Humans have been cultivating this multipurpose plant for over 10,000 years. Yet, it wasn't the lure of a getting "high" or "stoned" that attracted the first humans, but rather nutrition (Backes).
The hemp seed contains protein, polyunsaturated fats, magnesium, iron and potassium. Try adding hemp seeds to your favorite salads, smoothies or oatmeal to give them a nutty kick.
Beyond nutrition, the hemp plant offers another important resource: extremely strong fibers which could be fashioned into sails, flags, paper and even money.
The psychoactive (mind-altering) effects of cannabis would remain hidden until unleashed by heat, likely in the form of tea. Heat is essential to converting THC from its inactive to active state. Consuming the cannabis plant raw does not produce psychoactive effects.
Fast forward to the bustling industrial age of the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Demand for paper goods was soaring. Two competing industries vied to manufacture this paper: timber and hemp.
The Disunited States of Cannabis
From 1850 until 1942, cannabis was listed as a medical treatment in the US Pharmacopeia, the pharmaceutical handbook of physicians. However, passage of the federal Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 under Franklin D. Roosevelt--which favored the paper ambitions of timber over hemp--initiated the descent of cannabis from the medical world. In 1973, in the midst of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA], further suffocating the cannabis industry of the peace-loving hippies.
Over the ensuing years, cannabis would be transformed in the public eye from an effective medicine to a dangerous narcotic.
Current price per pound
The American climate of prohibition has dramatically shifted the cannabis consumed today, compared with years past. Cannabis breeders were forced to secretly cultivate indoors, which favored shorter plants over taller plants. Breeders also sought to maximize profits, which favored fast-to-flower strains over late bloomers. Consumers wanted to get "high," which selected high THC strains over strains with other medicinal purposes. These pressures dramatically narrowed the strains that are being cultivated, compared with pre-prohibition cultivation.
Increasing legalization in the United States and abroad means that strains previously relegated as unfavorable--plants that grew very tall, plants that take longer to flower, plants rich in compounds beside THC--have returned to cultivation.
Despite legalization of medical cannabis in 28 states and the District of Columbia, cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I drug by the the US DEA. In other words, the official position of the US government is that cannabis offers no known medicinal benefit and only poses harm to those who consume it.
Alcohol vs Cannabis
Consuming a glass of chardonnay, a mug of beer or a shot of whiskey all essentially produce the same effect on the human body. Alcohol is alcohol.
Compare alcohol consumption to cannabis consumption:
- Strain A opens a creative outlet in your mind
- Strain B accelerates your descent into sleepy land
- Strain C melts your pain away
Why do certain strains produce particular psychoactive or medical effects? Are the differences explained by differences in THC concentrations?
THC is one of over 700 natural compounds contained in the cannabis plant.
The Cannabis Family
Typically, cannabis is classified into two families: indica and sativa.
Indica is characterized by broad-leaves on short trees native to Afghanistan and Pakistan. These THC-dominant strains produce the stereotypical "stoned" feeling.
Sativa is characterized by narrow-leaves on tall hemp trees indigenous to tropical climates. These plants have a higher ratio of CBD to THC (more about this later) and produce more of a heady cerebral feeling than the Indica Netflix and chill feeling.
However, after decades of cross-breeding, the distinctions between indica and sativa have largely disappeared; almost all cannabis plants are now hybrids. Pure Indica and Sativa varieties prove exceedingly rare.
The effects of a particular cannabis plant are determined by the profile of their active chemical compounds: cannabinoids and terpenoids.
These chemical compounds synergistically produce the overall effect of a strain.
Meet the Cannabinoids & the Terpenoids
Cannabis produces over 100 cannabinoids, chemical compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors, located primarily in the brain and on immune cells.
Whether produced by your own body or consumed through cannabis, cannabinoids play an important role in regulating hunger, pain, mood and memory.
You're likely familiar with THC; this cannabinoid produces the sedative "stoned" sensation and alters information processing in the brain. THC is responsible for the anxiety and short-term memory loss associated with cannabis.
You're less likely to be familiar with CBD; this cannabinoid is a rising star because it reduces inflammation and pain, without affecting thought process. This means that CBD can effectively and safely be consumed while working or driving.
THC is the most common cannabinoid and the primary psychoactive component of cannabis. Breeders can achieve a dry weight of up to 25% THC. However, THC (and all cannabinoids for that matter) only becomes activated through heating, i.e. vaping, smoking, cooking. Functions of THC include: reduce inflammation, reduce pain, reduce pressure in the eye, reduce muscle tension, protect the brain; however, THC also produces anxiety, drowsiness and increased heart rate.
