Marijuana Knowledge

The complex effects of nicotine when mixed with cannabis - Sensi Seeds blog

Tobacco and cannabis have a strange relationship, one that has lasted for centuries but has been continually turbulent. Why do so many people use the two together? As usual with cannabinoid science, the truth is stranger than anything that could be dreamed up.

Tobacco and cannabis are very often consumed together

Tobacco has been mixed with cannabis for centuries, throughout the world (© Wikimedia Commons)

Tobacco has been mixed with cannabis for centuries, throughout the world (© Wikimedia Commons)

The two substances have been consumed together for centuries by people throughout the world, in Europe, Africa and Asia. In fact, it is thought that up to 70% of people that use cannabis also use tobacco. Even in North America, where cannabis is traditionally smoked pure, many users also use tobacco.

Furthermore, there are many users in North America who smoke cigarettes immediately after smoking cannabis, who are likely to experience similar synergistic effects to those that actually mix the two together (indeed, many do so for the perceived experience of getting “more high” as a result).

Differences in effect are widely reported

Many users report subjective differences between the effects of cannabis alone and cannabis when mixed with tobacco.

The most common reported effect of smoking tobacco alongside tobacco is an intensification of the “high”, although some report that tobacco use actually has the opposite effect and reduces the high. Another commonly reported effect is to “calm” the user down from the sometimes anxiety-inducing effects of cannabis.

The biological mechanisms underlying this strange relationship are wildly complex, and are linked to various other processes now known to be related but long believed to be essentially separate. Indeed, the more we learn about these interlinked systems of reward, craving, addiction, and satiety, the more we begin to understand that every aspect of our brains and bodies is inseparably intertwined.

Cannabis, tobacco and the hippocampus

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that somewhat resembles a seahorse, and is the HQ of the interlinked processes of stimulus, reward and addiction (© Wikimedia Commons)

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that somewhat resembles a seahorse, and is the HQ of the interlinked processes of stimulus, reward and addiction (© Wikimedia Commons)

A widely-reported recent study correlated cannabis use with reduced volume and density of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is associated with memory, inhibition and addiction. This was also demonstrated in this study from 2011, although the effect here was found to depend on various factors including ratio of THC to CBD. At least one other study has found no long-term change, and one study highlighted the possibility that genetic differences may alter the hippocampal response to cannabis use.

This reduction in size was found both in cannabis-only users and in cannabis/tobacco users, and was not found in nicotine-only users. In cannabis-only users, the small hippocampus was found to correlate with poor memory (this is unsurprising, as good hippocampal health and size usually correlates positively with good memory). So, within the group, the smaller the hippocampus, the poorer the memory.

However, the researchers also found something very surprising indeed: in the cannabis/tobacco-using group the reverse was true, and smaller hippocampal volume correlated with improved memory! Subjects that smoked higher numbers of cigarettes exhibited greater decreases in hippocampal volume, and relatively higher memory scores (although memory was still generally poorer than in all other groups).

While this study was limited in scope and design, and establishes correlation but not causation (as a cross-sectional study looking at a brief window of time, it is inferior to a longitudinal study, for instance, which would follow subjects for extended time periods to better track changes and establish causation), it still demonstrates an unusual effect, and one that has yet not been fully explained.

How all the main regulatory and signalling systems are linked

It now appears that tobacco, cannabis, and other psychoactive substances such as opioids are all linked together in a complex network of stimulus and reward, with the hippocampus essentially functioning as the HQ for operations.

Throughout the body, and particularly in the brain, we have cannabinoid receptors (as our readers will no doubt be aware!), as well as opioid and nicotinic receptors. Within the brain, densities of these receptors are extremely high in the hippocampus, and are also very high in the amygdala (both areas are heavily associated with stimulus, reward, addiction and so on).

The agonists (activators) of these three types of receptors (of which the best known are THC for the cannabinoid receptors, nicotine for the nicotinic receptors, and morphine for the opioid receptors) are hugely important in terms of the psychoactive and physiological effects they can exert. In fact, even substances that inactivate the receptors (like CBD for the cannabinoid receptors and naxolone for the opioid receptors) are of great interest due to their opposite effects.

How deeply are these systems interlinked?

The brain’s response to nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and other habit-forming substances is complex, and not fully explained (© Brian James)

The brain’s response to nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and other habit-forming substances is complex, and not fully explained (© Brian James)

While we’ve known about these systems for years, we are only recently beginning to understand the extent and depth of the connections that they have with each other. Indeed, it’s pretty difficult to really see them as separate systems at all, given the innumerable, criss-crossing links that flow back and forth between them.

Here’s a brief look at how these systems can affect each other. We know that nicotine itself acts on the opioid (and possibly cannabinoid) receptors as well as the nicotinic receptors themselves. We also now know that prolonged exposure to nicotine apparently reduces the number of CB₁-receptors in the hippocampus.

