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Marijuana – Facts, Types, Medical Benefits & More

Marijuana, weed, pot, dope, grass. They’re different names for the same drug that comes from the cannabis plant. You can smoke it, vape it, drink it, or eat it. Most folks use marijuana for pleasure and recreation. But a growing number of doctors prescribe it for specific medical conditions and symptoms.

On October 19, 2009, the Office of the Deputy US Attorney General issued a memorandum, “Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana.” The memo announced a federal policy to abstain from investigating or prosecuting “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” The memo made clear, however, that it did not “legalize marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law.” Rather, it was “intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.”

On October 19, 2009, the Office of the Deputy US Attorney General issued a memorandum, “Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana.” The memo announced a federal policy to abstain from investigating or prosecuting “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” The memo made clear, however, that it did not “legalize marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law.” Rather, it was “intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.”

This article seeks to place the attorney general’s action in historical, medical, and legal context.

A concise medical history

Healers have turned to cannabis, known in the vernacular as marijuana, for its medicinal qualities for more than 5 millennia. Indeed, the world’s oldest surviving medical text, the Chinese Shen-nung Pen-tshao Ching, recommends marijuana to reduce the pain of rheumatism and to address digestive disorders.

The herb had an established use in Western medicine, too. Between 1840 and 1900, more than 100 articles extolling its therapeutic virtues appeared in American and European medical journals. In 1851, the United States Pharmacopoeia included the “extract of hemp,” in its catalog of medicinal amalgams. That same year, The Dispensatory of the United States of America proclaimed, “The complaints in which [marijuana] has been specially recommended are neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, tetanus, hydrophobia, epidemic cholera, convulsions, chorea, hysteria, mental depression, insanity, and uterine hemorrhage.” A little more than a decade later, the 1864 edition of the Pharmacopoeia gave precise instructions in the preparation of this medicine.

American physicians routinely prescribed marijuana until the late 1930s. It would not be until 1970 that the law would intervene to proscribe all uses of the herb.

Nonetheless, there remains controversy within the medical profession regarding both the safety and efficacy of medically prescribed inhaled marijuana smoke. (For a medical perspective on this topic, see the Commentary by Ronald Pies, MD.) For example, one recent review noted that “tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other [cannabinoid-1] receptor agonists can have an undesirable CNS impact, and, in many cases, dose optimization may not be realizable before onset of excessive side effects. . . . [moreover] cannabis herbal material (“medical marijuana”) may present fatal uncertainties of quality control and dosage standardization. Therefore, formulation, composition, and delivery system issues will affect the extent to which a particular cannabinoid product may have a desirable risk-benefit profile and acceptable abuse liability potential.”

Furthermore, medical marijuana use may pose particular problems for some psychiatric patients, since marijuana may exacerbate positive symptoms of schizophrenia and increase the risk of psychotic relapse.

A concise legal history

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was the first federal restriction on the herb’s use and distribution.10 It imposed a $1 per ounce tax on marijuana purchased for medical purposes and $100 per ounce for any other purchases. In an early example of the health care policy chicanery that today’s physicians know all too well, the act imposed sufficiently onerous paperwork requirements for medicinal use that physicians ceased prescribing the herb shortly after its enactment.

The federal Controlled Substances Act

One of Richard Nixon’s first significant acts as president was to sign into law the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). With a calculus incorporating variables of medicinal value, potential for abuse, and psychological and physical effect, the act allocated regulated substances into 5 schedules. Congress placed marijuana, along with heroin, ecstasy, LSD, GHB, and peyote, in Schedule I, the only category that prohibits any use, medicinal or not. Drugs like cocaine, codeine, OxyContin, and methamphetamine landed in the less restrictive Schedule II, which permits prescription-based medical use.

