What really is weed? Where does it come from?
Updated: 4 days ago
These were the questions I had for years, even after I have tried it the first time which, of course, was not an entirely pleasant experience. A friend of my friend brought a joint for a group of us to smoke but none of us really knew what we were doing. Well, I didn’t even know what the plant looked like. So, when I was told to ‘just inhale it’, I did just inhale it big a couple of times which made me cough, a lot. For the rest of the evening, I was freaking out at this new intense feeling that I wasn’t even sure was the way it was supposed to feel. This made me freak out more and there I went, down the ‘freaking out’ spiral. I’m glad that is now behind me. More to unpack on that later but let’s talk about weed, the plant, first.
What exactly is it?
Weed, also known as marijuana, cannabis (the industry term), pot, and many other nicknames, refers to the dried flowers and leaves of the annual flowering herb that are used primarily for medical or recreational purposes. If you are reading this, you have probably seen pictures or paintings of these green marijuana leaves before. But you may not have seen pictures of the cannabis flower before.
These flowers are parts of the plants that have gone through the cultivation, harvest, drying and curing process and that you can smoke. Note that depends on the types or strains of cannabis you are growing, these leaves and flowers look different. Cannabis is just like every other plant life; you can grow yellow roses instead of red if you prefer. (If you are curious about the cannabis cultivation process or want to try and grow a plant at home, we will be posting another blog on that).
How did people start using cannabis?
According to various paleobotanical studies, cannabis plants already existed on this planet 11,700 years ago in the territories of Central Asia. The first evidence of cannabis use by humans dates back to more than 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. People in ancient China were using this plant as a source of fiber as well as for medicinal and ritualistic functions. This, then, spread to the rest of Asia as well as all over what we call now Europe.
One of the famous examples of recreational use, which is to say, ‘being high’, was around 1844 in Paris where famous writers and poets including Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, curious by the effects of this plant, gathered together regularly at the Hotel de Pimodan to ingest cannabis administered by a prominent French psychiatrist, Jacques-Joseph Moreau. It’s like a bar but instead of alcohol, they consume cannabis. They can then go on and paint or write or be creative, with no hangover the next day. Ha! We wish we had one like that today.
What is THC vs. CBD?
As more and more cannabis use started popping up around the world, researchers and scientists conducted studies on its effects more seriously. This is where I want to provide clarifications on Tetrahydrocannabinol, more widely known as, THC. THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. This is what gives you the feeling of ‘high’. But note that this is just one of the many compounds found in cannabis. The other well-known compound is Cannabidiol (CBD) and I’m sure you’ve heard of this before. CBD doesn’t make you high. Essentially, THC and CBD are what differentiate medical and recreational marijuana, as well as legal and illegal marijuana in some places. The one thing these compounds have in common is that it is practically impossible to OD on them. Purchasing and using CBD is legal in the U.S. and it’s becoming more and more common for muscle pain relief, quality of sleep and so on.
THC was first discovered in 1964 that when inhaled through smoking, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain. It then attaches itself to the receptors in the brain that are responsible for thinking, memory, pleasure, and movement. This is why you’ve heard people say that when they are high, they feel a euphoric, relaxed sense of feeling. So, when this was found, it caused concerns for some authorities around the world on whether this was addictive or can cause serious damage to the brain.
When did the U.S. make weed illegal?
In 1970, the United States Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act listing cannabis as one of the Schedule I drugs, alongside illicit drugs like heroin and LSD. To fit the criteria as a Schedule I substance, a particular drug must have a high potential for abuse and addiction as well as no known medical benefits. Marijuana was neither. Why did this happen? John Ehrlichman, one of Richard Nixon’s top advisers who was involved with this proposal of Controlled Substances Act, said that the war on drugs was created as a way to fight African American people and hippies in the United States.
Well, to this date, cannabis unjustly remains a Schedule I substance. This is why in the U.S., recreational use, aka cannabis products including THC, is illegal at the federal level but states can have their own regulations for both medical and recreational use. Today, recreational marijuana is legal in 15 states + D.C. within the U.S. (If you want to know more about the policy side of things, we will post another blog on this as well.) You can walk into a dispensary in California or Colorado and buy any THC products you’d like to try. In some places, you can even order online, and have it delivered to you and it’s especially convenient if you are not yet comfortable to physically walk into a dispensary or if you just don’t want to leave your couch. We get it.
This was a lot of information (I tried my best to keep it short), but all this is to say that weed isn’t a scary drug that is sinful to use or even talk about. This is so much stigma around cannabis in our communities and we want to provide some background information before we judge it so harshly. When coffee was first discovered in Europe, this unusual dark black beverage was used to be called the “bitter invention of Satan”. Look at coffee now – one of the most popular commodities of our times. So, let’s cut some slack and learn more about the cannabis plant and its benefits, usages, and effects properly before we make up our minds.
One last note
We still have so much more to share about cannabis, like what is the best way to try cannabis for a first-timer or how to give it another try for those like me whose first time didn’t exactly go as planned. So, keep an eye out for more posts. If you have any burning questions, post in the Comments section below and we will include them in future articles. And don’t remember to join our community of cana-curious users here!