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Marijuana is legal in 29 states in the United States including California, provided the purpose is medical. In recent studies, it was revealed that chronic use of cannabis has no link to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. Moreover, vaping the plant is safer than smoking it.
Marijuana or cannabis is a psychoactive drug that came from the Cannabis plant used for medical purposes and recreational activities. The chemical tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the active ingredient that causes alternation in brain functions, such as behavior, mood, and perception. Cannabis can be used in food preparations, as an extract, by smoking, and by vaporizing.
According to the United Nations, about 3.8 percent of the world’s population or 158.8 million people use cannabis. The substance is one of the most cultivated, trafficked, and abused drugs, and half of drug-related seizures are caused by cannabis. In the United States, more than 94 million people admitted having used cannabis at least once, of which adults 26 and older used it before reaching age 15.
There are three commonly known species of the cannabis plant – Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis, and Cannabis sativa. While they have subtle difference among each other, two of them can cause psychoactive effects in any individual.
1. Cannabis sativa: This species is a tall, thin looking plant with thin leaves and wiry stocks. Cannabis sativa is native to warm regions including Central America, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. The plant grows under the heat outdoors and can reach up to 18 feet in height. When smoked, the plant gives off creative and uplifting stimulations equivalent to a strong cup of coffee, and it is normally done in the daytime to charge up the brain.
2. Cannabis indica: This species is the short, bushy variant of the plant with broad and full leaves. The plant can grow in harsh conditions and is used to produce resin. It is originally native to the Hindu Kush mountain range of Central Asia. Indicas have higher levels of THC and are more potent than sativas. Unlike with sativas, indicas cause sedative effects, making the user feel sleepy. It is commonly used as a relaxant to reduce tension and help with sleeping problems.
3. Cannabis ruderalis: It is often referred to as ditch weed because it does not cause psychoactive effects. Without the effects, the plant species has little value. It is a native plant in Russia that can be seen along the roads. But in certain industries, ruderalis is a source of paper products and biodiesel fuel. For each hemp stalk planted, about 12 trees can be saved.
A cannabis plant hybrid has been created before by crossbreeding the indica and sativa plant species. The said hybrid is much stronger than pure cannabis with up to 51.2 percent of THC concentration levels.
In the medical world, cannabis is used for various conditions from mild to life-threatening. According to Harvard Medical School, the cannabidiol extract for the plant’s hemp can treat anxiety, insomnia, spasticity or continuous muscle contraction, pain, and epilepsy. The plant can be a treatment for the severe form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. The disease responds to the plant’s Charlotte’s Web, a product with high CBD content but low in CHD levels.
Like any other substance, Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa have side effects, especially if used for long periods. Acute adverse health effects include impairment in many cognitive abilities like memory and learning, and impairment to psychomotor skills such as motor coordination, divided attention, and operative tasks. Chronic adverse health effects of cannabis use include:
- Greater impairment of attention mechanism, memory processes, and integration of complex information.
- Injury to the epithelial tissues of the trachea and major bronchi of the respiratory system when smoked.
- Acute or chronic symptoms of ailments if a high concentration of cannabis is used. Smoking cannabis also exacerbates symptoms of chronic bronchitis.
- Impairment in fetal development, such as reduced birth weight and postnatal risk to rare cancer forms.
- Possible worsening of schizophrenia symptoms when paired with cannabis use.
- Cannabis dependence syndrome for chronic use, a condition that makes quitting difficult.
From the details mentioned, smoking is the most common method to use cannabis, particularly in recreational activities. There is no proven scientific evidence that smoking cannabis can cause lung cancer, COPD or emphysema. But burning the plant produces smoke that can irritate the lungs.
“That doesn't mean that you can't get irritation in your lungs and your lining; smoke is smoke. The nice thing is that cannabis is different from tobacco because the compounds in it seem to help protect the body against the damages brought by the smoke. Whereas nicotine, which is in tobacco, seems to aggravate the damages; not all smoke is created equally,” said Dr. Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, a cannabis expert and an affiliate professor at the Department of Geography at the University of Washington.
To reduce adverse effects of smoke, such as coughing and lung irritation, vaporizing the plant can be an alternative. According to the researchers at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and C. Everett Koop Institute, the vaporization of cannabis plant is safe and less harmful than smoking. The inhalation method prevents users from being exposed to more than 100 toxins, such as ammonia and carcinogens, produced when burned.
Even though the benefits of the cannabis plant outweigh the risks, chronic use and overexposure can turn the user’s health to the worst possible scenario.
[메디컬리포트=Ralph Chen 기자]