MARIJUANA, HASHISH, CANNABIS
The cannabis plant, is the source of source of the recreational drugs marijuana and hashish and the fiber hemp. Marijuana refers to the dried buds and leaves of some kinds of cannabis plants while hashish refers to resin or compressed resin glands derived from the same kinds of plants. Hemp is derived from the plant’s stalks. The word cannabis is probably Semitic, and possibly Hebrew, in origin, and is associated with words used by the ancient Sumerians and Scythians and terms found in the Bible.
Smoked about everywhere, cannabis, marijuana and hashish are regarded as second most widely used intoxicants in the world after alcohol and the most widely produced, trafficked and consumed illegal drug. An estimated 160 million people used it in 2003, an increase of 10 million from the previous year. About 10,000 metric tons of it is consumed every year in the United States alone.
Cannabis products can be smoked, eaten or mixed with drinks. They cannot be injected because the materials are not very soluble in water as is the case with morphine, heroin and cocaine. . The chemical compounds responsible for getting people high are found mainly in the sticky resins exuded from the female cannabis plant. Users often have a sleepy, dopey look; red, blood-shot eyes; heavy eyelids and a dry mouth.
Websites and Resources: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) justice.gov/dea/concern ; Vaults of Erowid erowid.org ; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) unodc.org ; Wikipedia article on illegal drug trade Wikipedia ; Frank’s A-to-Z on Drugs talktofrank.com ; Streetdrugs.org streetdrugs.org ; Council of Foreign Relations Forgotten Drug War article cfr.org/drugs/forgotten-drug-war ; Illegal Drugs, country by country listing, CIA cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
Books: Buzzed by Cynthia Kuhn Ph.D. Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D. of the Duke University Medical Center (Norton, 2003); Consuming Habits: Drugs in Anthropology and History by Goodman, Sharratt and Lovejoy; Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times and Places by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter (Cambridge University Press).
Active Ingredient in Marijuana and Hashish
marinol THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active ingredient in marijuana and hashish that makes people get high is. It was discovered in 1964 by Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the 1980s, Mechoulam was the first to isolate similar chemicals—fatty acids he called anandamides — produced in the human brain.
THC and anandamides—named after the Sanskrit word for "bliss” ( ananda ) —belong to a the family of chemical called cannabinoids. Exactly what anandamides do in the human body is unclear but they are believed to play a role in memory, movement control and pain sensitivity. Studies have shown that cannabinoids play a major role regulating body weight and appetite. One study found that mice who were unable to process cannabinoids ate less than normal mice.
In addition to THC there are 460 other active ingredients in the cannabis plant. Of these 60 have been labeled as cannabinoids or cannabinoid-like. Some are called cannabidioils and cannabinols. Little is known about what they do. THC is significant because it is both psychoactive and found in large amounts. A few other cannabinoids are as potent as THC but they found in smaller amounts and in only a few varieties of the cannabis plant.
Getting High on Marijuana and Hashish
People who get high often feel giddy, laugh uncontrollably about silly things, engage in animated conversations, get lost in their own thoughts or intensely get into listening to music, watching a film or contemplating nature. Cannabis generally has a sedative effect and makes people feel relaxed although that is not always the case. Some people feel stimulated and energetic and say that time is distorted. After the initial buzz begins to wear off, some people get very hungry (the munchies) and feel fatigued and sleepy.
People who are high sometimes get anxious if they are thrown into a situation that they are not completely comfortable with. People who are not used to getting high often feel uncomfortably strange and sometimes get panicky. In some extreme cases they freak out and need to be gently comforted to regain their composure.
Some people claim that getting high greatly improves sex. Other say it promotes creativity and heightens their perceptions, making things seem more profound. It is debatable whether these experiences are more meaningful or the user is simply deluding himself. Often time users have difficultly remembering what and why things seemed so profound after they come down.
Indian holy men smoking charas As is true with nicotine in cigarettes, smoking is the quickest way for THC to be absorbed in the blood and the brain. Some people eat cannabis products but this is regarded as a less efficient way of getting THC to the brain. Absorption rates vary greatly from person to person, depends on how much a person ate beforehand (an empty stomach is preferable) and sometimes requiring three or four hours for drug to reach peak levels.
The method of smoking has an impact on how the drug is absorbed. Cigarettes transfer about 10 to 20 percent of the THC. Pipes are much efficient, transferring 40 to 50 percent. Water pipes are the most efficient of all since the pipe traps the smoke until it is inhaled.
