Own your ow legal marijuana business
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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Glossary of key terms 


Vague term with a variety of meanings depending on the social, medical and legal contexts. Some equate any use of illicit drugs to abuse: for example, the international conventions consider that any use of drugs other than for medical or scientific purposes is abuse. The Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines abuse as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as defined by one or more of four criteria (see chapter 7). In the report, we prefer the term excessive use (or harmful use).


Acute effects

Refers to effects resulting from the administration of any drug and specifically to its short term effects. These effects are distinguished between central (cerebral functions) and peripheral (nervous system). Effects are dose-related.



General term referring to the concepts of tolerance and dependency. According to WHO addiction is the repeated use of a psychoactive substance to the extent that the user is periodically or chronically intoxicated, shows a compulsion to take the preferred substance, has great difficulty in voluntarily ceasing or modifying substance use, and exhibits determination to obtain the substance by almost any means. Some authors prefer the term addiction to dependence, because the former also refers to the evolutive process preceding dependence.



A substance that acts on receptor sites to produce certain responses.  



Agonist neurotransmitter of the endogenous cannabinoid system. Although not yet fully understood in research, these neurotransmitters seem to act as modulators, THC increasing the liberation of dopamine in nucleus accumbens and cerebral cortex.


At-risk use

Use behaviour which makes users at-risk of developing dependence to the substance.



Endogenous receptors of the active cannabis molecules, particularly 9-THC. Two endogenous receptors have been identified: CB1 densely concentrated in the hippacampus, basal ganglia, cerebellum and cerebral cortex, and CB2, particularly abundant in the immune system. The central effects of cannabis appear to be related only to CB1.



Three varieties of the cannabis plant exist: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruredalis. Cannabis sativa is the most commonly found, growing in almost any soil condition. The cannabis plant has been known in China for about 6000 years. The flowering tops and leaves are used to produce the smoked cannabis. Common terms used to refer to cannabis are pot, marihuana, dope, ganja, hemp. Hashish is produced from the extracted resin. Classified as a psychotropic drugs, cannabis is a modulator of the central nervous system. It contains over 460 known chemicals, of which 60 are cannabinoids. Delta-9-tétrahydrocannabinol, referred to as THC, is the principal active ingredient of cannabis. Other components such delta-8-tétrahydrocannabinol, cannabinol and cannabidiol are present in smaller quantities and have no significant impacts on behaviour or perception. However, they may modulate the overall effects of the substance.


Chronic effects

Refers to effects which are delayed or develop after repeated use. In the report we prefer to use the term consequences of repeated use rather than chronic effects.


Commission on narcotic drugs (CND)

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was established in 1946 by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the central policy-making body within the UN system for dealing with all drug-related matters. The Commission analyses the world drug abuse situation and develops proposals to strengthen international drug control.



Removal of a behaviour or activity from the scope of the criminal justice system. A distinction is usually made between de jure decriminalization, which entails an amendment to criminal legislation, and de facto decriminalization, which involves an administrative decision not to prosecute acts that nonetheless remain against the law. Decriminalization concerns only criminal legislation, and does not mean that the legal system has no further jurisdiction of any kind in this regard: other, non-criminal, laws may regulate the behaviour or activity that has been decriminalized (civil or regulatory offences, etc.).



The use of measures other than prosecution or a criminal conviction for an act that nonetheless remains against the law. Diversion can take place before a charge is formally laid, for example if the accused person agrees to undergo treatment. It can also occur at the time of sentencing, when community service or treatment may be imposed rather than incarceration.



Modification of the sentences provided in criminal legislation for a particular behaviour In the case of cannabis, it generally refers to the removal of custodial sentences.



State where the user continues its use of the substance despite significant health, psychological, relational, familial or social problems. Dependence is a complex phenomenon which may have genetic components. Psychological dependence refers to the psychological symptoms associated with craving and physical dependence to tolerance and the adaptation of the organism to chronic use. The American Psychiatric Association has proposed seven criteria (see chapter 7).



Neuromediator involved in the mechanisms of pleasure.



Generally used to refer to illicit rather than licit substances (such as nicotine, alcohol or medicines). In pharmacology, the term refers to any chemical agent that alters the biochemical or physiological processes of tissues or organisms. In this sense, the term drug refers better to any substance which is principally used for its psychoactive effects.


European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)

The European Monitoring Centre was created in 1993 to provide member states objective, reliable and comparable information within the EU on drugs, drug addictions and their consequences. Statistical information, documents and techniques developed in the EMCDDA are designed to give a broad perspective on drug issues in Europe. The Centre only deals with information. It relies on national focal points in each of the Member States.


Fat soluble

Characteristic of a substance to irrigate quickly the tissues. THC is highly fat-soluble.


Gateway (theory)

Theory suggesting a sequential pattern in involvement in drug use from nicotine to alcohol, to cannabis and then “hard” drugs. The theory rests on a statistical association between the use of hard drugs and the fact that these users have generally used cannabis as their first illicit drug. This theory has not been validated by empirical research and is considered outdated.



