Cannabis is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. It has been illegal in many countries for almost a century. It is estimated that its use for medical purposes dates back four millennia and that its recreational use in Western countries became commonplace in the 20th century, especially with its popularization during the hippy “Flower power” movement of the 1960s.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a natural product derived from the cannabis plant (nettle family), which grows wild in some parts of the world and is intensively cultivated in others. The main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is a chemical called tetrahydrocannibol (THC).
This substance gives users a “high”, an effect that can vary depending on the exact variety of the drug, the amount taken, the method of use and the individual. In general, cannabis is considered to give a feeling of happiness and relaxation and to alter perception and the senses.
Cannabis is used in many different ways, but most often smoked alone or with tobacco in the form of a “joint” or “firecracker”. It can also be smoked in a pipe, with a “bong” or other drug use device, or taken orally with food.
Although cannabis is often considered a “softer” drug than many other illegal substances, it is believed to lead to harder and more dangerous drugs
Several types of cannabis can be purchased on the street, and although each comes from the exact same plant, they differ in appearance and, to some extent, in their effects. The term “weed” refers to the dried leaves, stems, buds and flowers of the plant. Hashish”, “resin” or “barrette” refers to the dried resin of the plant, which usually looks like a hard, rock-like substance.
Cannabis oil, a tar-like substance produced by further processing of the plant parts, can also be used. This oil can be particularly potent, but it is less common than the other forms.
In addition to these types, different strains of the plant can be used to produce cannabis sold on the street, which are identified by names such as Purple Haze, Northern Lights, Malawi Gold, Niagra, AK-47 and Island Lady.
On the street, cannabis is commonly referred to as weed, shit, chichon, dope, ganja, joint, banger, hash, Marie-Jeanne or grass… Some scientific studies have also proven that cannabis use can cause permanent changes in the brain.
In recent decades, the legality of cannabis has been much debated in many countries. In the UK, it was downgraded to a class C controlled drug in 2004, but then reinstated as a class B drug in 2009, which increased the maximum term of imprisonment for possession. However, there is often no jail time for possession of a small amount of the substance, as opposed to large quantities for sale, which can be severely punished.
In the United States, cannabis is a controlled substance under federal law, but some states have decriminalized it or made it legal for medical purposes.
Several types of cannabis can be purchased on the street, and although each comes from the exact same plant, they differ in appearance and, to some extent, in effect. The term “herb” refers to the dried leaves, stems, buds and flowers of the plant. Hashish”, “resin” or “barrette” refers to the dried resin of the plant, which usually looks like a hard, rock-like substance.
Cannabis oil, a tar-like substance produced by further processing of the plant parts, can also be used. This oil can be particularly potent, but is less common than the other forms.
In addition to these types, different strains of the plant can be used to produce cannabis sold on the street, which are identified by names such as Purple Haze, Northern Lights, Malawi Gold, Niagra, AK-47 and Island Lady. The particularly strong strains are generally referred to as “skunk” by consumers and the media.
On the street, cannabis is commonly referred to as weed, shit, chichon, dope, ganja, joint, banger, hash, Marie-Jeanne or grass.
Cannabis has many effects, which vary from person to person.
When a user smokes or ingests cannabis, the active chemical compounds in it enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. If cannabis is smoked, it only takes a few seconds, whereas if it is taken orally, it may take longer for the compounds to break down in the body.
Once in the brain, THC and other chemicals present in smaller amounts in the drug, called cannabinoids, bind to cannabinoid receptors, particularly in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, as well as in the basal ganglia and cerebellum. These parts of the brain are responsible for various mental functions and general body control. By binding to receptors, THC artificially activates neurons in these areas, disrupting their normal function. This is what gives users the “high” but also the negative effects associated with cannabis use.
In the short term, cannabis makes people talkative, relaxed and triggers uncontrollable laughter, but it also causes more hallucinogenic effects, time distortion and other cognitive confusions. People may also suffer from paranoia and intense anxiety under the influence of the drug. Regular users may gain weight due to the significant increase in appetite that often occurs with cannabis use.
In the long term, cannabis is known to cause decreased motivation, impaired concentration and coordination, and slower reactions. The drug is also associated with an increased risk of mental illness in genetically susceptible individuals.
Smoking cannabis can be particularly harmful to the lungs, whether or not it is mixed with tobacco.
