it’s fiber. (Andrews 34) he might have separated the males from the females to get better fiber, but his phrase rather too late suggests that he wanted to complete the separation before the female plants were fertilized and this was a practice related to drug potency rather than to fiber culture. (Andrews 34)
British mercantile policy hampered American hemp culture for a time during and after the colonial period by offering heavy bounties on hemp exported from Ireland, but the American plantings continued despite this subsidized competition. At various times in the nineteenth century, large hemp plantations flourished in Mississippi, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Nebraska, and other states, as well as on Staten Island, New York. The invention of the cotton gin and of other cotton and wool machinery, and competition from cheap imported hemp, were major factors in the decline in United States hemp cultivation.
The decline in commercial production did not, however, mean that marijuana became scarce. As late as 1937, the American commercial crop was still estimated at 10,000 acres, much of it in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky. Four million pounds of marijuana seed a year were being used in bird feed. During World War II, commercial cultivation was greatly expanded, at the request of the United States Department of Agriculture, to meet the shortage of imported hemp for rope. Even decades after commercial cultivation has been discontinued, hemp can often be found growing luxuriantly as a weed in abandoned fields and along roadsides. Indeed, the plant readily spreads to additional territory. The area of Nebraska land infested with weed marijuana was estimated in 1969 at 156,000 acres. One acre of good land yields about one thousand pounds of marijuana, enough for almost one million marijuana cigarettes. Not until after 1920 did marijuana come into general use-and not until the 1960s did it become a popular drug. (US Dept of Health and Human Services).
Marijuana is the second most popular drug after alcohol in the country today. So many people smoke marijuana that the numbers alone seem to legitimize and condone its presence in people’s lives. Yet, even in moderation marijuana is not ‘safe.’ Somehow this information had not filtered down to people who think they are smoking a fairly harmless drug. Our society perpetuates the myths about pot being a fun, harmless, recreational drug. These myths feed into people’s denial of marijuana’s problems (Baum). However, the abuse of marijuana is a problem. It is not only a personal problem, but also more importantly a social problem.
Marijuana is not a narcotic and is not physically addicting drug. Marijuana is a naturally occurring plant with several species. It is also otherwise consumed worldwide by an estimated 200,000,000 persons for pleasure, an escape from reality, or relaxation. Marijuana serves to diminish inhibitions and acts as a euphoriant. (New York State Journal of Medicine) Some who smoke marijuana feel no effects; others feel relaxed and sociable, tend to laugh a great deal, and have a profound loss of the sense of time. Characteristically, those under the influence of marijuana show bad coordination and impaired ability to perform skilled acts. Still others experience a wide range of emotions including feelings of perception, fear, insanity, happiness, love and anger. Although marijuana is not addicting, it may be habituating. The individual may become mentally rather than physically dependent on the drug. (Snyder 574)
Cannabis indicia and cannabis sativa are the two most common types of marijuana in the developed world. These two species can be prepared for the use of people in a number of ways. The plant may be dried and used for intoxication, or as resin can be collected from the plant by compressing the plant into a brick. Also by drying the plant and boiling it in alcohol and filtering the matter to make hash oil is a way of preparing the plant for human consumption. (Adams 366)
The potency of the marijuana substances depends on the climatic conditions, soil nutrients of the environment in which the plant is grown. These ways include inhaling the fumes by smoking the plant, or by eating the plant baked into biscuits. The levels of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical in marijuana consumed from the different methods of administering varies, and so does the effect of the administered amount. THC is lipid soluble and is stored readily in fatty tissues in the body. As a consequence, traces of THC can be detected in the urine up to 2 – 3 months after marijuana use. The reason for the extended period of time that THC stays in the body is that unlike alcohol, which is excreted through the kidneys, THC very slowly seeps out of the fat cells. Therefore, a trace of THC in the urine of a person is not necessarily an indication of recent marijuana use. (National institute on Health USA)
The recreational use of marijuana is one area where harmful physical and mental effects occur. Recreational can be divided into the two groups, experimental and habitual. According to the National Drug Strategy (1994) experimental use of marijuana is statistically the most prevalent, with an estimate of 80% of marijuana users being experimental users. Regular users of marijuana are those who use marijuana on a weekly basis, the prevalence of regular users are 15%. Chronic habitual users are those users who have used marijuana on a daily basis for a number of years. Prevalence of habitual users is 5% of the total amount of marijuana smokers. (Torr)
The effect of marijuana is varied from individual to individual. This is because of the variables in route of administration, the mood of the user, the environment in which marijuana is smoked, the amount smoked, the body’s ability to absorb, previous use, and the potency of the drug. The human body has cells called cannabinoid receptors, which respond to THC and absorb and distribute THC to the nervous system. THC is rapidly distributed throughout the body starting with the brain, liver, and kidneys, and later distributes right through to the extremities with less blood flow. THC levels peak at 30 – 40 minutes after smoking marijuana, and within 2 – 3 hours if ingested orally. This slower release of THC is due to their high fat solubility and the consequent slow release back into the blood from the ‘storage’ areas, namely the fat supplies, of the body. Harmful effects of Marijuana can be physical and mental effects. Both the physical effects and the mental effects can be divided into short term and long term damage. In other words, from the use of marijuana short term, and long term damage has been found in individuals. (Snyder 575) This damage is mental damage, physical damage, or both. Short-term damage is only temporary, and the individual will recover some weeks after stopping the use of marijuana. Long term damage, on the other hand, will last a lifetime.
