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Marijuana often evokes images of euphoria and relaxed lethargy. Some of the earliest human cultures ingested and smoked the leaves of the plant, and its consumption has persisted in modern society. Although it’s most commonly used as a recreational drug, marijuana also has important medicinal, religious, and spiritual applications. To some, it’s an important clinical substance that functions as a pain reliever, appetite booster, and sleeping aid.

 Marijuana is known for it’s unique shape and green color.

Source: Justin Sullivan

Marijuana’s use can be dated back to approximately 1500 BCE, where it was used in spiritual rituals in India and Nepal as a cleansing agent to rid the body of sin. It has also been referenced in Greek mythology as a powerful drug that “…eliminated anguish and sorrow.” In the United States, despite being widely categorized as an illegal substance, marijuana was recently championed by the Rastafarian movement as a religious sacrament.

The chemically active compounds in marijuana are called cannabinoids. The human body produces its own cannabinoids, which play important roles in pleasure regulation, knowledge retention, and sensory recognition. There are two major cannabinoids of interest: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Tetrahydrocannabinol is the major active compound of marijuana, usually desired for its mind-altering effects: creating a sense of euphoria and increasing awareness of sensation. Cannabidiol has no psychoactive properties, but has been linked to an abundance of potential medicinal applications ranging from seizure control to mental illness treatment. THC has also been linked to pain reduction, inflammatory inhibition, and increased muscle control. In modern medicine, marijuana has been prescribed to treat anorexia, nausea, and neuropathic pain.

Despite the potential benefits of marijuana, it has potential negative side effects — it serves as a “gateway drug” to other dangerous substances and is linked with increased rates of crime and delinquency. High-frequency marijuana use has also been associated with neurological abnormalities, respiratory issues, and improper perinatal development.

 Clipping a cannabis bud from the plant.

Source: Uriel Sinai

A major roadblock in marijuana legalization is a lack of carefully conducted clinical trials. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires thousands of clinical subjects in controlled experiments in order to push the development of a drug. So far, researchers have not published enough large-scale clinical studies which indicate that the benefits of marijuana outweigh its risks.

However, the merits of marijuana cannot be ignored. Its prospective medical applications are various, and its status as an illegal drug is undergoing a shift as more people are accepting its recreational use. In the United States, marijuana legalization is a topic of major interest, and will remain a point of contention for the years to come.

Feature Image Source: Nena B.

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