Sydney, Australia: Hemp, marijuana, cannabis, hash, weed, pot, skunk, Mary Jane, grass, joint…whatever you want to call it, it’s a name variation from the same species – the cannabis plant ‘cannabis sativa’. Cannabis contains multiple active components which react with receptors in the brain, most commonly known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the chemical that causes a ‘high’. There’s also cannabidiol (CBD) which has no psychotropic properties.
Society and cannabis
Classically as a society, when we think of marijuana, hippie stoners laying around eating bags of chips on a sofa come to mind (Brad Pitt in True Romance or Seth Rogan in… every film). Marijuana, however, has a deep history and culture, evolving from spirituality to mainstream medicine.
“Cannabis has evolved its own language, humour, etiquette, art, literature and music. Perhaps because of its ancient mystical and spiritual roots, because of the psychotherapeutic effects of the drug and because it is illegal, even the very act of smoking a joint has deep symbolism.” – Nick Brownlee, ‘This is Cannabis’ book published in 2002.
There are multiple countries that allow marijuana use, ranging from recreational to medical purposes, relaxing the laws over the past decade, including states in America and apparently even North Korea (unconfirmed). Australia has a mixed relationship with cannabis, with recreational use being illegal with each state having varying consequences, yet no specific drug policy in place. Cannabis has divided opinions worldwide, however, there are so many beneficial uses that go way beyond recreational use. The cannabis plant can be used for a wide range of things, from anxiety medication to sustainable clothing and accessories.
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It might surprise people to know that the human body has natural cannabinoid receptors. These control mood, appetite, pain and behaviour which is why cannabis contains compounds which affect these processes. There are countless uses for medical marijuana, from anxiety disorders to pain relief which can come in many forms (CBD oils, nasal spray, inhaled and liquid). Medical marijuana in Australia has different laws to recreational use, with states such as New South Wales and Western Australia allowing the use of cannabis for medical or scientific purposes. The first Cannabis Research licence was issued by the federal government in 2017.
Synthetic and natural cannabis is currently available for prescription in NSW and other states worldwide for patients with long-term illnesses and chronic pain such as cancer. Cancer Council NSW acknowledges that cannabis is medically beneficial to cancer patients for relieving nausea, pain relief and an appetite stimulant for those that need it. It is also clinically proven to be beneficial when other prescription medication doesn’t work.
‘Cancer Council NSW supports the current clinical trial of the synthetic cannabis product Nabiximols via oral spray for relieving uncontrolled persistent pain in patients with advanced cancer, part of which is being conducted in Australia.’ – Cancer Council NSW
In the United States, it is available in some states for people with chronic pain such as multiple sclerosis, which in some recorded cases have caused dramatic improvements in day-to-day living.
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Marijuana has also shown to be beneficial for particular cases of movement disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. There are conflicting opinions on the use of marijuana for these disorders but there are notable trials which show an improved quality of life. For example, The Michael J.Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research states that there are various studies which show significant effects on motor symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Anxiety and cannabis have a slightly more polar relationship, with both calming and panic-inducing symptoms associated with it. It seems to be up to the individual’s brain chemistry, with specific strains better for potentially treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression short-term. Like any drug, there are potential side effects and marijuana needs to be used with caution, especially without medical regulation, there is potentially negative long-term consequences such as memory loss and paranoia.
There is a small but growing body of evidence that suggests cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating component of cannabis, can aid in addiction recovery due to its effects on memory. – Project CBD website, 2018
Looking at the potential life-changing effects marijuana can have on some people living with chronic conditions, it’s a wonder it isn’t widely prescribed by doctors. There are of course potential side effects to medical marijuana (which doesn’t deter the development and sales of other pharmaceuticals), but the big issue is the controversy and criminal classification attached to the drug, which holds it back from extensive and thorough research. Parkinson’s Foundation states on its website:
“While some results have been positive, the effects of medical marijuana are probably not completely understood, which is why more studies, especially those with more subjects, are needed. Most doctors don’t support study results because these studies do not meet minimum research standards.”
The Michael J.Fox Foundations and various other organisations have called for the reclassification of marijuana so it can be extensively researched without criminal conviction and societal condemnation.
Hemp is marijuana’s ‘sober cousin‘, but just as useful and fun. Hemp is an underrated plant which is both sustainable due to its high yield and nutritional soil value plus healthy for animals and humans to consume. There is a wide range of uses, from food (hemp oil, cereal, bread, protein), cosmetics to clothes. It also has the ideal properties to be used as an alternative to plastic for packaging and building insulation.
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The fibers and stalks are used to make sustainable and durable hemp clothing, which has become increasingly popular in eco-friendly fashion. Outdoor brand Patagonia recently started selling hemp clothing from t-shirts to hats. Other brands have also jumped on board with hemp fashion, with the material being comfortable, cheap and environmentally-friendly.
There are also other widespread uses outside of fashion and textiles, such as hemp as biofuel, cheap food sources and building material, all of which are widely unrecognised in mainstream research and politics.
With climate change, a growing population and public health issues in full swing, politicians and organisations worldwide need to move quickly to research the cannabis plant and other potentially useful natural materials, rather than criminalising people for smoking it.
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