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Cannabis: What It Is, And What It Isn’t

While legalization of cannabis sweeps across the world at breakneck speed, including an increasing number of areas in the United States, the plant still remains poorly understood by many. We know that it gets you high, and that it is a very controversial topic on the world stage. With attitudes about cannabis shifting overwhelmingly in favor of its use, more people are experimenting with the plant than they have in years prior.

If you are one of those people who still don’t know much about cannabis but have considered using it for any reason, it helps to know a thing or two about what you’re getting into: what cannabis is, how it works and  what you can expect when you use it.

Note: This is not an official guideline to using cannabis. Experiences vary wildly from person to person, ranging from bland to intense, and we cannot tell you how you will react to it when using cannabis for the first time-or any time, for that matter. The information below is to help you make an informed choice and answer some questions that you might have about this much-loved plant.

1). Cannabis has never killed anyone.

That’s right, not a single death has been caused by cannabis overdosing. Considering how many people use it, and for how long it has been used by people all over the world, this is a hugely significant number. More people have died from drinking too much water and falling pianos than they have from using cannabis-a number that has remained consistently at zero.

This fact is incredibly appealing for those who are seeking to use cannabis as an alternative to methods of treatment that involve pharmaceutical drugs-which can not only be addictive, but also cause undesired side effects-including death. According to the CDC, an average of 91 Americans die each day from opioids such as prescribed painkillers.  Considering cannabis’ pain-relieving properties and its zero-death track record, it’s no surprise that some people are turning to cannabis to manage their pain.

Now, is overdosing on cannabis even possible? Well, maybe. It is believed that it could be done, if a person were able to consume literally pounds of the plant in a short period of time. But you’re far more likely to fall asleep long before you get anywhere near that far.

2). 70 million Americans have smoked pot.

The current US population is right around 323.1 million and about 70 million of those people have tried pot at least once. It is not an uncommon thing to do anymore, and you might even be surprised by who in your life might light up every now and then. Because cannabis remains illegal on the federal level within the borders of the United States, many users prefer to stay hush-hush about it unless they are in certain circles.

3). Weed is not a gateway drug.

This might fly in the face of everything that your parents or D.A.R.E taught you, but cannabis is most certainly not a gateway drug to harder drug use. In fact, the overwhelming majority of cannabis users never go on to use harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. This gateway theory is based on the fact that some users of these dangerous drugs also use cannabis; therefore there “must” be a connection. In reality, many cannabis users stop entirely after different priorities like work and family enter their lives.

So what are the real “gateways” to hard drug use? Experts cite many sources of this behavior, none of which are cannabis:

  • Poverty
  • Poor social environment
  • Being surrounded by people who use hard drugs
  • Certain mental illnesses that predisposes a person to abusing drugs

While there might be a correlation existing between cannabis users and users of more dangerous drugs, there is one thing that just about any science student could tell you: Correlation does not equal causation.

4). People have been using cannabis for a long time.

A very long time, in fact. Cannabis use is believed to have its origins deeply rooted in ancient China. It wasn’t this taboo, controversial subject that we know it to be today, either. In fact, cannabis has been embraced for millennia due to its therapeutic and spiritual-enhancing properties. Experts pinpoint the existence of cannabis to be around 12,000 years, making it the world’s oldest cultivated crop.

The first recorded use of cannabis was documented in 4000 BCE. Doctors in China would utilize its medical benefits to act as an anesthetic during surgery. It is from here that the plant would spread to Europe and then, in the 20th century, to the United States.

5). THC is the compound found in cannabis that gets you high.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is responsible for the euphoric experience that we call a “high.” THC is known as a cannabinoid, one of the 100-plus that are found within the plant. Cannabinoids exist within the cannabis plant, and then interact with receptors in the brain and body to produce its effects once ingested. The human body produces its own, called endocannabinoids, that strongly resemble THC and work to keep a person healthy and their body stable.

Because our bodies have this system that THC binds itself to so easily, we can reap all of the medical and recreational benefits of the plant. For THC to produce the sought-after high, the cannabinoid binds to the receptors in the brain and central nervous system. This creates the psychoactive effects that we know and love.

6). A high tends to last 1 to 4 hours.

If you’re new to using cannabis, or even if you just have something important to do soon, it might be best to hold off on lighting up until you’ve got some free time. Smoking your bud will bring about the strongest effects of it pretty quickly, before they begin to gradually taper off. How long your high lasts depends on a lot of factors, including the stain you’re using and the method of consumption. Edibles, for instance, tend to produce a much stronger and longer-lasting high that will likely take anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes to set in. Your individual metabolism also has a role to play in how quickly the high comes on, and for how long it lasts.

7). Cannabis has many proven therapeutic uses.

From easing nausea caused by chemotherapy to managing chronic pain, anxiety and depression, cannabis has many applications within the field of medicine-which we are only really beginning to touch upon now in a scientific light. In more than half of the United States, individuals who qualify for a medical cannabis card have access to cannabis and/or cannabis-infused products to ease their symptoms and cope with a wide variety of ailments.

Some of these conditions (though this definitely not a complete list) include: HIV/AIDS, arthritis, glaucoma, epilepsy, migraines, multiple sclerosis and Tourette’s Syndrome. Additionally, cannabis can be used by terminally ill patients who seek to improve the quality of the final stretch of their life.

8). There are many ways to use it.

Smoking is the classic method of ingestion: roll up a joint, invite some friends over and light up. This is because rolling papers are cheap, plentiful and portable and it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of skill to roll-just a bit of practice. Pipes, blunts, vapes and hookahs are all used by smokers as well to introduce their high in fun and sometimes flavorful ways. But what if you don’t want to smoke?

The inhalation of smoke is not really a good thing, including pot smoke. It’s hot and can induce coughing that for some people can be truly bothersome. Smoking is also very hard to keep discreet because of the telltale aroma of ignited bud. If any of these things are a concern to you, look to other methods of obtaining your high. Edibles are a very popular option for those who want a more potent high, as well as those who want to keep their use on the down-low. Tinctures, oils and topical creams are also becoming increasingly available on the legal cannabis market.

9). Cannabis goes by many different names.

You’ve probably heard at least a few of these: weed, pot, marijuana, ganja, Mary Jane, the nicknames for this plant go on and on. What you use to get high comes from one of three different types of cannabis plants: Cannabis sativa; Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.

The term “marijuana” is slowly being replaced by the more accurate “cannabis,” due to the former word’s problematic origins. “Marijuana” came to the US via Mexico, but any history of the word beyond that is shrouded in mystery.

10). There are many different strains of cannabis.

That’s right-weed is not all the same. In fact, there is a huge amount of different strains out there that provide unique effects, flavors and experiences. Some strains promote energy and help to flourish creativity in users. Others help you to relax until you are ready to settle in for the best sleep of your life. All of these strains fall into one of three categories: indica, sativa and hybrid.

If you struggle against sleeplessness and want to feel a high throughout your whole body, an indica strain is what is usually recommended. Sativa strains are the ones that uplift you, provide energy and creative enthusiasm. A hybrid strain will possess traits of both indica and sativa.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of the information that’s out there about our favorite plant. But this should get you starting to think about how and if cannabis can benefit you.

Photo by ___ariel___

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