It’s easy to love cannabis. Besides being a safe and effective medicine for a variety of treatments, it can also be a lot of fun. But it hasn’t always been easy to understand…until now!
TYPES OF CANNABIS
You’ll often hear about two main types of cannabis, cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. Although these terms can be useful for generalizing about a particular strain’s likely effects, they’re not strictly accurate: almost every strain you’ll find on today’s market is a hybrid, or mix of the two.
The better we come to understand cannabis, the more we know about why different strains have different effects. New research is showing that variations in effect have more to do with a particular strain’s terpene profile or cannabinoid content (more on those later), than whether we call it indica or sativa.
That said, the terms indica and sativa are still in common use, and can be helpful for generalizing about expected effects.
Here’s what people mean when they use these terms:
Cannabis indica plants are short and bushy, and are believed to produce relaxing bodily sensations. Indicas are generally recommended for nighttime use. To help distinguish sedating indica strains from their energizing sativa cousins, some people use the mnemonic device, indica = “in da couch”.
Cannabis sativa plants are believed to produce an energetic and cerebral high. Sativa strains are often recommended for daytime consumption because they are thought to heighten awareness, concentration and creativity.
Due to generations of cross-breeding, most of today’s strains are hybrids. If you’re seeking a particular effect, the best thing you can do is learn about a strain’s terpene profiles and cannabinoid content, and track your experiences with different strains to discover what works for you.
HEMP (Cannabis Sativa)
To confuse matters, hemp, the non-psychoactive form of the cannabis plant known for its fibre-producing capacities, is also called cannabis sativa. The main difference with this form of the plant is that it contains only trace amounts of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC.
Cannabinoids are the cannabis plant’s naturally-occurring active chemical compounds, and they play an important role in how you experience cannabis. These compounds attach themselves to certain receptors in your endocannabinoid system, causing natural chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, to get released into your brain and bloodstream.
You may have heard of THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) before. These are two of the most prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis, and they produce very different effects from one another.
THC and CBD are just two of over 100 naturally-occurring cannabinoids found in cannabis. Other cannabinoids include CBG (cannabigerol), CBC (cannabichromene) and CBN (cannabinol). You can learn more about these compounds here.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
The human body also produces its own endogenous cannabinoids, called endocannibinoids. So far two have been identified – the best known of which is anandamide or the “runner’s high” molecule.
Endocannabinoids communicate with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of enzymes and cell receptors found in the central and peripheral nervous systems, gastrointestinal tract, and on immune system cells. Unlike other important systems we’ve known about for centuries, the first endocannabinoid receptors weren’t discovered until the 1980s, and there is still much to learn. But we do know is that the ECS is vast, intricate and important.
The ECS is involved in regulating a range of functions, including fertility, digestion, memory, learning, immune and inflammatory response, pain response and more. Because of its impact on multiple systems, it affects our overall health.
When the body’s endocannabinoid levels or endocannabinoid system are out of whack, pain, inflammation and a variety of other symptoms can result. Cannabinoids from the cannabis plant interact with the same systems, working like supplements to potentially restore and improve balance – or disrupt it.
TERPENES AND THE ENTOURAGE EFFECT
One theory proposed in recent years is that cannabinoids work together, in a synergy known as the entourage effect, to produce different sensations when consumed. Some non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD, for instance, block THC’s activation of certain neuroreceptors in our brains, mitigating potentially unpleasant effects like anxiety and paranoia.
Many scientists believe that terpenes also play an integral role in the entourage effect. Terpenes are complex and therapeutic non-psychoactive compounds that give each cannabis plant a unique scent.
Some terpenes, like the pungent and earthy-scented myrcene, possess anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antioxidant properties. Other terpenes, like the lemon-scented limonene, are believed to not only have antidepressant and anti-tumour properties, but to also enhance the effects of THC and CBD.
Over 200 different types of terpenes have been discovered in cannabis to date, and more research is needed to determine their isolated and combined effects.
Terpenes aren’t just therapeutic – they’re also flavourful. At Hempster we encourage home cannabis chefs to treat cannabis as a culinary herb, and experiment with different terpene profiles for elevated edibles that also taste amazing.
THERAPEUTIC APPLICATIONS OF CANNABIS
Clinical data suggests that cannabis may be an effective therapy for the following symptoms:
Cannabis is also believed to be a useful treatment for a variety of medical conditions, including:
Some studies have shown that THC can stop the spread of human cancer cells in Petri dishes. These results show promise for cannabis as a potential cancer treatment. However, research and studies on this subject are still in their earliest stages, and more clinical trials are needed.
METHODS OF CONSUMPTION
Cannabis can be ingested in a number of ways, including through inhalation, oral consumption and topical application.
Smoking is one of the most common methods of cannabis consumption. Cannabis is smoked by first grinding the plant’s flower, or bud, into a fluffy mass and then rolling it into a joint or inhaling it through a pipe or bong. Some consumers prefer to smoke their cannabis because its effects are felt quickly; others enjoy the taste of cannabis smoke or the social aspect of smoking with others.
However, smoking anything can have a negative impact on your pulmonary health. These days, vaporizers offer a healthier alternative. Vaporizers heat cannabis flower rather than burning it, allowing active compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids to be inhaled without smoke.
