Author: Prof. Dr. med. Peter Altmeyer

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Last updated on: 21.06.2021

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cannabis sativa; Hashish; Hemp; Ordinary hemp

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Cannabis, hemp, is an annual herbaceous plant originally native to Central Asia. Today it is found worldwide in all temperate to tropical zones, sometimes cultivated but also running wild. As a useful plant, cultivated hemp was first used in China around 2800 BC, and the oldest surviving hemp product is a small textile fragment from a tomb of the so-called Chou dynasty (from 1122 to around 249 BC). A common classification of the cannabis plant can be made depending on the plant morphology:

  • Indica type cannabis varieties with lower growth height and wider leaves.
  • and
  • Sativa-type cannabis varieties, which grow taller and have narrower leaves.

Indica plants mature faster than sativa types under similar growing conditions. They also tend to smell slightly different, which is an indication of a different terpene composition, as the smell of cannabis plants is based on their essential oil composition.

The leaves of the cannabis plant have a characteristic morphology. They are large, toothed, lanceolate and covered with glands and hairs on both sides. The glands of the plant secrete a resin, which consists for the most part of cannabinoids as well as essential oils; furthermore of high-polymer phenols, terpenes and waxes.

The flowers of the hemp plant are small and inconspicuous, in the form of umbels or panicles and are located at the base of the upper leaves. Male flowers consist of 5 pendulous stamens and as many greenish bracts. Female flowers have a reduced perianth. Dried petals are consumed as hashish , extracts from the resin of the flowers as marijuana. Medicinally, the flowering, dried shoot tips of the female plants are used (cannabis flowers - Cannabis flos); the drying process produces the spicy and pungent odour. Cannabis flowers for medicinal purposes are predominantly from high yielding varieties grown in greenhouses.

The fruit of the hemp is called a "nut". It contains a seed that is used for oil extraction(hemp seed oil). Hemp seed oil can be used as an edible oil. Furthermore, the oil is used in cosmetics.

The cannabis plant contains numerous ingredients, including those of great medical relevance. At present, about 60 different cannabinoids have been analysed. Well over a hundred are suspected. Proportionally the most represented and best researched are:

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Hemp has been used in China for thousands of years as a remedy against malaria and rheumatic diseases. From the Middle Ages until modern times, hemp was used to make medicinal products, especially against pain. In Europe, hemp and flax were important fibre plants for a long time, with applications in paper production (the Gutenberg Bible was printed on hemp paper), in handicrafts and in seafaring (hemp ropes, hemp fabrics, ship sails, etc.). Hemp seed was also used as animal feed.

Field of application/use
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Hemp seed oil: cold or warm pressed non-psychotropic fatty oil from the seeds of cannabis. Serves as an edible oil and as a well-tolerated skin care oil. Hemp seeds contain only insignificant amounts of psychotropic tetrahydrocannabinol.

Nabiximols: alcoholic cannabis extract as sublingual spray is approved in Germany on the basis of the BTMs for the treatment of severe spasticity in multiple sclerosis.

Hemp oil: Hemp seed oil is to be distinguished from the (psychotropically effective) essential oil of hemp (hemp oil) distilled from leaves and flowers of hemp.
Marijuana (grass): dried and crushed resinous flower clusters and small leaves of the female plant close to the flower.

Hashish: resin of the petals

Hashish oil: psychotropically active; distilled from the resin of the petals.

Cannabis tea: For this preparation, cannabis flowers are added to boiling water and kept boiling for 15 minutes. The psychotropic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is only about 5%.

Indications (DAC): Nausea and vomiting accompanying chemotherapy, anorexia, cachexia in HIV patients, chronic pain conditions, spastic paralysis, movement disorders, asthma and glaucoma; generalized epilepsy, depression and withdrawal symptoms.

Undesirable effects
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Cannabis allergy.

Hemp fibers and dusts cannot be broken down by humans due to the glycosidic bond. Intense inhalation of these dusts can lead to accumulation in the lungs and the clinical picture of byssinosis.

Prolonged consumption of cannabis products can lead to Raynaud's syndrome. The maximum variant is a so-called cannabis arteritis with possible necrosis of the distal extremities.

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The pharmacological effects of cannabis are caused by its constituents, the cannabinoids (mainly by delta -9-tetrahydrocannabinol=THC; cannabidiol=CBD).

Marijuana: In Germany, cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug. Note: Cannabis abuse should be considered in young people with vasculitic ulcers of the distal limb!

Cannabis flowers are subject to the narcotics law!

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  1. Bakirci N et al. (2007) Natural history and risk factors of early respiratory responses to exposure to cotton dust in newly exposed workers. J Occup Environ. Med 49:853-861
  2. Ebo DG et al (2013) New food allergies in a European non-Mediterranean region: is Cannabis sativa to blame? Int Arch Allergy Immunol 161:220-228 Epub 2013 Mar 15 PubMed PMID: 23549061.


Last updated on: 21.06.2021