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Nine things you probably didn't know about marijuana

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Lee Dalloway
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Weed, ganja, skunk, herb, Mary Jane, puff, smoke, kush - you’ve probably heard it called by many names, but how much do you actually know about this controversial plant?

1. Heroin is in hospitals, weed is not.

You’re probably aware that cannabis is a Class B drug, which means anyone caught in possession could face up to five years in prison, as well as an unlimited fine. A 'cannabis warning' can be issued for generally less than one ounce found for personal use. But did you know that it’s also a Schedule 1 drug? This means that special licences are required to test any other potential uses of cannabis, including rumoured health benefits. Only four hospitals in the UK have this licence. This means that research into the drug has hardly been carried out in the last 50 years. Heroin is a Schedule 2 drug, which means every hospital in the country can hold it.

2. If you grow weed in Durham you are less likely to get busted.

It’s also illegal to grow weed in the UK too, although things are slightly looser in the north east of England. Cannabis users in County Durham who grow small amounts for their own consumption will no longer be targeted after the police there declared that small scale grow farms were not a priority. In 2014, a group called Feed The Birds protested the illegality of growing cannabis plants by planting them next to iconic London landmarks such as Big Ben, Tower Bridge and The Shard.

3. Why is marijuana illegal?

It’s a long and complex history, but in the UK, the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act blanket banned substances such as cocaine, opium, cannabis and others that caused 'highs' to troops fighting in World War One. This was later extended to the general population in 1928. However, doctors were able to prescribe it for medical uses until 1971.

In the US, the head of the Bureau of Prohibition, Harry Anslinger, was appointed as the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Once alcohol prohibition ended in the US, Anslinger turned his attention to cannabis. Despite previously going on record as saying cannabis was not a problem, in 1930, he sought the views of 30 of the USA’s leading scientists to find out if it was. 29 said cannabis did no harm, one said it did, and that one is the view he put to the worldwide press.

In the 1930s, Harry Anslinger became renowned for his campaign against marijuana. He kept reports now colloquially known as the 'Gore Files'; a collection of criminal and sexual acts he attributed to marijuana, and became the foundation of the 1936 film ‘ Reefer Madness’. Some of Anslinger’s critics say marijuana prohibition was steeped in racism rather than scientific evidence.

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4. Weed growers, think of the polar bears!

A number of marijuana farms are indoors and require a fair-amount of equipment - after all, those grow lights, heating and air conditioning units consume a lot of electricity. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found that legal, indoor marijuana-growing operations account for 1% of total electricity use in the US, at a cost of $6bn per year. This consumption produces 15m tons of greenhouse CO2 gas emissions a year, that's equal to the effects of three million cars. Cannabis growers in Colorado, where weed was recently legalised, are moving slowly towards more energy efficient practices.

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5. The first ever transaction online was for cannabis.

As a nation, we love to spend our hard earned cash online. From clothes to food, zombie survival kits and even a UFO detector, the possibilities for consumerism online are seemingly endless. In the UK alone, it has been predicted that by 2020 our retail sales may have even reached a total of £62.7billion. Put simply, that’s loads. However, journalist John Markoff revealed in his 2005 book that it was actually a transaction of marijuana that became the first to ever happen on the world wide web in the 1970s. Buying illegal drugs on the Internet is not such a new phenomenon nowadays with more people purchasing online than ever before, according to the 2015 Global Drug Survey.

6. What are the potential, scientifically-tested health benefits?

Studies in the 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered pressure of the eyeball in those with glaucoma, although it was said that pharmaceutical drugs were more effective. A study of 5,115 adults over 20 years published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that marijuana doesn’t impair lung function like tobacco does, and those who smoked pot without tobacco actually had increased lung capacity – which may be due to taking deep breaths.

Chemicals found in marijuana can also ease the pain suffered by those with arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis and cancer patients post-chemotherapy. Cannabidiol can also have powerful antipsychotic and anti-anxiety properties. It’s also approved to treat PTSD in some US states, may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, prevent epileptic seizures and has been shown to lessen the side-effects from treating hepatitis C. Chemicals in cannabis, such as THC and cannabidiol, may interact with cells that play an important role in gut function, potentially helping with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease. A chemical found in marijuana has also been shown to stop cancer cells from spreading in lab and animal tests that span 20 years of research.

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7. What are the downsides?

Cannabis has long thought to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, however the evidence is still not fully conclusive. A New Zealand-based study found that smoking cannabis before the age of 15 increased the risk of schizophrenia from 3% to 10% by age 26. Those with pre-existing psychotic disorders are advised to avoid regular cannabis use. Studies have suggested that regular, long-term cannabis use is one of a number of environmental factors that, for those with genetic predispositions, may increase a young person’s chance of developing schizophrenia.

A study at the University of Heidelberg in Germany found other possible side-effects of marijuana include: having a slow reaction time or trouble paying attention, experiencing impaired physical and mental performance, and possibly experiencing hallucinations or paranoia. The type and severity of these depend on cannabis composition, consumption and user’s disposition. Most symptoms of marijuana intoxication typically go away within a few hours of using the drug, but some people can have delusions that last as long as a week.

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8. Some countries welcome ‘the herb’, some hate it. Others do both… The Netherlands is probably the most famous place where possession is decriminalised. Uruguay has fully legalised, while Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalise all drugs in 2001. But don’t get caught with it in Japan, Indonesia or the United Arab Emirates, where just a single joint can get you thrown in jail for four years.

A colour-coded cannabis map of the US looks like a patchwork quilt, with states such as Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon legalising the drug for recreational and medical use; New York, Vermont, California and more have legalised it for medical use; but use in states such as Alabama and Oklahoma may see you get a misdemeanour or even felony charge. Different countries' approaches to cannabis can vary as much as different users' experiences of it.

Colour-coded cannabis map of the USWikipedia Creative Commons

9. More people are rolling up than ever before

2016 is a big year for the US, what with the impending presidential election and all. A lot of people are hopeful that the legalisation of marijuana will get even more political attention come November and the new presidency. Some findings reveal more people might be concerned with marijuana’s legal status than at the time of the last election. The Lancet Psychiatry published a set of results claiming that marijuana use has increased from 10.4% of America’s population in 2002, to 13.3% in 2014. That’s 31.9million people, with around 7000 trying marijuana for the first time every day. This could be accredited to the gradually diminishing laws on marijuana in certain states. The findings also claim that the risk of harm as a result of smoking marijuana frequently is an increasingly waning set of beliefs, having decreased from 50.4% to 33.3%. In other words, not only are more people smoking weed in America, but more people also believe it to be less dangerous.

Want to know more about weed? Watch our episode of Drugs Map exploring the underworld of medicinal cannabis use in the UK.

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