As clarified by the UN World Drug Report of 2020, cannabis continues to be one of the most widely consumed illicit substance around the world. The situation in Malta more or less reflects the levels of use in Europe and other affluent Western countries.
What is the Cannabis Plant?
At this point, it is important to explain what cannabis is and how the identification of different types and methods of consumption are important to understand the effects of cannabis on the person.
Cannabis is a plant which can be split into two major categories: Cannabis and Hemp. These categories, in turn, need to be split into hundreds of different strains and hybrids as a result of crossbreeding which occurred in the past centuries.
Hemp does not produce flowering tops (hence has very low psychoactive properties) and is mostly used as a strong fibre and turned into numerous materials, including furniture, clothes, paper and hempcrete.
Cannabis produces flowering tops and is mostly used for medicinal and personal (recreational) purposes. The flowering tops of Cannabis contain numerous cannabinoids which in turn produce different effects on the person.
The most commonly studied and mentioned cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Whereas, THC is the predominant psychoactive component in cannabis, CBD acts differently on the body by counteracting the effects of THC. Furthermore, cannabis plants, like other herbs and plants, contain terpenes that provide different aromas and further compliment the effects of other cannabinoids.
Cannabis is mostly consumed via smoking or vaping, however, it can also be consumed orally in the form of food and beverages, better known as edibles. Information pertaining to the amount of THC and CBD is of equal importance in all preparations and types of cannabis. It is interesting to mention that cannabis consumers in Europe, including Malta, tend to mix tobacco with their cannabis consumption, whereas consumers in the Americas rarely adopt this practice.
Cannabis and Harm Reduction
Principles revolving around the concept of harm reduction focus on positive change and on working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support. Furthermore, Harm Reduction explains that a wide range of health and social services that apply to both licit and illicit substances can be conducive to more cost-effective outcomes and a positive impact on the person and the community.
Harm Reduction International identifies drug checking as an important tool to minimise harm and provide users with an evidence-based approach to their substance consumption.
Considering the principles of harm reduction and the importance for substance consumers to know the contents and potency of their substance, information pertaining to the type of cannabis strain and different THC- CBD levels are very important for cannabis consumers. Access to similar information provides cannabis consumers with a better indication of cannabis ‘potency’, and ultimately what to expect from the experience. In the end, this provides cannabis consumers with the increased agency to make informed decisions and move towards more balanced and responsible consumption levels.
ReLeaf Malta November 2020 Further readings: