What Is Cannabis/Marijuana?

Marijuana is the slang term for portions of the Cannabis plant. It is one of the oldest psychoactive substances used by man.

Marijuana, also called pot, weed, ganja, mary jane, and a host of other nicknames, is made from the Cannabis plant, which has three species: Cannabis sativa; Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.

There are hundreds of compounds in marijuana, but scientists believe the one responsible for the drugs’ psychoactive effects is tetrahydrocannbinol, or THC. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, and marijuana’s “high” comes from THC’s binding to brain regions responsible for pleasure, time perception and pain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

This binding in turn triggers a chemical cascade that eventually stimulates the production of dopamine, a brain chemical often called the “feel good chemical,” which is part of the body’s reward system,” said Mitch Earleywine, a psychology professor at the University at Albany in New York, who studies marijuana’s health effects.

“Subjective effects really vary,” Earleywine said. “Folks who like it emphasize the euphoria and the relaxation, and then depending on the strain, it’s mildly stimulating, or mildly sedating.”

Medical marijuana can soothe nausea and increase appetite, quiet pain, soothe anxiety and even reduce epileptic seizures. Other research on the healing effects of cannabis is being examined.

 

The Anatomy of A Cannabis Plant

Cannabis plants can be male, female, or hermaphrodite. The dried marijuana flowers that humans consume, however, come from the female plant. That’s because female plants produce large resin-secreting flowers that are rich in cannabinoids and free of seeds. Hence, female plants are the ones growers prefer, though of course, male marijuana plants are a requirement for pollination.

The flowers of female cannabis plants grow in large clusters called cola, with the main cola at the top of the plant. These clusters contain the reproductive parts of the flower, which impart the marijuana plant with vibrant strands of color but do little for potency and taste.

Encasing these parts are green tear-shaped leaf-like structures called the bract. Bracts are densely coated with resin-producing glands containing the highest concentration of cannabinoids in the marijuana plant.

Finally, the entire marijuana flower structure is coated with resinous crystals called trichomes. Trichomes are translucent, mushroom-like glands that form on the entire flowering structure and even the stems of the marijuana plant. These bulb-shaped glands secrete the rich, aromatic essential oils that give cannabis its smells and flavors. Trichomes also contain cannabinoids.