Cannabis; noun. Arguably the most controversial plant in the world.

The legalization of cannabis is possibly one of the most colossal changes of the 21st century. Following a 100-year cannabis prohibition, many parts of the world now enjoy cannabis more liberally than they were ever allowed in the past. It was cannabis’ initial “controversy” that caused the prohibition of cannabis, but despite its recent legalization, it still remains one of the most controversial substances on the planet.

No one can really agree on cannabis — neither the indigenous people (some used it medicinally, others thought it was a poison), nor the establishments (some governments embrace it, some reject it completely), nor the institutions (in Hinduism, the Gods use it, but in Buddhism, it’s an intoxicant).

Even modern science cannot agree on cannabis. There are often conflicting results between studies about cannabis’ efficacy in certain conditions, owing to the complexity of cannabis, how it is processed, and how it is consumed

But in the most honest sense, the reason we don’t know “enough” about cannabis is because during its 100 year prohibition, there was virtually a moratorium on all cannabis research. The last twenty years represent a greater portion of cannabis research than the rest of the century combined. 

Given how quickly the cannabis legalization movement has taken hold, information has circulated quickly, and changed just as much so. This article is a comprehensive, up-to-date guide on cannabis. We’ll cover cannabis history, consumption methods, research, medical uses, safety, and strains. 

You’ll be on your way to expert status by the end of this article! Check out our blog for more how-to guides and crash courses for beginners.

A brief history of cannabis

Without entering into a long history of the whole world, we’ll start with a brief fact: cannabis belongs to a subclass of plants that predates humankind. From there, we can assume that the relationship between humans and cannabis started sometime around 1.7 million years ago with Homo erectus

That’s a very long history indeed.

Fast forward a very long time from the spawn of Homo erectus to around 10,000 years ago. The oldest archaeological evidence we have of the relationship between cannabis and humans dates back around 10,000 years in Taiwan. There is also evidence that humans used hemp in ancient China, and there is some evidence of its use in America up to 3,000 years ago.

To put it short, humans had a very close relationship with cannabis that persisted for a very long time. Aside from being a medicine, it was also a raw material for fibers, used to manufacture ropes, clothing, and sails. 

During the 19th and early 20th century, cannabis was widely implemented for the purposes just mentioned. The Americans used it to make rope and sails, and virtually every apothecary sold it. The most common reasons to dispense cannabis were pain, menstrual problems, and morning sickness.

The early 1900s also marked an important part in American history — the Mexican revolution. During this time, many Mexicans were migrating across the border into the USA, and they brought with them the custom of smoking cannabis. Although nobody knows exactly why (and there are many speculations), this sparked a reaction from the USA that erred on anti-Mexican xenophobia.

A long list of policy changes began to take place, from the forced labelling of cannabis products to the introduction of the Marihuana Tax Act 1937. This law saw (pretty much) the end of the commercial trade of cannabis, including for the manufacture of textiles. 

Some experimental scholars continued clandestine cannabis research, and some of them made great cannabis discoveries between the 40s and 60s. But they were few and far between, and after the 60s, there was almost no scientific enquiry into cannabis.

The rest of the world followed suit after the USA, and in 1961, the UN released the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. As a matter of international law, cannabis remains in the most restrictive category.

The 1970s dawned the War on Drugs — arguably the ugliest period in cannabis history, from which we are only just beginning to emerge. As with its initial prohibition, the War on Drugs initiated highly racist anti-cannabis propaganda.

In 1996, San Francisco was the first state in the USA to legalize medical cannabis. From there, an unexpected whirlwind of pro-legalization movements swept the entire globe. The rest is history, you could say. And it is! Now, cannabis is legal recreationally in 11 states in the USA, and medically in over 30. Cannabis now legal in Canada, Urugay, most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. 

In less than 30 years, the cannabis plant and its controversy have reawakened the world. It seems that this time, the controversy can’t be conveniently silenced or swept under the rug. For the first time in generations, the cannabis controversy is on the table, a symbol of freedom and personal choice. 

What is cannabis, and why do people use it?

A cannabis leaf, spoon, and bottle in preparation for consumption.

Cannabis is the common name of the plant, Cannabis sativa. Some call it marijuana, weed, ganja, or herb. It’s primary uses were already mentioned — medicine and textiles, for example. For the most part, modern society abandoned those uses, and most believed that people used cannabis purely as an intoxicant.

As cannabis continues to spark the interest of the scientific community, the world continues to learn more and more about the potential uses of cannabis. These include obvious things like medicine and textiles. But science is also revealing some even more exciting uses for cannabis, such as biofuel, or as a building material. 

It really is one of the most versatile plants in the world.

There are two primary varieties of cannabis: hemp and marijuana. Hemp is a low THC, non psychoactive variety of cannabis. It is often grown for medicinal compounds, fibers, and food. Marijuana is the THC-rich, psychoactive cannabis variety that many people love to consume. It is highly psychoactive, and is only grown for consumption.

