There are a lot of specific terms it’s helpful to know when discussing cannabis, and there are a lot of misconceptions because of the long legal prohibition. Information is the best cure for misunderstanding and we hope to clear up any confusion regarding the plant and its uses. Feel free to Contact Us or the folks at Medical Cannabis Outreach if you have any specific questions.
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a naturally occurring flowering herb that has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. The two most common varieties are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.
Illinois – like 24 other states – has legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. Illinois residents that have one of the qualifying illnesses, and a patient card are able to purchase a limited amount of marijuana from a licensed dispensary according to state law. Cannabis is still illegal on a federal level, and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, however the position of the Federal government in recent years has been to not interfere in state-legalized cannabis markets. In 2014 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a spending bill blocking the Department of Justice from spending money on prosecuting state-compliant medical marijuana businesses and patients.
Sativa is a type of cannabis plant. It typically grows taller than indica with lighter green leaves. Sativa plants tend to have more THC, and the high is often described as more energetic.
Indica is a type of cannabis plant. It is typically a shorter plant than sativa with darker green leaves. Indica tends to be heavier in CBD, and the high is more relaxing.
Hemp is an industrial material that is refined from the cannabis plant. It can be created from any variety of the plant, but in practice is almost exclusively made from cannabis with little to no THC content. Hemp is incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of applications including paper, cloth, bio-fuel, and plastic.
The human body naturally produces certain substances called endocannabinoids that play a part in a wide variety of functions including memory, appetite, energy, stress response, immune function, the nervous system, pain sensory, and sleep. The cannabis plant naturally produces a set of chemicals called cannabinoids that mimic the effects of the substances our bodies create. To date over 80 cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis, and the most commonly known are THC and CBD. Though each cannabinoid creates a specific reaction in people it’s speculated that they work best in combination with each other creating an “Entourage Effect”.
THC (or tetrahydracannabinol) is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis – in other words it is the chemical that creates the high. THC can also act as a pain reliever, and can have other effects including relaxation, alteration of visual, auditory, and olfactory senses, fatigue, and appetite stimulation. THC can be hallucinogenic and may negatively impact memory, however CBD can lessen these effects.
CBD (or cannabidiol) is the chemical in cannabis that is considered to have the widest scope of medical applications. It is not psychoactive so it does not result in a high however it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and pain-relieving effects, in addition to providing relief to various conditions involving the nervous system. CBD-heavy strains of cannabis have been used to treat conditions relating to spasms and/or seizures.
There has never been a recorded death due to overdosing on cannabis. In fact, in states that legalized medical marijuana for pain relief, overdoses due to prescription narcotics like Vicodin and OxyContin have been shown to drop by as much as 25%. Marijuana is not only safer than currently available prescription narcotics, but it is also safer than publicly available substances like alcohol or cigarettes.
Use of THC-heavy strains of cannabis can result in a high that affects perception and reflex, so patients should take precautions similar to prescription-strength painkillers or alcohol. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking high-THC strains of medical cannabis.
Cannabis is less chemically addictive than currently available prescription painkillers, cigarettes, or alcohol.
The main ways to take medical cannabis are by smoking, vaping, ingesting, or applying topically, as a cream or lotion.
When smoked or vaped cannabis takes effect within 1-3 minutes and usually lasts 1-3 hours.
When eaten cannabis takes effect within 30-120 minutes and can last 8 hours or more.
When used topically cannabis takes effect in 5-20 minutes and lasts 1-3 hours.
There is no data specifically linking cannabis to diseases of the lungs, however inhaling any kind of smoke can have negative effects on the respiratory system whether from cannabis, tobacco, a charcoal grill, or a campfire. Inhaling cannabis smoke does not carry any more risk than inhaling any other kind of smoke, and some studies have shown that the chemicals in the plant may mitigate some of the negative effects of smoke inhalation.
Smoking is the most widely known method of consuming cannabis, whether in a bowl, a pipe, or rolled in a "joint."
Vaping, or vaporizing, involves inhaling cannabis as a vapor instead of as smoke. Vaporizers that use dry herb heat the cannabis to a temperature that it releases its chemicals into the air without actually combusting it. This enables the patient to get the positive effects of medical cannabis without the negative effects of inhaling smoke. It is generally also a more discreet method of consumption.
Some vaporizers use refined cannabis oil or wax.
Ingested cannabis tends to have a stronger and longer lasting effect than when inhaled. This is because digested cannabis is absorbed into the body differently and at a different rate. Use caution when consuming edibles, as onset time and duration can widely vary.