We now also know that substances that block the CB₁-receptors can cause people and animals to stop craving both nicotine and morphine. Thus, agonists of the CB₁-receptors may cause increased cravings for nicotine, which may explain the common desire to smoke cigarettes immediately after cannabis, or the heightened subjective level of satisfaction derived from smoking the two together.

In fact, it seems that to get any “rewarding” effect at all from using sugar, nicotine, alcohol or cocaine, we need to activate the cannabinoid receptors; no activation, no release of dopamine, and no subject experience of pleasure!

There also appears to be a genetic element to all this—variations in the CNR1 gene (which encodes for the expression of CB₁-receptors) are associated with variations in susceptibility to nicotine dependence. This association is found in white females and not white males (whites were the only race tested in the study).

So what does all this mean?

Well, we’re still a long way from developing a precise understanding of all the different processes that occur in the brain in response to the introduction of psychoactive substances, alone or in combination.

But we are now beginning to come to terms with this vast complexity, and to realise that investigation of any substance use or abuse or any psychiatric illness cannot be done in a vacuum—for example, we can no longer point the finger at cannabis and blame incidences of psychosis solely on its use, now that we are aware of exactly how much influence other factors such as nicotine use may play.

Now that we are able to view this vast and interconnected system for what it is, we are also giving ourselves increased ability to make nuanced judgements on individual cases, based on a much wider and more cohesive set of factors, influences and interrelationships.

So how do we put this knowledge into practice?

Research has even shown that blocking the cannabinoid receptors causes craving for opiates and nicotine to cease! (© JoshNV)

Research has even shown that blocking the cannabinoid receptors causes craving for opiates and nicotine to cease! (© JoshNV)

The interactions between nicotine and THC are complex and heavily dose dependent, and are no doubt dependent on a host of other variables that science is either unaware of or is just beginning to grasp.

Tobacco use has often been overlooked when investigating the cognitive and psychiatric effects of cannabis, despite the established knowledge that nicotine is a psychoactive substance in its own right. This oversight seems even more egregious when considering the extremely high incidence of cigarette smoking among sufferers of certain psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia.

Indeed, recent research is finally beginning to tackle this subject head on, and has somewhat unsurprisingly found that nicotine is strongly associated with development of psychosis! The author of this recent study, James McCabe of King’s College London, is on record as stating “it might even be possible that the real villain is tobacco, not cannabis”.

Nicotine is generally negative for health and should be avoided. However, studying the differences between users of nicotine and cannabis alone compared to users of both has given us some important insights into the interconnected nature of the brain’s signalling and reward systems.

From this and other relevant research, we now know that the EC system is heavily involved in the regulation of stimulus and reward, and has a huge part to play in addiction to substances such as nicotine and morphine.

Seshata is a full-time cannabis journalist and researcher specializing in the sociocultural, environmental and geopolitical aspects of the cannabis industry.

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Cannabis in Thailand

posted by on June 27th 2013

Thai Stick

Thai Stick, with its familiar red thread (©

Thai cannabis is world-famous – Thai “sticks” arguably being the best-known of all exports, so-named for the tell-tale red thread which binds the buds together and has spawned so many imitations. In the 1970s and ’80s, Thai cannabis was a common sight for stoners throughout the world, although exports have since declined.

Law and international policy

Cannabis is prohibited in Thailand under the Narcotics Act of 1979, in which it is classed as a Category 5 narcotic. Producers, exporters and importers are liable for imprisonment of between two and fifteen years and/or a fine of 200,000 to 1.5 million Thai baht, as are those found in possession of over 10kg with intent to supply. Possession with intent to supply of 10kg or less may incur prison sentences of two to ten years and/or a fine of 40,000 to 200,000 baht. Simple possession is punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 100,000 baht.

Police, prisons and bribes

Foreigners in Thailand are advised to exercise the utmost caution if attempting to buy or consume cannabis, locally known as ganja. The police force is notoriously corrupt, and horror stories of planted drugs, exorbitant bribes and harsh prison sentences abound. The death penalty is also fairly common for serious narcotics offences in Thailand, and numerous foreign nationals have been sentenced thus, although many such sentences are transmuted to life in prison or even repatriation (usually after intervention by the individual’s legal and diplomatic representatives).

However, the death penalty is reserved for Category I narcotics such as heroin, ecstasy, Yaba and Ice (the latter being two forms of methamphetamine that are hugely popular locally). Furthermore, the bribe culture that is so prevalent in Thailand can occasionally work in the favour of tourists who are genuinely found in possession of cannabis or any other illegal drug, as despite the inherent injustice, a bribe can equate to very little in most Western currencies and is usually far preferable to negotiating the harsh Thai legal system.

