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Skip to Start.Contents  |  Controlled Substances Act  |  U.S. Chemical Control
Introduction to Drug Classes  |  Narcotics  |  Stimulants  |  Depressants  |  Cannabis  |  Hallucinogens  |  Inhalants  |  Steroids  |  Drugs of Abuse Chart  |  List of Coordinators  |  Conversion Tables

Chapter 7  Cannabis

Hashish Oil
Synthetic THC Identification

Picture of a marijuana leaf.

Above, a marijuana leaf.  Indoor marijuana growth (right) has become a popular means of clandestine cultivation.

Photo of an indoor cannabis grow operation.

Cannabis sativa L., the cannabis plant, grows wild throughout most of the tropic and temperate regions of the world. Prior to the advent of synthetic fibers, the cannabis plant was cultivated for the tough fiber of its stem. In the United States, cannabis is legitimately grown only for scientific research.

Cannabis contains chemicals called cannabinoids that are unique to the cannabis plant. Among the cannabinoids synthesized by the plant are cannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabinolidic acids, cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and several isomers of tetrahydrocannabinol. One of these, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is believed to be responsible for most of the characteristic psychoactive effects of cannabis. Research has resulted in development and marketing of the dronabinol (synthetic THC) product, Marinol®, for the control of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotheraputic agents used in the treatment of cancer and to stimulate appetite in AIDS patients. Marinol® was rescheduled in 1999 and placed in Schedule III of the CSA.

Cannabis products are usually smoked. Their effects are felt within minutes, reach their peak in 10 to 30 minutes, and may linger for two or three hours. The effects experienced often depend upon the experience and expectations of the individual user, as well as the activity of the drug itself. Low doses tend to induce a sense of well-being and a dreamy state of relaxation, which may be accompanied by a more vivid sense of sight, smell, taste, and hearing, as well as by subtle alterations in thought formation and expression. This state of intoxication may not be noticeable to an observer. However, driving, occupational, or household accidents may result from a distortion of time and space relationships and impaired motor coordination. Stronger doses intensify reactions. The individual may experience shifting sensory imagery, rapidly fluctuating emotions, fragmentary thoughts with disturbing associations, an altered sense of self-identity, impaired memory, and a dulling of attention despite an illusion of heightened insight. High doses may result in image distortion, a loss of personal identity, fantasies, and hallucinations.

Three drugs that come from cannabis--marijuana, hashish, and hashish oil--are distributed on the U.S. illicit market. Having no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, they remain under Schedule I of the CSA. Today, cannabis is illicitly cultivated, both indoors and out, to maximize its THC content, thereby producing the greatest possible psychoactive effect.

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Marijuana is the most frequently encountered illicit drug worldwide. In the United States, according to the 2003 Monitoring the Future Study, 57 percent of adults aged 19 to 28 reported having used marijuana in their lifetime. Among younger Americans, 17.5 percent of 8th graders and 46.1 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana in their lifetime. The term "marijuana," as commonly used, refers to the leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant that are dried to produce a tobacco-like substance. Marijuana varies significantly in its potency, depending on the source and selection of plant materials used. The form of marijuana known as sinsemilla (Spanish, sin semilla: without seed), derived from the unpollinated female cannabis plant, is preferred for its high THC content. Marijuana is usually smoked in the form of loosely rolled cigarettes called joints, bongs, or hollowed out commercial cigars called blunts. Joints and blunts may be laced with a number of adulterants including phencyclidine (PCP), substantially altering the effects and toxicity of these products. Street names for marijuana include pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, and reefer. Although marijuana grown in the United States was once considered inferior because of a low concentration of THC, advancements in plant selection and cultivation have resulted in higher THC-containing domestic marijuana. In 1974, the average THC content of illicit marijuana was less than one percent. Today most commercial grade marijuana from Mexico/Columbia and domestic outdoor cultivated marijuana has an average THC content of about 4 to 6 percent. Between 1998 and 2002, NIDA-sponsored Marijuana Potency Monitoring System (MPMP) analyzed 4,603 domestic samples. Of those samples, 379 tested over 15 percent THC, 69 samples tested between 20 and 25 percent THC and four samples tested over 25 percent THC.

Picture of a bong.Picture of a glass marijuana "pipe".


Marijuana contains known toxins and cancer-causing chemicals. Marijuana users experience the same health problems as tobacco smokers, such as bronchitis, emphysema, and bronchial asthma. Some of the effects of marijuana use also include increased heart rate, dryness of the mouth, reddening of the eyes, impaired motor skills and concentration, and hunger with an increased desire for sweets. Extended use increases risk to the lungs and reproductive system, as well as suppression of the immune system. Occasionally, hallucinations, fantasies, and paranoia are reported. Long-term chronic marijuana use is associated with an Amotivational Syndrome characterized by: apathy; impairment of judgment, memory and concentration; and loss of interest in personal appearance and pursuit of goals.

Picture of a package of rolling papers used to make marijuana cigarettes (joints).Picture of a box of rolling papers used to make marijuana cigarettes (joints).

Rolling papers used to make marijuana cigarettes (joints).

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Hashish consists of the THC-rich resinous material of the cannabis plant, which is collected, dried, and then compressed into a variety of forms, such as balls, cakes, or cookie-like sheets. Pieces are then broken off, placed in pipes, and smoked. The Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan/Afghanistan are the main sources of hashish. The THC content of hashish that reached the United States, where demand is limited, averaged about five percent in the 1990s.

Photo of several small, dark brown chunks of resinous material next to a penny for size comparison.

Hashish Oil

The term "hash oil" is used by illicit drug users and dealers, but is a misnomer in suggesting any resemblance to hashish. Hash oil is produced by extracting the cannabinoids from plant material with a solvent. The color and odor of the resulting extract will vary, depending on the type of solvent used. Current samples of hash oil, a viscous liquid ranging from amber to dark brown in color, average about 15 percent THC. In terms of its psychoactive effect, a drop or two of this liquid on a cigarette is equal to a single "joint" of marijuana. 

Picture of a small baby bottle containing a brown liquid.

Synthetic THC Identification

 Picture of various dosage sizes of Marinol.

To Top  |  Contents  |  Controlled Substances Act  |  U.S. Chemical Control
Introduction to Drug Classes  |  Narcotics  |  Stimulants  |  Depressants  |  Cannabis  |  Hallucinogens  |  Inhalants  |  Steroids  |  Drugs of Abuse Chart  |  List of Coordinators  |  Conversion Tables



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