Cannabis 101: The Basics
New to cannabis? There's plenty to learn, but the information and resources below should help you get started.
Forms of Cannabis
When most people think of cannabis, they're picturing the dried flowers of the plant. Commonly referred to as buds or nugs, these dried flowers are then further broken down–almost into a powder–by hand or using a grinder. The broken down flower is then ready for rolling into a joint or packing into a bowl or vaporizer.
Cannabis concentrates have been made for thousands of years in the form of hashish, which is simply the name given to compressed blocks of purified cannabis resin. Resin glands called trichomes cover the entire cannabis plant; the heads of these glands contain most of the active components of cannabis, called cannabinoids. Traditional concentrates were made using a dry-sift technique (which is still in use), but many new methods of extraction have been developed. These include water-based separation (bubble hash) and hydrocarbon-based concentration (shatter, wax, budder, etc). Concentrates are typically 2x to 5x as powerful as flower, so it's best to start with only a little bit.
When cannabis is placed into a food item, a capsule, or a tincture, it is called an edible. This is a very wide category that is only limited by the imagination of food producers. Edible cannabis products are extremely useful for patients who do not wish to smoke or vaporize. Cannabis is actually more effective when ingested orally than when smoked. You can not simply eat cannabis flowers or concentrates, however, as they need to be activated with heat before the active substances can be absorbed by your body.
Patients looking to treat physical or external pain may benefit from the use of cannabis creams, lotions, salves, etc. These substances are collectively known as topicals, and come in a wide variety of textures and strengths. Topicals can be placed directly on a sore back, bad knee, or an aching shoulder. Very useful for patients who are interested in trying cannabis, but who are not interested in feeling any of the psychoactive effects.
Different Effects from Different Strains
Sativa strains are generally recommended for daytime use, as the effects are described as active and energetic. Sativa strains tend to have bright aromas tending towards citrus and fresh fruit. Patients suffering from anxiety should be careful about choosing sativa strains of cannabis, as some tend to exacerbate this condition.
Indica strains are known for being heavier and sedative, and are often recommended for the evening or when you want to kick back and relax. The term "couch lock" is often associated with indica strains; spontaneous napping has been known to occur. Indica strains tend to have earthy, rich aromas.
Truth be told, almost all the cannabis strains grown today are hybrids of the landrace varieties that began circling the globe via the Hippy Trail in the 1960s. That said, when we say a strain is a hybrid today, we usually mean that the strain has the mixed effects of both an indica and a sativa. You may feel energized soon after the onset of the effects of your cannabis, but later feel relaxed and dreamy. Hybrids are often described as the best of both world when it comes to the indica vs. sativa debate.
What works for you?
If you're new to cannabis–or even if you've been smoking for decades but are trying a different form of cannabis for the first time–it's important to take it slow and pay attention to what your body is telling you. The best way to evaluate if something is right for you is to consume consciously. Pay attention to your medicine: the look, texture, aroma, taste, and effects of your cannabis. Try a little bit and ask yourself, "How do I feel?" While recommendations from a family member, close friend, or budtender can be useful, there is no substitute for trying out new cannabis and experiencing it for yourself. Try to remember what you like–and perhaps more importantly what you don't–and in no time at all you'll be a cannabis connoisseur!
What's inside cannabis?
Tetrahydrocannabinol — also known as ∆9-THC, or just plain old THC — is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. THC usually makes up somewhere between 15% and 25% of the weight of dried cannabis flowers. In concentrated cannabis products, this number can shoot up to nearly one hundred percent, though 70-85% is more common. Researchers once believed that THC was responsible for nearly all the medical and psychoactive effects of cannabis, though in recent years they have come to appreciate the role played by other cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis. These other compounds have been found to significantly alter and enhance the power of THC, a phenomenon known as "the entourage effect."
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. CBD has shown great promise across a wide variety of potential medical applications and has been used to treat conditions as diverse as cancer, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. (You should consult with a physician about how the medical benefits of cannabis can help in your particular situation.) One of the best aspects of CBD is that it is not psychoactive. In fact, high CBD cannabis products can counteract the effects of too much THC. High CBD cannabis strains are also useful for patients who want to achieve the health benefits of cannabis consumption without experiencing the typical psychoactive effects.
Cannabinol, or CBN, was until recently thought to be an unwelcome byproduct of cannabis degradation, often associated with medicine stored improperly for an extended period of time. Patients noticed, however, that high-CBN medicine had a strong sedative effect. This observation was confirmed by scientific studies showing CBN's promise as a sleep aid. CBN is only present in cannabis flowers in very limited amounts, so most CBN products available in dispensaries will be made using concentrates.
More than 60 cannabinoids have been discovered in cannabis, but science has only begun to discover the importance of each one. Only THC and CBD have been studied in great depth. The future holds great promise for research into cannabinoids.
One of the wonderful aspects of the cannabis plant is its ability to mimic almost any aroma. Experienced cannabis connoisseurs can name hundreds of strains by smell and taste alone. The pungent aromas and flavors present in cannabis are created by terpenes, the primary aromatic component of all plant resins and essential oils. We are only beginning to understand the importance of terpenes, but it seems they may be responsible for much of the variation in effect between different strains of cannabis.