Cannabis has been banned for almost a century, but thanks to expanding legalization, it is becoming more readily available. Whether you’re new to cannabis or just getting reacquainted, here you can learn the basic facts about cannabis, how it’s used, and the many forms it comes in.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis Throughout Time
Once primarily associated with drug dealers and ne’er-do-wells, weed is undergoing a renaissance. Thanks to the spread of legislation, cannabis has become so ubiquitous that an entire billion dollar industry is growing around it. Those new to or getting reacquainted with the herb may be overwhelmed by the dearth of information online, so we’ve put together a quick explanation of some of the basics.
The word cannabis is used to refer to multiple things: the genus of flowering plant whose origins trace back 12,000 years to Asia; the different species including indica, sativa and the sativa varietal hemp; and the psychoactive drug also known as weed or marijuana.
For millennia, cannabis has been used as medicine, food and for countless industrial applications, but the fact that it also puts people in elevated moods has given the plant its notoriety and fueled prohibition for much of the last century. Expanding legalization over the past two decades, such as the first recreational laws in Colorado and Washington passed in 2012, has officially brought cannabis into the mainstream. In the United States, it’s now legal in more than half of all states in some form, and over 60 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization.
Strains: Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid
The two species most commonly associated with cannabis are indica and sativa. Indica’s broad, wide leaves result in a dense plant with more of a bush-like appearance. Sativa, on the other hand, has long, narrow leaves and grows tall like a tree. Hybrids contain both indica and sativa in several combinations, as the result of innovative crossbreeding by resourceful growers.
There are seemingly infinite sativa, indica and hybrid stain varieties—Sour Diesel, Grape Ape and OG Kush to name a few—which have been cultivated to enhance certain characteristics and effects.
Mental and Physical Effects
Cannabis is known for its physical and mental effects, which can result in an elevated experience known as the high. People who have never gotten high before may associate it with the stereotypical feelings of euphoria, relaxation, the munchies and paranoia, but in reality, everyone experiences it differently.
Indica is known to result in calmness, relaxation and a buzz that can be felt throughout the entire body, making it great for use at night. Sativa provides uplifting energy and mental stimulation, which is why many use it during the day. Hybrids offer something in the middle, with endless combinations of effects depending on the ratio of indica to sativa.
So what does it feel like to be high? It depends.You might feel creative, calm, relaxed, tingly or silly. You might have an urge to clean the house, engage in a political discussion, make an epic plate of nachos or zone out while watching a corny movie. People tend to enjoy the feeling , but everything from the cannabis strain to how you ingest it to your current mindset can play a key role in the experience. Always start slowly with small doses to see how cannabis affects you.
Cannabis has a long and storied history that doesn’t end with legalization. While the future of the legal industry is unwritten, it does exist and there’s no going back now (if we have anything to say about it)!
After nearly 100 years of federal prohibition, cannabis has returned to America’s consciousness and medicine cabinets. But cannabis isn’t new; the plant may have been cultivated as far back as 10,000 years ago. People who believe in old stigmas assume based on cannabis’ complicated history that folks simply want to legalize it so they can use it to have an enhanced experience. In reality, the versatility of cannabis has solidified its role as a resource for everything from food to medicine to a spiritual pathway.
Cannabis’ entry into Western medicine is attributed to Irish physician W. B. O’Shaughnessy. He published a study in 1839 detailing the use of hemp tinctures in India and described the effectiveness of cannabis for pain relief and muscle relaxation.Once O’Shaughnessy shared his findings with pharmacists in England, cannabis use began to spread through Europe and into the United States. Pharmacists and doctors prescribed it for a variety of ailments including painful menstrual cramps and sleeplessness, and cannabis became so widely accepted as a botanical medicine that it was included in the 1851 edition of the United States Pharmacopeia until prohibition forced its removal in 1942.
Some of its medical properties stem from cannabidiol , which is anti-inflammatory and offers relief from seizures, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain without the patient feeling enhanced experiences . The Tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis is an appetite stimulant , antidepressant and sleep aid that can relieve pain, reduce nausea and produce feelings of euphoria. Cannabis has helped cancer patients, veterans and people with epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, many are calling for the use of cannabis to combat America’s devastating opioid epidemic.
As a society, it can be uncomfortable to admit that seeking an enhanced experience can be really fun. People use cannabis recreationally for a number of reasons. It can take the edge off a busy workday, enhance a afternoon workout and spark creativity, just to name a few. Naturally, moderation is key, but having a lifestyle that includes cannabis doesn’t make you a lazy stoner. Many people who enjoy cannabis are productive members of society and may even be some of your coworkers, favorite celebrities or parents!
In the United States, medical cannabis is currently legal in 30 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico; eight states have legalized recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Meanwhile, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. It is considered a Schedule 1 drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical treatment use.
Despite the discrepancy between federal and most state laws, cannabis’ reentry into the mainstream shows no signs of slowing down.
What Are Cannabanoids?
The way cannabis interacts with the body is one of the most compelling things about the plant. Here we breakdown the science of the body’s endocannabinoid system, and its relationship with marijuana.
Any conversation about cannabis inevitably leads to cannabinoids, the chemical compounds responsible for marijuana’s effects on the body. The science behind cannabis is one of its most interesting aspects, mainly because it reminds us of the synergistic relationship between this plant and the human body. And the more we understand this relationship, the more we can unlock cannabis’ true medical potential.
The Endocannabanoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is involved in the regulation of various cognitive and physiological processes in the body, ranging from memory and mood to fertility and pregnancy. The ECS is comprised of endocannabinoids, which are lipid-based chemical substances that bind to cell membrane receptors called cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors are everywhere in the body – including the gonads, glands, connective tissues, brain and the immune system – performing tasks that vary based on each tissue’s specific needs. In simple terms, cannabinoids work within the ECS to maintain balance in the human body. When you take cannabis, the cannabinoids from the plant mimic those that naturally occur in the body, binding to receptor sites (called CB-1 receptors in the brain, and CB-2 receptors in the rest of the body) and resulting in a number of effects ranging from euphoria to relaxation to anti-inflammation, among others.
The late 1980s discovery of the ECS emerged as a delayed result of a 1960s study on marijuana’s psychoactive properties. Named after the cannabis plant, ECS’ functionality is still not completely known, but expanding legalization puts some pressure on the Federal government to rethink its stance on prohibition in order to grant access to quality plant material for further research.
There are 113 identified cannabinoids, but even those unfamiliar with cannabis have likely heard of at least two: THC and CBD. These are only two of over 100 known cannabinoids, and we have only scratched the surface of understanding what marijuana can do and why. But it’s clear that the relationship between humans and cannabis is rooted in a natural synergy.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is what produces the psychotropic effects – the high. THC can cause feelings of euphoria, amplify sensory functions including hearing and sight, and enhance creativity, while also leading to increased heart rate and feelings of paranoia. THC has several medical benefits including appetite stimulation, pain reduction, and protection against nerve damage.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is at the center of many states’ medical cannabis programs due to its non-psychoactive healing properties. CBD wards off pain, anxiety and inflammation without the euphoria, and in fact can help mitigate the effects of THC. Patients use CBD to treat countless ailments including chronic pain, epilepsy, PTSD and depression.
What Are Terpenes?
Have you ever smelled a plant aroma wafting into the air and once it hit your nose, you felt an immediate sense of pleasure or relaxation? Imagine different smells such as flowers, herbs and even scented cannabis that hit your olfactory bulb and signal your brain that something smells good. These scents that give plants their distinct flavor and smell are known as terpenes.
The olfactory bulb is connected to a larger system in your brain called the limbic system, which is associated with emotions, memories, arousal and stimulation. Terpenes serve as receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain and even act as serotonin uptake inhibitors to increase dopamine. When different terpenes reach your limbic system, they signal your brain to release certain chemicals that aid in stress and anxiety relief, alertness, pleasure and more. Terpenes also interact with your endocannabinoid system by acting as an assistant to cannabinoids (chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors within our brain). Together, the two work to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and bring your body to a balanced, healthy state known as homeostasis. Scroll through the images below to view the most common terpenes found in cannabis, or view the full article for an in-depth look at each one.
Ways To Consume Cannabis
Marijuana’s versatility as a medical and holistic resource is matched by its ability to be ingested using a variety of methods, giving patients and adults who enjoy cannabis the freedom to customize their individual experiences.
Explore the different ways below:
Smoking is most commonly associated with cannabis and requires heating the plant material and inhaling the resulting smoke. Ground plant material can be rolled into a joint (cannabis wrapped in super thin rolling paper), a blunt (larger and rolled in tobacco paper) or a spliff (hybrid of cannabis and tobacco).
Pipes and bongs provide even greater smoking variety due to the countless sizes, styles and features available.
Vaporizing or vaping is a newer method that has become a popular way to ingest cannabis in recent years. When the plant material or extract comes into contact with a heated surface or is heated via inhalation or a fan in a vaporizer, it becomes warm enough to turn into vapor. Unlike smoking, there’s no combustion, reducing the risk that the user will inhale harmful carcinogens or toxins. Vaporizers range in size and function, from at-home units to disposable models and are most commonly associated with vape pens.
Edibles refer to anything someone eats or drinks that contains cannabis. This includes includes food, beverages, capsules and tablets. The process for making edibles typically involves infusing oil or butter with cannabis, and adding that infused ingredient to candy, cookies, brownies and even soda and coffee. The culinary possibilities are endless, and recipes range from infused chai tea to roasted chicken and abound for home cooks wanting to experiment with this versatile herb.
A tincture is the liquid solution that results when cannabis plant matter and its chemicals are broken down in high-proof alcohol. Tinctures were the primary way people took cannabis prior to prohibition, and the ability to dose accurately adds to their enduring popularity. A tincture is taken orally by placing drops sublingually (under the tongue) and allowing them to dissolve, putting drops in beverages to drink or dropping into the mouth and directly swallowing.
A topical is medicine that is applied directly onto the skin. Common forms include balms, ointments, salves, sprays, lotions, creams and patches. The greatest benefit of cannabis topicals is that they absorb quickly into the body to provide several anti-inflammatory and pain relieving benefits, and there’s little to no psychoactive effect depending on the form.
When cannabis flower is extracted using butane, ethanol or other methods, the result is a concentrated cannabis oil rich in cannabinoids that yields significantly more THC than other forms of extraction. The assortment of concentrates include wax, shatter, rosin, Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and resin. The variety of ways to ingest concentrates include dabbing to sprinkling a small amount on the flower when rolling a joint or smoking from a pipe. Concentrates are very potent, and duration can vary based on a variety of factors.
Because everyone processes cannabis differently and each method varies in potency and duration of effects titration (slowly measuring and adjusting accordingly) is critical.
Whether it’s taking a puff from a joint, trying an edible or taking a dab, the key with titrating is to start with a very small dose, then wait anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours before taking another. This allows you to experience the effects gradually while reducing the potential for a paranoid night under the covers or trip to the emergency room. Safety first, and have fun!
Tips and Tricks
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