AUG 24, 2023 3:45 PM PDT

What is Cannabis?

The topic of cannabis and cannabis science seems to come up in the news almost daily, from its recreational and medicinal use to its periodic legalization, both throughout the United States and around the world. But what exactly is cannabis? What is its history? How is it used? Here we will briefly examine these topics with the hope of giving our readers a bit more insight into this controversial substance.

Cannabis is technically classified as a drug derived from the cannabis plant that is native to South and Central Asia, and has been used for a myriad of medicinal, recreational, and even religious purposes for several centuries. The primary ingredient in cannabis is Tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC), along with an additional 483 known ingredients. Additionally, cannabis is also comprised of what are known as cannabinoids, with cannabis containing at least 65 of them.

As noted, cannabis use has been going on for several centuries, with the first documented use of cannabis dating as far back as 2800 BC in the pharmacopoeia of the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung. Fast forward to 1841, which is when the Irish physician, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, brought cannabis from India to the West after successfully using cannabis for medicinal purposes while living in India. Throughout 20th century United States, cannabis was regarded as an unsafe drug, resulting in its federal ban via the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Since that time, the attitude around cannabis and its use has slowly changed and has since been made available for medicinal and recreational use, with its recreational use having been made legal in 23 U.S. states, 3 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. But what are the specific reasons people use cannabis?

While cannabis is often regarded as a way to “get high”, it has a myriad of medical uses, including the treatment of mental health disorders such as depression, mania, and anxiety. Its use has also been attributed to treating chronic pain, drug and alcohol addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, along with alleviating side effects from chemotherapy treatments for cancer. However, cannabis also comes with its own side effects, specifically cannabis use disorder (also called CUD), which involves the overuse of cannabis to the point of being unable to quit despite it having adverse impacts on a person’s personal and work lives.

Cannabis is a plant, but it also has a rich history of both medical and recreational uses spanning several centuries. While its legalization continues to be a hot topic, there is a wealth of scientific data to demonstrate both its positive and negative impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health. We sincerely hope this piece about cannabis was insightful and we look forward to continuing the discussion regarding this world-renowned drug.

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Wikipedia, University of Sydney, Wikipedia (1), JAMA Network, Wikipedia (2), National Library of Medicine, Medical News Today, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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