This Bud's For You - Cannabis
Flower bud of Cannabis sativa 'Sour Diesel'
Photo credit: Cannabis Culture
"...the atmosphere in the room was thick with oil of peppermint, eucalyptus... and cannabis. Despite the wet cloth, enough smoke had escaped the brazier to form a hanging cloud of purling wisps, moving pale as ghosts in the darkened air.
I sprinkled more water on the muslin tent and sat down in the small armchair beside the bed, breathing the saturated atmosphere in cautiously but with an agreeable small sense of illicit pleasure. Hal had told me that he was in the habit of smoking hemp to relax his lungs and that it seemed to be effective. He'd said 'hemp,' and that was undoubtedly what he'd been smoking; the psychoactive form of the plant didn't grow in England and wasn't commonly imported.
I hadn't any hemp leaves in my medical supply but did have a good bit of ganja, which John had acquired from a Philadelphia merchant who had two Indiamen. It was useful in the treatment of glaucoma, as I'd learned when treating Jamie's aunt Jocasta, it relieved nausea and anxiety - and it had occasional non-medicinal uses, as John had informed me, to my private amusement." -- from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD, aka MOBY, Chapter 12, by Diana Gabaldon
So what IS the difference between hemp and ganja (or marijuana)?
Botanically, they are the same plant. Both are cultivars of Cannabis sativa. The difference is in the breeding. Hemp strains are bred for their fiber, which have many industrial uses, including rope, biodegradable plastics, textiles, paper, moisturizers and bio-fuel. Marijuana strains are selectively bred for their high levels of the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the substance responsible for making people "high." Hemp, on the other hand, has negligible amounts of THC.
But like all OutlanderPlants, there's much more to the story than that...
Species: There are 3 major categories: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis sativa forma indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.
Common names: Marijuana, weed, bud, ganja, dope, maryjane, pot, herb, grass
Cannabis is native to central and southern Asia. The species name "indica," as you may remember from this post on Latin botanical names, means native to India. The Philadelphia merchant's Indiamen undoubtedly called it "ganja," the Sanskrit word for cannabis. The oldest record of cannabis use dates to the time of Herodotus, the Greek historian. In 440 BC, he wrote about the Scythians taking cannabis steam baths, a process that sounds quite similar to the scene from MOBY above. "The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed [presumably, flowers], and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy." The species grown most often for medical and recreational use are C. sativa and C. indica. These species have been interbred and hybridized to produce countless subspecies with names like 'OG Kush,' 'Girl Scout Cookies,' 'Grandaddy Purple,' 'AC/DC,' 'Blue Dream,' and 'Sour Diesel.' THC may be the best known compound extracted from Cannabis plants, but it is by no means the only one. THC is one of 85 known cannabinoids, a class of chemical compounds that bind with receptors in the brain and in the immune system.
Cannabinoids are produced in tiny hair-like structures called trichomes, which grow in large numbers on the calyxes and bracts of female plants. A mature bud fairly bristles with them. (Stinging Nettles, another popular Outlander Plant, have trichomes, too. Trichomes are the tiny "needles" that deliver chemicals that cause the sting when you touch the plant.) Medicinal Uses
There seems to be a lot of misinformation about how marijuana is used as medicine. There's a perception that people use medical conditions as an excuse to get high. And that, indeed, the "high" is what relieves pain or anxiety.
Neither of these is necessarily true. First of all, not all medicinal cannabis contains THC. Some strains, such as AC/DC, are bred for high levels of another cannabanoid, called CBD (Cannabidiol). CBD is not psychoactive and thus does not produce a "high." It has been used effectively to reduce anxiety, and to treat Dravet sydrome, a rare, extreme form of epilepsy that strikes infants. The video at the end of this post has an interview with the mother of a child with this disease, who tells about her experience. Thanks to CBD, her daughter is able to live like a normal little girl without seizures, without the heavy sedation that comes with conventional drugs, and without getting stoned. Cannabis strains containing THC are used to treat nausea and vomiting that accompanies chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS, chronic pain including neuropathy, and anorexia. The use of cannabis to treat PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is controversial. The use of some combination of THC and CBD shows promise, but more study is needed. Most strains have varying amounts of THC and CBD. In Washington state, producers are required to label recreational products showing the percentages of THC and CBD the items contain. But even with that information, when you discover just how many strains are on offer, how do you know which one will produce the desired effect? The Medical Marijuana Strains website lists many of these subspecies with user reviews and suggestions for which strains are best for specific illnesses or complaints.
All that said, because the use of marijuana has either been illegal or operating in some sort of grey area for so long, only limited research has been possible. That's gradually beginning to change as the US government is allowing some grants to fund studies. The video at the bottom of this post includes a segment about research being done at Washington State University.
Who knows what benefits further study could provide? It is interesting that our cells have receptors for cannabanoids. Our cells have receptors for opiates, too, and research has shown that our bodies produce opiates, called endorphins. Is it possible that we can manufacture our own cannabanoids?
A Wee Bit O' History
You've probably heard someone describe themselves as being "420 friendly,"meaning that they either like smoking pot or don't mind if other people do. But how did the number 420 come to be associated with marijuana?
Our friends at the Urban Dictionary explain that a group of high school kids in San Rafael, California, who called themselves The Waldos, coined the term back in the 1970s. They would meet after school at 4:20 p.m. and go off together to smoke some weed. They started using the time, 420, as a code word for getting high, and it has been used by pot aficionados ever since.
The Politics of Pot
US federal law prohibits growing or using Cannabis of any variety. So individuals who grow, sell or use marijuana in states that have legalized it for either medical or recreational purposes run the risk of prosecution. For now, it appears that the federal government is taking a "wait and see" approach to legalized marijuana, watching the industry unfold.
To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. I live in Washington state, which along with Colorado and Alaska, are the only states that have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana. It is a brave new world for growers, retailers, dispensaries and consumers, not to mention legislators grappling with how best to regulate this quasi-legal business.
This video, produced in 2014 by my local Seattle PBS station, takes an in-depth look at the marijuana business in Washington. It covers edible products, research on how pot affects the brain, how medical marijuana benefits a child with epilepsy, and takes us inside a growing facility. Since then, many other states have legalized marijuana.