Time needed for the concentration of a particular drug in blood to decline to half its maximum level. The half-life of THC is 4.3 days on average but is faster in regular than in occasional users. Because it is highly fat soluble, THC is stored in fatty tissues, thus increasing its half life to as much as 7 to 12 days. Prolonged use of cannabis increases the period of time needed to eliminate is from the system. Even one week after use, THC metabolites may remain in the system. They are gradually metabolised in the urine (one third) and in feces (two thirds). Traces on inactive THC metabolites can be detected as many as 30 days after use.



Resinous extract from the flowering tops of the cannabis plant and transformed into a paste. 


International Conventions

Various international conventions have been adopted by the international community since 1912, first under the Society of Nations and then under the United Nations, to regulate the possession, use, production, distribution, sale, etc., of various psychotropic substances. Currently, the three main conventions are the 1961 Single Convention, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substance and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic. Canada is a signatory to all three conventions. Subject to countries’ national constitutions, these conventions establish a system of regulation where only medical and scientific uses are permitted. This system is based on the prohibition of source plants (coca, opium and cannabis) and the regulation of synthetic chemicals produced by pharmaceutical companies.


International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)

The Board is an independent, quasi-judicial organisation responsible for monitoring the implementation of the UN conventions on drugs. It was created in 1968 as a follow up to the 1961 Single Convention, but had predecessors as early as the 1930s. The Board makes recommendations to the UN Commission on Narcotics with respect to additions or deletions in the appendices of the conventions.



Disturbance of the physiological and psychological systems resulting from a substance. Pharmacology generally distinguishes four levels: light, moderate, serious and fatal.



Cigarette of marijuana or hashish with or without tobacco. Because joints are never identical, scientific analyses of the effects of THC are more difficult, especially in trying to determine the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and to examine its effects on driving.



Regulatory system allowing the culture, production, marketing, sale and use of substances. Although none currently exist in relation to « street-drugs » (as opposed to alcohol or tobacco which are regulated products), a legalisation system could take two forms: without any state control (free markets) and with state controls (regulatory regime).



Mexican term originally referring to a cigarette of poor quality. Has now become equivalent for cannabis.



Substance which can induce stupor or artificial sleep. Usually restricted to designate opiates. Sometimes used incorrectly to refer to all drugs capable of inducing dependence.


Office of national drug control policy (ONDCP) USA

Created in 1984 under the Reagan presidency, the Office is under the direct authority of the White House. It coordinates US policy on drugs. Its budget is currently US $18 billion.



Substance derived from the opium poppy. The term opiate excludes synthetic opioids such as heroin and methadone.



Historically, the term designates the period of national interdiction of alcohol sales in the United States between 1919 and 1933. By analogy, the term is now used to describe UN and State policies aiming for a drug-free society. Prohibition is based on the interdiction to cultivate, produce, fabricate, sell, possess, use, etc., some substances except for medical and scientific purposes.


Psychoactive substance

Substance which alters mental processes such as thinking or emotions. More neutral than the term “drug” because it does not refer to the legal status of the substance, it is the term we prefer to use.


Psychotropic substance (see also psychoactive)

Much the same as psychoactive substance. More specifically however, the term refers to drugs primarily used in the treatment of mental disorders, such as anxiolytic, sedatives, neuroleptics, etc. More specifically, refers to the substances covered in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.



Control system specifying the conditions under which the cultivation, production, marketing, prescription, sales, possession or use of a substance are allowed. Regulatory approaches may rest on interdiction (as for illegal drugs) or controlled access (as for medical drugs or alcohol). Our proposal of an exemption regime under the current legislation is a regulatory regime.


Society of Nations (SDN)

International organisation of States until 1938; now the United Nations.


Tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC)

Main active component of cannabis, D9-THC is very fat-soluble and has a lengthy half-life. Its psychoactive effects are modulated by other active components in cannabis. In its natural state, cannabis contains between 0.5% to 5% THC. Sophisticated cultivation methods and plant selection, especially female plants, leads to higher levels of THC concentration.



Reduced response of the organisms and increased capacity to support its effects after a more or less lengthy period of use. Tolerance levels are extremely variable between substances, and tolerance to cannabis is believed to be lower than for most other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol.



Characteristic of a substance which induces intoxication, i.e., “poisoning”. Many substances, including some common foods, have some level of toxicity. Cannabis presents almost no toxicity and cannot lead to an overdose.


United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP)

Established in 1991, the Programme works to educate the world about the dangers of drug abuse. The Programme aims to strengthen international action against drug production, trafficking and drug-related crime through alternative development projects, crop monitoring and anti-money laundering programmes. UNDCP also provides accurate statistics through the Global Assessment Programme (GAP) and helps to draft legislation and train judicial officials as part of its Legal Assistance Programme. UNDCP is part of the UN Office for Drug Control and the Prevention of Crime.


World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization, the United Nations specialized agency for health, was established on 7 April 1948. WHO’s objective, as set out in its Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO’s Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.


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