When people consume cannabis, there are two primary categories of chemical compounds that are active. These are cannabinoids (which are exclusive to cannabis), and terpenes ( aromatic compounds that exist in many other plants). Cannabinoids are responsible for the “high” effect that cannabis gives its users. They’re also what has science so excited to research cannabis for its therapeutic potential.

Needless to say, the chemical structure and pharmacokinetics of cannabis is complex. Modern research demonstrates unique abilities and medicinal applications for each cannabinoid (and even terpene).

For more information on cannabis’ chemical compounds and their roles in medicine, you can read our comprehensive Cannabinoids 101 article.

For now, let’s have a look at some of the different uses for cannabis.

Cannabis is a medicine

For all of the wonderful things a person can do with cannabis, it’s use as a medicine is what gets the biggest hype right now. There are a lot of potential therapeutic applications for cannabis because of the way that it interacts with the human body. Cannabinoids communicate with the human endocannabinoid system, which governs a plethora of physiological processes such as immune function, endocrine function, and cognitive functions such as memory, the sleep-wake cycle, and learning. 

Because cannabis as the potential to communicate with all of these different parts of the human body, it naturally has a lot of targets when it comes to its use as a medicine. 

As mentioned previously, each cannabinoid has different medicinal effects, and so they can be applied in different medical scenarios.

Some of the common reasons to use medicinal cannabis include:

Cannabis is currently under heavy scientific scrutiny for its potential to treat so many other conditions including cancer, autism, and other treatment resistant conditions like Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia.

Cannabis for textiles

The use of cannabis, and hemp specifically, for the manufacture of textiles isn’t new to humans. Like we said all the way at the beginning of this article, we have evidence that as long as 8,000 years ago in Taiwan, humans used hemp to weave fabrics.

Hemp was arguably the most important crop during the 19th and early 20th century. It was the source of fiber for manufacturers to produce rope, sails, and clothing. The American government had even required farmers to dedicate a certain amount of land to farming hemp specifically for textile production.

Naturally, when prohibition kicked in, hemp farming was banned all together, and cotton took its place. As with a lot of major changes in history and industry, this event was also rife with racist undertones. 

Between using hemp to make ropes and the dawn of legalization, there’s been pretty little scope for the use of hemp for textiles (except for in small communities around the world). And pretty obviously, too, because it was illegal to grow everywhere. However, hemp textiles are well and truly on the comeback. Hemp bedding, bags, clothing, and fabric are now luxurious textiles to possess and work with, and are expensive to come by.

Cannabis can be biofuel

A fuel pump at a gas station

In the last few years, hemp has received a lot of attention for the potential to convert it into biodiesel. After all, it grows incredibly fast (two harvests a year), and is ultra sturdy. On top of this, many cannabis product manufacturers create tonnes of organic waste each year which they could feasibly turn into fuel.

Some studies have shown that hemp might be more efficient in terms of energy input versus fuel output compared to other biofuel crops such as sorghum and switchgrass. 

However, there are other things that make hemp a great biofuel option. It grows almost anywhere, which means it grows on otherwise non-arable land. Then, its waste can be converted to biofuel. The hemp would remediate the exhausted soil, and the final waste used for biofuel.

Cannabis can be a building material

As if cannabis wasn’t already useful enough, people are now starting to build hemp houses. But that’s hardly as impressive as the fact that all the way back in 1941, Henry Ford built a car completely out of hemp that runs on hemp.

So really, our fancy new hemp houses aren’t all that impressive.

But it is nice to see that we are finally starting to catch up with the myriad of ways that hemp can help us. It couldn’t be a more important time as the globe confronts major environmental issues.

Manufacturers around the world produce hemp bricks, also known as hempcrete. Hemp provides stable, strong, and weather resistant building material for houses. It’s naturally insulating, and is a hopeful building material for the future.

How do you consume cannabis?

A cannabis display of jars containing dried cannabis flowers.

Once upon a time (not that long ago), cannabis was pretty much exclusively smoked. There were people here and there baking cookies, but a “joint” was what everybody thought of when cannabis was mentioned.

This isn’t true throughout history though. Herodotus wrote of it’s use in a steam bath. And historically, US dispensaries sold it as a liquid extract.

Since the age of legalization really dawned on us, a multitude of new ways to consume cannabis have emerged. A trip to a cannabis dispensary is delectable to the senses — cannabis to eat, drink, smoke, vapourize! 

The options are nearly endless.

The myriad ways to consume cannabis is absolutely why so many people tolerate it so well. Those who don’t like inhalation can choose edibles, and those who want inhalation without smoking can choose vapourizing. There has virtually never been a drug or medicine that could be consumed in so many ways.

