The world of cannabis is full of shocks and surprises. From its use in ancient times as a spiritual tool, to its modern-day popularity as a recreational substance, weed has popped up time and again throughout human history.
We can think of those studying the plant today as 21st century explorers. Rather than trekking to far-off lands, today’s explorers – or scientists – are looking inwards. They’re trying to establish how the incredibly complex brain works, and how various systems in the body interact with each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than with marijuana research, where multiple critical discoveries have been made in the past 60 years.
In this post, we’ll bring together the most weird, wonderful and fascinating facts about cannabis, and look at how humans used in the past, how we do so today, and how we may harness the plant in the future.
The body has a natural cannabis system
The effects of marijuana are unlike those provided by any other substance. Medical scientists were miffed as to why, but now we are aware of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The body has many such systems, but the ECS has evolved to function with a specific type of compound called cannabinoids. Hemp and marijuana plants produce these in abundance.
Studies have shown that psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has an endogenous analogue, known as anandamide (AEA). AEA is one of several endocannabinoids, that are chemically comparable to cannabis-generated phyto-cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids attach to cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors control mental functions, such as mood. The immune system and CB2 receptors are closely linked. The ECS also affects:
- Cognitive health
- Reproductive health
- Bone health
- Pain perception
Current research suggests there is still a lot we don’t know about the ECS. It’s possible that there is an as yet undiscovered CB3 receptor. Scientists have also mooted that ECS irregularities could be the root cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines and fibromyalgia.
19th century physicians used cannabis to treat migraines
It’s fascinating that cannabis sativa and cannabis indica is being researched as a migraine treatment based on what we know about how cannabinoids influence the body. Doctors in the West were known to prescribe marijuana products for the condition in the 19th century, up until prohibition. The cannabis plant became of interest in Europe after the Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy imported cannabis indica from Asia during the 1840s. The marijuana growing in this part of the world had different THC and CBD combinations to the hemp that was cultivated in Europe. Not that the intricate chemical differences were known about at the time.
The West obtained new marijuana facts as they started to study its effects. Initially, advocates touted “Indian hemp” (the name for such weed) as a muscle relaxant and painkiller. But British physicians soon started advocating cannabis for migraines and headaches. In the early 20th century, multiple pharmacopeias in Britain and the United States mentioned marijuana for migraines. However, cannabis treatment was quickly halted after the herb was banned in the UK and US in the 1920s and 1930s respectively.
It’s safer to smoke cannabis than tobacco
Let’s go over some marijuana vs tobacco facts. Tobacco smoking is very dangerous. And not just because it exposes the body to harmful carcinogens. Tobacco also contains a highly addictive ingredient called nicotine, which is what leads to smoking dependency. Cannabis doesn’t have such a compound. Essentially, you can smoke weed and not get hooked.
THC may induce some mental dependence, especially for those who use it as a crutch. But it doesn’t cause the chemical addiction that nicotine, opioids, cocaine and other narcotics are notorious for. While we’re on marijuana addiction facts, there is actually a substance in the plant that may help addicts to stop taking harmful drugs. CBD has exhibited anti-addictive effects in preliminary trials and investigations using a small number of patients. This may be down to how the cannabinoid modulates opioid receptors.
Indians drink a cannabis-infused drink called ‘bhang’
Cannabis is illegal in India. But every year, during the Holi festival in springtime, many Indians happily flaunt the law by drinking ‘bhang lassis’. Holi is a time for celebration, and a festival that marks the victory of light over darkness. It’s famous for people throwing paint at one another while in joyful mood, and is particularly popular in the north of India.
Bhang’s history dates back to around 1,000BC in ancient India, according to historical records. Westerners began writing about bhang during the 1500s, a time when the Portuguese occupied Goa, in the west of the country. You make bhang by crushing marijuana leaves and flowers into a paste, using a pestle and mortar. Since it is drank, bhang produces an edible-like effect.
Bhang is considered to have an array of medical properties, helping with digestion issues, dysentery, poor appetite and speech problems. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961 brought about global marijuana prohibition. But given the rich history of cannabis use in India, and for spiritual purposes at that, total prohibition would be and has proven impossible.
Big businesses have their eyes on cannabis cosmetics
Perceptions of marijuana are changing at an astonishing rate. Once a loathed illegal drug, marijuana legalization is now bringing the plant into all parts of society. And it looks like the cosmetic industry is next to see a major marijuana boom. Big brands including Estee Lauder are looking at how to incorporate Mary Jane into their products. Small cannabis companies are already making creams, lotions, gels, lubes and other topicals and selling them at legal dispensaries.
