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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs - 1972



The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs - 1972

2. Cannabis and Its Effects


The Identity and History of Cannabis

Marijuana and hashish come from Cannabis sativa L.,[b] an herbaceous annual plant often called "Indian Hemp", which readily grows wild or is cultivated in most of the tropical and temperate areas of the world including Canada. Cannabis is one of man's oldest cultivated non-food plants and is thought to have originated in Asia. Although many varieties with somewhat different physical and chemical characteristics are often distinguished, most botanists consider these to be members of a single species. Some confusion has been caused by the botanically incorrect use of the word hemp in referring to the commercial fibres obtained from a variety of other fibre-producing plants[c]. In this report, hemp is taken to mean "true hemp" or Cannabis sativa. Cannabis is closely related to Humulus, the genus of the hop plant.

What is commonly referred to as marijuana (often called 'grass', 'pot', 'weed(s)', 'bush', 'tea', 'reefer', 'boo', 'Mary Jane' or the more general 'dope' or'shit') in North America, is usually a mixture of crushed cannabis leaves, flowers, and often small twigs, and may vary considerably in potency from one sample to another. Similar preparations are known as bhang (the more potent and carefully prepared flowering tops as ganja) in India, kief in Morocco, and dagga in southern Africa. In Jamaica, ganja may refer generally to marijuana. The plant produces a resin which, in relatively pure form, is called hashish ('hash') in the West and much of the Middle East, and charas in India. Hashish is usually prepared by shaking, pressing or scraping the amber resin from the plant, although solvent techniques might be used. In general, hashish is several times as potent on a weight basis as marijuana, although this is not always the case. The label hashish has sometimes been applied to special flower and leaf preparations of the plant, as well as to the resin, although this broad use of the term is now uncommon except in parts of Egypt. In addition to these common forms of cannabis, concentrated extract is available in some countries in an alcohol solution (tincture of cannabis) designed for medical or research purposes, and several of the cannabinoid compounds present in the natural plant material and related synthetics are available in relatively pure form for research. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the principal active compound, is rarely, if ever, available on the 'black market'. In this report, the general term cannabis will be taken to cover all the various forms of hemp drugs (marijuana, hashish, THC, etc.).

A brief glossary of some scientific and technical terms employed in this chapter appears at the end of this report.

There are several hypotheses regarding the etymology of the word marijuana or marihuana. Many believe it derives from the Mexican name for 'Mary Jane', or "Mary and Jane' (Maria y Juana). Others have suggested that Mexican-Spanish word for 'intoxicant'), or its linguistic relative maraguango (a Panamanian provincialism). Numerous other derivations of marijuana have also been proposed. [d]

Centuries ago, the Arabic word hashish was generally equivalent to 'dry herb' or 'grass' and later, more specifically, 'hemp' and often 'cannabis resin . It has often been said that the present English word assassin is developmentally linked with the word hashish. A variety of interesting and conflicting tales have been told of the legendary Hassan, "The Old Man of the Mountain" of 11th Century Persia, and his religious followers, called by some the "ashashin", and the possible role of cannabis and other drugs in connection with their religious, political and military endeavours. Both the validity of this linguistic derivation and the ultimate historical veracity and pharmacological significance of the legend are still matters of some dispute. 10,22,116,368,392

In many societies, Cannabis sativa has been a highly valued crop for reasons other than the plant's medical and non-medical pharmacological uses. The durable fibres of the woody trunk are used in the production of hemp rope and twine, and are woven into fine or rough cloth for such diverse products as blankets, clothes, flags and boat sails. The plant is one of the most efficient producers of cellulose pulp employed in paper production and is used in the manufacture of some paper money. The seeds are an abundant source of oil (similar to linseed oil) used in paint and soap. The seeds are also used as food for man, animals and, most commonly, for poultry and other birds. Seedlings and seed cake are used for fish bait in some countries. The plants have been grown to control soil drift and have been used as windbreak fence in Canada and many other countries.