Congress placed marijuana in Schedule I temporarily, pending reconsideration in light of the forthcoming report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. The study group, which Nixon commissioned and most of whose members he appointed, recommended decriminalizing “possession in private of marihuana for personal use” and “distribution in private of small amounts of marihuana . . . not involving a profit.” Audiotapes released 30 years later revealed a livid President Nixon who demanded that, despite the report, his administration issue “a goddamn strong statement on marijuana.” The president added an anti-Semitic attack against advocates of decriminalization: “You know it’s a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. . . . I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there’s so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish.”

President Nixon prevailed, marijuana stayed in Schedule I, and there it remains to this day.

The state response

In 1996, with the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, California became the first state to challenge the CSA. The Compassionate Use Act provided that neither a patient, a “patient’s primary caregiver,” nor a physician may be prosecuted or sanctioned for “the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

Following California’s lead, a dozen states-Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington-enacted laws permitting residents to possess, use, and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes.16

The litigation that led to the triumph of the CSA over state medical marijuana laws began in August 2002 when federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers and county deputy sheriffs jointly raided the home of a California woman who was cultivating and using marijuana in accordance with the Compassionate Use Act. “[A]fter a 3-hour standoff” with the county deputies, the federal agents seized and destroyed the woman’s marijuana plants. She and others brought suit in federal court to enjoin the application of the CSA on the ground that it infringed on her constitutional rights.

The medical user lost at the trial level but prevailed on appeal when the US Court of Appeals held that the federal power to regulate commerce and, thus, drug use, did not reach state-authorized medical use: “this limited use is clearly distinct from the broader illicit drug market . . . insofar as the medicinal marijuana at issue in this case is not intended for, nor does it enter, the stream of commerce.”

On June 5, 2005, in a 6 to 3 vote, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment, invalidating the California law, and embracing an expansive view of the power of the federal government and the reach of the CSA: “The CSA designates marijuana as contraband for any purpose; in fact, by characterizing marijuana as a Schedule I drug, Congress expressly found that the drug has no acceptable medical uses.”

Thus was the status of medical marijuana, authorized by a quarter of the states but banned by federal law, until the Justice Department’s recent memorandum.

The Justice Department’s memorandum begins by stating that the department is “committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all States” and that it is cognizant that “Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug.” But, because the department “is also committed to making efficient and rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources,” the department should neither investigate nor prosecute “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with” state law.

How, one might wonder, will federal authorities know without investigating whether an individual’s conduct complies with state law? “Typically, when any of the following characteristics is present, the conduct will not be in clear and unambiguous compliance with applicable state law”: “unlawful possession or unlawful use of firearms,” “violence,” “sales to minors,” or “ties to other criminal enterprises.”

On the other hand, neither “compliance with state law [n]or the absence of one or all of the above factors create[s] a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.” The memo is but a recommendation to federal agents, and medical use remains illegal.

The current and future status of the medical use of marijuana

Imagine the cancer survivor who resides in one of the 13 states that recognizes medical use of marijuana. She can ingest the herb knowing that federal agents are unlikely to kick her door down and arrest her. She will also know that her conduct is patently illegal. Every day, to address the nausea that accompanies her chemotherapy, she will engage in illegal conduct that the attorney general has authorized.

This is the nature of the compromise that the October 19 memorandum represents. The nation’s top law enforcement official has embraced the “compassionate use” that the California electorate recognized more than a dozen years ago. Current law may be the best that the cancer patient can hope for, but the remainder of the populace should not be satisfied. Those who support medical use of marijuana should not be happy with its continuing illegality. Those opposed to it should not accept federally licensed illegal behavior. Now, perhaps more than ever, in the words of Richard Nixon, we need “a goddamn strong statement on marijuana.”

Marijuana Has Been Used for Almost 5000 Years

Marijuana facts reveal that the first direct reference to the use of cannabis as a means of inducing euphoria was in a Chinese medical manual from 2737 BC. Cannabis spread from China to India and North Africa in the following centuries and reached Europe in around 500 AD. Marijuana was brought to the US in the 16th century when the Europeans started conquering the New World after Christopher Columbus had (re)discovered America in the late 15th century.

