Cannabis (drug)

Cannabis (drug)

A flowering cannabis plant
Botanical Cannabis
Source plant(s) Cannabis sativa, Cannabis sativa forma indica, Cannabis ruderalis
Part(s) of plant flower
Geographic origin Central and South Asia.[1]
Active ingredients Tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabinol, tetrahydrocannabivarin
Main producers Afghanistan,[2] Canada,[3] China, Colombia,[4] India,[2] Jamaica,[2] Lebanon,[5] Mexico,[6] Morocco,[2] Netherlands, Pakistan, Paraguay,[6] Spain,[2] Thailand, Turkey, United States[2]
Legal status

Cannabis, also known as marijuana[7] and by numerous other names,a[›] is a preparation of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or medicine.[8][9] The main psychoactive part of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); it is one of 483 known compounds in the plant,[10] including at least 84 other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).[11][12] Cannabis is often consumed for its mental and physical effects, such as heightened mood, relaxation,[13] and an increase in appetite.[14] Possible side-effects include a decrease in short-term memory, dry mouth, impaired motor skills, red eyes,[13] and feelings of paranoia or anxiety.[15] Onset of effects is within minutes when smoked and about 30 minutes when eaten.[16] They last for between two and six hours.[16] Cannabis is mostly used recreationally or as a medicinal drug. It may also be used as part of religious or spiritual rites. In 2013, between 128 and 232 million people used cannabis (2.7% to 4.9% of the global population between the ages of 15 and 65).[17] In 2015, about half of the people in the United States have tried marijuana, 12% have used it in the past year, and 7.3% have used it in the past month.[18] Usage has increased since 2013.[19] The earliest recorded uses date from the 3rd millennium BC.[20] Since the early 20th century, cannabis has been subject to legal restrictions, with the possession, use, and sale of cannabis preparations containing psychoactive cannabinoids currently illegal in most countries of the world; the United Nations deems it the most-used illicit drug in the world.[21][22] Medical marijuana refers to the physician-recommended use of cannabis, which is taking place in Canada, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and 23 U.S. states.[23] Cannabis use, as well as support for legalization, has been increasing in the United States in recent years.[24]


  • Uses 1
    • Medical 1.1
    • Recreational 1.2
    • Spiritual 1.3
    • Available forms 1.4
  • Adverse effects 2
    • Toxicity 2.1
    • Lungs 2.2
    • Cancer 2.3
    • Cardiovascular 2.4
    • Neurological 2.5
    • Suicide 2.6
    • Chronic use 2.7
    • Tolerance and withdrawal 2.8
    • Motor vehicle crashes 2.9
  • Pharmacology 3
    • Mechanism of action 3.1
  • Physical and chemical properties 4
    • Detection in body fluids 4.1
  • Varieties and strains 5
    • Psychoactive ingredients 5.1
  • Preparations 6
    • Marijuana 6.1
    • Kief 6.2
    • Hashish 6.3
    • Tincture 6.4
    • Hash oil 6.5
    • Infusions 6.6
    • Adulterated cannabis 6.7
    • Medical usage 6.8
  • History 7
  • Society and culture 8
    • Legal status 8.1
    • Economics 8.2
      • Production 8.2.1
      • Price 8.2.2
      • Distribution 8.2.3
    • Gateway drug 8.3
  • Research 9
  • Footnotes 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Main short-term physical effects of cannabis


Cannabis is used to [25]

The medicinal value of cannabis is disputed. The American Society of Addiction Medicine dismisses medical use because of concerns about dependence and adverse health effects.[29] The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that cannabis is associated with numerous harmful health effects, and that significant aspects such as content, production, and supply are unregulated. The FDA approves of the prescription of two products (not for smoking) that have pure THC in a small controlled dose as the active substance.[30]


Cannabis has psychoactive and physiological effects when consumed.[31] The immediate desired effects from consuming cannabis include relaxation and mild euphoria (the "high" or "stoned" feeling), while some immediate undesired side-effects include a decrease in short-term memory, dry mouth, impaired motor skills and reddening of the eyes.[32] Aside from a subjective change in perception and mood, the most common short-term physical and neurological effects include increased heart rate, increased appetite and consumption of food, lowered blood pressure, impairment of short-term and working memory,[33][34] psychomotor coordination, and concentration.


