An introduction to the new world of cannabis
It can be hard to keep up with all the changes in cannabis, and the complexity of the plant sometimes makes it difficult to understand – there’s a lot more to cannabis than we first thought when it emerged into popular culture back in the 1960s.
Indeed, while the world has always had knowledge of the medicinal properties of cannabis going back thousands of years, it’s only in recent decades that we’ve become aware of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and how these and other cannabinoids work within the body to produce the effects they do.
In this post, we’ll look at the most common types of cannabis strains and how society uses them.
THC and CBD have significant differences
When cannabis is simply described as “cannabis,” it doesn’t tell us very much – that’s because the effects of a strain are decided entirely on what compounds are present. A strain with 20% THC, 2% CBD will be unrecognizable to a strain with 20% CBD and 2% THC.
High-THC strains are most consumed by recreational users, and these have become more potent in the past 40 years or so, with breeders carefully cross-breeding strains to increase concentrations of THC. THC is popular because it has psychoactive properties, so can be used to get high.
The cannabinoid binds to a receptor in the brain that influences our mood and stays in the system long enough to have a psychological effect for several hours. On a good trip, THC can manifest positive emotions and make a person more sociable; however, on a bad trip, THC can increase anxiety and bring about symptoms of paranoia. Therefore, it’s important to be in a comfortable scenario when consuming a THC-rich strain or product, to help make the experience as uplifting as possible.
Contrastingly, CBD doesn’t induce any of these mind-altering effects – however, in the right dose, it can help to improve mood by signalling anandamide, an anti-depressant neurotransmitter to the brain.
But what CBD is known for is having a ton of medicinal qualities, and a balancing effect on the endocannabinoid system that can enhance your overall health. What’s more, as a non-psychoactive compound, CBD does not impair cognitive function or memory, even in the short-term. This is helpful for children, who can safely take CBD treatment to help with conditions such as autism and epilepsy. Furthermore, anybody who is looking for an alternative form of medication but doesn’t want harsh side effects (some may perceive psychoactivity to be a side effect) can have results using CBD.
CBD is a recent development in the world of cannabis, with growers breeding strains with the goal of increasing the CBD potency, and reducing the presence of THC – in many ways, such strains are similar to hemp. While the flower from CBD-rich strains can be ground up and smoke, it’s more common to take an extract from the plant, and use it as part of a tincture oil, or even CBD vape oil and e-liquid. The versatility of cannabinoid products, whether it’s THC, CBD or even a mix of lesser cannabinoids, contributes majorly to their broadening appeal.
Both high-CBD and high-THC strains have been carefully manipulated to produce the cannabinoid profiles that they do. There are also strains that have a more equal ratio of THC to CBD, which some cannabis researchers say enhances the medicinal value of the entire plant, thanks to the subtle interactions that occur between the cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors.
For instance, CBD is an anti-psychotic compound and suppresses the psychoactive high of THC. It does this by affecting the bond between THC and CB1 receptors – CBD is a negative allosteric modulator of this receptor and reduces the THC high by linking to CB1 via a “backdoor.”
The synergy that comes from having all the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids interacting together is known by the industry as the “entourage effect.” The effectiveness of whole-plant products explains why full-spectrum CBD is so popular. While a full-spectrum CBD product does not have much THC present, it is still a full plant extract, which means varying amounts of cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabidivarin (CBDV) and other cannabinoids may be found.
CBD is being treated differently by the world’s most important health bodies and anti-doping agencies, as the medicinal potential of the cannabinoid has become clearer. The World Health Organization clarified the safety of CBD, stating that it has “no abuse potential” in December 2017.
Meanwhile, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) adjusted its position on CBD back in September 2017, taking it off the list of banned substances and therefore allowing athletes to use CBD products from 1 January 2018. However, the same tight restrictions still apply to THC.
The versatility of modern cannabis
Over the decades, researchers have worked out how the endocannabinoid system can best be influenced by phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from cannabis). CBD vaping, CBD edibles and CBD topicals have emerged as the three most distinct ways of medicating.
Like smoking, the effects of cannabinoids are very fast-acting when vaping. However, unlike smoking, vaping won’t block your lungs up with tar or expose them to dangerous carcinogens and toxins. With most vaporizers, the device can be set to a certain temperature, to get the most out of the e-liquid or dry herb being vaped. The substance does not need to be burned to release the cannabinoids, but merely warmed until vapor forms in the chamber.
With edibles, the cannabinoids take many minutes longer before being absorbed into the bloodstream. While this slows the onset of effects, the CBD doesn’t wear off as quickly, which makes redosing less necessary. This is good for ever-present pain, but perhaps vaping would be better for conditions that are more acute.
Topicals are completely different again, and these products are designed to either improve skin quality, or to treat localized inflammation, such as swelling or arthritis. CBD creams and gels work because the cannabinoids can activate the skin’s cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system has a role to play in the skin cell cycle, the production of sebum (an oil that, in the right amount, keeps the skin lubricated) and in protecting the skin from free radicals that cause aging.
This list is far from exhaustive – CBD tincture oil, CBD water, CBD syrup and CBD concentrates can also be found in this booming market.