Marijuana Is the Most Used Drug in the World

Past Month Americans Marijuana Use
Past Month Americans Marijuana Use

Marijuana facts reveal than 1 in 25 adults use marijuana occasionally and about 1 in 175 adults use it daily according to UN estimations. Marijuana is also the most popular illicit drug in the US – almost half of all Americans have tried marijuana, with about 1 in 8 admit to using it in the past year, and about 1 in 14 admit to using it in the last month.

Marijuana Use Can Cause Immune System Suppression and Personality Disorders

Marijuana Side Effects
Marijuana Side Effects

It addition to these two possible negative consequences that can greatly hinder one’s physical and mental health, regular marijuana use can also cause growth disorders, sexual disabilities in men, brain damage, mood changes, decreased intellectual capabilities and apathy.

But marijuana use doesn’t need to be regular and long-term to cause serious health issues; the most notable short-term side effects of using include panic, sensory distortion, depression, poor coordination and increased heartbeat (with increased risk of having a heart attack).

Smoking Is the Most Popular Method of Using Marijuana

In addition to smoking marijuana by using pipes, bongs or paper-wrapped joints, marijuana can also be consumed by inhaling the vapors of heated cannabis, drinking cannabis tea or eating various kinds of foods that contain cannabis, most typically in the form of cookies, oils, liquors or butter.

THC is the Main Psychoactive Constituent in Marijuana

THC (full name tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main ingredient in marijuana which causes numerous beneficial and also numerous unpleasant or potentially dangerous effects.
THC has analgesic effects, which can be utilized for soothing pain; antiemetic effects, which reduce nausea and vomiting; and it works as a mild antioxidant, decreasing the production of harmful free radicals in the body. But, unfortunately, THC is also responsible for increased appetite, psychosis, hallucinations, and impaired cognitive functions.

4 US States Allow Use of Marijuana for Non-Medical Reasons

Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana in States
Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana in States

Marijuana is currently allowed for medical use to a certain degree in 23 states and Washington D.C., but recreational use is legal in only 4 US states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Washington D.C. has legalized personal use, but not commercial sale. Other states are still under the effect of the federal law, which states that it is illegal to possess, use, buy, sell, or cultivate marijuana since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The punishment for illegal use varies greatly from state to state, ranging from a modest fine to a few years jail time, but the trend in recent years has been to alleviate sanctions connected to illegal use of marijuana.

1 Gram of Marijuana Typically Costs between $10 and $15

Weed Price
Weed Price

This is the retail price in most legal stores in the states where cannabis can be legally sold. Street prices can vary greatly, from less than $2 per gram to $15 per gram, depending on the quality and the quantity bought. Prices in Europe are comparable and can range from €2 to €20 per gram, although most European countries report prices typically being between €4 and €10 per gram.

Marijuana Is Addictive for 25-50% of Regular Users

Cannabis Addiction Rate
Cannabis Addiction Rate

Without regular, daily use, it is estimated to be less addictive – only in about 9% of cases – but the number goes up if users start young. About 17% of teens who smoke marijuana become addicted. All in all, marijuana is responsible for 60% of illicit drug addictions in the US, with over 4 million marijuana addicts among 7 million total illicit drug addicts.

Marijuana addiction is linked to a mild withdrawal syndrome, which is usually expressed in the form of irritability, sleep problems, decreased appetite and mood swings. It generally lasts up to 2 weeks.

Marijuana Is Both a Depressant and a Stimulant

Just like alcohol, marijuana can also serve as both a stimulant and a depressant. On one hand, marijuana affects neurotransmitters and decreases their sensitivity, and on the other, it causes the feeling of euphoria, which is clearly stimulating. Which one prevails depends on the intensity of the cannabis, its type, quantity, frequency of using, and the personal characteristics of the user.

