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7. Cannabis


The universal term cannabis is used to identify the psychotropic product from the plant Cannabis sativa.

Cannabis sativa is one of man's oldest cultivated plants, being used for its fibrous qualities (hemp) as well as its perceived medicinal properties.


The pharmacologically active compounds in cannabis are termed cannabinoids. The major active isolate in cannabis has been identified as D9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As it is lipid soluble, it may remain in the body tissues for many days after a single dose.

Recent studies have documented a number of health, social and psychological problems related to the regular use of cannabis. Major health concerns revolve around the knowledge that the cannabis of today is markedly (10-15 times) stronger than the cannabis used in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Consequently, previous studies examining the health and psychological risks associated with cannabis use, may not be valid today.

Pharmacologic effects also differ according to the method of consumption. If cannabis is smoked a 'high' is attained much more quickly. In contrast, the effects of cannabis taken orally are much less potent, although more long-lasting. Additive effects are observed with alcohol and other CNS depressants, but no clear interaction has been noted with stimulants.


The major component of cannabis (THC) is fat soluble, which means it can remain for long periods in the fatty tissues of the body. Such lipid soluble drugs tend to leave the blood stream quickly and distribute themselves to fatty tissues, such as the brain and cell membranes

Since THC becomes stored in body tissues and is only released into the blood stream over a period of days or weeks, accumulation of THC may occur. As a result of this accumulation, regular cannabis users may be under the influence of cannabis at any time, and be unaware of the dangers of this.

Another concern is the possible accumulation of THC in the brain, which may in time result in brain damage.




Reproductive effects

Respiratory effects

Cardiovascular effects


Neuropsychiatric complications

It is not yet understood whether cannabis use causes the above problems, or whether they occur as a symptom of an underlying disorder such as mental illness, or social problems revolving around the family, friends or school.

Social problems



Signs and symptoms of tolerance, and also dependence, may persist for months in very heavy users. THC accumulates in adipose tissue and can take weeks or months to be totally excreted.


Frequent use of cannabis can produce mild physical dependence and, as a consequence, withdrawal symptoms.


The withdrawal usually starts several hours after cessation of use, is usually mild and is over within a matter of days for most users. Some of the symptoms experienced may include:

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