Cannabis (Cannabis sp.)

One can only imagine that a fateful soul, thousands of years ago, decided rather successfully to see what would happen if he smoked some marijuana. In fact, the oldest written record found dates back to 440 BC, documented by a Greek historian writing of central Eurasian nomads. This, perhaps, sowed the seed of the present day multi-billion dollar industry. According to Forbes, the legal marijuana industry in the United States brought in more sales than Girl Scout cookies in 2015, and is projected to bring in 7.1 billion USD in 2016. As of now, only eight states in the United States have legalised marijuana; the black market is firmly rooted just beneath the surface of society. It is so lucrative that farms have sprouted in innovative places, and been busted by unexpected complications. One in a country club mansion tripped up when it blew a transmitter in the neighbourhood. Beneath a maraschino cherry factory in New York City, bees put a huge, and otherwise prospering, marijuana farm on the radar of suspicious detectives when they began producing honey tinted red from the maraschino cherry syrup.

But much as marijuana as a drug has quite the reputation, not much attention has been given to the plant itself. Cannabis, as the drug is also named, is in fact a genus of flowering plants native to central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Its leaves are palmately compound, meaning that the leaflets radiate from a single point. Leaflets are serrated and have a distinct vein pattern, which allows for easy identification. The chemicals that make Cannabis useful as a drug are known as cannabinoids, including the main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is thought that these compounds were meant to either help defend the plant against hungry animals- clearly not working in the case of humans- or to protect the plant from UV rays in sunlight. These compounds are able to bind to a subset of receptors in human cells known as cannabinoid receptors, triggering downstream biochemical chain reactions that modify the activity of the cell. Since these receptors are often found in the central nervous system, the drug is able to noticeably affect mood and appetite. These same effects have earned it a spot in the hall of medical drugs, although more rigorous testing is probably required to determine long term side effects.


Besides being a key ingredient in surreptitiously baked brownies, Cannabis plants have a multitude of more innocent uses. For example, its fibres are used to make hemp, which is stronger than cotton, and can be purposed into paper, construction materials, or textiles. Seeds can be eaten, and oil can be extracted. For such purposes, Cannabis cultivars bred to contain reduced amounts of cannabinoids are used. Historically, it has also been used in rituals and divinations; one would probably assume the cannabinoid levels in the Cannabis they used were Very High.

The debate about marijuana legalisation rages on. Much loved, and considered a lesser evil than alcohol, heroin, cocaine and other more hard-hitting street drugs, the fact remains- not everyone will be able to control their addictions, and anything addictive could ruin a life, or a family. That, by and large, is the unspoken truth in making laws: society can only progress as far as its last straggler.



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