Cannabis has held sacred status in several religions.

Available forms

A joint prior to rolling, with a paper handmade filter on the left

Cannabis is consumed in many different ways:[35]

  • smoking, which typically involves inhaling vaporized cannabinoids ("smoke") from small pipes, bongs (portable versions of hookahs with water chamber), paper-wrapped joints or tobacco-leaf-wrapped blunts, roach clips, and other items.[36]
  • vaporizer, which heats any form of cannabis to 165–190 °C (329–374 °F),[37] causing the active ingredients to evaporate into a vapor without burning the plant material (the boiling point of THC is 157 °C (315 °F) at 760 mmHg pressure).[38]
  • cannabis tea, which contains relatively small concentrations of THC because THC is an oil (lipophilic) and is only slightly water-soluble (with a solubility of 2.8 mg per liter).[39] Cannabis tea is made by first adding a saturated fat to hot water (e.g. cream or any milk except skim) with a small amount of cannabis.[40]
  • edibles, where cannabis is added as an ingredient to one of a variety of foods.

Adverse effects

In a 2011 survey of 292 clinical experts in Scotland, Cannabis ranked last in personal harm and 18th in social harm out of 19 common recreational drugs.[41]

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there were 455,000 emergency room visits associated with cannabis use in 2011. These statistics include visits in which the patient was treated for a condition induced by or related to recent cannabis use. The drug use must be "implicated" in the emergency department visit, but does not need to be the direct cause of the visit. Most of the illicit drug emergency room visits involved multiple drugs.[42] In 129,000 cases, cannabis was the only implicated drug.[43][44]

A 2013 literature review said that heavy, long term exposure to marijuana may have biologically-based physical, mental, behavioral and social health consequences and may be "associated with diseases of the liver (particularly with co-existing hepatitis C), lungs, heart, and vasculature".[45] It is recommended that cannabis use be stopped before and during pregnancy.[46]


THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, has low toxicity, the dose of THC needed to kill 50% of tested rodents is extremely high. Acute effects may include anxiety and panic, impaired attention, and memory (while intoxicated), an increased risk of psychotic symptoms, and possibly and increased risk of accidents if a person drives a motor vehicle while intoxicated.[47] Psychotic episodes are well-documented and typically resolve within minutes or hours. There have been few reports of symptoms lasting longer.[48][49] Cannabis has not been reported to cause fatal overdose.[50] Studies have shown that cannabis use causes impairments in memory that persist beyond short-term intoxication.[51]


There has been a limited amount of studies that have looked at the effects of smoking cannabis on the respiratory system.[52] Chronic heavy marijuana smoking is associated with coughing, production of sputum, wheezing, and other symptoms of chronic bronchitis.[47] Regular cannabis use has not been shown to cause significant abnormalities in lung function.[53] Short-term use of cannabis is associated with bronchodilation.[54]


Cannabis smoke contains thousands of organic and inorganic chemical compounds. This tar is chemically similar to that found in tobacco smoke,[55] and over fifty known carcinogens have been identified in cannabis smoke,[56] including; nitrosamines, reactive aldehydes, and polycylic hydrocarbons, including benz[a]pyrene.[57] As of 2015, there is no consensus regarding whether cannabis smoking is associated with an increased risk of cancer.[58] Light and moderate use of cannabis is not believed to increase risk of lung or upper airway cancer. Evidence for causing these cancers is mixed concerning heavy, long-term use. In general there are far lower risks of pulmonary complications for regular cannabis smokers when compared with those of tobacco.[53] Combustion products are not present when using a vaporizer, consuming THC in pill form, or consuming cannabis foods.


