Use of Cannabis from industrial to medicinal uses

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The cannabis plant has multiple uses ranging from industrial to medicinal uses. The production of fiber was one of the plants' uses thousands of years ago. As time went by, cannabis spread throughout the whole world and its use by then became that of a medicinal nature. For more recent times, cannabis has also found itself useful to the biomass industry. The plant can either be directly burned without any modifications to it or processed by chemical processes (such as destructive distillation) into various fuels such as charcoal, methanol, methane, and gasoline (History and Uses of Marijuana, para. 2). One can also notice that there are endless uses for cannabis in medicine. This is one of the reasons cannabis is a very controversial drug and many want the drug legalized. The argument supporting this is that when compared with alcohol (which is widely legalized) cannabis seems to be less harmful and much more beneficial. In the state of California in the United States, a campaign favoring the legalization of cannabis has been going on for quite some time now. This campaign is called 'Prop 19', and on November 2nd 2010, a vote was taken to legalize, control and tax cannabis and 46.5% of the Californian people voted in favor (www.yeson19.com, para. 1). Although cannabis was not legalized, many still want the drug legalized, some for medical purposes, while others for recreation. Until 1937, cannabis was sold legally in the US as nerve-tonic. However, this is not the first instance of this drug being used as a medicine. The drug used to be called by the name 'panaceas' which means cure-all, signifying that the drug really did have various medicinal uses. Cannabis has been used for many medical conditions such as: migraines, asthma, severe pain, glaucoma, and many more. These conditions are improved by taking cannabis 'as is', however, there are also more than 60 chemicals found in cannabis which can have medical uses. For example, cannabis contains cannabinol, which can be of use to insomniacs. Another chemical, cannabidolic acid, can be obtained from buds of the plant which have not yet fully grown. This acid is a very good disinfectant. When cannabis is dissolved in rubbing alcohol, the resultant mixture can be used by people who have skin diseases (such as herpes) on their sores.

Abuse of Cannabis

Just like any other invention in the world, for every use there exists abuse. Cannabis is no exception. In fact, half of the drugs confiscated are directly or indirectly related to cannabis. Cannabis is found everywhere in the world and confiscations take place in every country. There are approximately 147 million people who consume cannabis, a figure which is much larger than that for opiates and other drugs. It is visible, that high rates of abuse are correlated to the price of the drug in question, and this is one of the reasons cannabis is so widely abused ( WHO | Cannabis (Epidemiology)). In the United Kingdom in 2008, approximately 500 adults and children sought medical help in hospitals for the effects of cannabis (Kirkup J., Edwards R.: Abuse of cannabis puts 500 a week in hospital ' Telegraph, 2008).

Legal aspects of Cannabis

The recreational use of cannabis is punishable by almost every country in the world. Penalties can range from a simple warning to imprisonment. The punishment chosen for an offender depends on the seriousness of the offence, i.e. for example the amount of cannabis in possession. If the cannabis is found to be for trafficking purposes, the penalties are usually much more severe because the offender is seen as increasing the availability of the drug. Possession of many drugs when close to children is also very serious. The severity of punishments varies from country to country however warnings are the most common punishments for first time offenders. Repeated offenders are usually fined and/or arrested and offenders who still break the law after being arrested or fined may face sentences for imprisonment for up to 14 years depending on how serious the case is. Possession/use/trafficking of cannabis can be marked on offenders' criminal records being of a negative effect when they try to find jobs etc.

Laws about cannabis use are however being relaxed recently. Countries such as Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden have all made cannabis legal to a certain extent. In Italy the worst that can happen is having you driver's license or passport confiscated, while in Spain a small fine is the highest form of punishment. Countries like Austria allow the possession of cannabis, as long as it's for personal use.

There are countries on the other hand, which have severe penalties for the possession and trafficking of cannabis. In China for example, trafficking cannabis results in execution, and in Malaysia, possession of 200 grams of Cannabis also means a death sentence (Laws on Cannabis Use, Legal Issues, Class C Drug, UK, Europe Law ' Guide4Living).

Table 1 below shows fines/jail time for possession of different amounts of cannabis for the state of New York in the US, while Table 2 shows the same, but this time for sale or cultivation of the plant in the same state.

