What Are Cannabinoids, THC, CBD and Terpenes?
Cannabinoids are the active chemicals in cannabis plants that affect our brain and body when we consume them. There are over 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis that interact with a system in our body called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Our bodies also produce natural chemicals called “endocannabinoids” that interact with the ECS. Cannabinoids look like these natural chemicals to our body and therefore interact with the ECS the same way endocannabinoids do. The ECS is important for our response to stress and mental health, immunity, and our overall wellness.
The two cannabinoids that are most common and tend to be present in higher amounts in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Terpenes are the natural chemicals present in cannabis that give each strain or variety its unique smell and taste. There are thousands of terpenes present in most types of plants and they give our favourite spices, teas, fruits and vegetables their unique aromas. Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in cannabis plants and there is some evidence to suggest that they play a role in the effects of a cannabis strain, however more research is needed in this area. Now that terpene analysis is commonly included in cannabis product descriptions, you can start to recognize which terpenes your favourite strains contain and it can help you find new strains to try that may give you similar effects. A few of the most common cannabis terpenes are: caryophyllene, myrcene, alpha- and beta- pinene, limonene, and terpinolene.
How to choose a cannabis product:
Generally, we can categorize all cannabis products into these main types to help with choosing the right one for you:
- THC-dominant cannabis products will contain THC (over 7% THC) and minimal amounts of CBD (0-2% CBD). This type of product will have a stronger “high” or euphoric effect. This type of product has the greatest chance of undesirable effects like paranoia and discomfort, depending on the dose and other factors.
- CBD-dominant cannabis products will contain CBD (over 7% CBD) and minimal amounts of THC (0-2% THC). This type of product will likely have little to no “high” or euphoric effect and be milder and more relaxing, depending on the dose and other factors.
- Balanced cannabis products can have a ratio of THC to CBD of either: 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3. The greater amount of CBD to THC means that the product will likely have a more relaxing, body-high effect and less of a stimulating “high”, depending on the dose and other factors.
Understanding Methods of Consumption
Understanding Methods of Consumption
Other consumption methods:
Topical application: These cannabis products are used mostly for medical purposes and come in the form of a lotion, cream, salve, bath products or other personal care products. Topical cannabis products are applied to the skin and work locally to help with specific areas of the body, like muscle pain for example. They are rarely psychoactive. Even so, it is wise to apply a small amount on your skin to start.
Juicing: If you have access to growing cannabis, fresh cannabis flowers, leaves and stems can be made into a juice using a juicer machine. You would still ingest the plant’s cannabinoids, vitamins and minerals through this method. There is no intoxicating effect from this method because the cannabinoids have not been heated and activated. Some people consume cannabis this way for its nutritional benefit.
Nasal spray: Similar to sinus medication, this method delivers a standardized dose of THC or CBD directly to the bloodstream. This medical product format is not currently available in the Canadian regulated market.
Suppositories: These may be used anally or vaginally for specific medical conditions. Currently, these types of products are only available if you make them yourself at home.
Transdermal patches: There are patches that you apply to the skin and leave on for several hours and the cannabinoids slowly enter the bloodstream and have a psychoactive effect.
Anatomy of Cannabis
Cannabis is in the same plant family as hops (the bitter aromatic used in beer) and has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. There are three sub-groups part of the cannabis family – Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. You will mainly only hear about sativa and indica and not about ruderalis because ruderalis is typically only used for breeding purposes. Cannabis we consume today are not purely one type, but have been cross-bred in such a way that they always result in mixtures of these three groups of plants. There are no existing samples of pure-bred indica or sativa plants due to many years of interbreeding between the different types. Whether a plant is mainly sativa or indica describes the characteristics of how the plant grows and there is little evidence regarding the type of high you will get consuming one or the other (energetic vs couch-lock). Check out our interactive historical timeline of cannabis and legalization in Canada!
“Hemp” is also a term that used to mean psychoactive cannabis historically (either indica or sativa), however these days it is defined as cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC (the intoxicating cannabinoid). Check our section on THC, CBD and terpenes to learn more!
Industrial hemp is an environmentally sustainable crop grown for its fibre, seeds, and natural oils and can be used for many different products such as clothing, biofuel, foods, and cosmetics. Eating hemp seeds or cooking with hemp oil will not get you high and it has healthy types of fats, fibre and protein.
Cannabis plants are classified as either “male” or “female.” The ones we consume are considered “female” which means they produce large flowers with sticky resin rich in cannabinoids. Since “male” plants produce pollen sacs instead of large flower buds, they only contain very small amounts of cannabinoids and are only used for breeding purposes.