Cannabis topicals with THC are only sold to the general public (aged 21 and over) in recreationally legal states. However, hemp-based products made with CBD only are gaining traction all over the country. CBD creams are non-intoxicating, but may relieve pain, arthritis and combat skin complaints sans side effects.
Ancient Chinese and Indian medical practices used cannabis
Psychoactive cannabis is a relatively recent discovery for the Western world. But China and India have been smoking marijuana and consuming it in other ways for millennia. Both countries have rich histories of unique medical practices. Traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine are practiced locally today. Both now have a global presence. Many patients in the West have become disillusioned with the pharmaceutical industries, and are trying more natural options for their ailments.
In Chinese herbal medicine, cannabis was first mentioned back in 2737 BC by emperor and pharmacologist Shen Nung. Ancient records recommended cannabis for malaria, gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Indeed, today’s researchers are studying how cannabinoids may tackle arthritis.
In Ayurvedic medicine, cannabis (or to use its Sanskrit name, ‘vijaya’) is suggested in small quantities for a few reasons. These include as a “muscle relaxant, euphoriant and analgesic,” according to Alakananda Ma, a modern-day Ayurveda expert. However, many Ayurveda experts point out that marijuana was not used as a tool for enlightenment, as is sometimes suggested by people in today’s New Age movements. Way back when, cannabis was likely used as an occasional, ritualistic tool, and not as something for daily consumption.
Luxembourg may legalize marijuana soon
Now for some marijuana legalization facts. Uruguay first, Canada second, Luxembourg third? The landlocked European country is considering legalizing recreational and medical marijuana in 2020, according to reports. Luxembourg’s health minister confirmed plans that legal cannabis is in the offing, and hopes that other European countries will make a similarly progressive move. Etienne Schneider bemoaned 50 years of failed drug policies in an August 2019 Politico interview.
Schneider hopes that legal cannabis will make youngsters more inclined to learn about marijuana health facts, and take a more open-minded approach to drugs generally. If plans succeed, all Luxembourgians aged 18 or over will be able to buy cannabis within two years. Moreover, the government will decriminalize cannabis possession (up to 5 grams) for 12 to 17 year olds. However, those who break these looser regulations will face stricter punishment.
Israel is home to some of the biggest cannabis discoveries
One would imagine that somewhere like the US, or drug-progressive Canada has led the way in marijuana research. But Israeal has made the most significant cannabis discoveries – albeit with a little help from the United States. In the early 1960s, scientists isolated THC and CBD. Isolating the former was key. This confirmed that just a small part of the plant has psychoactive properties.
From the late 1960s, the National Institute of Health in the US funded Israeli cannabis research to the tune of $100,000 a year. During this time, ironically, the federal government was at work to restrict cannabis even further with the Controlled Substances Act. Dr Raphael Mechoulam made great use of this funding in the decades to follow.
In the 1990s, Mechoulam hit upon a discovery that he had anticipated for years. As he suspected, the body created a compound very similar to THC, called anandamide. This ‘endocannabinoid’ is just one component of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Knowing that cannabinoids operate as part of one big system has been key to establishing how and why CBD and other compounds are effective for different conditions.
Flavonoids, not cannabinoids, may be key to cannabis pain relief
Cannabinoids are important, but they aren’t the only relevant compounds in the cannabis herb. When discussing interesting facts about marijuana, we simply cannot leave out flavonoids. These are non-intoxicating, but are apparently vital to “unlocking” the plant’s analgesic effects. This is even more intriguing since pain is by far the most common reason to take cannabis or CBD.
Phytochemistry published a study in 2019 on the effects of cannflavin A and cannflavin B. These compounds are unique to cannabis sativa, and are 30 times more effective as anti-inflammatories than aspirin. Flavonoids are a largely unknown quantity right now. More studies are coming, and we certainly need these marijuana science facts.
Cannabis is stronger than ever before
Weed may not look any different, but it has become much more potent in recent times. The spike in strength is all to do with the demand for more psychoactive strains. The recreational market deems powerful cannabis as the “best” cannabis. With this in mind, growers are breeding strains with the goal of maxing out THC content, and minimizing CBD content.
There are some concerns about the effects this kind of cannabis has on the brain. Marijuana facts for teens repeatedly show that cannabis consumption at an early age can be harmful, and may increase the risk of psychotic disorders. We need more research. Just because cannabis is now stronger, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
Hopefully these 10 facts about marijuana have been enlightening. The cannabis plant has a lively history and perhaps an even livelier future. And as it becomes more a part of the mainstream, weed is impossible to ignore, so it’s time to get up to speed.