According to a 2011 report on drugs published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), cannabis is the most widely cultivated drug in the world and is produced by virtually every country. The report states that “herb” (dried cannabis buds and leaves) is generally consumed in or near the country of origin, while cannabis resin is more often trafficked internationally between regions. It is trafficked by various means: by ship, across borders, and even by air.
Afghanistan is estimated to be the world’s largest producer of the drug, although Morocco, India, Lebanon, Turkey and a number of countries in South and Central America grow it on a large scale. In these countries, cannabis is often grown in large plantations, by independent farmers or powerful drug cartels.
But the plant is also grown extensively in more temperate climates, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and many other European countries, often indoors, with specialized equipment readily available. Clearly, cannabis is easy to grow since it is not only produced by organized gangs in large-scale warehouses, but also by small-scale producers in their homes.
These different sources of supply make it increasingly difficult for authorities to combat its cultivation, sale and consumption, both nationally and internationally.
According to the United Nations, cannabis is more widely sold and easier to obtain than any other drug, and despite regular seizures, authorities are doing little to eradicate the supply of users around the world. While in localized areas, certain types of cannabis sometimes run out due to interdiction, it is rare that users are unable to obtain the drug.
Cannabis consumed by users often enters the “market” through a variety of means. First, it may be trafficked abroad by criminal organizations. In this case, the drug is grown in large plantations out of sight or out of reach of local authorities. It is then processed to collect the plant’s resin and THC-rich leaves, buds and stems. These parts of the plant will be dried and are intended for local consumption because of their “freshness”. The resin of the plant will be hardened and packaged in large “bars” to be then massively trafficked abroad.
Once the resin reaches its destination, it is gradually distributed in smaller quantities to street vendors, who in turn may sell it to other, lower-level traffickers, who sell it to consumers.
Cannabis can also be grown illegally within the country, in large warehouses equipped with heat lamps and other specialized equipment. It is then sold to traffickers locally and throughout the country.
These large-scale operations are often discovered by authorities because of the large amount of electricity used to power the equipment, but also because of helicopters equipped with thermal equipment, which detect the high heat generated by these methods.
Finally, some cannabis enthusiasts have been known to grow a small number of plants in their own homes, using the methods mentioned above. These types of cultivation are generally limited in scope: users keep most of their harvest for their own consumption and sometimes supply their friends, friends of friends, etc.
Regardless of the method of production, once the drug reaches the street vendors, it is usually divided and weighed before sale. In the United Kingdom, for example, consumers buy cannabis in fractions of an ounce (28g), such as an “eighth” or a “quarter.
Due to the diversity of cannabis production and its global nature, drug experts have not been able to accurately determine the amount produced annually worldwide. However, UNODC estimates that between 200,000 and 64,000 hectares of land are used to cultivate cannabis worldwide.
This production, whether on a small scale or in large hydroponic plantations or warehouses, is severely punished by law in many countries. However, controversial new British guidelines have reduced the penalties for growers of less than 9 plants, so that they can avoid jail time.
FACTS AND STATISTICS
- Cannabis is the most widely used drug in the world.
- It is a product of the cannabis plant, which is essentially a weed in some parts of the world, hence the common name “weed” used to refer to the leaves and other dried parts of the plant.
- The active chemical that gets you “high” is called tetrahydrocannibinol (THC). Its effects are due to the fact that the substance binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
- The most common form of consumption is the “banger” or “joint”, a long cigarette containing cannabis. The drug is then often mixed with tobacco and can lead to secondary nicotine addiction in some users.
- Cannabis is illegal in many countries, but not all. In Holland, it has been decriminalized and possession of small amounts is generally not prosecuted. Many cities in the country, such as Amsterdam, have a culture of “coffee shops”, bars where you can buy and smoke cannabis. While cannabis is not technically legal in the country, it is tolerated in small quantities due to its status as a “soft drug.
- Cannabis use is associated with serious and permanent mental problems.
- Cannabis has been found to be effective for certain medical conditions, such as
- Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma, and as an analgesic for chronic pain. In some countries and regions, it has been decriminalized for these purposes.
- Regular use of cannabis can lead to paranoia, depression, mood swings and cognitive impairment. Psychosis has also been reported.
- Tolerance can develop over time, so regular users must gradually increase their doses to achieve the same effect.