There is serious suspicion among cardiologists, spurring research but falling short of definitive proof, that cannabis use has the potential to contribute to cardiovascular disease.[59] Cannabis is believed to be an aggravating factor in rare cases of arteritis, a serious condition that in some cases leads to amputation. Because 97% of case-reports also smoked tobacco, a formal association with cannabis could not be made. If cannabis arteritis turns out to be a distinct clinical entity, it might be the consequence of vasoconstrictor activity observed from delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC.[60] Other serious cardiovascular events including myocardial infarction, stroke, sudden cardiac death, and cardiomyopathy have been reported to be temporally associated with cannabis use. Research in these events is complicated because cannabis is often used in conjunction with tobacco, and drugs such as alcohol and cocaine.[61] These putative effects can be taken in context of a wide range of cardiovascular phenomena regulated by the endocannabinoid system and an overall role of cannabis in causing decreased peripheral resistance and increased cardiac output, which potentially could pose a threat to those with cardiovascular disease.[62] There is some evidence from case reports that cannabis use may provoke fatal cardiovascular events in young people who have not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.[63]


A 2013 review comparing different structural and functional imaging studies showed morphological brain alterations in long-term cannabis users which were found to possibly correlate to cannabis exposure.[64] A 2010 review found resting blood flow to be lower globally and in prefrontal areas of the brain in cannabis users, when compared to non-users. It was also shown that giving THC or cannabis correlated with increased bloodflow in these areas, and facilitated activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and frontal cortex when participants were presented with assignments demanding use of cognitive capacity.[65] Both reviews noted that some of the studies that they examined had methodological limitations, for example small sample sizes or not distinguishing adequately between cannabis and alcohol consumption.[64][65] A 2011 review found that cannabis use impaired cognitive functions on several levels, ranging from basic coordination to executive function tasks.[66] A 2013 review found that cannabis users consistently had smaller hippocampi than nonusers, but noted limitations in the studies analyzed such as small sample sizes and heterogeneity across studies.[67] A 2012 meta-analysis found that the effects of cannabis use on neurocognitive functions were "limited to the first 25 days of abstinence" and that there was no evidence that such use had long-lasting effects.[68]


It is not clear whether cannabis use affects the rate of suicide.[50]

Chronic use

Effects of chronic use may include bronchitis, a cannabis dependence syndrome, and subtle impairments of attention and memory. These deficits persist while chronically intoxicated.[47] There is little evidence that cognitive impairments persist in adult abstinent cannabis users.[69] Compared to non-smokers, people who smoked cannabis regularly in adolescence exhibit reduced connectivity in specific brain regions associated with memory, learning, alertness, and executive function.[44] A study has suggested that sustained heavy, daily, adolescent onset cannabis use over decades is associated with a decline in IQ by age 38. No effects were found in those who initiated cannabis use later, or in those who ceased use earlier in adulthood.[63]

Tolerance and withdrawal

Cannabis usually causes no tolerance or withdrawal symptoms except in heavy users. In a survey of heavy users 42.4% experienced withdrawal symptoms when they tried to quit marijuana such as craving, irritability, boredom, anxiety and sleep disturbances.[70] About 9% of those who experiment with marijuana eventually become dependent. The rate goes up to 1 in 6 among those who begin use as adolescents, and one quarter to one-half of those who use it daily according to a [25] The highest risk of cannabis dependence is found in those with a history of poor academic achievement, deviant behavior in childhood and adolescence, rebelliousness, poor parental relationships, or a parental history of drug and alcohol problems.[71] Cannabis withdrawal is less severe than withdrawal from alcohol.[72]

Motor vehicle crashes

A 2012 meta-analysis found that cannabis use was associated with an increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.[73]


Mechanism of action

The high lipid-solubility of cannabinoids results in their persisting in the body for long periods of time.[74] Even after a single administration of THC, detectable levels of THC can be found in the body for weeks or longer (depending on the amount administered and the sensitivity of the assessment method).[74] A number of investigators have suggested that this is an important factor in marijuana's effects, perhaps because cannabinoids may accumulate in the body, particularly in the lipid membranes of neurons.[75]

