What is Cannabis (marijuana)?
Marijuana, hashish and hashish oil all derive from the cannabis plant. Cannabis sativa, also known as the hemp plant, has been cultivated for centuries for industrial and medical use, and for its "psychoactive," or mind-altering, effects.
More than 61 chemicals, called cannabinoids, have been identified as specific to the cannabis plant. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid, and is most responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana use.
Hemp grown for industrial use has very low levels of THC. Hemp fibres are used to make rope, fabric and paper.
Hemp seeds are high in protein and yield an oil with nutritional and industrial value.
Many claims about the medical uses of marijuana have not been scientifically proven; however, some have. In Canada, THC and other pure cannabinoids are available in three prescription medications:
- Marinol (dronabinol) is synthetic THC and Cesamet (nabilone) is another synthetic cannabinoid. Both are prescribed to relieve nausea and vomiting and to stimulate appetite. This can help people who have AIDS or who take drugs used to treat cancer.
- Sativex, the world's first prescription medicine derived from the cannabis plant, was approved in Canada in 2005 for the relief of pain in multiple sclerosis. Sativex is a combination of THC and cannabidiol.
Marijuana - Grass, weed, pot, dope, ganja and others
Hashish - Hash
Hash oil - Weed oil, honey oil
Where does Cannabis come from?
Cannabis is native to tropical and temperate climates, but is cultivated around the world. Modern illegal growing operations use sophisticated methods to produce high-potency marijuana.
People with a medical exemption from Health Canada may grow their own supply or designate someone to grow it for them. Research-grade cannabis is grown by a producer appointed by the federal government.
What does cannabis (marijuana) look like and how is it used?
Marijuana is the dried flower buds and leaves of the cannabis plant. It ranges in colour from grayish green to greenish brown and may contain seeds and stems.
Hashish is the dried, compressed resin of cannabis flower tops. It ranges in colour from brown to black, and is sold in chunks.
Hash oil is made by boiling cannabis flower tops or resin in an organic solvent, which produces a sticky reddish-brown or green substance.
The THC content of each variety of cannabis varies, although hash is generally more potent than marijuana, and hash oil is usually the most potent form.
Marijuana, hash or hash oil are sometimes mixed with tobacco, and are most often rolled into a cigarette called a joint, or smoked in a pipe. Cannabis is sometimes cooked in foods, such as brownies, or made into a drink.
Who uses cannabis?
Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in Canada (after alcohol use by minors). However, most cannabis use is infrequent and experimental.
A 2009 study reported that 42 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 18 had used cannabis at some point in their life, and 12 per cent had done so in the past year.
Another survey from 2009 found that about 26 per cent of Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 had used marijuana at least once in the previous year. About three per cent reported daily use in the past four weeks. These rates of use were significantly higher among males than females.
Cannabis (marijuana) and the law
A first-time conviction for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana can result in a six-month jail sentence or a $1,000 fine (or both) – and a criminal record, which limits employment and travel. Subsequent convictions and possession of larger amounts can result in more severe penalties. A first offence of possession of small amounts of cannabis usually results in a fine or discharge.
In 2007, 47,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana; this was about half of all drug arrests in Canada for that year. In an ongoing debate lasting many years, various government, health, police, policy and legal groups have suggested that criminal punishment for the possession of cannabis is too severe.
One alternative to current laws is to "decriminalize," which would reduce the legal penalty for possession of cannabis, and another is to "regulate," giving cannabis a legal status similar to alcohol.
New regulations were enacted under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to permit the cultivation of industrial hemp in 1998, and to provide access to marijuana for medical use in 2001.
Adapted from Do You Know . . . Cannabis © 2003, 2010 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health