It can be hard to keep track of the number of names by which marijuana is otherwise known; pot, grass, ganja, dope, hash, being just a few. “Weed” is among the most common perhaps because, quite simply, the herb-like cannabis plant could pass as one.
For dubious political reasons in 1930’s America, cannabis, which is the proper scientific name for the plant from which the drug is derived, was renamed marijuana. There are essentially three variations of the cannabis plant but Cannabis Sativa is the variety used by those seeking the mood-altering effect of the substance THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that it contains.
Weed is one of the drugs most commonly used recreationally and in some non-intoxicating forms is increasingly seen as having a potential medicinal role too. Its use remains a contentious issue in both the healthcare and political arenas where the question of legalisation for THC-containing cannabis leaves, flowers and buds (weed) continues to give rise to intense debate.
Given weed’s psychoactive effects, people may become habitual users who go on to develop dependence. It is not commonly understood that the brain naturally manufactures cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. Use of weed, which may be smoked (with or without tobacco), vapourised, ingested with food or taken in the form of extracted oil or resin, causes the brain to lower production of its own cannabinboid transmitters while reducing the sensitivity to those that it continues to produce. It seems that chronic use will result in neurochemical adaptations in some people such that when they stop using weed a form of withdrawal syndrome — a defining characteristic of addiction —is experienced. This can include both physical and psychological symptoms such as restlessness, cravings, difficulty sleeping and a reduction in appetite combined with irritability and anxiety.
There is no doubt that vulnerability to cannabis-related harm varies among users. It is known to worsen some mental health conditions and in users under 25 may actually trigger them since the brain is still developing. Other factors such as first use when in early teenage years, amounts habitually used and genetic factors play a part as well as the potency of weed, which has steadily increased over the decades. Research has not yet been able to confirm whether physical damage is directly caused by smoking weed or consuming it in other ways.
The latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 has settled on the term Cannabis Use Disorder to cover the pattern of symptoms and signs. The criteria are largely in line with those to which clinicians refer in diagnosing addiction to other substances, such as spending a lot of time thinking about, getting and using weed; not being able to cut down despite best intentions; continuing to use despite evidence of harmful impact; using increasing amounts and developing a tolerance.