Marijuana (Cannabis) is one of the most fascinating plants when it comes to its ability to alter consciousness. Marijuana is said to have influenced many religious beliefs, works of literature, theatre, art, music and many other fields. Though its use is banned in most American states and most countries, it is said to have several medicinal properties and the plants were also used to make fiber in the earlier days. The chemical component responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana is called THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) it is this component that gives cannabis its medicinal properties.
THC can be used to treat pain, convolutions, nausea, glaucoma, neuralgia, asthma, cramps, migraine, insomnia and depression. It is fascinating how a plant with this many medicinal properties and less harmful effects is deemed illegal to use in most parts of the world while tobacco which has few to none positive effects and is a carcinogen is legal to use in most parts of the world.
Many historians wonder why the “Drug War” of the ’80’s, ’90’s and ’00’s fought the vast majority of its battles over such a harmless drug like marijuana.
Yes, I keep calling Marijuana harmless and I do so only because it makes sense scientifically. In 1988 Allyn Howlett, a researcher at St. Louis Medical School, discovered a specific receptor for THC in the brain, this receptor showed up in vast numbers all over the brain (the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, the basal ganglia, and the amygdala) but there were no receptors in the brain stem, which regulates involuntary functions such as circulation and respiration.
Thus explaining the remarkably low toxicity of cannabis and the fact that no one is known to have ever died from an overdose. But the drug war on marijuana did wonders for the evolution of cannabis farming in America. Most the marijuana grown for use in America was Cannabis sativa, an equatorial species poorly adapted to life in the northern latitudes. Sativa could not withstand frost and would not set flowers quickly, hence difficult to produce a high quality domestic crop. But since the drug war, American marijuana farmers began harvesting a hybrid of Cannabis sativa*indica.
Cannabis indica is a stout, frost tolerant species that had been grown for centuries by hashish producers in the mountains of central Asia, it rarely grows more than four or five feet as compared to fifteen for the stateliest sativas. Indica also proved to be more potent. So when the American Marijuana farmers got a hold of these seeds they began to cultivate hybrids of both the strains in special set ups called the Sea of Green: Dozens of closely spaced and genetically similar plants grown from clones under highintensity sodium and metal halide enriched light with narrow networks of pipes supplying the plants with water with a tank of carbon dioxide sweetened air and ceramic heaters warming their roots at night. These new methods adapted as a result of the drug war helped the farmers get a produce with the THC content as high as 15% in a smaller closed environment, undetectable to government agencies while the earlier plants produced 2 to 3 % of THC. What interests me the most is that Marijuana acts as a psychoactive drug that changes the perception that people experience, and intensifies all the senses by subtracting some of the filters that consciousness normally interposes between us and the world. It is a common misconception that drugs distort the normal perceptions and augment the data of the senses by adding hallucinations, but this is not true for drugs like marijuana.
Many of us would wonder why Cannabis produces THC, like what is its purpose evolutionarily. Biologists have proposed many theories and few of them are: THC could protect the marijuana plants from ultraviolet radiation and hence the marijuana plants in higher altitudes have a higher concentration of THC. Some theorists believe that the THC is used as a defense mechanism where the animals that ingest the plant forget where the plants were located. According to the author of “The Botany of Desire” the original purpose may have been to protect the plants from UV radiations and to protect the plants against pests, but when humans stumbled onto its psychoactive properties it caused the plant to spread around the world. The properties and history of marijuana will never seize to interest me. I feel that Michael Pollan, the author of the book “Botany of Desire” has found a very efficient way to incorporate both the history and properties interesting page turning manner.