Not until the end of the 20th century was the specific mechanism of action of THC at the neuronal level studied. Researchers have subsequently confirmed that THC exerts its most prominent effects via its actions on two types of cannabinoid receptors, the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor, both of which are G-protein coupled receptors.[76] The CB1 receptor is found primarily in the brain as well as in some peripheral tissues, and the CB2 receptor is found primarily in peripheral tissues, but is also expressed in neuroglial cells.[77] THC appears to alter mood and cognition through its agonist actions on the CB1 receptors, which inhibit a secondary messenger system (adenylate cyclase) in a dose dependent manner. These actions can be blocked by the selective CB1 receptor antagonist SR141716A (rimonabant), which has been shown in clinical trials to be an effective treatment for smoking cessation, weight loss, and as a means of controlling or reducing metabolic syndrome risk factors.[78] However, due to the dysphoric effect of CB1 antagonists, this drug is often discontinued due to these side effects.[79]

Via CB1 activation, THC indirectly increases dopamine release and produces psychotropic effects. Cannabidiol also acts as an allosteric modulator of the mu and delta opioid receptors.[80] THC also potentiates the effects of the glycine receptors.[81] The role of these interactions in the "marijuana high" remains elusive.

Physical and chemical properties

Detection in body fluids

THC and its major (inactive) metabolite, THC-COOH, can be measured in blood, urine, hair, oral fluid or sweat using chromatographic techniques as part of a drug use testing program or a forensic investigation of a traffic or other criminal offense.[82] The concentrations obtained from such analyses can often be helpful in distinguishing active use from passive exposure, elapsed time since use, and extent or duration of use. These tests cannot, however, distinguish authorized cannabis smoking for medical purposes from unauthorized recreational smoking.[83] Commercial cannabinoid immunoassays, often employed as the initial screening method when testing physiological specimens for marijuana presence, have different degrees of cross-reactivity with THC and its metabolites.[84] Urine contains predominantly THC-COOH, while hair, oral fluid and sweat contain primarily THC.[82] Blood may contain both substances, with the relative amounts dependent on the recency and extent of usage.[82]

The Duquenois-Levine test is commonly used as a screening test in the field, but it cannot definitively confirm the presence of cannabis, as a large range of substances have been shown to give false positives. Despite this, it is common in the United States for prosecutors to seek plea bargains on the basis of positive D-L tests, claiming them definitive, or even to seek conviction without the use of gas chromatography confirmation, which can only be done in the lab.[85] In 2011, researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported that dietary zinc supplements can mask the presence of THC and other drugs in urine.[86] However, a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine refute the possibility of self-administered zinc producing false-negative urine drug tests.[87]

Varieties and strains

Types of cannabis

CBD is a 5-HT1A receptor agonist, which may also contribute to an anxiolytic effect.[88] This likely means the high concentrations of CBD found in Cannabis indica mitigate the anxiogenic effect of THC significantly.[88] The effects of sativa are well known for their cerebral high, hence its daytime use as medical cannabis, while indica is well known for its sedative effects and preferred night time use as medical cannabis.[88]

Psychoactive ingredients

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), "the amount of THC present in a cannabis sample is generally used as a measure of cannabis potency."[89] The three main forms of cannabis products are the flower, resin (hashish), and oil (hash oil). The UNODC states that cannabis often contains 5% THC content, resin "can contain up to 20% THC content", and that "Cannabis oil may contain more than 60% THC content."[89]

A study published in 2010 has shown that the average THC content of seized marijuana increased from 3.4% in 1993 to 8.8% in 2008.[90] Other studies have found similar increases in potency since cannabis THC content began to be studied in the late 1970s.[91] It is unclear, however, whether the increase in THC content has caused people to consume more THC or if users adjust based on the potency of the cannabis. It is likely that the higher THC content allows people to ingest less tar. At the same time Cannabidiol (CBD) levels in seized samples have lowered as users look for a more mind altering high.[92]

Australia's National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) states that the buds (flowers) of the female cannabis plant contain the highest concentration of THC, followed by the leaves. The stalks and seeds have "much lower THC levels".[93] The UN states that leaves can contain ten times less THC than the buds, and the stalks one hundred times less THC.[89]

After revisions to cannabis rescheduling in the UK, the government moved cannabis back from a class C to a class B drug. A purported reason was the appearance of high potency cannabis. They believe skunk accounts for between 70 and 80% of samples seized by police[94] (despite the fact that skunk can sometimes be incorrectly mistaken for all types of herbal cannabis).[95][96] Extracts such as hashish and hash oil typically contain more THC than high potency cannabis flowers.[97]



