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Cannabis, also known (in one drug form) as marijuana, is any of several different species of mildly hallucinogenic plants whose main active ingredient is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Cannabis is a member of the family Cannabaceae, in the order Rosales. It grows in most climates. The tough fiber of the cannabis plant is known as hemp and has various uses, including the manufacture of cloth, rope, and paper.


Although the main psychoactive substance in Cannabis is THC the plant contains about 60 cannabinoids in total. The complexity of this mixture has lead to speculation as to why the effects of the plant can differ from the synthetically manufacured dronabinol.

"Normal" herbal cannabis usually contains between 0.5-5% THC although through selective breading and cultivation techniques (such as hydroponics) varieties now exist that have upto 25% THC content. The THC content is also affected by the sex of the plant, with females generating more THC laden resin than their male counterparts. sinsemilla (from the Spanish for "without seed") is derived from unpollented female plants and has an even higher THC content.


Cannabis is psychoactive meaning it affects the mind and or behaviour. Its main effects include a "mellow" good feelings as well as giggling, and the frequent short-term side-effect of increased appetite. Larger doses can cause an increased perception of sight and sound, eventually leading to mild halucination, usually auditory.

Other effects include paranoia, short term memory loss and nausea, especially if used in combination with alcohol.

It is generally not thought possible to over-dose on Cannabis as the level's required for toxicity are so high.

Although a mild tolerence of the drug can be built up, it is not thought to be addictive. However some people can build up a psychological dependence. There is some evidence linking long-term use to depression and it can aggrevate pre-existing mental conditions.

The long term effects of cannabis are still need more study but there are concerns the high tar content (and the fact it is usually smoked with tobacco) could leed to an increased risk of lung cancer.

Medical uses of marijuana for a variety of conditions is currently being investigated. Anecdotal evidence reports that it has benificial effects relieving the nausea of chemotherapy and AIDS treatment, its appitite stimulating effect helping combat wasteing. It may also help reduce fluid pressure in the eyes associated with glaucoma. There are numerous studies that have shown it can help reduce the pain and tremours of multiple sclerosis.


The use of Cannabis is thought to go back around 4000 years. It was used as medicine throughout the Asia and the middle east to treat a variety of conditions. It began to get used the western world (usually as a tincture) around the middle of the 19th century. It was famously used to treat Queen Victoria's period pains. It was even available from shops in the US. By the end of the 19th centuary its medicinal use began to fall as other drugs such as aspirin took over.

It has a prominent religious role in the Rastafarian religion.

Although it has probably been used as a recreational drug thoughout its history it came to prominence in the Jazz scene during the fifties, its use taking off in the 60's.

It is now one of the most widely used illicit drugs in the world.

Recreational Use

NB Recreational use is illegal in most countries, see the next section

Recreational use of Cannabis has an asociated subculture which starts with the number of names for the drug. Examples include: "pot", "dope", "weed", "reefer", "bhang", "green", "herb", "ganja", "sinsemilla", "grass", "mary jane", "chronic", "bud" and many more.

Cannabis come several forms.

  • Dried leaves (usually the flowering tops of female plants)
  • Cannabis Resin (hashish) which is the secretion of the plant, usually dried and processed onto blocks
  • Cannabis Oil ("Honey oil") which is a concentrate usually involing a solvent based extraction.

It is most commonly smoked, usually in a Spliff where the dried leaves (possibly mixed with tobacco) are rolled in paper and smoked much like a cigerette.

Other methods include using pipes or "bongs" (water pipes) to smoke the Cannabis whilst cooling the smoke down and in the case of bongs removing some of the unwanted impurities/tar.

Cannabis is also quite popular used in cooking to make things such as "space cake" and "hash brownies". However it is harder to self-regulate the effects as they usually occur after 30-45 minutes after ingestion.

It can also be taken by desolving it in cups of coffee, creating a "bhang".

The Law

NB. Wikipedia does not give legal advice!

Marijuana was criminalised across most of the world in the early parts of the 20th centuary. There is some confusion as to the reasons as there seems to be different driving forces on either side of the Atlantic.

In the UK cannabis was outlawed in 1928 after it became a signatory to the "International Opium Convention" which was held in Geneva in 1925.

In the US the key law seems to be the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which was the federal culmination of many seperate state laws that had been enacted in the previous years.

Laws usually exist for trafficing, cultivation and possesion for personnel use. Enforcement of the law varies from country to country. Some notable examples include the Netherlands where it is effectively de-criminalised and can be purchased in licensed "coffee shops".

In many countries police exercise their discretionary powers to caution or confiscate for possession in small quantities that could be deemed for personal use.

A recent example was the declaration by police in Brixton, England that they would not arrest people for possesion of cannabis and instead only issue on on the spot warnings and confiscate the cannabis. Following this trial the re-classification of Cannabis from Class B to Class C was recommended by the Home Secretary in October 2001.

In parts of Australia, notably South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, posession of small quantities of cannabis, and growing limited numbers of plants for personal use, has been decriminalised, now being punishable by an on-the-spot fine of $50 (about 25 USD). Police interest in personal usage and non-commercial growers in the rest of Australia appears to be limited.

Some other countries (e.g. Canada) are starting to recognise medicinal use of cannabis seperatly from "normal" possesion.


Drug Information
  • UK National drugs helpline factsheet [1]
  • American Council for Drug Education factsheet [2]
  • UN Drug control and Prevention factsheet [3]
  • The Emperor Wears No Clothes [4]
  •'s take of the history of criminalisation [5]
  • Smoking device used for tasting Cannabis [6]
  • WHO report on Cannabis health effects [7]
  • UK Panoroma programme on medical trials [8]
Advocacy sites

This is pro-cannabis biased, any anti-cannabis links?

  • The Cannabis Information Network [9]
  • [10]

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