When someone smokes cannabis the smoke goes into the lungs where it is absorbed quickly into the blood in the lung sacs. From there the bloods takes the THC quickly to heart, brain and other parts of the body. Although the THC disappears from the brain after a few hours it remains in other organs and the blood for hours or even days after the person last lit up and sometimes has a lingering, low-level psychoactive effect. Some THC is absorbed by body fats and can remain there for weeks, and can be picked up in drugs test months after a person has smoked.
Early History of Cannabis
ancient Greek vessel perhaps with a cannabis image The cannabis plant is native to Asia and still grows wild over large areas of China, India, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. It is thought to have originated in mountainous areas north and west of the Himalayas but is now found in most parts of the world.
Charred hemp seed dated to the Neolithic Age. have been found ritual braziers in Romania At least by 4000 B.C. and maybe as early as 10,000 B.C. the Chinese used cannabis in fabrics and foods and as a medicine and may have used it is an intoxicant. It was cultivated in Central Asia at least by 3000 B.C.
There are reference to a legendary Chinese emperor who used marijuana as a treatment for malaria, gout, constipation, rheumatism, “absentmindedness” and “female disorders” in 2700 B.C. A Chinese herbalist around the same time recommended it for insomnia, dysentery, venereal disease and headaches. The ancient drug soma mentioned in the ancient Hindu Vedas is thought to have been cannabis. In ancient Hindu legends, followers of Shiva are taught to revere he cannabis plant and holymen who follow Shiva have traditionally smoked copious amounts of marijuana and hashish as spiritual aids.
The Scythians—an Indo-Iranian horse people who migrated from Central Asia to the European Steppe north of the Black Sea around 700 B.C.— were reportedly quite found of marijuana. Herodotus wrote that for entertainment they threw marijuana onto heated stones, creating "a strong aroma that no Greek burnt offering can match" and causing “the horsemen too dance and howl in their joy." In one tomb archeologists found a skull with three small holes (believed to have been drilled to relieve swelling) and a cache of marijuana to offer relief from pain in the hereafter.
Cannabis in the Ancient World
Cannabis was mentioned by Greco-Roman-era physician Galen and was used by tribes in Africa to treat snakebites and relieve pain during childbirth. The ancient Persians made huge bonfires with cannabis plants that intoxicated people who breathed in the smoke and fumes.
Traces of THC have been identified in an Egyptian mummy dated to 950 B.C. Archaeologists in Israel unearthed remains of teenage girl, dated to the A.D. 315, who had the remains of a fetus in her abdomen and ash containing THC near her body. The archeologists speculate that maybe cannabis was given to the girl as pain relief.
By around A.D. 1000, cannabis was widely used as an intoxicant in the Middle East. The word assassin was derived from the word "hashishim" or "taker of hashish" and was used to describe a 11th century Persian sect whose members were drugged with hashish wine and then taken to a lush valley where all of their sexual desires were fulfilled to gain their loyalty to carry out assassinations and suicide attacks. Hashish has long been used in the Islamic world and is thought to have been used by—but frowned upon—by Sufi mystics as a spiritual aid.
Later History of Hashish and Marijuana
Cannabis spread from Asia and the Middle East to other parts of the world. In Europe and Asia, hemp fibers were used as textile fibers for coarse cloth, rope, and ship sails. The word "canvas" is believed to have been derived from the word "cannabis." The pilgrims, the colonists at Jamestown and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it for fiber on plantations.
In 19th century Nepal the cannabis harvest was performed by naked men who ran through fields of flowering plants. The sticky resin was scraped off their bodies and formed into blocks of hashish. Some believe Zulu fighters in South Africa were high of dagga (cannabis) when they attacked the Boers at Blood River in 1838. The Zulus lost 3,000 fighters, while only four Boer were wounded.
Cannabis as an intoxicant did not become widely known in the West until Napoleon ventured to Egypt and the French were exposed to hashish. By the 1840s, it had become chic among intellectuals and artists in France. Among those who smoked hashish were the libertine poets Rimbaud, Verlaine and Baudiliere. Baudiliere was a member of the Club des Hashischins, a Paris-based group devoted to exploring the effects of hashish and other drugs.
Between 1840 and 1900, cannabis derivatives were popular medicines in Europe and the United States. Queen Victoria reported used marijuana to relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. Commercial cannabis preparation, including hashish, were widely available at pharmacies.
Cannabis was used to treat tetanus, asthma, gonorrhea, bronchitis, migraines and sleep inducement. Comparing it to opium, one doctor wrote: “Its effects are less intense, and secretions are not so much suppressed by it. Digestion is not disturbed, the appetite rather increased...The whole effect of hemp being less violent, and producing a more natural sleep...It is certainly preferable to opium.”