Marijuana consists of the dried flowers and subtending leaves and stems of the female Cannabis plant.[98][99][100] This is the most widely consumed form,[100] containing 3% to 20% THC,[101] with reports of up-to 33% THC.[102] In contrast, cannabis varieties used to produce industrial hemp contain less than 1% THC and are thus not valued for recreational use.[103]

This is the stock material from which all other preparations are derived. It is noted that cannabis or its extracts must be sufficiently heated or dehydrated to cause decarboxylation of its most abundant cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), into psychoactive THC.[104]


Kief is a powder, rich in trichomes,[105] which can be sifted from the leaves and flowers of cannabis plants and either consumed in powder form or compressed to produce cakes of hashish.[106] The word "kif" derives from colloquial Arabic كيف kēf/kīf, meaning pleasure.[107]


Hashish (also spelled hasheesh, hashisha, or simply hash) is a concentrated resin cake or ball produced from pressed kief, the detached trichomes and fine material that falls off cannabis flowers and leaves.[108] or from scraping the resin from the surface of the plants and rolling it into balls. It varies in color from black to golden brown depending upon purity and variety of cultivar it was obtained from.[109] It can be consumed orally or smoked, and is also vaporised, or 'vaped'.[110] The term "Rosin Hash" refers to a high quality solventless product obtained through heat and pressure.[111]


Cannabinoids can be extracted from cannabis plant matter using high-proof spirits (often grain alcohol) to create a tincture, often referred to as "green dragon".[112] Nabiximols is a branded product name from a tincture manufacturing pharmaceutical company.[113]

Hash oil

Hash oil is a resinous matrix of cannabinoids obtained from the Cannabis plant by solvent extraction,[114] formed into a hardened or viscous mass.[115]

Hash oil can be the most potent of the main cannabis products because of its high level of psychoactive compound per its volume, which can vary depending on the plant's mix of essential oils and psychoactive compounds.[116] Butane and supercritical carbon dioxide hash oil have become popular in recent years.[117]


There are many varieties of cannabis infusions owing to the variety of non-volatile solvents used. The plant material is mixed with the solvent and then pressed and filtered to express the oils of the plant into the solvent. Examples of solvents used in this process are cocoa butter, dairy butter, cooking oil, glycerine, and skin moisturizers. Depending on the solvent, these may be used in cannabis foods or applied topically.[118]

Adulterated cannabis

Contaminants may be found in hashish obtained from "soap bar"-type sources.[119] The dried flowers of the plant may be contaminated by the plant taking up heavy metals and other toxins from its growing environment,[120] or by the addition of glass.[121] In the Netherlands, chalk has been used to make cannabis appear to be of a higher quality.[122] Increasing the weight of hashish products in Germany with lead caused lead intoxication in at least 29 users.[123]

Despite cannabis being generally perceived as a natural product,[124] in a recent Australian survey[125] one in four Australians consider cannabis grown indoors under hydroponic conditions to be a greater health risk due to increased contamination, added to the plant during cultivation to enhance the plant growth and quality.

Medical usage

Medical marijuana refers to the use of the Cannabis plant as a physician-recommended herbal therapy as well as synthetic THC and cannabinoids. So far, the medical use of cannabis is legal only in a limited number of territories, including Canada, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and several U.S. states. This usage generally requires a prescription, and distribution is usually done within a framework defined by local laws. There is evidence supporting the use of cannabis or its derivatives in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, neuropathic pain, and multiple sclerosis. Lower levels of evidence support its use for AIDS wasting syndrome, epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and glaucoma.[44]


The Chinese character for hemp (麻 or ) depicts two plants under a shelter.[126] Cannabis cultivation dates back at least 3000 years in Taiwan.[127]

Cannabis is indigenous to Central and South Asia.[128] Evidence of the inhalation of cannabis smoke can be found in the 3rd millennium BCE, as indicated by charred cannabis seeds found in a ritual brazier at an ancient burial site in present-day Romania.[129] In 2003, a leather basket filled with cannabis leaf fragments and seeds was found next to a 2,500- to 2,800-year-old mummified shaman in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China.[130][131] Evidence for the consumption of cannabis has also been found in Egyptian mummies dated about 950 BC.[132][133]