It is often said that the first detailed description of cannabis appeared in a medical book prepared by the legendary Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung (Circa 2700 B.C.). This pharmacy treatise, attributed to the mythical Shen Nung, was actually written by early Han dynasty scholars only a few centuries B.C. Archaeological data suggest that the knowledge of the use of hemp for various purposes goes back at least 6,000 years. Evidence of cannabis has been discovered in an Egyptian site considered to be between three and four thousand years old, and the Scythians are reported to have grown hemp in the Volga region during the same period. Herodotus wrote of the Scythian practice of inhaling the fumes of burning cannabis as part of a funeral purification rite about 450 B.C. The earliest Indian Vedas, composed before 1400 B.C., refer to the pharmacological virtues of cannabis and the Sanscrit manuscript Zend-Avesta, written in Northern Iran about 600 B.C., mentions the inebriating properties of cannabis resin. The Hindu deity Shiva is the Lord of bhang among many other things, and bhang still plays an important symbolic and pharmacological role in the religious practices of many Hindus today. Charas (hashish), however, has not been traditionally involved in the worship.

Cannabis is said to have reached Spain approximately one thousand years ago, during the Moslem occupation, but Europeans appear to have had little acquaintance with the drug at that time. There was some importation into Europe during the seventeenth century, but serious European investigation of the social, religious or medical uses of cannabis did not occur until after the entry of Napoleon's expeditionary force into Egypt in 1798. The use of cannabis in Western medicine was reinforced in 1843 by O'Shaughnessy, a British physician returning from India, and, in France, Moreau de Tours wrote extensively on the therapeutic uses and abuses of cannabis during the same period.

Some European adventurers had used the drug earlier as a consequence of their travels through the Arab world. But it was not until 1844, with the founding of the famed Club des Hachischins in Paris, that the use of cannabis gained an appreciative, if very small and temporary, European following. The members of this club (including such French authors as Balzac, Hugo, Baudelaire and Gautier) used cannabis out of artistic and intellectual curiosity, and their personal experiences with the drug, as recounted by Baudelaire and Gautier, outraged the French bourgeoisie of the midnineteenth century.215,432 The Club des Hachischins, however, must be viewed as an exceptional episode in the European history of cannabis, as marijuana and hashish have only very recently (following the popularization of American practices) been used to any significant extent in Western Europe. 57,219

Bloomquist states that the use of cannabis was already firmly established among the indigenous peoples of Central and South America by the time the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in the sixteenth century.  The Spaniards did, however, introduce the cultivation of cannabis for its hemp fibre to Chile about 1545, and consumption of the drug is said to have gained currency in Brazil with the arrival of African slaves who were familiar with its use. 651

The cultivation of hemp was apparently introduced to North America by Louis Hebert, Champlain's apothecary, in 1606 in Nova Francia (Nova Scotia).21 The pilgrims planted hemp soon after that in New England. First France and then England encouraged hemp cultivation in the their New World colonies, both for domestic requirements such as clothing and cordage, and to provide sails and rigging for their ships. Cannabis fibre was needed by the major naval powers of the time to outfit their sailing fleets, and when British access to such supplies in the East Indies was restricted by their Dutch rivals in the late sixteenth century, the British were forced to develop other hemp sources. Consequently, King James I commanded the American colonists to produce hemp, and, by 1630, cannabis was a staple crop on the East Coast. Later, the government of Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and manufacture, and imposed penalties on those who did not produce it.75 Similar stern attempts to stimulate the industry occurred in Eastern Canada. The wagons which carried the pioneers westward were covered with hempen fabric and approximately half of the clothing worn by the colonials during the seventeenth century and almost all of the clothing worn by the slaves until 1847 is said to have been made from this material. 29,57,75,219,243,530

Apparently the colonists did not use hemp for its intoxicating effects. But there is some possibility that certain individuals, including George Washingtion (who cultivated cannabis on his Mount Vernon plantation), were aware of its medicinal properties. 19,653 Some North American Indians, most notably Sitting Bull, incorporated cannabis into the smoking mixtures used in their peace pipes. It is also likely that African slaves brought with them knowledge of the pharmacological properties of hemp.