We’ll briefly go through the myriad ways to consume cannabis. For more detailed information about the different consumption methods, you can read our comprehensive Cannabis Consumption Methods 101 article.

Smoking

Smoking is probably the oldest, and likely to still be the most common way of consuming cannabis. You don’t need to own anything fancy to smoke (not even a pipe). You simply need some cannabis, a rolling paper, and a lighter.

Edibles

Edibles can be prepared prepared by extracting cannabis into butter or oil, and then using that in baking. The same butter or oil could also be used in savoury cooking, of course, but when edibles first became a thing, cookies and brownies were the most common edibles. 

In today’s dispensaries, edibles come in all shapes and sizes —  chocolate covered raspberries, gummy bears, cookies, paleo-bars, shakes, snakes, and caramels. Modern-day dispensary edibles have a label displaying exact cannabinoid concentration in each dose.

Vaporizing 

Vaporizing, though still a form of inhalation, is different to smoking in that vapourizing doesn’t require combustion. Cannabis can be vaporized in its dry herb form or in its extract form. A dry herb vaporizer is different to an extract vaporized, so be sure to know which one you’re buying. 

A dry herb vaporizer heats up the cannabis flowers just enough so that the cannabinoids and terpenes vapourize. They can then be inhaled.

As the name suggests, an extract vaporizer requires a concentrated cannabis extract. It’s typically a liquid and can be loaded into the cartridge of the vaporizer. You heat it enough to create vapour, which you then inhale.

Dabbing

Dabbing emerged as a cannabis consumption method after the production of new kinds of cannabis extracts. Extremely high in cannabinoid concentration, these extracts (called wax, budder, and shatter) have a waxy, resin like texture. Their composition is nearly entirely of cannabinoids.

As you can imagine, this kind of extract wasn’t easy to roll up in a joint. And thus, the dabbing rig was born.

It looks a lot like a bong (a water pipe), except the bowl is made out of a highly heat-resistant material. The extract is held on a device called a nail while the bowl is heated with a blow torch. When it begins to glow red, the extract can be held down into the bowl, where it is vapourized. It’s inhaled through the mouth of the pipe. 

Cannabis topicals

Cannabis has various applications as a topical, skin treatment. Locally, it’s a pain killer and helps with aching muscles. It also may have anti-inflammatory effects when used topically, which makes it useful in irritating or inflammatory skin conditions. Many athletes use it topically to aid in muscle recovery after training.

Cannabis suppositories are also a thing — yes, rectal cannabis consumption is a thing. It’s not a common recreational administration route, of course — the most common group to use rectal cannabis is medicinal users.

Cannabis suppositories are, in one way, a topical treatment, as the membrane in the anorectal passage is the first point of contact. However, it penetrates into the blood stream from this mucous membrane, so in this way, it’s also an internal method of cannabis use.

For the record, this kind of cannabis consumption isn’t all that popularized (the rectal passage, that is). However, there are some who strongly believe in its therapeutic potential when used this way. Rick Simpson is one such example.

Cannabis oils and drops

Finally, a tincture or fluid extract of cannabis is an increasingly common consumption method . The cannabinoids are extracted and diluted in oils such as MCT oil or olive oil, or can be extracted into alcohol. Then, they are simply taken under the tongue. It is a common way to use cannabis for medical cannabis patients as it doesn’t pose the same risks or dangers as smoking.

The world of cannabis strains

A display of cannabis strains in glass jars.

Aside from the whole world that is cannabis consumption methods, there’s that whole other world — the world of cannabis strains.

Street weed is well and truly no longer a thing. Every piece of cannabis is a certain variety, grown for a certain reason, and predicted to have a certain effect. There is an enormous variation between strains in terms of aroma, taste, and effects.

A single cannabis strain is often available in multiple different product types. For example, Durban Poison is sold as a dried flower, as a concentrate, and as an edible. This is essentially why cannabis has grown exponentially. No one predicted the variety of cannabis strains and products that would be available to us.

There are many, hugely popular strains of cannabis such as Girl Scout Cookies, Durban Poison, Sour Diesel, Skunk, Kush and Haze. Geneticists have been breeding these strains for decades, and they form the backbone of modern cannabis genetics.

If there’s anything cannabis has truly been in the last decade, it’s abundant. It has grown into its very own industry and has taken on a life of its own. Cannabis has never been so accessible (at least if you live in cannabis friendly countries like Canada) to such a huge variety of people. 

The world is slowly growing out of its old, out-dated, stereotypical ideas of the cannabis user. If once, the cannabis user was a Dorito-munching dole bludger, the modern cannabis user can be a successful entrepreneur. The modern cannabis user can be an athlete, or an engineer, or a successful musician.

Cannabis education is at the crux of the “shedding” of the old, reefer-madness attitude towards cannabis. And we are shamelessly dedicated to that endeavour. If you’re a cannabis newbie, we hope you learned a lot.

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