Cannabis Preparations

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Users can ingest cannabinoids in a number of forms, including marijuana, hashish, hash oil, and synthetic medications. Nearly all parts of the marijuana plant contain psychoactive ingredients, but most of the cannabinoids appear in the resinous glands and flowering tops. Thus, the price for glands or tops is markedly higher than for other parts of the plant. Different cannabis preparations have different names. a€reMarijuana,a€* a Spanish word purportedly coined in Mexico, originally meant cheap tobacco. The term may stem from the Portuguese expression a€remariguango,a€* which means intoxicant (Maisto et al., 1995). Later the word referred to the dried leaves and flowers of cannabis. Residents of India distinguish among three forms: bhang, ganja, and charas. Bhang is the dried leaves of the plant, comparable to marijuana. People smoke these leaves or combine them with milk and spices to form a drink that is also called bhang. Ganja refers to the sap-carrying tops of female plants in India, but in Jamaica the term applies to the leaves as well. Charas is hashish, the dried resin separated from the flowers and pressed together (McKim, 1997).

Many legends surround hashish. A well-known report concerns an exotic technique for collecting resin. Harvesters allegedly pranced naked through sunny fields of cannabis, gathering shiny sap and scraping it gently from their bodies to form cakes. These tales sound like contemporary urban legends or a marketing strategy for modern dealers. Nevertheless, comparable stories appeared as early as the 1850s. Most reporters from that era found workers who wore leather aprons to catch resin as they ran through fields. These workers then told of naked harvesting in other locations (Johnston, 1855; Von Bibra, 1855).

Stories like these may have been an attempt to fool outsiders, similar to the way children from farms tell children from the city that chasing a cow will turn her milk to cottage cheese. Perhaps poorer gatherers of hashish resin could not afford leather aprons. Whatever the arrangement in the past, modern hashish production does not employ naked trips through fields. Instead, manufacturers shake the resinous glands from the


plants and press it into hash. Others simply form blocks by pressing hash oil into powdered cannabis.

In addition to ganja, bhang, and charas or hashish, hash oil also appears in the illicit drug market. Producers create this viscous liquid by boiling hashish or cannabis in a solvent, straining it through a filter, and then letting the solvent evaporate, leaving the oil. The process can be extremely dangerous given the flammability of the solvents, which usually include alcohol or ether (Gold, 1989). The risk may prove worthwhile because hash oil commands higher prices. The oil has the potential to generate huge profits because it is relatively compact and easy to smuggle. It is often more potent than hashish or cannabis, too. Yet hash oil is not particularly popular. Smoking the oil by itself can require special glass pipes as part of a messy and cumbersome process. The solvents used to form the oil may be unhealthy to smoke. Most users find hashish or cannabis easier to ingest and potent enough to create the effects they desire (Clarke, 1998).

Synthetic cannabinoids also exist; they are usually ingested orally. Dronabinol (Marinol), a synthetic version of THC suspended in sesame oil, can treat poor appetite, nausea, and vomiting (e.g., Lefkowtiz et al., 1995). Current studies also address dronabinol's efficacy as a treatment for spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis and pain after surgery (Hanigan, Destree, & Truong, 1986). Some initial work also suggests that this drug might help disturbed behavior in Alzheimer's patients (Volicer et al., 1997). The abuse potential for this substance appears to be minimal. It is the only cannabinoid approved for medical use in the United States. Nabilone (Cesamet), an analogue of THC available in the United Kingdom, also limits nausea, vomiting, and spasticity (e.g., Steel et al., 1980). Levonantradol, another synthetic THC analogue unavailable in the United States, shows some promise in treating acute surgical pain, nausea, and vomiting (Jain et al., 1981; Tyson et al., 1985). Apparently, no pharmaceutical company has pursued its development as a medication (IOM, 1999). The medicinal uses of these synthetic cannabinoids appear in more detail in chapter 8.

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