CBD is the second most common cannabinoid and most commonly encountered in hemp varieties of cannabis. Like THC, CBD requires heat to become activated. CBD dominant varieties are starting to reemerge after decades of growing pressure favoring THC dominant strains. Important effects of CBD include: combat pain, reduce inflammation, inhibit cancer growth, hinder bacterial growth and prevent seizures. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive and modulates some of the negative effects of THC by reducing anxiety, drowsiness and increased heart rate. CBD is to THC as yin is to yang.
Although currently considered less significant, other cannabinoids include: cannabigerol [CBG], cannabichrome [CBC] and cannabinol [CBN]. Targeted cultivation and research are needed to better understand the effects of these cannabinoids and others.
Oh the aroma! Has your nose chanced across a blossoming flower, a delicate fragrance or a ripe fruit? Terpenoids are aromatic compounds that produce characteristic smells, in addition to a host of medicinal functions.
In fact, terpenoids are the most common plant chemical in nature with over 30,000 identified to date! Cannabis produces over 200 terpenoids. Like cannabinoids, these chemicals are found in the trichome heads of the cannabis flower.
Terpenoids play a synergistic role with cannabinoids. This means that two cannabis varieties with identical cannabinoid profiles (i.e. same relative percentages of THC to CBD) can still produce different psychoactive and medicinal effects. One proposed mechanism of synergy is increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, allowing greater interaction between cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the brain (Backes).
However, the exact mechanism and results of these interactions is just beginning to be understood. Since cannabis was reclassified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug (meaning that there is no perceived medical benefit, with significant risks posed to the consumer) cannabis research in the United States has been virtually non-existent.
Does it smell like Christmas? Pinene is the terpenoid producing the iconic fragrance of pine trees. Pinene is also a principal ingredient of the solvent turpentine. The solvent nature of pinene is one important reason to avoid storing cannabis in plastic bags, as pinene-containing strains will actually dissolve the plastic into the plant material. Yuck! Pinene counteracts the short-term memory loss associated with THC.
Oranges, grapefruits and lemons! Limonene is commonly encountered in citrus fruits. This terpenoid is known for elevating mood and stimulating the mind. Some research has even demonstrated anti-depressant effects.
Myrcene is the most commonly encountered terpenoid in the cannabis plant. Myrcene is also the dominant variety in hops, a primary ingredient in beer providing bitterness and antimicrobial activity. This terpenoid is known for producing the characteristic "stoned" sensation, a heaviness that makes it difficult to mobilize off of the couch. Additional benefits of this terpenoid include muscle relaxation and sedation.
This terpenoid is also encountered in black pepper and hops. Beta-carophyllene reduces inflammation both internally and topically. And, it balances the effects of over-medication with THC. Drug dogs are trained to sniff out metabolites of this terpenoid!
Do you love the aroma of lavender? Linalool is known for calming, anti-anxiety properties. It combats pain and induces sleep.
Tips to Elevate Your Cannabis
(Adapted from Backes)
The trichome heads of the flowers are extremely delicate. Excessive force will cause rupture of these heads, thereby releasing the aromatic terpenoids and inducing breakdown of the medicinal cannabinoids.
Don't use grinders designed to catch kief, a concentrated form of cannabis compounds. Kief that is collected by the grinder will inevitably lose its terpenoids and cannabinoids by the time it's used. Use a grinder that keeps the kief in the grind.
Store in rigid, air-tight containers
The ideal storage container for cannabis is a CLEAN glass or polycarbonate jar with an air-tight seal. The volume of the storage vessel should approximate the volume of cannabis to minimize unnecessary air. Containers can be reused, just ensure to rewash them! Rigid containers prevent damage to the delicate trichrome heads, so leave the clear plastic bags in your dorm room! The terpenoid limonene acts as a solvent and can dissolve soft plastics into the plant. Please, don't consume plastic-coated cannabis. Short term storage at temperature less than 80°F, ideally at 50°F.
Freeze for long-term storage
Long term storage greater than 90 days: store at temperature less than 32°F (0°C). Freezing is the best long term strategy for dried flowers, edibles, oils and waxes.
Moisture--such as can be encountered with a humidor for cigars--can promote growth of mold. Any signs of mold mean the cannabis should be discarded immediately.
Backes, Michael. Cannabis Pharmacy. The Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers: 2014.
Bultman, Laura and Kyle Kingsley. Medical Cannabis Primer. Minnesota Medical Solutions: 2014.
"History of Marijuana". Narconon International. Association of Better Living and Education International.