Cannabis is also known to have been used by the ancient Hindus of India and Nepal thousands of years ago. The herb is called ganja (Sanskrit: गञ्जा, IAST: gañjā) or ganjika in Sanskrit and other modern Indo-Aryan languages.[134][135] Some scholars suggest that the ancient drug soma, mentioned in the Vedas, was cannabis, although this theory is disputed.[136]

Cannabis was also known to the ancient Assyrians, who discovered its psychoactive properties through the Aryans.[137] Using it in some religious ceremonies, they called it qunubu (meaning "way to produce smoke"), a probable origin of the modern word "cannabis".[138] Cannabis was also introduced by the Aryans to the Scythians, Thracians and Dacians, whose shamans (the kapnobatai—"those who walk on smoke/clouds") burned cannabis flowers to induce a state of trance.[139]

Cannabis sativa from Vienna Dioscurides, 512 AD

Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual use and is found in pharmacological cults around the world. Hemp seeds discovered by archaeologists at Pazyryk suggest early ceremonial practices like eating by the Scythians occurred during the 5th to 2nd century BCE, confirming previous historical reports by Herodotus.[140] It was used by Muslims in various Sufi orders as early as the Mamluk period, for example by the Qalandars.[141]

A study published in the South African Journal of Science showed that "pipes dug up from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon contain traces of cannabis."[142] The chemical analysis was carried out after researchers hypothesized that the "noted weed" mentioned in Sonnet 76 and the "journey in my head" from Sonnet 27 could be references to cannabis and the use thereof.[143] Examples of classic literature featuring cannabis include Les paradis artificiels by Charles Baudelaire and The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow.

John Gregory Bourke described use of "mariguan", which he identifies as Cannabis indica or Indian hemp, by Mexican residents of the Rio Grande region of Texas in 1894. He described its uses for treatment of asthma, to expedite delivery, to keep away witches, and as a love-philtre. He also wrote that many Mexicans added the herb to their cigarritos or mescal, often taking a bite of sugar afterward to intensify the effect. Bourke wrote that because it was often used in a mixture with toloachi (which he inaccurately describes as Datura stramonium), mariguan was one of several plants known as "loco weed". Bourke compared mariguan to hasheesh, which he called "one of the greatest curses of the East", citing reports that users "become maniacs and are apt to commit all sorts of acts of violence and murder", causing degeneration of the body and an idiotic appearance, and mentioned laws against sale of hasheesh "in most Eastern countries".[144][145][146]

Cannabis indica fluid extract, American Druggists Syndicate, pre-1937

Cannabis was criminalized in various countries beginning in the early 20th century. In the United States, the first restrictions for sale of cannabis came in 1906 (in District of Columbia).[147] It was outlawed in South Africa in 1911, in Jamaica (then a British colony) in 1913, and in the United Kingdom and New Zealand in the 1920s.[148] Canada criminalized cannabis in the Opium and Drug Act of 1923, before any reports of use of the drug in Canada. In 1925 a compromise was made at an international conference in The Hague about the International Opium Convention that banned exportation of "Indian hemp" to countries that had prohibited its use, and requiring importing countries to issue certificates approving the importation and stating that the shipment was required "exclusively for medical or scientific purposes". It also required parties to "exercise an effective control of such a nature as to prevent the illicit international traffic in Indian hemp and especially in the resin".[149][150]

In the United States in 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed, and prohibited the production of hemp in addition to cannabis. The reasons that hemp was also included in this law are disputed—several scholars have claimed that the act was passed in order to destroy the US hemp industry,[151][152][153] with the primary involvement of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family.[151][153] But the improvements of the decorticators, machines that separate the fibers from the hemp stem, could not make hemp fiber a very cheap substitute for fibers from other sources because it could not change that basic fact that strong fibers are only found in the bast, the outer part of the stem. Only about 1/3 of the stem are long and strong fibers.[151][154][155][156] The company DuPont and many industrial historians dispute a link between nylon and hemp. They argue that the purpose of developing the nylon was to produce a fiber that could be used in thin stockings for females and compete with silk.[157][158][159]

