Today, vague terms and nutty stereotypes about cannabis riddle news media headlines and Instagram feeds. While there is still a lot we don’t know about cannabis (no thanks to the U.S. government blocking medical marijuana research), new findings come out every day as society acclimates to the slow-rolling legalization of marijuana.
Here’s a little background to start your life as a cannabis connoisseur.
(PSA: this article is sponsored by a 15-minute vape session)
What is cannabis?
Known by its scientific name, Cannabis is part of the small flowering plant family, cannabaceae. From cannabis, we get three different species:
- cannabis sativa
- cannabis indica
- cannabis ruderalis
Since the 18th century, there has been much debate behind the taxonomy of the plant, given the nature of variation cultivation can cause. For this reason, we’ll stick to the important species of the plant:
Cannabis Sativa, formerly the name for hemp, are tall, skinny plants with skinny leaves. Previously, the name was for hemp, which is known for its industrial uses because of its fibers and seeds. Sativas give you cerebral effects and give you an energetic high that is best for physical activity, creativity and social settings.
Cannabis Indica plants are short and stocky with broad leaves that causes a body high. Indicas (or “inda-couch”) are for relaxation, sleep and pain relief.
Hybrid plants are generally a mix of the two and often come dominant with one or the other.
Where does cannabis come from?
While many of us use cannabis for recreation, the plant has been used for medical and religious purposes for centuries. Cannabis originally evolved in Asia and its earliest traces date back to around 500 B.C. It was widely used in a variety of cultures to treat conditions like inflammation, malaria and gout, and often made an appearance at religious ceremonies and rituals (including graves).
In the late 1500s, cannabis was brought to North America by the Spanish and was commonly used to make clothing, paper, sails and rope.
How does cannabis work?
Cannabinoids, or the chemical compounds in cannabis, act on our body’s cannabinoid receptors. In fact, our bodies make their own cannabinoids as part of the endocannabinoid system (neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in regulating physiology and mood). The molecules of cannabis triggers our endocannabinoid system to create a near-perfect chemical reaction in our bodies.
The two most well-known molecules are THC and CBD, which are responsible for the plant’s therapeutic and recreational effects.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produces psychoactive effects and gives you the feeling of being “high”. It also gives you relief from nausea, low appetite and muscle spasms.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is an antipsychotic agent (try it the next time you feel too high) and has a slew of uses including reducing and eliminating seizures, fighting the growth of tumors, treating anxiety, managing mental illness and more.
Pair them together and you reap all the benefits cannabis has to offer — like protecting and repairing your central nervous system.
Finally, we have terpenes, or aromatic compounds that give cannabis its smell. Terpenes are found in many plants and fruit, such as lavender, pepper, citrus, and hops. Similar to aromatherapy, terpenes can stimulate or calm you, and there are many types of terpenes (like limonene for citrus smells and linalool for floral smells) each with their own unique effects.
Fun Fact: Cannabis and beer are cousins, and originate from the same family of plants.
With more than 1,000 strains available, cannabis offers an array of effects and experiences. Consuming cannabis is an intimate practice that can be greatly enhanced by consulting with your local budtender and having a basic understanding of the ancient plant.