Cannabis began falling out of favor in the 1890s because the potencies of the preparations were too variable and individuals had different reactions. It was replaced by new synthetic drugs such as aspirin and barbiturates
Hashish and Marijuana in the 20th Century
scene from Reefer Madness The Germans harvested cannabis for medicinal purposes well in to the 20th century. Yaqui Indians from Mexico who fought against Americans were regular marijuana users. Pancho Villa' s entire army may have been stoned. In World War II, more than 55,000 acres of cannabis was harvested for the production of rope and textiles.
Around 1900 the U.S. government briefly grew cannabis on a stretch of the Potomac River. That stretch is now occupied by the Pentagon. In the 1940s it was grown by 4-H clubs. Before marijuana was made illegal in 1937 the birdseed lobby successfully lobbied for an exemption to allow hemp seeds to be used in their product as long as they were sterilized.
In the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, during the Prohibition era, a numbers of “scare” stories were circulated about a new highly-addictive “killer” drug— marijuana. A campaign led by Federal Bureau of Narcotic head Harry Anslinger claimed the drug lead to violent crime and psychosis. The film Reefer Madness was one tool used in the campaign. The Marijuana Act of 1937 made possession of cannabis a serious crime. In 1970, it was categorized as Schedule 1 drug, which technically made a more dangerous than heroin or cocaine (they were given a lower Schedule II ranking because they had some medical uses).
During the 1960s and 1970s, recreational use of marijuana became popular in the Western world. Its rise was closely associated with the rise of the rock music and the counter culture and hippie movements connected with it Before that it was associated with mostly with jazz and blue musicians. Louis Armstrong was a devoted user.
In the United States, the first marijuana came mostly from Mexico. Then it began arriving from places like Columbia, Thailand, Jamaica along with hashish from India, Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan and places in the Middle East. Now much of it is grown domestically in the United States or comes from British Columbia or somewhere else in Canada.
Cannabis sativa plant The Cannabis plant is an annual herb variously described as belonging to the nettles, mulberry or hops families of plants. There are male and female plants. The female plant is the primary source of marijuana and hashish. It has denser foliage and is taller than the male plant. It also has the desirable buds, which contains high amounts of THC.
It had long been thought that there were two main species of cannabis plant: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica . Cannabis sativa , the most widespread of the two, is tall, gangly and loosely branched and can reach a height if 20 feet. Cannabis indica is pyramidal in shape, bushy and dense and generally only reaches a height of three or four feet. The two kinds of plants have difference in their leaves, stems and resin. Even so some botanist consider them to be similar enough to be regarded as subspecies rather than species. They can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
There is a debate as to how many cannabis species and subspecies there. Cannabis sativa is a source of intoxicants and hemp. It is native to Central Asia and growing wild in places as diverse as Nigeria, Poland. Cannabis indica is a source of intoxicants. It is native to the Himalayan regions and found mostly in Afghanistan and Morocco, where it is used to make hashish. Indica plants have traditionally had higher THC content than sativa plants.
A third species or subspecies, cannabis ruderalis , has only minimal amounts of THC. A newly discovered subspecies, Cannabis sativa rasta , is similar to Cannabis sativa but has higher levels of THC. Many plants in Jamaica, Mexico and Africa are of this variety.
Mahmoud Elsohly of the Marijuana Project at the University of Mississippi told the New York Times, there is “only one species of cannabis. It had always been thought there were many. You could see that the chemistry of this plant is the same qualitatively no matter where it comes from. What makes each different is the relative proportion of the different chemicals in there, which doesn’t make a different species. It’s really the same species, but different variations of it. The different types of varieties hybridize very easily.
On whether cannabis can be genetically modified Elsohly said, “ Absolutely.. That actually has been the trend over the years in cultivation in the illicit market, and also in the legal market, where we are doing genetic selection, where we select specific materials that have the genes that produce higher levels of THC or some other ingredients.” In northern California “they have been doing genetic selection for years, You can see the potency keeps going up. In the 1970s, the seized marijuana had probably 1 percent active ingredient. Now, its almost 8 percent , on the average.”
THC-Producing Parts of the Cannabis Plant
Insect stuck on cannabis trichomes Cannabis buds, where most of the THC, is concentrated grow at the top of the plants and the ends of the upper branches. They are a combination of small densely packed leaves, flowers and resin-producing epidermal glands called trichomes. The highest THC concentrations are found in the resins and in the trichomes, which that often look like orange and red hairs are often incorrectly referred to as “pollen” or “crystals.”