- In the United Kingdom, possession of cannabis is punishable by up to five years in prison, compared to 14 years for attempted sale. However, these penalties are rarely applied in the case of occasional users.
- According to a 2011 UK crime survey, 30.6% of adults (aged 16-59) in England and Wales admit to having used cannabis. Of these, 6.6% had used it in the previous year and 3.9% in the previous month, making cannabis by far the most commonly used drug.
- In 2010, 28.3% of Scots aged 16-64 reported having tried cannabis, 7.6% in the previous year and 4.5% in the previous month.
- In 2009, 13123 Britons under the age of 18 sought help for cannabis.
- The UNODC estimates that 125 to 203 million people worldwide used cannabis in 2009.
- Compared to estimates of total drug use in the same year (149 to 272 million), cannabis clearly appears to be the most widely used drug in the world.
- 70% of marijuana (weed) seizures by authorities took place in North America.
- In 2009, 1261 tons of cannabis resin were seized worldwide.
- In the same year, 35% of cannabis resin seizures took place in Spain and Morocco was the main country of origin. Pakistan accounted for 16% of global seizures and Morocco 15%. The North American region as a whole accounted for only 0.8% of resin seizures, showing that the most prevalent types of cannabis are not the same in different parts of the world.
SIGNS OF ADDICTION
There is no evidence that cannabis is physically addictive in a chemical sense, but there is ample evidence of psychological dependence on the drug.
In some cases, users begin to crave cannabis for the sensations it provides and will continue to use it regularly, while being aware of its harmful effects on their lives, health and relationships.
The signs of heavy and sustained use are relatively easy to detect. People become lethargic and seem to be “in a fog” most of the time. Their reactions, both verbal and physical, seem to slow down. Cannabis has also been associated with impaired mental agility and academic performance.
One of the most notable signs of cannabis addiction is a change in behavior. Regular users may not seem to care about their lives as they used to. More often than not, they will devote their days to cannabis use and may decline social activities and events that prevent them from smoking as they wish. These people may have a voracious appetite and gain a lot of weight in a short period of time.
The presence of drug paraphernalia in their belongings may also be a sign of cannabis addiction. Torn cigarette paper packages are often a sign of cannabis use because the torn cardboard strips serve as filters for joints. They may also possess colored pipes, bongs and other devices. Finally, they may keep small pieces of a dark, hard, crumbly substance (resin) or greenish dry herb in tobacco jars, plastic wrap or small bags.
Although cannabis is not considered as physically addictive as drugs such as heroin or cocaine, it has many of the characteristics of addiction. Users may experience temporary withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit: irritability, depression, nausea and a strong urge to take more of the drug.
For long-term users, cannabis is often an integral part of their lives and quitting the drug can seem drastic. In some cases, it means a whole new way of life.
Although cannabis use is often considered an “acceptable” and “safe” form of addiction, it can be very damaging to a person’s well-being and interpersonal relationships if abused. Heavy users often lose touch with reality, to a greater or lesser extent, and may have no other goal than to use more and more drugs to get high.
The problem of addiction, and its denial, can be compounded by behaviors that lead the user to spend a lot of time with other addicts, who consider the drug “normal. These social circles may reinforce the user’s use of cannabis.
In order to receive treatment, the person must first recognize that they have a problem. Often, the user gradually realizes this on their own, when they are able to objectively see the effect that cannabis has had on their life. In other cases, family or friends may become involved, especially when the harmful effects of cannabis become significant and highly visible.
It is relatively rare for an addict to enter a rehab facility to stop using drugs, although it has happened. If psychological functions have been severely affected or if the drug has triggered a pre-existing mental disorder, this option is worth considering.
In the most serious (but rare) cases, it is often recommended that people help themselves, sometimes by attending support groups or even talk therapy sessions.
In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) can help with substance abuse programs and similar initiatives exist in other countries.
In many cases, recovery from cannabis addiction involves stopping the drug and actively rehabilitating to life without it. Very heavy users may wish to taper off their use, but this method may fail without supervision. Because of the strong emotional dependence and significant hunger that can occur, effective management strategies must be developed and social support may be crucial to avoid relapse.
In some cases (which is by no means a generalization), cannabis use complements an addiction to other substances. Therefore, the latter may need to be treated before stopping cannabis or as part of a comprehensive detoxification program.
However, for most users, cannabis is the primary addiction and, although it has been shown to lead to harder drugs, statistics show that this is rare.