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What Is Cannabis? A Look at the History and Busting the Myths


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Non-cannabis users may have a lot of preconceived notions about the plant. The most common belief is that it’s solely used for the purpose of getting high. This reputation has led to a stigma that some people prefer to shy away from. This is unfortunate because people that may otherwise benefit immensely may never give cannabis use an honest try.

This post aims to be educational and informative without sounding like a scientific paper. By the end, you’ll know everything about the cannabis plant, from its origins to its benefits. Along the way, we’ll dispel the myths perpetuated by a largely uninformed mass.

The History of the Cannabis Plant

The plant is by no means a recently-discovered species with properties that we’re just beginning to understand. The roots are widespread and span to the dawn of pre-historic man.

Historians have found remnants of burned hemp seeds in burial mounds of Siberia. The tombs are dated to circa 3,000 B.C. Archeologists have also made similar discoveries in Mongolia that date back to about 12,000 years.

In the Xinjiang region of China, historians found traces of mummified psychoactive weed dating around 2,500 B.C. Chinese records actually show that the general populace from around 4,000 B.C. used the drug as an anesthetic during surgical operations.

Cannabis made its way to the Middle East by 2,000 B.C., where it spread and became a prominent medicinal staple in Southeast Russia and parts of Ukraine. By 500 A.D., cannabis was widespread in Britain and Germany.

Cannabis eventually found its way into South America in the 19th-century. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, immigrants from south of the border fled to the U.S. territory. Among their possessions? Cannabis.

Cannabis Classifications

The cannabis plant falls into various strains and sub-strains. For this reason, it’s an overgeneralization to define the plant in a broad term. As you read cannabis literature, you’ll come across the names of various strains with scientific names. It’s extremely helpful to understand the different properties of respective strains. One reason for cannabis’ negative stigma is due to the assumption that plants across all strains make you high. This could not be further from the truth.

Without further ado, here is the cannabis classification by strain.

Cannabis Sativa

The majority of cannabis products, from tinctures to edibles, are derived from cannabis sativa. This is due to the higher ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) to THC. The latter is the cannabinoid that produces the stoned and high feeling.

CBD product makers usually use the fibrous stalks of the plant. This plant portion is known as hemp and is known for its rich concentrations of CBD and very little THC. If you see a product with the label “hemp extract,” “hemp oil,” or “CBD hemp oil,” then it’s derived from cannabis sativa.

The rich CBD content makes the strain very potent with high medicinal value. Some of the benefits include pain relief1, seizure control, blood pressure reduction2, and more.

Cannabis Indica

For casual users, here’s the main difference between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica: the latter has a higher THC content. It has a higher THC to CBD ratio, whereas the opposite is true with cannabis sativa. This isn’t always the case as there are various sub-types within strains. However, as a general rule, indica is usually the go-to strain for THC content above the legal 0.3% limit.

For this reason, recreational users favor indica strains for smoking or vaping to get that mellowed out feeling. In fact, all the stereotypes about cannabis and marijuana are due to this specific strain.

Cannabis Ruderalis

This strain unfairly gets the red-headed stepchild treatment. Hardly any cannabis literature ever discusses this one. On its own, it has a fairly low THC content, so it’s more related to cannabis sativa in that respects. Growers often crossbreed ruderalis with sativa or indica to create more exotic strains with unique potencies, flavors, and aromas.

Reexamining the Myths

So many people erroneously believe cannabis is dangerous because the federal government classifies it as a controlled substance. In other words, it’s illegal. We feel this section is especially important to debunk the myths that have led to years of preconceived notions and have-truths.

Myth #1: Smoking Marijuana Causes Cancer

A 2006 study revealed that marijuana users had relatively the same rate of lung cancer as non-users3. The cannabinoids in marijuana, in fact, contain anti-cancer properties. We’re not suggesting marijuana reverses cancer, but evidence does not support the idea that it causes cancer like cigarette smoke.

With this in mind, cannabis smoke has been known to cause respiratory irritation in sensitive users. Some users may be better off consuming some form of cannabis edibles instead.

Myth #2: Smoking Cannabis Makes You High

We discussed this earlier. Smoking pot may or may not make you high depending on the strain. Cannabis indica normally, but not always – have higher THC concentrations that cause the “stoned out” sensation. The more common sativa strain, however, has very little THC. Many medical users, in fact, smoke sativa-derived extract for its medicinal benefits.

Myth #3: Cannabis Use Increases Likelihood of Dependency on Other Drugs

Are pot users more likely to experiment with dangerous narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine? There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, many users turn to cannabis as an exit drug. This means they use it to beat an addiction to actual harmful substances. One study showed that 40% of users in California used cannabis to wane off of alcohol.

Myth #4: Cannabis Use Makes You Fat

There’s a widespread myth that smoking cannabis causes weight gain. This is actually semi-true. You may have heard that cannabis use in any form causes “the munchies.” Studies show that cannabis does stimulate hunger. Some doctors, in fact, prescribe CBD to cancer and AID patients to induce appetite4.

However, the claims that you will gain weight from regular use is unfounded. In a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, users were actually one-third less likely to be obese than non-users.

The Truth Is Enlightening

Whether you decide to give any form of cannabinoid extract a try is up to you. However, at least now you can make that decision based on the right knowledge and not on long-held myths. For new users, we hope to be the gateway for safe and responsible cannabis use. Browse our site to gain more knowledge. When you’re ready, go to our Where to Buy section for links to reputable suppliers.

Medical References

Russo E. Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(1):245-259. [PMC]
Jadoon K, Tan G, O’Sullivan S. A single dose of cannabidiol reduces blood pressure in healthy volunteers in a randomized crossover study. JCI Insight. 2017;2(12):e93760. [PMC]
Hashibe M, Morgenstern H, Cui Y, et al. Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006;15(10):1829-1834. [PubMed]
Kogan N, Mechoulam R. Cannabinoids in health and disease. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2007;9(4):413-430. [PMC]
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Christopher Walker

Christopher Walker has a degree in Neuroscience from Duke University, and is the research writer for The Universal Plant. He has dedicated his life to helping men and women around the world educate themselves and take action to improve their health with natural plant-based and nutrient therapies. Follow him on Instagram @_christopherwalker

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