National Geographic Society

  • Connect:

Weed Facts

What You Don't Know About Cannabis and the Medical Marijuana Industry

Photo: Jars of medical marijuana

Photo: Jars of medical marijuana (View larger version)

Photograph by Drew Olberholtzer / NGT

Published

Over the last decade, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the US has exploded—especially in Colorado. Despite federal laws criminalizing marijuana, 16 states plus DC have passed legislation to legalize it for medical use. Meanwhile, there is a strong movement fighting against legalization, from the city level up to the federal, and many dispensaries are being forced to shut down. Below are some facts about marijuana and the medical marijuana industry.

Drug Properties

  • The drug-like effects experienced by cannabis users are caused by cannabinoids, the active chemicals that are present in the plant. The main active cannabinoid in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more simply known as THC.
  • THC affects specific parts of the brain with cannabinoid receptors, triggering a series of cellular reactions that leads to the "high" experienced by users.
  • Some areas of the brain have many cannabinoid receptors, and others have few or none at all. The most can be found in areas of the brain that influence sensory and time perception, pleasure, concentrating, memory, and coordinated movement.
  • Besides THC, another active cannabinoid is cannabidiol, a compound that may decrease inflammation and relieve pain without the "high" that comes from THC.
  • According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the acute effects and health risks of marijuana use include: slowed reaction time, distorted sensory perception, impaired balance and coordination, increased heart rate and appetite, impaired learning and memory, anxiety, panic attacks, psychosis, cough, frequent respiratory infections, possible mental health decline, and addiction.
  • Shortly after smoking marijuana, a user may experience a 20 to 100 percent increase in the heart rate, which can last up to three hours. In one study, it was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increased risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking.
  • Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.

Medicinal Value

  • Cannabinoids may be useful in the treatment of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Possible effects of treatment with cannabinoids include: a decrease in pain and inflammation, blockage of cell growth, the prevention of blood vessel growth that supplies tumors, and anti-viral activity.
  • The medicinal use of cannabis dates back at least 3,000 years. It was introduced to Western medicine in the 19th century, as it was believed that the drug could be a useful pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and anti-convulsant.
  • In Colorado, two percent of registered medical marijuana patients are using marijuana due to cancer.
  • More than 90 percent of medical marijuana users in Colorado use the drug for the management of "severe pain." Nearly 20 percent use the drug for "muscle spasms," the second-most reported ailment the drug is used to treat.

Marijuana Law

  • By U.S. federal law, cannabis (or marijuana) possession is illegal.
  • The 1970 Controlled Substance Act classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means it has a heightened potential for abuse and no known medicinal use.
  • California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana with Ballot Proposition 215, approved on November 5, 1996.
  • In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled (6-3) in Gonzales v. Raich that any person growing, possessing, or distributing medical marijuana, regardless of the laws at state-level, are in violation of federal marijuana laws and can be prosecuted by federal authorities.
  • Since 2006, 15 other states and DC have enacted laws to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
  • To date, the four states with the highest possession limits are: Oregon, Washington, California, and New Mexico.

Medical Marijuana in Colorado

  • On November 7, 2000, the state of Colorado passed Amendment 20, legalizing the "medical use of marijuana for persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions."
  • On June 1, 2001, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officially opened the Medical Marijuana Registry program.
  • By November 2011, 161,483 new patient applications were received by the registry. 80,558 patients had been approved for medical marijuana cards.
  • As of November 2011, 41 patients were under the age of 18.
  • The average age of medical marijuana users in Colorado is 40 for men and 43 for women.
  • More than 900 different doctors in Colorado have signed for applicants of the registry.
  • 69 percent of all approved applicants are male.
  • 85 Colorado communities have banned dispensaries or the opening of new dispensaries.
  • Where Colorado residents have been put to the vote, medical marijuana has lost 88 percent of the time.
0 comments