The sticky resin that gets people high is thought to offer the plant protection from heat and preserve moisture during reproduction. Before breeding and tinkering with cannabis plants began, the plants with the highest THC came from hot regions like Mexico, the Middle East and India or in high mountainous areas. The reasoning goes that at high altitudes and in the desert exposed high levels of sunlight and ultraviolet radiation produces large amounts of THC. Maybe one reason why the hashish from Afghanistan has traditionally been so good is that it comes from plants grown in both very high and very dry areas.
The chemical structure of THC was only discovered in 1964. The cannabis used to make marijuana and hashish typically has a THC content of between 3 percent and 20 percent. Some super high grade stuff has a THC content of 30 percent. By contrast, cannabis that is used to make hemp has a THC content of less than one percent.
Kief The main types of cannabis products: 1) marijuana, the flowering heads and leaves of the cannabis plant; 2) buds, the resin-gland-rich flowering tops f the female plant; 3) sinsemilla, (meaning “without seed”), flowering tops absent of seeds as a result of being raised with no male plants present; 4) kief , a powder made up of resin glands produced by sifting buds and leaves; 5) hashish, made by pressing kif into blocks. lacks; 6) hash oil, made by extracting or distilling the THC-rich parts of the plant. The leaves, stems and seeds, sometimes referred to as shake, or leaf, have little potency or value.
India has its own cannabis products and they provides a convenient model for the potency of different cannabis products. Bhang, the cheapest and least potent form, is produced from leaves, seeds and stems. It is sometimes smoked but is more commonly used in drinks made with almonds, milk and spices. Ganja, at least three or four times stronger than bhang, is prepared from flowering tops of the female plant. Charas, at least three or four times stronger than ganja, is pure resin.
Liquid marijuana produced by squeezing the oil out of marijuana is becoming increasingly popular in the Europe and the United States. partly because it is very powerful and can be painted on cigarettes and smoked in public without being detected.
A number of chemical relatives f THC have been developed. They have names like synhexyl, nabilone and levonatradol. Marinol is a synthetic form of THC sometimes prescribed as appetite stimulant and anti-emetic for chemotherapy patients. The problem with Marinol is that it can take up to two hours to take effect and it makes patient sleepy.
Chemical analysis of seized cannabis plants reveals the presence of tung oil and other impurities.
Purple Kush marijuana The best marijuana comes from the buds of the female plant. Bad stuff has a lot leaves and even seeds and stems in it. The word marijuana did not become widely used until the 1920s and 30s. It’s origin is not known. Some think it comes from Mariguana , and island in the Bahamas. Other say it come from Maria Juana , Spanish for Mary Jane.
In Britain and Europe, marijuana is called cannabis. Slang the terms for the drug include pot, weed, reefer, bud, herb, ganja, smoke, bhang. Among the terms used to describes hand-rolled marijuana cigarettes or various sizes are joints, reefers, and splifs. Heavy users are called potheads or simply heads. The word pot is derived from potiguaya , a Spanish word for marijuana leaves that have had their buds removed.
Marijuana and hashish smokers in Europe like to roll joints with tobacco mixed in the cannabis. Americans prefer joints without tobacco and like to smoke the stuff in pipes or take single hits in tubular water pipes called a bongs.
The potency of marijuana is increasing. The THC content of most of the stuff—primarily from Mexico—sold in the streets of the United States in the 1960s was 1 percent to 2 percent. The THC content today is 4 percent, with sinsemilla buds averaging 7.5 percent. The buds of some high grade varieties have a THC content of 20 percent to 30 percent.
Types of Marijuana
In the 1960s much of the marijuana sold in the United States was the equivalent of bhang. It was mostly leaves with a few buds and often many seeds and stems in it. These days it is mostly ganja of various potencies.
In the old days Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, and Thai sticks, were some of the names used to describe potent, desired forms of marijuana. Their THC levels are relatively low compared to some of the varieties of skunk—the name used to describe potent forms of buds—found today.
The stuff sold in the 1960s and 70s sold for around $20 an ounce and $300 a pound. The stuff sold today is often mostly buds. High quality bud, with a THC content of 30 percent, sells for $20 a gram and $8,000 a pound.
Hashish and Charas
Afghan hashish Hashish—often simply called hash—is produced from resin and trichomes taken from of female cannabis sativa and cannabis indica plants, and compressed into bricks. The drug has been smoked for more than a thousand years in the Middle East, where, in some regions, it is still popular among Muslims who are not allowed to drink alcohol. It is more popular in Europe than in the United States and is smoked there mixed with tobacco in hand-rolled cigarettes with a cardboard filter. .
