Cannabis 101: Understanding the plant that is changing the world
The amount of concern surrounding the dangers of cannabis is diminishing. Advancing medical research and development is changing the social stigma. Understanding the basics of cannabis helps us acknowledge why it has become so integrated into today’s medicine, culture, technology and business.
Sativa and Indica
Believed to have originated in central Asia, cannabis has been used and cultivated for thousands of years as a source of food, fiber and folk medicine. It has treated a wide variety of sickness in China, India, Africa and the Middle East. It was also popular in classical Greece and medieval Europe before it was “rediscovered” by English and American doctors in the 1800’s.
Cannabis is categorized as Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. Sativa grows thinner, longer leaves and more spindly tops than indica. Its color carries a yellow, orange hue when cultivated. Sativa produces a “head high,” meaning it energizes the mind and tends to spark creativity and happiness. It is also known to grow more rapidly outside and can thrive under direct sunlight. Indica is known to flourish under superficial lighting in a controlled environment and grows short and squat. It’s leaves tend show a purple tint and are broader than sativa. Indica gives off a “body high” when consumed. It is used to relax the body and helps ensure sleep.
While sativa and indica are the main dominants, growers have found ways of making hybrid strains in order to better meet consumer demands of different types of “highs.” A strain is a type of cannabis plant that is grown specifically to alter the mind or body in a certain way. For example, Golden Goat is a strain that is known for its effects as a mood booster. This strain is grown repetitively and consistently to keep its reputation of accommodating consumers with a happy high. There are hundreds of strains grown by cultivators who can keep up with market demands of higher quality and a wider range of choices.
Almost 500 individual components of cannabis have been identified. Some of these, like waxes, fats, fatty acids, carbohydrates and amino acids, are strikingly similar to those found in other plants. Terpenes are a group of aromatic compounds found in the essential oils of many herbs and spices. This is what gives cannabis its unique aromatic flavor. However, cannabinoids are found only in cannabis, making the plant unique in its characteristics and biological makeup.
Cannabinoids is what produces the unique effects cannabis has on the body. Over 90 different cannabinoids have been found inside cannabis and they are mostly located in the flowering tops of female plants (where they can make up as much as 30% of the total weight) and in the leaves and stems, to a lesser extent.
Benefits of Cannabis
Besides its recreational use, cannabis is reported to help alleviate or prevent many symptoms associated with the following diseases and conditions. The field of research is still fairly new, but controlled human clinical trials are beginning to give support to positive animal studies.
- Pressure in glaucoma
- Epileptic seizures
- Appetite loss associated with HIV/AIDS
- Chronic pain
- PMS, menstrual cramps, labor pain
- Crohn’s disease
There are many mediums of cannabis use. The oldest recorded consumption methods are topical (by way of skin) and sublingual (by way of mouth).
Cannabinoids can be mixed into creams and lotions and applied to the skin. These formulas are reported to reduce pain and inflammation where they are applied. The effect is limited to the area where the topical is applied and may or may not produce a psychoactive effect depending on the THC percentage.
The inside of the mouth under the tongue and around the gums is porous and can absorb substances quickly and directly into the bloodstream through the network of blood vessels just under the tissue surface. This method of absorption bypasses the gastrointestinal tract and produces consistent dosing, providing quick feedback on body effects similar to smoking or vaping.
Smoking cannabis is the most convenient way of smoking cannabis plucked straight from the ground. However, smoking can be unpleasant to many people, however, and burning cannabis can produce some of the same noxious byproducts as smoking tobacco.
An alternative to smoking is vaporizing, which uses a concentrated extract of the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant. The extract is heated to vaporize the components without burning and extract is inhaled. This avoids the drawbacks associated with smoking while preserving the advantages of inhaling, which consist of fast absorption by the body and quick feedback on the effects.
Cannabis can be eaten as ground-up plant or extracts mixed with other foods, or consumed by drinking teas or other beverages made by extracting the plant. Ingestion is simple and convenient, but has drawbacks such as a delayed reaction time of up to two hours as well as the metabolic rate of the cannabis passing through the stomach, intestines and liver, which dilutes the cannabinoid content, making doses variable and unpredictable.
There are other forms of that are being tested, such as soft-gel pills, inhalers and powders. As the industry continues to grow, many people are inventing easier and more convenient ways to consume cannabis.
Currently, 26 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of cannabis. Seven states and D.C. have also legalized recreational cannabis, allowing anyone 21 and older to legally purchase and possess cannabis. While still illegal at the federal level, the U.S. Justice Department has stated that it will not arrest any companies or persons involved that is distributing medical cannabis as long as they are within their legal state.
The people of the United States are still fighting to federally legalize cannabis and will continue in this fight until all patients have access. In addition, It has been proven on many occasions that cannabis can be beneficial in treating a variety of diseases. It is only a matter of time before our government perceives this as scientific fact and releases its strict grasp on cannabis restrictions.