Marijuana (or marihuana) is a drug obtained from the flowering tops, stems, and leaves of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. The latter species can withstand colder climates. Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world, following only caffeine, nicotine, and alcoholic beverages in popularity. In theUnited States, where it is usually smoked, it also has been called weed, grass, pot, or reefer.
C. sativa grows as a common weed in many parts of the world. Drug preparations vary widely in potency according to climate, cultivation, and method of preparation. C. indica is a shorter, hardier variety with rounded blue-green leaves, grown in Afghanistan for hashish. Most marijuanas grown in the United States since the late 1980s are hybrids of the two and yield a much more potent product than the marijuana of the past. The resin found on flower clusters and top leaves of the female plant is the most potent drug source. It is used to prepare hashish, the highest grade of cannabis. The bud of the female plant, called sinsemilla, is the part most often smoked as marijuana.
The effects of marijuana vary with its strength and dosage, and with the state of mind of the user. Typically, small doses result in a feeling of well-being. The intoxication lasts two to three hours, but accompanying effects on motor control last much longer. High doses can cause tachycardia, paranoia, and delusions. Although it produces some of the same effects as hallucinogens like LSD and mescaline (heightened sensitivity to colors, shapes, music, and other stimuli and distortion of the sense of time), marijuana differs chemically and pharmacologically.
The primary active component of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), although other cannabinol derivatives are also thought to be intoxicating. In 1988, scientists discovered receptors that bind THC on the membranes of nerve cells. They reasoned that the body must make its own THC-like substance. The substance, named anandamide, was isolated from pig brains in 1992 by American pharmacologist William A. Devane.
Marijuana lowers testosterone levels and sperm counts in men and raises testosterone levels in women. In pregnant women it affects the fetus and results in developmental difficulties in the child. There is evidence that marijuana affects normal maturation of preadolescent and adolescent users and that it affects short-term memory and comprehension. Heavy smokers often sustain lung damage from the smoke and contaminants. Regular use can result in dependence.
The Legalization Question.
With the increase in the number of middle-class users in the 1960s and 1970s, there came a somewhat greater acceptance of the view that marijuana should not be considered in the same class as narcotics and that U.S. marijuana laws should be relaxed. The Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1970 eased federal penalties somewhat, and 11 states decriminalized possession. However, in the late 1980s, most states rewrote their drug laws and imposed stricter penalties. Opponents of easing marijuana laws have asserted that it is an intoxicant less controllable than alcohol, that our drug-using society does not need another widely used intoxicant, and that the United States should not act to weaken UN policies, which are opposed to the use of marijuana for other than possible medical purposes.
Controversy surrounds the medical use of marijuana. Proponents say it is useful for treating pain and the nausea and vomiting that are side effects of cancer chemotherapy, and for restoring the appetite in people with AIDS. Although its active ingredient, THC (synthesized in 1966 and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1985), is available by prescription in pill form, proponents say it is not as effective as the herb and is more expensive. A 1999 U.S.-government-sponsored study found that marijuana appeared beneficial for certain medical conditions. Because of the toxicity of marijuana smoke, however, it was hoped that further research might lead to development of new delivery systems, such as bronchial inhalers.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy has opposed legalization of the medical use of marijuana, citing law enforcement issues and the possibility that some would use it as a pretext to sell marijuana for nonmedical use. Proponents, disregarding the law, have set up networks for the distribution of the drug to people who they judge will be helped by it. Proponants continue to lobby for its legalization for medical use. Voters in several U.S. states have approved initiatives intended to legalize marijuana for medical uses, but whether such initiatives protect medical users with a prescription from federal prosecution is not clear. In 2003, a federal appeals court ruled that, with certain restrictions, such users are protected from prosecution. The United States Supreme Court later reversed this ruling. Another court ruling permits doctors to discuss medical use of marijuana with their patients but forbids them to help patients obtain the drug. A number of countries, including Canada, permit the medicinal use of marijuana.
History of Marijuana Use.
Marijuana has been used as an agent for achieving euphoria since ancient times; it was described in a Chinese medical compendium traditionally considered to date from 2737 BC. Its use spread from China to India and then to North Africa and reached Europe at least as early as 500 AD. A major crop in colonial North America, marijuana (hemp) was grown as a source of fiber. It was extensively cultivated during World War II, when Asian sources of hemp were cut off.
Marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942. It was prescribed for various conditions, including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism. Its use as an intoxicant was also commonplace from the 1850s to the 1930s. A campaign conducted in the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the Drug Enforcement Administration) sought to portray marijuana as a powerful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction. It is still considered a gateway drug by some authorities. In the 1950s it was an accessory of the beat generation; in the 1960s it was used by college students and hippies, and became a symbol of rebellion against authority.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use. Most marijuana at that time came from Mexico, but in 1975 the Mexican government agreed to eradicate the crop by spraying it with the herbicide paraquat, raising fears of toxic side effects. Colombia then became the main supplier. The zero tolerance climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations (1981-93) resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana, and in heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern borders. The war on drugs thus brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation, especially in Hawaii and California.
