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Cannabis 101: an introduction to marijuana education

Helping you understand the world of cannabis.


The marijuana plant

Marijuana is complicated. There are both male and female cannabis plants, and even hermaphroditic plants, which are both. However, only seedless female marijuana plants produce the flowers, known as buds, that are used for consumption. These buds are rich in cannabinoids, one of the chemical compounds that give cannabis the health benefits for which it’s known.

Traditionally, there have been two dominant types of plants (known as “strains”): Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. Over time, this distinction has become less relevant thanks to crossbreeding. Today, marijuana strains may be either Indica- or Sativa-dominant, but many strains are hybrids – a crossbreed of the two. The term “hybrid,” however, can also refer to a crossbreed of two Indica strains or two Sativa strains.

Cannabinoids and their therapeutic effects

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis. Our bodies produce cannabinoids on their own, too. The cannabinoids produced naturally in your body are called endocannabinoids, while the cannabinoids found in cannabis are called phytocannabinoids.

More than 100 different cannabinoids have been found in the cannabis plant. However, the two best-known cannabinoids in marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

The effects of cannabis are mediated through your endocannabinoid system, which plays an integral role in the orchestration, maintenance and balance of optimal health and healing. Receptors in your endocannabinoid system mediate many of the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids such as THC. The expression of these receptors, meaning the overall number of receptors in the endocannabinoid system, differs from patient to patient. One patient may have more receptors than another, changing the way their bodies experience the effects of cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids may be used for the relief of a number of symptoms associated with a variety of disorders that have not responded to conventional medical treatments. These symptoms (or conditions) may include:

  • Severe refractory nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy
  • Loss of appetite and body weight in cancer patients and patients with HIV/AIDS
  • Pain and muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic non-cancer pain (mainly neuropathic)
  • Severe refractory cancer-associated pain
  • Insomnia and depressed mood associated with chronic diseases (HIV/AIDS, chronic non-cancer pain)
  • Symptoms encountered in the palliative/end-of-life care setting

This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms or conditions; for more detailed information about therapeutic uses, as well as about adverse effects, please consult the “Information for Health Care Professionals: Cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the Cannabinoids” on Health Canada’s website.

Cannabis terpenes

Like cannabinoids, terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds that the flowers of cannabis plants secrete. There are more than 100 different terpenes in cannabis plants, and they’re responsible for giving cannabis – and each strain of cannabis – its unique scent. Terpenes, however, are present in almost all plants, and aromatic plants such as mint have particularly strong terpene profiles. Terpenes are also valuable for the way they interact with other chemical compounds in marijuana.

The entourage effect

Different cannabinoids and terpenoids likely interact with each other to create what’s called the “entourage effect.” This means that the hundreds of different chemical compounds in marijuana, whether cannabinoids or terpenoids, can complement each other and generate unique medical effects in ways that the compounds couldn’t do on their own. Emerald Health is conducting research to better understand how the entourage effect works.

Healthy cannabis consumption

There are many different ways to consume cannabis – what’s referred to as the “delivery method.” These include inhalation (including vaporization), oral delivery (including edibles and oils) and topical application (through the skin). Each method interacts with your body in different way, and the speed of onset varies depending on the ingestion method.

The most well-known delivery method is inhalation, which includes both smoking and vaping. Many of the adverse health effects linked to cannabis consumption aren’t related to cannabis, but to the smoking of cannabis, which requires combustion.

Vaping doesn’t require combustion, therefore would not pose the same risks as smoking. However, there are no significant studies on the risks of vaping; as a result, consumed and topical delivery methods tend to be preferred by medical experts.

Marijuana microdosing

Microdosing refers to the practice of consuming small amounts of cannabis in intervals to gain some of its therapeutic benefits while reducing the psychoactive effects. The general rule is to start low and go slow. Marijuana microdosing has been reported to help with sleep problems, anxiety, PTSD and more.

What are hemp and hemp oil?

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis Sativa plant, but typically produces less than 0.3% THC, whereas cannabis usually ranges from 5% to 20% THC. Hemp also has no psychoactive effects. Hemp can feature a high cannabidiol content, however, so its flowers and leaves can be used for CBD oils. The appearance of hemp plants is different, too: its leaves are skinnier and often appear closer to the top of the plant.

Commercial hemp has a host of commercial and industrial uses, including in food products such as butter, hemp seed oil, flour and protein powder, and in products such as shampoo and conditioner, hand lotions, insulation, paper and even construction materials.

Hemp oil is made from cold-pressed hemp seeds, and it’s rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and antioxidants. It typically has below 25 parts per million of CBD. In Canada, hemp oil is regulated by Health Canada to include less than 10 parts per million of THC. Hemp Extract Oil is produced using the whole hemp plant, including the stem, seeds and leaves.

How we test our marijuana products

We aim to bring to cannabis products the same consistency, accuracy and measured outcome of pharmaceutical products. By implementing processes and tools from the biotech and scientific worlds (i.e., clinical trials), we can mirror these measured outcomes for consumers. Until now, these concepts have been missing from the cannabis industry due to a restrictive legal environment and a lack of scientific research. The legalization of cannabis in Canada allows us to take giant steps toward the advancement of research and the development of new marijuana products. We expect that proprietary intellectual property created through our innovation efforts will be beneficial in creating competitive advantages as well as bolstering consumer confidence. We are excited about the untapped opportunity to advance the scientific study, characterization and commercialization of cannabis, to fully realize the plant’s health benefits.

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