Cannabis 101: A Basic Understanding
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Due to cannabis' propaganda driven prohibition, much confusion surrounds the cannabaceae family of plants, of which "weed" is a member. It is a small family of the rose (Rosales) order, which includes 170 species of flowering plants. The popular ingredient in beer, hops (Humulus); as well as hackberries (Celtis) are other common members of this family. This entry will discuss the need to know basics of the cannabis plant and how it interacts with the human body, in an effort to produce a more well-informed consumer.
Cannabis is a genus within the cannabaceae family that refers specifically to the herb as we know it. Three species of cannabis exist: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis. Indica and Sativa are the most popular of the three, as they naturally tend to contain higher levels of the intoxicating delta-9 THC and THCa. Ruderalis, native to more northern climates of Eurasia, is a "feral" version of cannabis, naturally showing higher levels of CBD.
Cannabis Sativa grows tall in stature, with long, skinny leaves. Demanding long flowering periods, they are best suited for areas near the equator. Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, and Durban Poison are some examples of landrace Sativa strains. Cerebral and uplifting are typical descriptions of the effects of a Sativa plant. Indica plants are much shorter, boasting broad leaves. The flower period of this species is also shorter, making it more well suited for colder environments nearer to the poles. Hindu and Afghan Kush are prime examples of indica cultivars. Anecdotally, indica is responsible for the "couch-lock", relaxing, and appetite stimulating effects. Due to the prohibition of cannabis in the developed world, there is very little scientific evidence of these claims as of yet. New research concerning terpene and cannabinoid profiles has shed a great deal of light on new ways to cultivate craft cannabis.
The term "hemp" refers to a subspecies of cannabis sativa, named by the famed botanist Carl Linnaeus, "cannabis sativa L.", which contains very low levels of THC. It grows quickly, getting tall and lanky, with very durable fibers (like a weed). Hemp should be thought of as an industrial and agricultural crop, grown for it's textile and food uses. This is the variety of cannabis used since ancient times for rope, nets, bowstrings, clothing, pottery, etc. This is the most common type of cannabis grown by the founding fathers of the United States; the same variety federally mandated to be grown during both World Wars. Hemp seeds and hemp oil, commonly purchased at health food stores are derived from this subspecies.
"Marijuana" is a term that we here at The Cannidote do not like to hear. Prior to 1910, the word did not exist in the American lexicon. None of the ancient cultures that used cannabis referred to the plant as anything that even closely resembles the word marijuana. Marijuana was a misused term popularized by Harry Anslinger, a fear-mongering, racist man who headed the Federal Bureau of Narcotics; the precursor to the DEA, for more than three decades. A man who can be credited for the industrial prison system complex as we know it today. See our blog entry "History of the Western Demonization of Cannabis Part 2: The War on Drugs" to learn more about the smear campaign against cannabis in "civilized" North America.
Now that we've all been properly introduced, let us talk about what makes this plant so special, phytochemically speaking. CBD has become a hyper-popularized supplement in society, but what is it? CBD (cannabidiol) is one of a multitude of cannabinoids, lipid based compounds found within the trichomes of cannabis flowers. These compounds are some of the key ingredients responsible for the numerous effects of the plant. Cannabinoids come in two major categories, endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids originate from within the mammalian body. Thanks to the endocannabinoid system (EC), we manufacture these compounds ourselves. That's right, our bodies naturally produce their own cannabinoids! Cannabinoids have even been found in the breast milk of new mothers. Some of the most acclaimed of these compounds include anandamide, and 2-AG. Two not so commonly known are virodhamine, and N-arachidonyl dopamine (NADA). We can thus safely interact with those cannabinoids and similar substances that we discover in nature. Just as we have receptors for salicylate, the pain relieving compound in willow bark; so too do we have receptors for phytocannabinoids like those in cannabis.