Beginning in 1982 the Drug Enforcement Administration turned increased attention to marijuana farms in the United States. There was a shift to the indoor growing of plants specially developed for small size and high yield. After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s, especially among teenagers, but by the end of the decade this upswing had leveled off well below former peaks of use.
See J. S. Hochman, Marijuana and Social Evolution (1972); E. Marshal, Legalization (1988); M. S. Gold, Marijuana (1989); L. Grinspoon and B. J. Bakalar, Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine (1995); publications of the Drugs & Crime Data Center and Clearinghouse, the Bureau of Justice Statistics Clearinghouse, and the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.
From The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, by Paul Lagassé, Editor. Copyright © 2000, Columbia University Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
A NORML History of Marijuana in the United States
Marijuana first earned recognition as an intoxicant in the 1920s and 1930s. Recreational use of the drug became associated primarily with Mexican-American immigrant workers and the African-American jazz musician community. It was during this time that hemp was renamed “marihuana” and the plant's long-standing history as a cash crop was replaced with a new image: “The Devil's Weed.”
In 1930, the federal government founded the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), headed by Commissioner Harry Anslinger. The group launched a misinformation campaign against the drug and enrolled the services of Hollywood and several tabloid newspapers. Headlines across the nation began publicizing alleged reports of insanity and violence induced by “reefer-smoking.” Exaggerated accounts of violent crimes committed by immigrants reportedly intoxicated by marijuana became popularized. Once under the influence of the drug, criminals purportedly knew no fear and lost all inhibitions. For example, a news bulletin issued by the FBN in the mid-1930s purported that a user of marijuana “becomes a fiend with savage or “cave man' tendencies. His sex desires are aroused and some of the most horrible crimes result. He hears light and sees sound. To get away from it, he suddenly becomes violent and may kill.”
Similar reports swept the country. A widely publicized issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology asserted that the marijuana user is capable of “great feats of strength and endurance, during which no fatigue is felt. ... Sexual desires are stimulated and may lead to unnatural acts, such as indecent exposure and rape. ... [Use of marijuana] ends in the destruction of brain tissues and nerve centers, and does irreparable damage. If continued, the inevitable result is insanity, which those familiar with it describe as absolutely incurable, and, without exception ending in death.” A Washington Times editorial published shortly before Congress held its first hearing on the issue argued: “The fatal marihuana cigarette must be recognized as a deadly drug and American children must be protected against it.” This steady stream of propaganda influenced 27 states to pass laws against marijuana in the years leading up to federal prohibition and set the stage both culturally and politically for the passage of the “Marihuana Tax Act in 1937.”
Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina introduced the Act in Congress on April 14, 1937 to criminalize the recreational use of marijuana through prohibitive taxation. The bill was the brainchild of Commissioner Anslinger who later testified before Congress in support of the bill.
Congress held only two hearings to debate the merits of marijuana prohibition. The hearings totaled just one hour. Federal witness Harry Anslinger testified before the House Ways and Means Committee that “this drug is entirely the monster-Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.” He was joined by Assistant General Counsel for the Department of the Treasury, Clinton Hester, who affirmed that the drug's eventual effect on the user “is deadly.” These statements summarized the federal government's official position and served as the initial justification for criminalizing marijuana smoking.
The American Medical Association (AMA) represented the lone voice against marijuana prohibition before Congress. AMA Legislative Counsel Dr. William C. Woodward testified, “There is no evidence” that marijuana is a dangerous drug. Woodward challenged the propriety of passing legislation based only on newspaper accounts and questioned why no data from the Bureau of Prisons or the Children's Bureau supported the FBN's position. He further argued that the legislation would severely compromise a physician's ability to utilize marijuana's therapeutic potential. Surprisingly, the committee took little interest in Woodward's testimony and told the physician, “If you want to advise us on legislation, you ought to come here with some constructive proposals ... rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the federal government is trying to do.”
After just one hearing, the Ways and Means Committee approved the “Marihuana Tax Act.” The House of Representatives followed suit on August 20 after engaging in only 90 seconds of debate. During this abbreviated floor “discussion,” only two questions were asked. First, a member of congress from upstate New York asked Speaker Sam Rayburn to summarize the purpose of the bill. Rayburn replied, “I don't know. It has something to do with a thing called marijuana. I think it is a narcotic of some kind.” The same representative then asked, “Mr. Speaker, does the American Medical Association support the bill?” Falsely, a member of the Ways and Means Committee replied, “Their Doctor Wharton (sic) gave this measure his full support ... [as well as] the approval [of] the American Medical Association.” Following this brief exchange of inaccurate information, the House approved the federal prohibition of marijuana without a recorded vote.
Doughton's bill sailed though the Senate with the same ease. The Senate held one brief hearing on the bill before overwhelmingly approving the measure. President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed the legislation into law on August 2, 1937. The “Marihuana Tax Act” took effect on October 1, 1937.
From http://norml.org/library/item/part-i. Reprinted with permission from NORML.
Postscript: On July 8, 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration, in the United States Department of Justice, denied a petition to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana. The grounds for this denial were that “marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in the United States.”
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