According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cannabis is the most commonly abused, trafficked, and cultivated illicit drug in the world. Both marijuana and hashish are derived from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica (or a hybrid) plant. There are many different strains of the cannabis plant. Cannabis contains THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which has mind-altering properties and interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

Marijuana is the plant material derived from the cannabis plant while hashish comes from the compressed resin (commonly incorrectly thought to be manufactured from the pollen) of the flowers of the cannabis plant. Both marijuana and hashish can vary in type, potency, and quality.

Marijuana

Marijuana comes from the dried leaves, flowers, seeds, and stems of the cannabis plant. Commonly called pot, weed, Mary Jane, reefer, grass, bud, ganja, and skunk, marijuana is usually greenish or slightly gray in color. The plant material is regularly smoked in joints, blunts, or through a water pipe (bong), or it is infused into food or drinks called edibles. In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that over 22 million Americans (aged 12 and older) were classified as currently abusing marijuana.

There are over 500 chemicals in marijuana and more than 100 cannabinoids (chemicals similar to THC), NIDA reports. Connoisseurs and cultivators of marijuana are breeding plants to come up with new strains of the drug that are reported to have variable effects and tastes along with ranges of potency and levels of THC. Other drugs may also be added to marijuana plant material (cocaine and heroin can be laced into marijuana joints, for example), increasing the possible side effects and risk factors.

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Hashish

Hashish, hash for short, is derived from the “kief,” or the dried resin, of the flowering tops of mature and unpollinated female cannabis plants. The resin glands are called trichomes or crystals. Hash is harvested by collecting the powdery resin either by hand, by mechanical beating of the plants, or by submersing cannabis plants in icy water and then using small sieves to remove the trichomes, which are then dried (this type of hashish is called “bubble hash”). The remaining kief is typically pressed into “cakes,” or blocks, which are then smoked in pipes, vaporized and inhaled, or mixed with marijuana in joints.

Hash can be soft and pliable or stiff and brittle. It may be red, black, brown, green, yellow, or blonde in color. Hash may also be used in cooking, as it is soluble in things like oils, butter, or cream and can therefore be made into foods like brownies. Hashish may also be further manufactured, and the resin extracted and made into hash oil, a gooey substance that individuals are “dabbing” and smoking with e-cigarettes.

Side Effects of Hashish and Marijuana

Marijuana and hashish abuse are typically lumped together by national surveys on use and abuse. The 2015 NSDUH, as published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), indicates that nearly 45 percent of Americans aged 12 and older reported using either marijuana or hashish at some point in their lifetime. It can be difficult to know how many people use hashish or marijuana specifically, although marijuana use is likely more common in the United States while hashish may be a more typical form of the drug in the Middle East where it is often trafficked from.

Marijuana is commonly abused by young adults and teenagers. In 2013, as many as one out of every seven adolescents admitted to using marijuana in the month leading up to the national survey, NIDA for Teens publishes.

Federally, marijuana and hashish are considered illegal within the United States, as the DEA classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with no accepted medicinal uses. On a local level, however, most states are working to legalize marijuana for its possible medicinal properties or even for recreational use if they haven’t already done so. Marijuana may be an effective pain and anxiety reliever, and also an appetite enhancer and anti-emetic, although research is ongoing to substantiate these claims.

Marijuana and hashish have similar effects on the brain and body as they both contain THC. Cannabis produces a mellowing “high,” causing relaxation, euphoria, a lack of motivation, impaired motor control, increased appetite, memory lapses, and distorted sensory and time perceptions. Lung and breathing issues, irregular heart rate, cognitive decline, and disruption of brain development in younger people exposed to marijuana or hashish are possible long-term effects of cannabis use.

Over time, and with regular use, dependence on marijuana or hashish may occur. Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, irritability, sleep difficulties, restlessness, cravings, decreased appetite, cognitive impairment, and mood disturbances can set in when the drug processes out of the body. It can also be addictive, as NIDA warns that as many as one-third of those regularly using marijuana may battle addiction to it.

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Potency of Hashish in Relation to Marijuana

In general, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that hash is the most potent and concentrated form of cannabis. Hash contains very high levels of THC, usually much higher than marijuana, although THC levels have been climbing in marijuana in recent years. Since marijuana contains plant material, it is typically less potent than the extracted resin of hashish that eliminates all of the “extras.” Though THC levels vary, marijuana may generally have a potency of 10-20 percent THC while THC levels in hashish can range from 20 percent to 60 percent. This means that it will take much less hashish than marijuana to achieve psychoactive effects. One hit of hash can go a long way. For someone accustomed to a lower level of THC like that found in marijuana, it can be dangerous to assume the results will be the same.

Higher potency may lead to increased negative consequences of use and raise the risk for an adverse reaction to the drug. NIDA warns that higher levels of THC can raise the odds for addiction. Higher potency can also mean a greater risk for a possible psychotic reaction as heavy use may produce hallucinations, paranoia, and schizophrenia-like symptoms. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports that in 2011, nearly a half-million Americans received emergency medical treatment in an emergency department (ED) for a negative reaction to the abuse of a cannabinoid drug. Hashish may also commonly be mixed with adulterants as it is manufactured, which can make it even more potentially dangerous as the individual using the drug may not be sure what other substances or toxins the product may contain.

Treatment for hashish and marijuana abuse is similar and will often include:

  • Professional detox.
  • Group and individual therapy sessions.
  • Counseling.
  • Support groups and/or 12-Step programs.
  • Educational programs.
  • Holistic and complementary methods.
  • Simultaneous treatment for any co-occurring mental health or medical disorders.
  • Relapse prevention and aftercare or alumni services.

Treatment for cannabis use or addiction can be provided on both an outpatient and inpatient basis, depending on what is best for the individual. Care is tailored to each person and will not be the same from person to person. Treatment plans are designed with the input of families and loved ones, and as recovery progresses, the level of care can change. A comprehensive assessment is done by highly trained professionals prior to admission to a treatment program, and reassessments are done periodically to ensure the optimal fit.