Even though marijuana or cannabis has been the go-to plant for thousands of years, it is still a topic of debate within the medical community. Compared to the last hundred years though, we have come far in the progress of research about the benefits and potential abuse of marijuana. Yet, the question always lies, is marijuana considered a drug? We are going to break it down to come to a clear answer.
What is considered a drug?
A drug is any substance that alters an individual’s state of mind or body. The human body is, if you may, a bulk of chemical reactions. Our brains function through, with, and within chemicals. Drugs, then, affect how brains work, and consequently, our feelings, behavior, senses, and understanding can be influenced by them. Hence, especially for younger ones, drugs must be used properly. But drugs are not always the pill or tablet that we drink whenever we are sick. Caffeine (coffee), alcohol (rubbing or drinking), and tobacco (cigarettes) are all drugs, too. Regardless if they are for recreation or medical use, or if they can be abused or always manageable. Everything can be a drug.
Drugs and Marijuana
For decades, the medicinal properties — or potential — of cannabis and the components it produces have been the topic of study and intense discussion. In certain formulations, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive component of marijuana and its principal active chemical, has shown medical advantages. THC-based drugs, such as Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone) — administered in pills to relieve nauseous symptoms in patients under cancer chemotherapy procedure and to improve appetite in AIDS patients with wasting (cachexia) syndrome — have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Furthermore, several other medications based on marijuana properties have been accepted and are being tested now for clinical use. A mouth spray, Sativex (nabiximols), used for the treatment of spasticity and/or neuropathic pain that may be associated with multiple sclerosis, commonly available in the UK, Canada, and some European countries, blends THC with CBD (Cannabidiol). CBD is the second most chemical compound found in cannabis that is used for medicinal purposes.
Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome are forms of extreme childhood epilepsy. To treat those two, the FDA approved the CBD-liquid medication, Epidiolex. To ensure that proper benefits are being delivered to patients, it is administered in a stable dosage form (via reproducible delivery route). CBD, unlike THC, does not produce, or at best, extremely little high effects.
Medicines such as these that use purified chemical compounds based on or derived from the cannabis plant are generally considered by researchers to have more promising therapeutical benefits than using the entire marijuana plant (or bud) or its virgin extracts.
The key to understanding marijuana is to explore how it works. As mentioned earlier, THC is marijuana’s psychoactive component. The dried flowers, usually called buds, of marijuana, contain the highest levels of THC. When smoked, THC easily travels from your lungs into your bloodstream and is carried across the body, to the brain and other organs. THC acts or activates particular receptors in our brain (cannabinoid receptors). This THC activity starts a chain of events, chemical reactions that eventually result in a high or euphoric effect. Some individuals, however, may experience paranoia, anxiety, or a panic attack, especially with high levels of THC and novice users. But there may be a relaxing feel, state of euphoria, or increased sensory perception on some.
Some regions of the brain have a higher concentration of cannabinoid receptors, such as basal ganglia, the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and cerebellum. Pleasure, memory, coordination, attention, sensory, and time perception are controlled or affected by these regions.
What are THC’s benefits?
It is pretty uncommon now that people still ask this question since THC’s effects are basically what you always associate with marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, is among the various chemical compounds found in cannabis known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are found solely in the marijuana or cannabis plant. These compounds are responsible for the numerous medicinal and psychedelic effects. Particularly, THC is most known for its psychoactive abilities, but it is also used to eliminate cancer cells, alleviate chronic pain, relieve inflammation, reduce nausea or vomiting, stimulate appetite, treat PTSD, and other neurological disorders.
The Cannabis Manifesto
Depending on the intensity and quantity of marijuana used, and whether the patient is rarely or regularly subjected to THC, the side effects of marijuana usage can differ from person to person. In older people, side effects are increased. These effects can be lowering of blood pressure, relaxation of muscles, increased heart rate, increase in appetite, slowing of digestion, vertigo, distortion of one’s sense of sight, hearing, touch, and time. Furthermore, marijuana may cause difficulties with thought processes, memory, and critical solving, motor skills failure, agitation, panic, and hysteria. Of lesser concern are dry mouth and eyes.
Driving under marijuana’s influence can be dangerous since one’s reaction time can be affected. Panic attacks and paranoia can appear acutely, especially with psychiatric patients. According to NIDA, for longtime users, the effect of cannabis on one’s memory (recollection) and learning (thought-processes) may last for days or weeks even after its instant effects subside.
Drugs are addictive if they induce compulsive, unmanageable drug craving, searching, and usage, even when faced with negative health, or even social, consequences. Research indicates that approximately 10% of users are addicted to cannabis, and increases all the more if they start young (17%) and among those who smoke marijuana regularly (25-50%). While not every user is an addict, when he or she starts to search for marijuana and take it compulsively, that’s when you can say that he or she is an addict.
Longtime users who try or want to quit may experience withdrawals. These withdrawal effects can be irritation, insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, and cravings for it. These may begin just a day after quitting marijuana and can take about 2 weeks before they subside, not to mention the psychological pressure to go back. Some patients with marijuana addiction may even have extended withdrawals, persisting for months since quitting.
Nevertheless, public opinion can be a dangerous tool to use for the benefit of those who are against cannabis use. We should have a strong cannabis community that speaks about the life-changing effects of marijuana without denying the reality that people of different cultures and backgrounds can be affected differently. Through our combined efforts, cannabis use and benefits are now getting clearer and clearer. But it is also our responsibility to support those who people who need to quit or moderate their use to show the world that we don’t promote abuse.
The experience of marijuana is unique in every person. So the answer to the question, “is marijuana considered a drug,” is a nuanced answer. Of course, there are adverse effects, but just like any other drug, it can be managed, controlled, monitored, and especially not without the support of the cannabis community.