Initially, within a few minutes of inhaling marijuana smoke, users likely experience dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, some loss of coordination, a decreased sense of balance, and slower reaction times. Blood pressure is likely to increase and, in some cases the heart rate can double the baseline rate. Marijuana smokers regularly encounter many of the same physical respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have. These individuals may have daily coughs, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and more frequent chest colds than non-smokers. Continuing to smoke marijuana can lead to abnormal functioning of the lungs and airways. Chronic use of marijuana can (by inhalation) causes some mutated effects and is of possible danger to having cancerous properties. Hence, it can be concluded that chronic use of marijuana can have the harmful physical effect of causing lung cancer. Also, on the topic of mutated damage from the effect of marijuana on human genetics, chronic use may also lead to decreased testosterone concentrations and cause passing periodically, or restriction of spermatocytes. Furthermore, THC suppresses the neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for information processing, learning, memory, and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivation. Presence of suppressed neurons in schizophrenia patients clearly links the common theory of a cause of drug induced schizophrenia as being contributed to by marijuana use/abuse. (Lord 18) Chronic abuse of marijuana is also associated with the harmful mental effects of impaired attention span and memory. The exposure of unborn babies to marijuana has been associated with the mental effects of impaired verbal reasoning and memory in preschool children. Of possible relevance are findings from animal studies showing chronic exposure to THC, physically affects the animals because THC damages and destroys nerve cells and causes pathological changes in the hippocampus. This form of damage is irreversible and long term. This illustrates the theory that the same damaging physical effect that marijuana has had on these animals’ nerve cells probably also occur in human beings. Hence, it can be reasoned that marijuana had the harmful physical effect of destroying nerve cells which, in turn, causes the mental damage of impaired memory, and attention span of individuals using marijuana. (Morgan, John P. and Zimmer, Lynn 63)
Another chronic harmful effect of marijuana use is the mental effect that cannabis has on motivation. Particularly in adolescents, chronic use of marijuana interferes with developmental tasks such as academic achievement, separation from parents, formation of peer relationships, the making of life choices and goal setting. THC simply affects individuals in such a way that from constant use individuals loose all of the mentioned wants, goals, and relationship strengths. The acute harmful effects of marijuana are also referred to as a high, or altered state of consciousness. Emotional change and increased sensory experiences such as; increased perception of listening to music, sexual intercourse, or eating food characterize the feeling of being high. Each individual’s perception of a high differs greatly. Some common unpleasant experiences, however, include anxiety, panic attacks and depressed mood. (Grolier Wellness Electronic Encyclopedia)
Many current studies show evidence that marijuana is therapeutic in the treatment of a number of serious ailments and is less toxic and costly than many conventional medicines (House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, Ninth Report 1998). The most well known use for Medical Marijuana is its effectiveness as an anti-nauseate for cancer chemotherapy. Smoking marijuana usually proves more effective than conventional prescription anti-nauseates. (Annual Report: Evaluation of Marijuana and Tetrahydrocannabinol in Treatment of Nausea and/or Vomiting Associated with Cancer, New York State Journal of Medicine, 1988). Smoking marijuana stimulates the appetite and promotes weight gain for these patients, allowing them to keep their food down as well as any oral medicine they may be taking. Scientific evidence also suggests that marijuana is a valuable aid in reducing pain and suffering for patients with a variety of other serious ailments. Marijuana is proven to help ease the nausea, vomiting, and the loss of appetite experienced by many AIDS patients without accelerating the rate at which HIV positive individuals develop clinical AIDS or other illnesses (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Statement on the Medical Use of Marijuana). Marijuana is not only used for terminal diseases. It has also been clinically proven to be effective as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of a variety of spastic conditions and has been known to aid patients suffering from glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Marijuana reduces intraocular pressure (IOP) in patients with ocular hypertension or open-angle glaucoma (Trusopt for Reduction of Intraocular Pressure, March 1995). People suffering from conditions such as multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, epilepsy, and quadriplegia also benefit from marijuana’s ability to suppress convulsions, and it also alleviates muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Statement on the Medical Use of Marijuana). Medical/therapeutic use of marijuana is largely concealed because of the known fact that marijuana is an illegal drug in most countries. However, history shows that marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for over 3000 years. (Barnett 2)
In conclusion, what I have found is that the 20th century, marijuana has been used more for its euphoric effects than as a medicine. Its physical and mental effects have concerned public officials since the drug first appeared in the southwestern and southern states during the first two decades of the century. By 1931, at least 29 states had prohibited use of the drug for non-medical purposes (Baum).
Marijuana was first regulated at the federal level by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which required anyone producing, distributing, or using marijuana for medical purposes to register and pay a tax, and which effectively prohibited non medical use of the drug. Although the Act did not make medical use of marijuana illegal, it did make it expensive and inconvenient. In 1942, marijuana was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia because it was believed to be a harmful and addictive drug that caused psychoses, mental deterioration, and violent behavior. (Snyder 575)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a sharp increase in marijuana use among adolescents and young adults. The current legal status of marijuana was established in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, which divided drugs into five Schedules and placed marijuana in Schedule I, the category for drugs with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. (Barnett 2)
This paper has merely touched the surface of the topic of marijuana. Further, the topic of marijuana is perpetual and complex. It has been concluded in this paper that the use of marijuana is widespread by all classes, races, and cultures. It has been discussed in that marijuana has been used for a multitude of purposes over thousands of years, and is still, today, being used for many of the same purposes. A brief history of marijuana was been reviewed in order for the reader to comprehend the circumstances of the place marijuana has in society. The acute and chronic harmful physical and mental effects of marijuana on individuals have been disclosed; the outcomes associated with the use and abuse of marijuana have been discussed, and the future possibilities of marijuana’s medicinal uses have been touched upon. Finally, this paper has achieved outlining a botanical plant that has a definite past, present, and future in the role of society.
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