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Cannabis (marijuana) and cannabinoids, what you need to know

The word cannabis refers to all products derived from the plant cannabis.

The word marijuana refers to parts of or products from the plant cannabis sativa that contain substantial amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

THC is the substance that’s primilary responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person’s mental state.

Cannabinoids are a group of substances found in the cannabis plant. The main cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol (CBD) besides THC and CBD, more than 100 other cannabinoids have been identified.

Drugs containing cannabinoids may be helpful in treating certain rare forms of epilepsy, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, and loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. In addition, some evidence suggests modest benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms. Cannabis isn’t helpful for glaucoma. Research on cannabis or cannabinoids for other conditions is in its early stages.

Research has been done on the effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain (pain associated with nerve injury or damage).

A 2018 review of 28 studies (2,454 participants) of cannabinoids in which chronic pain was assessed found the studies generally showed improvements in pain measures in people taking cannabinoids. The average number of patients who reported at least a 30 percent reduction in pain was greater with cannabinoids than with placebo.

Several NCCIH-funded studies are investigating the potential pain-relieving properties and mechanisms of action of substances in cannabis, including minor cannabinoids (those other than THC) and terpenes (substances in cannabis that give the plant its strain-specific properties such as aroma and taste). The goal of these studies is to strengthen the evidence regarding cannabis components and whether they have potential roles in pain management.

NCCIH is also supporting other studies on cannabis and cannabinoids, including:

  • An observational study of the effects of edible cannabis and its constituents on pain, inflammation, and thinking in people with chronic low-back pain.
  • Studies to develop techniques to synthesize cannabinoids in yeast (which would cost less than obtaining them from the cannabis plant).
  • Research to evaluate the relationship between cannabis smoking and type 2 diabetes.

In 2001 The Labour Party announced that the classification of cannabis in the UK would be downgraded from a Class B drug to Class C, reducing the maximum penalties for possession and supply. The move effectively decriminalised the drug, allowing the Police to focus on more serious offences.

The reclassification was highly effective. A 2005 Home Office report estimated that 199,000 Police hours were saved as a result. But in 2007 Gordon Brown announced that the drug would once again become a Class B substance, going against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Cannabis has remained a Class B drug to date.

Changes to the law in November 2018 made medical cannabis prescriptions possible, but uptake on the NHS has been painfully slow, with just 3 whole plant prescriptions in 3 years. A growing, private medical cannabis industry has emerged in the UK, but costs and conditions remain prohibitive for many, and the legal supply chain has experienced problems such as contamination. As a result, it is estimated that at least 1.4 million people turn to the black market to procure cannabis to treat medical conditions.

Cannabis is massively popular as a recreational drug.

Across the globe, people – alone or in groups – enjoy joints, pipes, bongs and hookahs packed with hash or marijuana.

Among other things, smoking cannabis helps people to experience music, films or other art more intensely,  or simply enjoy food more. Discussions between friends reach unimagined heights, jokes and funny moments can leave people almost unable to stop giggling, and intimacy can be experienced as never before. Furthermore, the vast majority of these people simply go to work, to the gym or to class the next day as normal. Responsible adult use without adverse health, social, legal or economic consequences is not only possible, but happening every day. Still, recreational use of cannabis carries a strong stigma and is not even possible in most countries, as it has been made illegal.  

Recreational use of cannabis in history

Throughout history, there are various traces to be found of the recreational use of cannabis. For instance, in the 16th century, cannabis was smoked recreationally in the Netherlands. At the time, tobacco was very expensive, so people mixed it with hemp, which was also sold by tobacco merchants. This custom was spread by sailors, soldiers and artists and developed into a pleasure which became popular with people in all walks of life. In our museums in Amsterdam and Barcelona, a series of paintings by artists from the Dutch Golden Age is on display. They specialised in depicting people smoking in what were known as ‘smoking houses’,

Today, cannabis use has permeated all layers of society, at least in the West, and its acceptance seems to be on the rise. Even the President of the United States of America no longer denies having used cannabis, and the country of Uruguay has placed production and supply of cannabis in the hands of its government, including for recreational use.

