We have been asked a few times why cannabis is less harmful than other drugs. Most drugs, such as Opioids on the schedule 1 list seem to be derived from a plant in the first place- what makes cannabis so different?
Well, it is a fair question and certainly a good one to ask. To clear this up for all our readers and curious minds, I’ll take you through the details.
Coming to terms that Cannabis is not as harmful as it’s been communicated by governments around the world is a lot easier for the younger generation to accept. This is because they don’t have a significantly strong stereotype in their mind compared to others who were exposed to decades of propaganda.
The Scientific Facts
Cannabis is not a drug as such, more so a herb or a medicine
This is not a theory or wishful thinking but a statement based on scientific facts.
How could one plant be treating so many illnesses?
It is all due to the endocannabinoid system that was only discovered in 1992. It is one of the most extensive systems in the body with similar importance to that of the nervous system.
The endocannabinoid system regulates the well-being of the body, it helps explains functions of the body that scientist didn’t know about before its discovery.
Things that no one knew like,
- What eventually calms the body and the mind after extreme stress exposure
- What is the body’s natural system to kill cancer cells
- How we fight inflammation
- What caused and how to treat many other disorders and diseases
In fact, not only humans have endocannabinoid system but so do most animals, even worms (but not insects).
The system is ‘run’ by the body producing so-called “anandamide” that hooks into the Cannabinoid receptors that are all over the body (in the brain and all major organs as well as skin cells and so on and works from there)
How Cannabis Hooks into the Endocannabinoid System
How Cannabis comes into the picture is that it produces so-called ‘Cannabinoids’ that are the only other thing on earth that has the molecular structure of anandamide, the molecule that the body naturally produces.
Consuming Cannabis (especially via vaporizing and heating, oil or tinctures) takes the cannabinoids (THC and CBD most especially but many others) into the body where they connect to the body’s cannabinoids receptors and performs the same therapeutic effects as anandamide, the body’s natural molecule.
It is well known to help with very serious conditions such as Cancer which we explored in our article Cannabis as Radical Treatment for Cancer
How Cannabis & Other Drugs Differ
Some confusion may exist when establishing the differences between cannabis and other drugs derived from opium. This is because opium is also a natural substance and used in medicine. It is also used in mind altering drugs like heroin.
There is one major similarity with these drugs and Cannabis… but there are MANY differences.
The one big similarity is between how opioids and cannabinoids work.
They both hook into a natural receptor in the body.
They are different receptors, but the concept is the same. There is a naturally occurring molecule that is so similar to the one that is produced by the brain, that they actually hook into the receptor and do the same effect as the natural molecule.
In the case of opioids, the natural molecule is a big one, it’s one of our ‘happy chemicals’, endorphin.
Endorphin is a very important chemical in the body as it has a huge role in survival. It triggers flight or fight in difficult situations and if we didn’t have these chemicals we may not react accordingly to danger or pleasure.
In situations of extreme pain, where a person is attacked by an animal and may have broken a limb, they manage to still get to safety. Then within seconds, they may faint when the endorphin production is slowed and the pain kicks in.
While in danger the body was pumping incredible amounts of endorphin through the brain to the synapses to ‘mask’ the pain.
The body treats this chemical very carefully though and as soon as the life is not in threat, it cuts the chemical flow so the body is aware of the injury and focuses on healing.
How does Heroin Impact Your Chemicals
Heroin connects to the same receptors as if it was endorphin
The opiate molecule has a very similar structure to the endorphin molecule so much like the cannabinoids lock into the cannabinoid receptors as if they were anandamide, opiates are ‘mistaken’ for endorphin in the synapses. It causes an immediate overwhelmingly pleasure sensation in the body that is impossible to experience otherwise.
But like all things that are too good to be true, there is a catch.
The body needs endorphin in a small level ongoing to endure the basic pains of existing (joints are moving, our feet squeezed into shoes or even touching the ground with all of our weight) our fingers touching things. If we didn’t have endorphin constantly available we would suffer constantly.
Also, once the brain experiences this state of euphoria a few times, it is once again described to be extremely ‘heavenly’, this state may become the purpose of life, especially to those that are in a vulnerable situation in their lives and experiencing a hard patch.
The problems with opioids start very early. As I mentioned, the body manages endorphin very closely and as soon as someone uses heroin a few times and the brain senses the access to endorphin (which are opioids) and it decreases its own production of endorphin. So slowly in reaction to the overload, the brain gradually produces less and less.
So ultimately users start relying on heroin to have even the basic level of pain tolerance as the-the body’s natural painkiller, endorphin is not being produced anymore.
Recovering from Heroin VS Cannabis
That is why you see in movies that people that want to get off heroin lock themselves up and make sure they can’t get out as opioids are emptying from their bloodstream, everything hurts in their body, their joints their muscles and everything.
They are in massive physical pain, they ended up with a physical addiction on top of the psychological one due to the feeling of having heroin high becoming the most desired state.
Even after quitting heroin, you see artists that are famous for such, such as John Frusciante, the famous guitarist of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who struggled with heroin for many years, ended up in clinical death half a dozen times and eventually quit. However, he is (just like most people going so far with heroin) required to take a tough road to recovery to replace that ‘joy’ in his life from any other sources. The mind experiences such a high dose of endorphin and it is hard to find anything that compares.
Overdosing on Heroin vs Cannabis
The another problem with opioids is that the margin between being effective and overdosing is very narrow. Meaning the possibility of an overdose is always a risk even by having a little different concentration of heroin.
Overdosing with Marijuana is impossible. The part of the brain called Medulla Oblongata does not have cannabinoid receptors. This is the part of the brain that controls breathing and heartbeat and you don’t want to mess with this part as someone always has to be alert enough at home (in the brain) to ‘remember’ pumping the heart and breathing.
So magically, this part of the brain is one if not the only part of any major organs that do not have cannabinoids receptors. This is exactly why you can never ever have a fatal overdose from cannabis. This is a very safe medicine and not only a painkiller like opioids.
“Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. ”
– DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young (Docket No. 86-22. 1988)
Opioids or endorphin receptors are all over the brain including the Medulla Oblongata, so in the case of heroin overdose users can overwhelm that part of the brain resulting in stopping the heartbeat and breathing.
How the World Is Changing
In the US there is a huge opioid problem as they are one of the few countries that allow heavily addictive opioids as medicines … often easy to access.
Remember that heroin isn’t the biggest problem, death from heroin is insignificant compared to death from prescription opioids.
The bad stigma around Cannabis is all coming from misinformation put out in the US for political gain mostly by presidents Nixon and Reagan. In their term, both were officially advised by scientific boards about the fact that Cannabis is a medicine and should be available for every citizen.
Yet there was nothing done.
Their political ambitions caused for them to not only misled the US population but they spread it all around the world, making countries sign up to it that had huge traditions with medical Cannabis.
Today, there is a lot of data coming out from US States that have legal medical and even recreational programs spreading the good news of Cannabis use.
Not only is it helping treat so many illnesses, they are all reporting a drop in the use of hard drugs in the youth, in driving under the influence, domestic violence and crime in general.
The fight to reform Cannabis is stronger than ever and it is now important to start thinking of Cannabis as more of a herb than as a drug.
- Nimbin Medican – Educating Australians About Medical Cannabis - January 28, 2020
- Pill Testing and Roadside Drug Testing – When is it Appropriate to Test for Drugs? - August 2, 2019
- The Australian Cannabis Summit in Review - July 16, 2019