During the nineteenth century, the non-medical use of cannabis as a psychotropic substance in North America was apparently quite limited. At approximately the same time as Baudelaire was recording his experiences with hashish in Paris, a few Americans were also experimenting with the drug. Bayard Taylor, a popular novelist and foreign diplomat, reported his adventures with hashish in Egypt and Damascus in 1855. F. H. Ludlow, a college junior in Poughkeepsie, New York, legally procured a sample of cannabis resin from his local pharmacist after having his curiosity aroused by the mention of hashish in The Arabian Nights. His experiments with the drug resulted in his publication of a monograph on the subject of cannabis in 1857. Around the same time, Dr. Horatio Wood recounted his personal use of hashish to the American Philosophical Society676 and cannabis was recommended as a therapeutic aphrodisiac in a marriage guide. In 1912, Dr. Victor Robinson published two articles in a professional medical review detailing the effects of hashish as experienced by both himself and friends. These accounts, however, do not reflect general drug use patterns at that time. Popular non-medical consumption of cannabis in North America is a 20th century phenomenon, although quasi-medical and medical use of a variety of cannabis preparations, including elixirs and medicines, occurred earlier. The history of the non-medical use of cannabis is discussed further in Chapter 4 of this report.

North American hemp farming became less profitable after the advent of steam power around 1770 (which reduced the need for sails and rope) and with the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 (which  diminished the market for textiles produced from hempen fibre). The commercial value of cannabis consequently declined and cultivation was later abandoned in New England, although it was maintained in other areas of the United States, particularly in the Midwest. The commercial cultivation of cannabis for both domestic and export purposes continued at a limited level in Canada until the early 1930s, when the stock market collapsed and the subsequent reduction in the demand for and value of hemp made further production uneconomical. In 1938 an amendment to The Opium and Narcotic Drug Act prohibited the cultivation of cannabis without special authorization, and hemp fibre used in Canada since then has been imported.

The severing of Far Eastern supply routes during the Second World War led to a temporary resurgence of United States hemp production. The plant strains grown were generally selected for high fibre content and low pharmacological activity. The reopening of foreign fibre sources and the introduction of synthetic substitutes at the conclusion of the war drastically curtailed domestic cultivation and there is currently no legal commercial production of hemp in North America. The major hemp-producing countries today (for example, Russia, Italy and Yugoslavia) consume most of their domestic stock and export very little. In many areas, hemp plants have escaped cultivation and now exist as weeds. Despite the lack of a legitimate commercial market, cannabis still grows untended throughout most of the United States and Southern Canada. It has recently been suggested that a modern hemp industry be encouraged in North America for ecological as well as economic reasons, since cultivated cannabis is several times more efficient in producing pulp for paper on an annual acreage basis than is forest woodland.

The Cannabis Literature

In the past decade, the controversy surrounding cannabis in North America has reached epidemic proportions. Alleged authorities have taken diametrically opposed positions regarding the drug, not only on moral and social policy issues, but on the supposedly hard scientific facts as well. Although the current world literature on cannabis numbers over 2,000 technical publications, few of these papers meet modern standards of scientific investigation. The majority of the available reports are poorly documented and ambiguous, emotion-laden and sometimes incredibly biased, and can, in general, be relied upon for minimal verified information. Scientific expertise in the area of cannabis has been limited by the simple fact that until recently there has been little clearly established scientific information available, and preconceived notions have often dominated the interpretation of ambiguous data. The past confusion is exemplified by current legislation in many areas of the world, including Canada and parts of the United States, which classifies cannabis with the opiate narcotics for control purposes, even though these drugs are pharmacologically and socially quite different.

The retarded state of scientific knowledge of cannabis can be attributed to several factors. To begin with, until recently, governmental restrictions on the medical and scientific use of cannabis in North America have been so strict that the majority of would-be researchers have found it more attractive to work in other areas. Secondly, since the widespread and middle-class use of cannabis in North America is a relatively recent phenomenon, it has not, in the past, been considered a particularly high priority research area from a public health standpoint. In addition, until the last few years, there was little possibility of standardizing or comparing the cannabis substances being studied since the relevant aspects of cannabis chemistry were unknown. Consequently, there was little basis for comparing reports, and generalizations from one study to another were limited. Much of the contradictory evidence previously reported may well be a function of widely differing doses of active cannabinoids being studied under different conditions.