In the event that a cannabis possession charge leads to arrest, a fine of 5,000 baht (around $155) is levied by a judge subsequent to a court hearing, which will usually occur after several day’s imprisonment. However, at the judge’s discretion, prison sentences may be given. Bail (which may be as much as $20,000) can be posted if resources allow. For possession charges, it is not necessary to be in physical possession of an illegal narcotic: if police suspect consumption has occurred, they may subject arrestees to compulsory drugs testing; if the test returns a positive result, a charge of possession is levied.

The cannabis trade in Thailand

Since eradication efforts began in the 1990s (as a result of international pressure led by the USA), causing much production to shift to the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia, the annual tonnage produced by Thailand is thought to have declined substantially. However, significant cannabis cultivation still occurs in the northeastern provinces, particularly Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, and Sakhon Nakhon. Cannabis is cultivated commercially in the Tachana and Pato Districts of Chumporn Province and in the Sichom District of Nakornsithamarat Province.

It is estimated that Thailand produced around 107 metric tons (MT) of cannabis in 1999, and that production has declined since then. It is very difficult to establish the current rate of cultivation in Thailand due to the paucity of reliable data; however, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that seizures totalled 19 MT in 2008, 18 MT in 2009 and 2010 and 13 MT in 2011. In 1995, on the other hand, seizures totalled 95 MT.

Landrace cannabis varieties in Thailand

Thai cannabis is well-known for its speedy, cerebral high, a result of its very high THC content and relatively low CBD/CBN. Thai landraces are exclusively sativa, and have some of the longest flowering times known in cannabis. Some Thai varieties take as much as twenty weeks to flower, due to the lack of temperature and light variation between seasons, a phenomenon that often affects photoperiodism in cannabis in equatorial regions.

Thai cannabis plants can grow to incredible size, and often begin to trail along the ground as the weight of the buds becomes too great for the branches to support. In fact, some varieties may even begin to exhibit root sites along the parts of the branches that remain in contact with the ground—this proclivity has encouraged some breeders to experiment with true-breeding “vine” varieties, although with limited success.

Thai landraces are often very prone to hermaphroditism, a trait believed to be genetic rather than environmentally-induced (although some believe the extremely high temperatures in Thailand cause the phenomenon, it also occurs in cooler grow-rooms, so a genetic influence seems more likely).

Traditional Use

Cannabis has been part of the Thai pharmacopoeia for many centuries, and has also been used extensively in cooking—particularly in kway teeow rua or boat-noodle soup, in which it is a traditional ingredient—and as a source of recreational entertainment. As medicine, it is used to stimulate the appetite, as a sedative and to treat diarrhoea and dysentery. Cannabis is also used in massage oils, and is thought to have an astringent and soothing effect on the skin.

As well as in food and medicine, cannabis has long been used in the manufacture of ropes, clothing and other textiles—particularly by the Hmong people, a hill tribe found in the mountainous areas in the northern parts of the country. Currently, Thailand does actually export small quantities of hemp clothing, and is currently one of the world’s leading suppliers of hemp, which is indigenous in the northern parts of the country. The Thai cabinet officially approved cultivation of hemp in 2009, and since then the industry has been developing relatively rapidly.

Cultural attitudes and use

Cannabis in Thailand - 3 - U.S. tactics in the Vietnam War led to a huge counter-culture movement, which embraced cannabis use (©

U.S. tactics in the Vietnam War led to a huge counter-culture movement, which embraced cannabis use (©

Cannabis use in Thailand is widespread and usually tolerated in a social setting. Prior to the beginning of U.S.-led clampdowns, cannabis was a standard item on the shelves of many Thai kitchens, and was widely available from local markets. Although cannabis has been specifically outlawed since 1937 (the Marijuana Act B.E. 2477), penalties were comparatively light and poorly-enforced.

During the Vietnam War (1955-1975), American troops stationed in Thailand were responsible for the introduction of Thai cannabis to the USA, where it is believed to have been an instrumental factor in the “hippie” counter-culture movement which began in the mid-1960s (which in turn led to the global clampdown on cannabis that only now appears to be relaxing its grip). A rough equivalent, the pleng phua Cheewit (“songs for life”) movement, sprang up in Thailand in the 1970s, in response to the increasingly repressive government policies of the time.

Cannabis in Thailand - 4 - Thai band Maleehuana, a play on the word 'marijuana' (©

Thai band Maleehuana, a play on the word ‘marijuana’

The principles of pleng phua Cheewit are primarily egalitarianism and non-materialism, and cannabis use has been embraced by practitioners as a traditional and counter-cultural practice. One of the best-known bands of the movement is named Maleehuana, a play on “marijuana”. As well as this, the popular reggae subculture that has established itself in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and many islands popular with Western tourists also inevitably involves an element of cannabis use. In mainstream Thai culture, however, there are signs that cannabis is increasingly viewed as outdated and rustic, and that wealthy, urban Thai youth now prefer “party drugs” such as ecstasy and amphetamine.

Seshata is a full-time cannabis journalist and researcher specializing in the sociocultural, environmental and geopolitical aspects of the cannabis industry.

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