In New York City, there were more than 19,000 kg (41,000 lb) of marijuana growing like weeds throughout the boroughs until 1951, when the "White Wing Squad", headed by the Sanitation Department General Inspector John E. Gleason, was charged with destroying the many pot farms that had sprouted up across the city. The Brooklyn Public Library reports: this group was held to a high moral standard and was prohibited from "entering saloons, using foul language, and neglecting horses." The Squad found the most weed in Queens but even in Brooklyn dug up "millions of dollars" worth of the plants, many as "tall as Christmas trees". Gleason oversaw incineration of the plants in Woodside, Queens.[160]

The United Nations' 2012 Global Drug Report stated that cannabis "was the world's most widely produced, trafficked, and consumed drug in the world in 2010", identifying that between 119 million and 224 million users existed in the world's adult (18 or older) population.[161]

Society and culture

Global estimates of illegal drug users in 2013
(in millions of users)[162]
Substance Best
type stimulants
33.90 13.87 53.81
Cannabis 181.79 128.48 232.07
Cocaine 17.04 13.80 20.73
Ecstasy 18.79 9.34 28.39
Opiates 16.53 12.92 20.46
Opioids 32.42 27.99 37.56

Legal status

Cannabis propaganda sheet from 1935

Since the beginning of the 20th century, most countries have enacted laws against the cultivation, possession or transfer of cannabis.[163] These laws have impacted adversely on the cannabis plant's cultivation for non-recreational purposes, but there are many regions where, under certain circumstances, handling of cannabis is legal or licensed. Many jurisdictions have lessened the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation and sometimes a fine, rather than imprisonment, focusing more on those who traffic the drug on the black market.

In some areas where cannabis use has been historically tolerated, some new restrictions have been put in place, such as the closing of cannabis coffee shops near the borders of the Netherlands,[164] closing of coffee shops near secondary schools in the Netherlands and crackdowns on "Pusher Street" in Christiania, Copenhagen in 2004.[165][166]

Some jurisdictions use free voluntary treatment programs and/or mandatory treatment programs for frequent known users. Simple possession can carry long prison terms in some countries, particularly in East Asia, where the sale of cannabis may lead to a sentence of life in prison or even execution. More recently however, many political parties, non-profit organizations and causes based on the legalization of medical cannabis and/or legalizing the plant entirely (with some restrictions) have emerged.

In December 2012, the U.S. state of Washington became the first state to officially legalize cannabis in a state law (Washington Initiative 502) (but still illegal by federal law),[167] with the state of Colorado following close behind (Colorado Amendment 64).[168] On January 1, 2013, the first marijuana "club" for private marijuana smoking (no buying or selling, however) was allowed for the first time in Colorado.[169] The California Supreme Court decided in May 2013 that local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensaries despite a state law in California that permits the use of cannabis for medical purposes. At least 180 cities across California have enacted bans in recent years.[170]

In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize growing, sale and use of cannabis.[171] However, as of August 2014, no cannabis has yet been sold legally in Uruguay. According to the law, the only cannabis that can be sold legally must be grown in the country by no more than five licensed growers, and these have yet to be selected; in fact the call for applications did not go out until August 1, 2014.[172] In the elections of October 2014, there is a significant chance that lawmakers opposed to legal cannabis will come to control the legislature, and the law will be repealed before it has fully taken effect.[173][174][175]


Woman selling cannabis and bhang in Guwahati, Assam, India


It is often claimed by growers and breeders of herbal cannabis that advances in breeding and cultivation techniques have increased the potency of cannabis since the late 1960s and early '70s, when THC was first discovered and understood. However, potent seedless cannabis such as "Thai sticks" were already available at that time. Sinsemilla (Spanish for "without seed") is the dried, seedless inflorescences of female cannabis plants. Because THC production drops off once pollination occurs, the male plants (which produce little THC themselves) are eliminated before they shed pollen to prevent pollination. Advanced cultivation techniques such as hydroponics, cloning, high-intensity artificial lighting, and the sea of green method are frequently employed as a response (in part) to prohibition enforcement efforts that make outdoor cultivation more risky. It is often cited that the average levels of THC in cannabis sold in United States rose dramatically between the 1970s and 2000, but such statements are likely skewed because of undue weight given to much more expensive and potent, but less prevalent samples.[176]

