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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 5 - Cannabis: From Plant to Joint

Properties of cannabis


Classified in the pharmacopoeia as a hallucinogenic, psychodysleptic or psychotomimetic, cannabis is a disrupter or modulator, that is to say that it alters perceptions and emotions. Classified in the international conventions and national legislation as a narcotic, cannabis belongs to the class of psychotropics which comprises five major groups: depressants (alcohol, Valium), stimulants, minor (coffee, nicotine) and major (cocaine, amphetamines), disrupters (cannabis, LSD), antipsychotics and medication for mood disorders (lithium).

More than 460 known chemical constituents are present in cannabis.[1][24] Of that number, more than 60 are identified as cannabinoids. The main active ingredient in cannabis, which was identified by the team of Dr. Mechoulam in 1964,[2][25] is D9‑tetrahydrocannabinol, common called THC. Other cannabinoids present in Indian hemp include delta‑8‑tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabinol and cannabidiol, but they are present in small quantities and have no significant effect on behaviour, compared to D9‑THC,[3][26] although they can modulate the product's overall effect.[4][27] Cannabinol also has anti‑inflammatory effects.

For a better understanding of the effects of cannabis discussed in the following chapters, we will first consider its pharmacological properties. Consequently, readers may skip this technical section without risk of not properly understanding the rest of the report. In the following paragraphs, we first discuss D9THC levels and, second, specifically examine the pharmacological properties of that substance.



[1][24]  See in particular Grinspoon, L. and J.B. Bakalar (1997) Marijuana. The Forbidden Medicine. New Haven and London: Yale University Press; Clark P.A. (2000) "The ethics of medical marijuana: government restrictions vs. medical necessity", Journal of Public Health Policy, 21: 40‑60; as well as Wheelock (2002) for the Senate Committee.

[2][25]  Gaoni, Y. and R. Mechoulam (1964) "Isolation, structure and partial synthesis of an active constituent of hashish", Journal of the American Chemistry Society, 86: 1646‑1647; and Mechoulam, R. and Y. Gaoni (1965) "A total synthesis of delta‑9‑tetrahydrocannabinol, the active constituent of hashish", Journal of the American Chemistry Society, 87: 3273‑3275.

[3][26]  Smith, D.E. (1998) "Review of the American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs Report on Medical Marijuana", Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 30: 127‑136; McKim W.A. (2000) "Cannabis", in McKim, W.A. (ed.) Drugs and Behavior. An introduction to behavioral pharmacology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

[4][27]  Ashton, C.H. (2001) "Pharmacology and effects of cannabis: a brief review", British Journal of Psychiatry. 178: 101‑106.

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