However, many of the older reports are not without value. Interestingly, in Many areas, recent formally designed studies have done little more than confirm the observations of a few carefully documented, but perhaps technologically limited investigations of the past.

The observations collected during centuries of relatively unrestricted 'Cannabis use in regions of the East have rarely been scientifically documented, partly because most of what we consider modern science has been, until recently a Western phenomenon. In addition, many of these countries have had considerably more pressing public health problems demanding the devotion of limited scientific and medical resources. Although profound cultural, moral and legal differences complicate the problem of generalizing from reports of Eastern usage to the current North American scene, careful consideration of this literature is warranted.

In spite of strong disagreement among extremists on many points in the cannabis controversy, major governmental and international reports by independent groups of various backgrounds, and covering three-quarters of a century, have come to some surprisingly similar conclusions regarding the use and effects of cannabis. However, the effects of these reports on government policy have generally been limited. Major reports include the British Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report (1893-4); Mayor La Guardia's report on The Marihuana Problem in The City of New York (1944); the South African Dagga Report (1952); the United States President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice Task Force Report: Narcotics and Drug Abuse (1967);... the British Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence Cannabis (1968), a report prepared under the chairmanship of the Baroness Wootton of Abinger; our own Interim Report o the Commission of Inquiry Into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (1976); the Swedish Government's official investigations on The Narcotic Problem: Part III, Coordinated Measures (1964); the First Report of the Board of Health Committee on Drug Dependency and Drug Abuse in New Zealand (1970);411 the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare report Marihuana and Health (1971);611 the Australian Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse report (1971);14 and the World Health Organization technical report on The Use of Cannabis (1971).  A major U.S. Commission of inquiry is currently being conducted, as well, and a report on cannabis is expected in 1972. In addition, in the past two years, a number of other significant cannabis reviews and bibliographies relevant to the present discussion of cannabis and its effects have been published.

The Pharmacological Classification of Cannabis

The pharmacological classification of cannabis is still the subject of much controversy. At a recent conference, Hollister voiced the opinion that "attempts to force it [cannabis] into some pharmacological cubbyhole are doomed to failure." Similarly, at the same meeting, Domino argued that cannabis has "...only superficial relationships with other drugs". Cannabis has been compared to, and apparently has characteristics in common with a wide variety of drugs including alcohol, LSD and mescaline, nitrous oxide, amphetamines, atropine, opiate narcotics, barbiturates and the minor and major tranquilizers. Under various conditions and doses cannabis has been shown to have stimulant, sedative, analgesic and psychedelic effects. Some argue that marijuana should be classified as a sedative-hypnotic-general anesthetic like alcohol and nitrous oxide; others feel that it is a mixed stimulant-depressant; still others describe it as a mild hallucinogenespecially at higher doses; many feel it should be listed in a separate category. Paradoxically, cannabis has been shown to potentiate both the stimulant effects of amphetamines and the sedative effects of barbiturates in animals. Legally, cannabis has traditionally been classified with the opiate narcotics, and while they may share some euphorogenic and analgesic properties, they are otherwise quite distinct pharmacologically.

Cannabis, as it is most commonly used in North America, in low doses somewhat resembles alcohol in its subjective effects. Larger doses are more 'psychedelic', and with very high doses, persons have reported 'acid' (LSD) like experiences. Hollister, as quoted by Smith, has suggested that marijuana lies halfway between alcohol and the hallucinogens, combining "the best of both worlds". The 1971 United States report Marihuana and Health discusses in some detail the similarities and differences between cannabis and other drugs. In the context of its social use, marijuana is considered to be more like alcohol than LSD. The report concludes: "Pharmacologically speaking, cannabis is unique and distinct from the psychotomimetics, opiates, barbiturates and amphetamines." It is clear that any attempt to completely specify a pharmacological classification for cannabis must include a clear delineation of dose, as well as the set and setting of use. The Commission has, for the purposes of this report, classified cannabis with the psychedelic-hallucinogenic compounds.


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