"Skunk" refers to several named strains of potent cannabis, grown through selective breeding and sometimes hydroponics. It is a cross-breed of Cannabis sativa and C. indica (although other strains of this mix exist in abundance). Skunk cannabis potency ranges usually from 6% to 15% and rarely as high as 20%. The average THC level in coffee shops in the Netherlands is about 18–19%.[177]


The price or street value of cannabis varies widely depending on geographic area and potency.[178]

In the United States, cannabis is overall the number four value crop, and is number one or two in many states including California, New York and Florida, averaging $3,000/lb.[179][180] It is believed to generate an estimated $36 billion market.[181] The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime claims in its 2008 World Drug Report that typical U.S. retail prices are $10–15 per gram (approximately $280–420 per ounce). Street prices in North America are known to range from about $40 to $400 per ounce, depending on quality.[182]

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that typical retail prices in Europe for cannabis varies from €2 to €20 per gram, with a majority of European countries reporting prices in the range €4–10.[183]


Marijuana vending machines for selling or dispensing cannabis are in use in the United States and are planned to be used in Canada.[184]

Gateway drug

The Gateway Hypothesis states that cannabis use increases the probability of trying "harder" drugs. The hypothesis has been hotly debated as it is regarded by some as the primary rationale for the United States prohibition on cannabis use.[185][186] A Pew Research Center poll found that political opposition to marijuana use was significantly associated with concerns about health effects and whether legalization would increase marijuana use by children.[187]

Some studies state that while there is no proof for the gateway hypothesis,[188] young cannabis users should still be considered as a risk group for intervention programs.[189] Other findings indicate that hard drug users are likely to be poly-drug users, and that interventions must address the use of multiple drugs instead of a single hard drug.[190] Almost two-thirds of the poly drug users in the "2009/10 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey" used cannabis.[191]

The gateway effect may appear due to social factors involved in using any illegal drug. Because of the illegal status of cannabis, its consumers are likely to find themselves in situations allowing them to acquaint with individuals using or selling other illegal drugs.[192][193] Utilizing this argument some studies have shown that alcohol and tobacco may additionally be regarded as gateway drugs;[194] however, a more parsimonious explanation could be that cannabis is simply more readily available (and at an earlier age) than illegal hard drugs. In turn alcohol and tobacco are easier to obtain at an earlier point than is cannabis (though the reverse may be true in some areas), thus leading to the "gateway sequence" in those individuals since they are most likely to experiment with any drug offered.[185]

An alternative to the gateway hypothesis is the Common Liability to Addiction theory (CLA). It states that some individuals are, for various reasons, willing to try multiple recreational substances. The "gateway" drugs are merely those that are (usually) available at an earlier age than the harder drugs. Researchers have noted in an extensive review, Vanyukov et al., that it is dangerous to present the sequence of events described in gateway "theory" in causative terms as this hinders both research and intervention.[195]


Cannabis research is challenging since the plant is illegal in most countries.[196][197][198][199][200] Research-grade samples of the drug are difficult to obtain for research purposes, unless granted under authority of national governments.

There are also other difficulties in researching the effects of cannabis. Many people who smoke cannabis also smoke tobacco.[201] This causes confounding factors, where questions arise as to whether the tobacco, the cannabis, or both that have caused a cancer. Another difficulty researchers have is in recruiting people who smoke cannabis into studies. Because cannabis is an illegal drug in many countries, people may be reluctant to take part in research, and if they do agree to take part, they may not say how much cannabis they actually smoke.[202]


^ a: Weed,[203] pot,[204] grass,[205] and herb[206] are among the many other nicknames for cannabis as a drug.[207][208]
^ b: Sources for this section and more information can be found in the Medical cannabis article

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External links

  • Wiktionary Appendix of Cannabis Slang