Vaporizing is not only healthier than smoking, it’s more cost-efficient. Several studiesshow that vaping cannabis dispenses considerably more cannabinoids than smoking, meaning you can use less cannabis to achieve the same effect.
Concentrated cannabis extracts, like shatter, wax and budder can also be vaporized, or consumed in a process known as dabbing. These concentrates deliver a potent dose of cannabis instantaneously, but they cannot be purchased legally in Canada at this time.
Although super-concentrated extracts can be made at home legally with prescription flower, the process is difficult, dangerous and requires a high level of expertise. For this reason, making your own extreme concentrates is not recommended. (Lower-dose cannabis extractions like cannabutter and infused oils are simple and easy to make, however. Learn more below.)
Edibles, or cannabis-infused foods, are healthier than smoked cannabis, and have longer-lasting effects. This makes them more appealing for those seeking lasting relief from chronic pain or other ailments. Eating cannabis feels different than inhaling it, and is usually associated with a “body buzz”, although many consumers report cerebral effects as well.
Cannabis can be cooked, baked or used to season a variety of foods by first infusing it into milk, honey, or a soluble fat, such as butter or oil. To successfully cook with cannabis, you must lightly toast the flower before infusing it into a base. This process, known as decarboxylation, activates cannabinoids and enhances the flavours of the natural terpenes found in the plant. Once the cannabis is thoroughly decarboxylated (or decarbed) and the base is infused, you can incorporate it into your favourite recipes.
You can also use pre-made cannabis oils from your favourite licensed producer (LP) when making edibles. These oils typically cost more than homemade concoctions, but they are lab-tested for consistent dosing and can be added to food before or after cooking.
Cannabis oil can also be orally ingested by dropper or capsule. These methods of ingestion are convenient, measured and discreet.
Cannabis tinctures are traditional alcohol-based concentrates that can be added to food or drinks, or ingested by dropping precise amounts under your tongue. Currently, very few LPs offer cannabis tinctures, but they can be made at home.
Researchers are still studying exactly how cannabis-infused topicals work and why most THC-infused topicals do not appear to cause psychoactive effects in users. However, early studies and early adopters alike say that cannabis-infused topicals, such as creams, bath salts and balms, may be effective at reducing pain, inflammation, muscle tension and itchy skin.
Unfortunately, infused topicals are not yet legal for purchase in Canada. But, you can easily make your own infused topicals at home by mixing cannabis oils with your favourite creams and ointments. This method of consumption is preferred by consumers seeking relief of muscular pain and stress without a psychoactive high.
DEALING WITH SIDE EFFECTS
Cannabis affects everyone differently. Some people experience feelings of euphoria, deep relaxation, enhanced sensations and increased mental acuity.
For others, cannabis may lead to the following side effects:
increased heart rate
bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils
loss of motor skills
Here are few things you can do to relieve unwanted side effects:
Don’t panic: Remember that everything will eventually be okay and the symptoms will go away.
Stay hydrated: Drinking lots of water can help combat symptoms like dry mouth.
Sniff or chew black pepper: Pepper contains beta-caryophyllene, a dietary cannabinoid that may help relieve the adverse effects of THC.
Eat pistachios or pine nuts: These nuts contain pinene, a terpene that can help with mental clarity.
Consider CBD: CBD is known to counterbalance the potentially negative effects of THC.
Get some rest: Lie down, get comfortable, and try to get some rest. If you can’t get to sleep, turn on a favourite show or movie to distract yourself.
Remember: this too will pass.
No one has ever fatally overdosed on cannabis or died from a bad experience. Rest assured that you will not be the first person in medical history to do so!
FINDING THE RIGHT DOSE
There are a variety of reasons why cannabis affects everyone differently, and why the same strain can affect the same person in different ways from session to session. Time and method of ingestion, mood, pain level other factors like whether or not you’ve eaten, can all impact how your cannabis feels. The specifics of your endocannabinoid system play a role too – everyone’s is different, and this is a huge factor in why we all experience cannabis uniquely, why the strain that keeps your best friend alert puts you straight to sleep.
This makes it hard to generalize about doses, but the cannabis industry standard is to ‘start low and go slow’, gradually increasing doses between sessions until you experience the desired effects.
Microdosing is the practice of finding the minimum effective dose to achieve intended effects.
Typically an oral dose of cannabis that contains less than 0.5mg of THC is considered “micro.” But cannabis is complicated, and one person’s microdose can be another’s mega, so it’s best to start low and find your own “sweet spot.”
For many cannabis consumers, microdosing can also be a way to experience the medical benefits of marijuana, while avoiding the high. For others, microdosing is a practice that helps prevent or delay developing a tolerance to the effects of cannabis. Microdoses can be applied to any mode of ingestion, from vaping to oral absorption of oils, edibles and tinctures, to smoking.
IS CANNABIS ADDICTIVE?
Although cannabis is unlikely to create addiction, like any substance, it can be used problematically. Symptoms of problematic use can include irritability, headaches, trouble sleeping, shrunken appetite, anxiety and cravings.
If you feel that you are becoming dependent upon cannabis in an unhealthy way, seek medical help and consider behavioural modifications, such as limiting frequency of use and disassociating cannabis with regular activities.