Phytocannabinoids are structurally very similar to endocannabinoids, just with subtle variations. This term most commonly refers to the unique compounds found within the cannabis plant. Some of the most popular include THC, CBD, CBN (cannabinol), CBG (cannabigerol), and CBC (cannabinchromene). Each has it's own list of beneficial uses, yet also work together in a symbiotic relationship called "the entourage effect", maximizing each others efficiency. At the time of this writing, more than 120 cannabinoids have been identified within the cannabis plant. That's a lot of possible symbiotic interactions, thus showcasing the importance of using full spectrum products over isolates.
Researchers, at one time, believed cannabis to be the only plant to produce phytocannabinoids. This hypothesis has been proven untrue, as flax seeds contain CBD, or a structure extremely similar, which displays anti-inflammatory effects. Another cannabinoid, CBG, is believed to have been found within the South African herb Helichrysum umbraculigerum, a popular essential oil. Studies out of New Zealand suggest the presence of a THC-like compound in the liverwort plant. Even the Chinese rhododendron appears to contain CBC. These compounds, along with others like cannabimimetics and terpenes, create a long list of potential plant replacements for your toxic pharmaceutical drugs.
Cannabimimetics refers to a group of compounds that differ structurally from cannabinoids, yet impart the same, or similar effects. This family of compounds displays the endocannabinoid system's ability to interact with compounds other than cannabinoids! Dozens of compounds have been discovered showcasing an interaction with the EC. Salvinorin A, the main compound found in the dis-associative (not hallucinogenic) salvia plant, is a terpinoid that interacts with a third cannabinoid receptor that appears only in an inflamed environment.
N-acylethanolamines (NAE) are also fatty acid compounds that interact with the EC. Anandamide is actually a NAE, which can be found in black truffle mushrooms. Other well researched NAEs include OAE, PEA and LEA. N-oleoylethanolamine (OEA) and N-linoleoylethanolamide (LEA) are found in raw cacao. Try making a our homemade hot chocolate from scratch to increase your daily intake. N-alkylamides, like those found in various echinacea species, interact with CB2 receptors and may be responsible for the flower's powerful impact on immune function.
Terpenes love lipids too, and can also be found in the trichomes of cannabis plants. Terpenes are to thank for the aroma and to some extent, the flavor of cannabis (and other plants, like lavender). According to the Medical Jane website, "they act as serotonin uptake inhibitors (similar to antidepressants like Prozac); they enhance norepinephrine activity (similar to tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil); they increase dopamine activity; and they augment GABA (the “downer” neurotransmitter that counters glutamate, the “upper”). In other words, they elevate your mood when consumed.
Certain terpenes are found in various quantities depending on the chemotype, growing environment, nutrition plan and feedings, etc. Many of these terpenes are proven to engage the EC and even enhance the entourage effect. Myrcene, a terpene possibly responsible for the "stoney" couch-lock effect, is found in extremely large amounts in hops. Know anyone who's passed out drunk? It can also be found in mangoes and the herb thyme. B-caryophyllene, another very common cannabis terpene, is prevelant in black pepper, cloves, rosemary, caraway, oregano, basil, lavender, cinnamon, and more!
Due to the presence of CB1, CB2, CB3, and possibly more yet to be identified receptors in the human body, these plant compounds influence our system in a multitude of ways. CB receptors can be found in every major organ system. One of it's main functions thus far discovered is it's role in maintaining homeostasis. Particular ailments that full spectrum PCR (phytocannabinoid rich) may assist with include reducing inflammation, improving mood, regulating metabolism and sleep patterns, and much more. Check out our blog library to learn more about many of the topics and terms discussed in this introductory entry.
The sources cited are primarily intended for the casual reader. Each source however, has been carefully chosen to include scientific sources linked within. Living with today's industry funded, pseudo-scientific journals, we encourage you to "research the research".
If you believe you may be suffering from any medical condition, seek immediate medical attention. Do not delay in seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information you find on our website or may have been provided to you by our staff. None of the information contained herein can be regarded as a suitable medical diagnosis or construed as medical advice or a recommended treatment. If you are considering making any changes to your lifestyle or diet, you should first consult with your doctor or healthcare provider.