Table 1

Possession of Cannabis in New York

Possession Incarceration Fine

25 g or less (first offence) None $100

25 g or less (second offence) None $200

25 g or less (third offence) 5 days and/or fine $250

25 g to 2 oz 3 months $500

2 to 8 oz 1 year and/or fine $1,000

8 to 16 oz (first felony) 1-4 years and/or fine,

if second offense - 3-4 years (mandatory ' jail sentence) $5,000

16 oz to 10 lbs (first felony) 1 - 15 years and/or fine,

if 2nd offense mandatory ' jail sentence $5,000

More than 10 lbs (first felony) 1 - 15 years and/or fine,

if 2nd offense mandatory ' jail sentence $5,000

Note: Adapted from 'New York ' NORML'. Retrieved from http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?wtm_view=&Group_ID=4554

Table 2

Sale or Cultivation of Cannabis in New York

Sale or Cultivation Incarceration Fine

2 oz or less (gift) 3 months and/or fine $500

24 g sale 1 year and/or fine $1,000

25 g to 4 oz (first felony) 1 - 4 years,

if second felony 3-4 years (mandatory ' jail sentence) $5,000

4 to 16 oz (first felony) 1-7 years

(probation if no prior felony) $5,000

16 oz to 10 lbs (first felony) 1-5 years and/or fine,

if second felony 4-7 years (mandatory ' jail sentence) $5,000

10 lbs or more (first felony) 1-15 years and/or fine

if second felony 6-15 years (mandatory ' jail sentence) $5,000

Sale to a minor (first felony) 1 - 7 years $5,000

Note: Adapted from 'New York ' NORML'. Retrieved from http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?wtm_view=&Group_ID=4554

The Socio-Psychological Explanation of Cannabis Use

There are various reasons why someone would like to try taking an illicit drug such as cannabis. Most adolescents would say that they tried cannabis because all of their friends were doing it. Peer pressure has always been an issue when it comes to drug abuse, and not just cannabis abuse. One other popular belief is that the positive feelings obtained by taking cannabis will make you forget your problems and for this reason, people tend to abuse cannabis as a way of dealing with the everyday problems of life. A generally accepted idea is that of genetics. It is said that if parents abused a drug such as cannabis, the child is more likely to abuse cannabis. People who suffer from frequent anxiety might choose to take cannabis as a way to relax them. In such abusers, cannabis use grows exponentially with time as tolerance starts. They might also take higher doses when they feel more anxious, which could be very dangerous when speaking about overdoses. It is claimed by many abusers that cannabis makes almost all everyday activities more enjoyable when under the effect of the drug. It is sometimes compared to the consumption of coffee and alcohol.

Another reason people might want to take cannabis is because of its medical properties. It is arguable that cannabis can be more effective than pharmaceutical drugs whilst also having fewer negative side effects.

Finally, cannabis has been used for thousands of years for spiritual reasons. In the past it was said that 'cannabis can lighten a person's body and allow them to communicate with spirits.' (Why People Use Cannabis, retrieved from www.addictioninfo.org)

Cannabis is also believed to have been mentioned in the Old Testament, as an ingredient used in sacred oil. It was called kannabosm and this belief stems from the similarity of the word kannabosm to the word cannabis. (Russo, E.B., 2007). Cannabis is still used today is spiritual practices. People following the Hindu religion, for example, use cannabis in their ceremonies. It is also said that cannabis might help in creating a better bond with nature. (Moffat, B.M. et al., 2009). People who abuse cannabis are usually stereotyped as lazy and good for nothing. The term 'stoner' is used frequently. This is wrong as sometimes people might have a valid reason for the consumption of cannabis.

Treatment and Prevention Aspects of Cannabis

When treating cannabis abusers it is very important that these people are well-educated about the dangers that this drug poses. It is not commonly known that cannabis can be very dangerous, just like any other drug. It is a good idea if people who are trying to cut down on cannabis consumption are monitored for their drug use. Normally, therapy would be enough to help patients with withdrawal symptoms; however, in extreme cases, low doses of benzodiazepines may be used (Marijuana Addiction, Abuse and Treatment, Marijuana Dependence Treatment, para. 2).

'Patients with marijuana abuse or dependence are referred to a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program. Such programs are designed to avoid relapse and include comprehensive substance abuse and psychiatric evaluations, laboratory testing, group therapy, education, social services, individual counseling, promotion of 12-step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) and treatment of any co-morbid psychiatric illness' (Marijuana Addiction, Abuse and Treatment, Marijuana Dependence Treatment, para. 3).

As cannabis use among young people is more and more being shown on the media, the need for cannabis prevention programmes increases as well. Such importance on the media can have a negative effect of young people. They might see cannabis use as something normal and get the curiosity to try it out. This is obviously wrong and for this reason, media campaigns exist, leaflets are handed out and websites put up so as to provide better education of the negative aspects of cannabis and drug use. Then there is selective prevention, i.e. prevention programmes aimed directly at those people who have already abused of drugs such as cannabis. Such programmes try to help these people from relapsing into drug use. Some examples of these selective prevention programmes are: FRED in Germany, MSF-Solidarit' Jeunes in Luxembourg, Ausweg in Austria, and youth offending teams in the United Kingdom.

It is easily understood that drug preventions programmes would not always give much importance to the drug itself. It would be more beneficial to those attending to know of the dangers around them such as peer pressure so that they can avoid having anything to do with the drug in question. Having said that, information such as legal issues, and the dangers of the drug must not be omitted because these factors can leave a positive impact on those who might be thinking of abusing a drug like cannabis just for the fun of it.

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