How Long Marijuana Stays in the System Depends on the Individual

This can be attributed to different metabolism levels of THC and other active ingredients in marijuana. But studies reveal typical detection times in different types of marijuana users: occasional users will likely test positive for 1 to 3 days after consumption, and possibly also on the fourth day; regular users typically test positive for a week to 10 days, and extreme cases can also test positive for a month or two after consumption. It is worth noting that urine tests that are most frequently used in marijuana detection don’t measure the concentration of THC but the concentration of its metabolite, THC-COOH after it has been processed by the liver.

Heavy Marijuana Smokers Face Same Health Risks as Regular Tobacco Smokers

Although marijuana smoking brings some health benefits, the process of frequently inhaling smoke poses the same risks for marijuana smokers and tobacco smokers, with the most common being various respiratory illnesses, according to smoking and marijuana facts.

22 Million Pounds of Marijuana Are Produced in the US Each Year

US Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation Areas
US Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation Areas

Shockingly, 80% of this production comes from only 5 states: California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii, and Washington. Personal use of cannabis is legalized only in the state of Washington out of this group.

9% of Electricity Use in California Is Attributed to Indoor Marijuana Growing

This might sound ridiculous at first, but if you consider the fact that an indoor growth module that can accommodate up to 4 cannabis plants uses as much electricity as almost 30 refrigerators, these statistics become more plausible. Nationwide, indoor growth of marijuana is estimated to use enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes, which means that about 7 large power plants are needed just for growing marijuana.

Marijuana Production and Distribution in the US Emits as Much Carbon as 3 Million Cars

Marijuana facts show that for every pound of indoor-grown marijuana, about 4,600 pounds of CO2 gets emitted into the atmosphere. Multiplying that by 22 million (as is the estimated yearly produce of marijuana in pounds) brings the total CO2 emissions to a whopping 100 billion pounds.

People Give Marijuana to Their Pets to Ease Their Pain

Pot Smoking Cat
Pot Smoking Cat

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that pet owners give their cats and dogs marijuana to ease their suffering from pain. Pets usually stay under the influence for a few hours, but veterinarians warn that marijuana can be deadly for pets if given in large quantities.

Marijuana Could Be Obtained at the General Store between 1850 and 1942

Since it was listed as a useful medicine for nausea, rheumatism and labor pains in the US Pharmacopoeia, marijuana could be easily bought in some general stores and pharmacies around the country. But it was not until 1996 that medical marijuana became legally allowed in California with a valid prescription, and until 2003 in Canada that it was offered to all patients who suffered from pain.

800,000 Arrests Are Made Each Year in the USA for Illegal Use of Marijuana

These statistics include all marijuana-related offenses, but 90% of these arrests were based on illegal possession.

Marijuana Use in the US Was First Restricted in 1937

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, restricting the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. But the law did not actually prohibit the use of marijuana; it only imposed such a heavy tax that commercial sale became nearly impossible.

Marijuana Contains over 400 Chemicals

Marijuana facts reveal that out of these 400, only 80, called cannabinoids, are unique to the cannabis plant. For comparison: there are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke…

It Would Take More Than 800 Joints to Kill a Person

And even then, the death would occur from carbon monoxide poisoning and not from THC itself, which is far from being dangerously toxic for humans. However, marijuana smoking can greatly increase the heart rate and potentially cause a heart attack, even in the short term, and deadly respiratory diseases in the long term.

Marijuana Facts – Facts about Marijuana Summary

Marijuana Facts

Marijuana is produced from the cannabis plant and can be consumed by smoking, eating, drinking or inhaling vapor. Although it is nowadays frequently used for medicinal purposes to ease pain, it still carries numerous health risks. But despite that, marijuana is the most popular drug in the world and has become legal again in some countries of the world in recent decades. Currently, there are 4 US states that allow sales and use of marijuana for recreational purposes (1 gram typically costs $10 to $15), but the majority of it is still produced in states where marijuana is not legalized, such as California, where a ridiculously high amount of energy is used for indoor marijuana production.







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