Cannabis is used by some people as a drug, and by others as medicine. It is basically (still) an illegal drug in Germany, but for some seriously ill people, health insurance pays for cannabis in use as a medicine. How can one and the same plant be both? Is the effect of medical cannabis like CBD kanapių aliejus (CBD hemp oil) different from that of illegal cannabis? And why does it make a difference whether a person uses illegal or medical cannabis?
Cannabis – for some people it is a drug, for others it is medicine. Some want to experience intoxication, others want to relieve pain or other symptoms of illness. Is it really possible to say whether cannabis, also known as marijuana, is more drug or more medicine? And what is the difference between medicine and drugs? In English, drugs are called “drugs”. But so are drugs. Is the difference perhaps not always so great, is the effect not so oppositely “good” versus “evil”, as is often portrayed?
Drugs – the dose makes the intoxication
In common parlance, drugs are psychoactive substances that cause a change in consciousness in users. Both the psychological and the physical sensations can be altered. In addition to the typical illegal substances, legal substances such as alcohol and nicotine are also among the drugs. They can be psychologically and physically dependent.
In the pharmaceutical context, drugs are biological substances used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. Most of them are plants, fungi, or animal components. Cannabis is therefore a drug in several respects: plant parts are used to make medicines – on the other hand, cannabis or marijuana has psychoactive effects. By the way, cannabis was not always prohibited.
Which effect is in the foreground and how strong it depends mainly on the cannabis variety and the dosage, i.e. the amount of substance ingested and the concentration of an active ingredient in it.
You may have heard the saying “the dose makes the poison” before. It states that many substances in small quantities are not dangerous and often even useful for health, but harmful in too high concentrations. This relationship does not only apply to drugs. Vitamins, for example, can also have positive effects in the amount favorable for the body, but negative effects in too high a concentration.
An intoxication caused by a drug like cannabis is due to an overdose. The active substance in cannabis (marijuana) is mainly THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). At high concentrations, THC interferes with the release of various messenger substances in the brain (neurotransmitters), so that, for example, more dopamine is released. The higher amounts of neurotransmitters can lead to very intense reactions. Many people are more creative under the influence of cannabis, and sensory perceptions amplify and change. Hallucinations – pleasant as well as unpleasant – also occur. All these effects are mainly due to a high amount of THC.
The cannabis plant contains numerous active ingredients, especially in the flowers. These include the approximately 100 cannabinoids identified so far as the main ingredients. The best known are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is psychoactive, and CBD (cannabidiol), which does not seem to have any mind-altering effects, but many others.
If cannabis is taken as medicine, the objective is different. The dosage should be so low that the pain-relieving, nausea-reducing, and appetite-increasing effects make life easier for those affected, but no noisy side effects occur. Patients do not want to hallucinate but want to be able to master their everyday lives as pain-free as possible. According to many prescribing doctors, most people who take medical cannabis have therefore never had a high caused by their medication and usually do not seek it.
Illegal and medical cannabis are different
Although the drug and the drug are both made from cannabis, they are significantly different from each other. This applies, for example, to quality and purity.
Patients must dose precisely
Patients who need cannabis as a medicine depends on achieving a uniform effect every day. Possible side effects should remain low. The prerequisite for this is that the necessary quantity can be determined precisely and as easily as possible. This works best with standardized cannabis oils and extracts adjusted to a certain amount of THC and CBD per drop. In this way, those affected know exactly how many drops they have to take and how often in order to get their complaints under control in the best possible way and still not be dazed. Medical cannabis is used, for example, for nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, loss of appetite in HIV/AIDS, painful spasticity, and chronic pain.
This is more difficult when using cannabis flowers. First of all, among the numerous varieties available for therapy, it is necessary to find the one that the person tolerates best and works best for him. Some people benefit the most from THC-rich strains. Others require high levels of CBD and less THC for the same symptoms. For some people, ready-to-use medicines work better, for others flowers, which are usually inhaled after vaporization in a vaporizer or – less often – drunk as tea.
Depending on the symptoms, the effect should either occur quickly, for example, to alleviate pain peaks. However, some patients require a constant effect over a longer period of time. Even if the number of ground cannabis flowers to be used is carefully weighed, the mixture may vary slightly from time to time.
After all, patients can rely on the fact that the quality of the flowers is excellent. The cultivation takes place under controlled conditions and is strictly monitored. The cannabis flowers are carefully analyzed in the laboratory so that no fluctuations in the active ingredient content occur or these can be compensated and inferior plants can be sorted out.
Finding the right cannabis medicine and the optimal dosage is therefore not always easy.
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Illicit cannabis: THC content unknown
In the case of illegal cannabis for recreational use, these aspects are less important. The goal of consumption is usually different. However, there are several dangers here: In the case of illegal marijuana, it is not known how exactly the composition is. As a result, users cannot estimate how much THC is contained. Since cannabis plants with a THC content of more than 10 and up to 20 percent have been increasingly cultivated for several years, an overdose is very easily possible, especially for occasional users. An unusually high amount of THC threatens severe side effects up to strong hallucinations and even persistent psychosis. Whether toxic pesticides were used in the cultivation or the cannabis is stretched with parts of other (possibly poisonous) plants, consumers also do not know.
Does illegal cannabis make you more addicted than cannabis as medicine?
So dosage is one of the biggest differences between the use of cannabis for recreational use and as medicine. Patients dose as low as possible and as strong as necessary, while recreational users deliberately overdose. Basically, any consumption of a psychoactive substance can be addictive. Cannabis can also lead to dependence. The essence of psychoactivity is to change the communication of messenger substances in the brain. The strong stimuli on the nerve cells can lead to the urge to experience this experience over and over again.
Cannabis can be both physically and psychologically addictive. The fact that withdrawal symptoms often occur less severely when weaning than with other drugs is due to the half-life in the body. The half-life describes the duration until half of the originally ingested amount is still present in the body. Compared to other narcotic substances, it is longer with cannabis. Since cannabis is also stored in adipose tissue, it can still be released if it has been ingested for some time. For occasional users, the half-life is about one to three days, and for regular users between five and 13 days. The withdrawal is therefore less abrupt.
The medical use of cannabis can also lead to dependence, as scientific research shows. How frequent and how severe such dependence is still needs to be further investigated. You can find out more about cannabis addiction here.
Is cannabis more of a drug or more of a medicine? It’s both. And it has the potential to alleviate the discomfort of seriously ill people. At the same time, regular and overly high doses of uncontrolled consumption can lead to dependence and have far-reaching consequences for (social) life. However, some experts also see cannabis as a stimulant that, when used responsibly, can be significantly less dangerous than the legal drug alcohol.