Grown in most parts of the world, ganja is a bushy shrub which can grow up to 4m high. The palmate leaves which are serrated are distinctive. The plants can either be male or female and the stem of the plants become very fibrous when mature.
Ganja has a very long history in herbal healing, dating back to ancient Egypt, where it was used to treat inflammation of the eye. It was used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for congestion, rheumatism, malaria and constipation and as a local anaesthetic. In the 19th century, ganja was commonly used as a painkiller, particularly for menstrual pain and cramps.
In Jamaica ganja is traditionally used to treat colds, flu, asthma, stomach problems and to improve eyesight. Oil or alcohol based extracts and infusions are used in many traditional herbal remedies. Ganja is soaked in rum with ginger, garlic and pimento and used to treat diarrhoea and for the relief of joint pains. In Ghana, ganja is used to relieve pain, as a local anaesthetic and in aphrodisiac concoctions.
Modern Research & Uses
There have been numerous studies of ganja, many of which have focused on the recreational use of the plant in relation to its legal status and effects on the health of users. There has also been research on the medicinal properties of ganja and the possible uses of the herb to treat a variety of health conditions.
Research in Jamaica has confirmed that ganja is effective in treating eye conditions, in particular glaucoma and an extract of ganja (Cannasol) is commercially available to treat glaucoma. Another drug, Asmasol has been patented for the treatment of asthma.One study has indicated that ganja has hypoglycaemic activity, but that this activity is short-lived.
Ganja's traditional use as a pain reliever has been confirmed by recent research, which shows that it can be as effective as codeine. It is also reported to have sedative, anti-inflammatory and anti-emetic properties, making it effective for nausea, especially for people receiving chemotherapy. Ganja is now being used with good results in relieving the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, treating people with spinal cord injuries, for loss of appetite and to aid weight loss.
Ganja contains a number of alkaloids among them over 60 cannabinoids, with the main activity from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The strength of the THC as well as other constituents in ganja varies according to climate, soil and other conditions. Ganja is the only plant that contains THC. The seed oil contains 55% linoleic acid, 20% alpha-linolenic acid and 1.5% gamma-linolenic acid. Ganja also contains terpenes, sesquiterpenes, cholin and trigonelline.
The dried leaves and flowering tops of the female plant are smoked recreationally in many countries. Rastafarians regard ganja as a sacred herb with the power to improve meditation and understanding. Some studies have however reported that regular, long-term use can lead to psychiatric, psychological and neurological problems.
There has been increasing production of ganja in many countries for hemp as a viable economic crop with a wide variety of uses and application. Hemp seed is rich in omega oils and many other essential nutrients. Bio-industries in countries like Switzerland have developed a number of health, clothing, beauty and medicinal products from hemp for export and local consumption.