The law in the UK states that cannabis possession is punishable with a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Police are also allowed to issue on the spot fines of £90 for cannabis possessions.

Despite the sentencing options, many police forces are opting to forgo prosecution, choosing instead to use ‘community resolutions’ which deal with cannabis in a non-criminal way.

Police data recently analysed by House of Commons researchers showed the number of offences for possession of cannabis fell from 160,733 in 2010/11 to 110,085 in 2019/20.

Less than a quarter of those offences actually went on to the offender being charged, showing that the police do not consider cannabis possession to be a serious crime.

A number of police and crime commissioners have publicly stated support for alternatives to criminal convictions for cannabis, instead opting for ‘diversion schemes’. In addition to this more welfare led approach, a cannabis card scheme launched in 2020 has received police backing.

The Cancard allows medical cannabis users who are not able to afford a private prescription to register with the scheme. Upon providing evidence they have a legitimate medical reason to use cannabis, users are issued with a card which, when presented to an officer, is designed to explain the reason they may have cannabis in their possession. While the card doesn’t operate as a ‘get out of jail free card’ it is hoped that it will educate officers as to why a person may be in possession of cannabis without a prescription. The officers are then able to use their own discretion as to whether to arrest or fine the holder. Initial reports show that in most situations, stops by police resulted in no arrests for Cancard holders.

How do you take your cannabis?

I personally like to smoke my cannabis in the form of a spliff. I have taken cannabis for aslong as I can remember, I am now 35 and have smoked cannabis since I was about 18. When I first started out smoking cannabis at 18 it was more draw (hash) we would chip in for a large block and make a bong mix. I never started smoking cannabis in spliff form until I was 21. The first weeds I can remember buying when I was about 20/21 were kasey Jones, cheese, cali orange and white widow, my favourite was the kasey Jones and cheese. I’ve always preferred my gassy earthy weeds. I often take cannabis in edible form, my favourite is in brownies. I find it gives me a much stronger high and helps with any aches and pains that I have in my wrists than smoking cannabis does.

Fast forward 15 years I am now 35 and still use cannabis daily. I smoke still mainly in spliff form. I also use cannabis in cooking. I have arthritis in my right wrist and find using cannabis in cooking form and also in canna caps (cannabis/coconut oil mix) helps alot. I also find when I eat cannabis in edible form it allows me to become more creative and arty and I often find myself creating or making something new. I try to smoke weed mainly in the evening as I find smoking weed so much stronger than it was 15 years ago, some weeds cloud my head at times as they are so strong. I will smoke the stronger strains in the evening more and if I fancy something milder in the daytime then I will have a milder strain. My favourite strains I am smoking lately are skywalker, wedding cake, gelato 41, these are all more evening strains for me personally as they are so strong in thc, they are also quite earthy flavours which are always my favourite.

I use cannabis alot for baking. Making our own canna butter using a magic butter machine to make the butter. This process takes about 3 hours. First of all I start with a process called decarbing the cannabis, we do this in order to activate its psychoactive potential, the flower must be heated slowly at a low temperature for 30/40 minutes. We recommend decarbing in the oven first. Butter is a delicious and versatile carrier for THC and other cannabinoids, although it isn’t the only one. You can also use coconut oil, olive oil, or any other fatty oil for your infusions. Just keep in mind, butter burns easily, so keep a close eye on your cannabutter as it cooks. Once the cannabis is decarbed I usually use about 3 ounces, I mix it up and melt 750g unsalted butter and add the decarbed cannabis and melted unsalted butter together into the magic butter machine along with 2 tablespoons of lecithin then heat for 2 hours. I then leave to cool abit and then drain through a cheese cloth bag into a container then put into the fridge.