Hashish generally has a THC content of 7 to 20 percent. Some high quality hashish has a THC content of 28 percent. In Europe in recent years it has become common for hashish to be adulterated with various kinds of impurities such as Vaseline, beeswax or tree resin. .
Charas—which is sometimes referred to as hashish—is made by hand rubbing resin directly from the cannabis plant. It is produced primarily in India and Nepal. Hash oil is made by boiling the cannabis plant in alcohol, filtering out the solids and evaporating out the water. Hash oils have a THC content of 20 to 45 percent. Some extremely potent versions are 78 percent THC.
Hashish comes in variety of colors: black, dark green, red or golden color. Most hashish has some plant material and color of the hashish often indicates what this plant material: low-quality green from leaves and trippier gold or red from gold or red flowers and trichomes.
Hashish also varies in hardness and in texture from hard and bricklike, to soft and pliable to gooey High quality hashish is nearly 100 percent resin and is usually black and soft and can be easily molded with the fingers. All hashish can be softened by applying heat. Poor quality stuff is hard and brittle and has to be heated for some length of time to make pliable enough to easily break off.
Hashish is valued at about $4 million per ton. It is more compact than marijuana and ths preferable from a smuggler’s point a view.
Industrial hemp Hemp comes from the same cannabis plants that produces marijuana and hashish. It generally comes from plants with has negligible amounts of THC and doesn’t get people who smoke it high (although sometimes it can register false-positives on drug tests). By law in the United States, hemp must have TNC concentraions of less than three tenths of one percent.
Hemp has been cultivated as a fabric since 2800 B.C. It is a very strong and durable material. Hemp fibers makes durable, breathable clothes. Environmentalist and farmers like it because it grows fast, is a renewable resources, requires little pesticides or herbicides and is an effective rotation crop.
Hemp fibers are made from the inner part of the plant's woody stalk. After the stalks have been harvested, they are let to rot so the outer bark can be removed easily. The stalks are then gather and passed through a hemp brake, in which rollers break the wood cords into short pieces and separates the long fibers.
Hemp is sometimes used to describe the fibers of the Manila hemp (abaca), sisal, hequen, and sun hemp from Pakistan. These plants are related to true hemps but are different species.
In the 1970s, hemp cultivation was an important industry in Russia, India, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania and Italy. Today hemp is grown legally in abut 30 countries, including Canada and many European countries, with China controlling about 40 percent of the world market. Government officials in the United States oppose making hemp agriculture legal because of concerns that large hemp fields could be used to hide high-THC cannabis plants.
Use of Hemp
Hemp was once major of material used to make rope and coarse cloth. Over the last two centuries it has been replaced for ropemaking by abaca (Manila hemp) which is lighter and more resistant to water and for coarse cloth by jute. In the 20th century hemp, abaca and jute have all been replaced by synthetic fibers were invented.
Hemp has also traditionally been used in making twine, paper, carpets, mats, diapers, oakum, sandals, and coarse textiles. It is still used to make strong twine, high grade belting and webbing and packing materials. Textile manufactures like hemp because it resembles linen and doesn't need a lot of chemicals to produce. In the United States, it is used to make Patagonia hemp jeans. In Europe, it is mixed with lime plaster to make “bio-composite” interiors for Mercedes-Benzes.
Oil from the seeds (technically small hard fruits called akenes) are is used in artists, paints, linoleum and varnishes. The seeds themselves are found in bird seed and sometimes eaten as human food. Hemp-based livestock feed is used in Europe.
Hemp oil is high in protein, Vitamin E and two good fatty acids and is used to make soaps, cosmetics and food products in the United States such as Hemp body butter, Hempzel Pretezel, Hempseed Energy Bars, Healthy Hemple Sprouted Bread, milk-less cheese, veggie burgers and a variety of desserts. The oil is also used t make cosmetics and medicine such as Hempsters Zit Zapper.
In 2002, the Drug Enforcement Administration ordered all foods containing hemp to be taken of the shelves even amount of active ingredients found in them was less than the opiates found in a poppy seed bagels. Soaps, cosmetics and clothes made with hemp were allowed to be sold as long as their manufacturers could prove the hemp would not be absorbed into the body. The hemp industry in California, which is very big business, has been fighting the ruling. In 2004, the ruling was overturned by a federal appeal’s court and hemp-based foods were allowed to be sold.
In 2005, the feeding of hemp to livestock in Liechtenstein was banned on the insistence of Switzerland with which Liechtenstein has a customs pact after small amounts of THC found in the hemp plants found its way into the milk of Liechtenstein’s dairy cows although none was found in the meat of cattle that ate the feed.
Image Source: DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)
Text Sources: Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011