Cannabis is one of the buzziest plants out there right now. With legalization spreading across the country, the market has opened up and begun allowing a variety of forms to be sold and consumed for medical and recreational purposes. Yet with so much prohibition surrounding the plant for decades, information detailing the benefits and science behind cannabis aren't openly known.
With so many new products ranging from edibles to vapes to lotions — all filled a varying degree of CBD, THC, and pure hemp extract — it's easy to feel lost when trying to figure out what effects each will produce. And when it comes to putting things into your body, you don't want to go in blind.
So we decided to make it a little easier for you. We asked a few experts in the 'biz to give us a breakdown of all the terms you keep hearing as well as advice to help you find the best quality items out there. Whether you're thinking of experimenting with adding some CBD to your favorite beverage or want to achieve your ideal high, we hope to guide you towards your perfect elevated experience.
Cannabis Vs. Hemp
The first question you might want to ask is what is the difference between cannabis and hemp, which was recently legalized federally through the 2018 Farm Bill. Juna founder Jewel Zimmer gives us the scoop.
"Cannabis is a feminine plant full of botanical actives," she says. "Hemp and cannabis are the same plant. They’re both cannabis al sativa plants. The main difference is that hemp is basically a variety. It tends to be more fibrous and stalky. It doesn’t produce very much THC, but it does produce a lot of CBD. The plant with more THC, usually has less CBD."
"Marijuana is typically grown in a very controlled environment, such as a greenhouse, which is essential to maintain its high concentration of THC," explains Gunhee Park, founder of the full-spectrum hemp oil company Populum. "On the other hand, hemp is grown like any other agricultural crop, where it’s planted and cultivated out on an open field. It’s also very versatile, so can be grown in a variety of regions. Just looking at the U.S., hemp is currently grown across wide range of states, from Tennessee, Colorado, to Oregon."
"As hemp got deregulated at the federal level over the past five years, hemp-derived CBD oil became much more accessible and popular than regular cannabis products, as you could easily shop for them online or at your local health foods store," he says. "Marijuana’s high-THC potency is typically used for medical or recreational purposes. However, hemp is known to have a wide range of applications. Its seeds can be used as a nutritional supplement (e.g. hemp hearts or hemp protein powder). The seeds can also be pressed to be used in body care products (e.g. soap, lotion). Its stalks can be used for construction, apparel, and ropes. Lastly, its flower and buds can be used to derive hemp extracts, which are used for supplements (i.e. CBD)."
So what exactly is THC? Well first off, it's an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol. Confused? We'll break that down for you ahead.
"The cannabis plant is full of all these compounds — THC, CBD, and then accessory cannabinoids like CBC, CBG, CBM, and the acid forms of THC and CBD like THCA and CBDA. Everything in its active form is actually not psychoactive," shares Zimmer. "Then it’s full of all these terpenes. These are what are found in essential oils that make them have the aroma and mood-changing properties that they do. So when you smell lavender and feel relaxed, that’s because of a terpene that’s actually present in the lavender. Cannabis is filled with terpenes, as many flowers are, but in high concentrations — enough for you to have a mental shift. There’s over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant that we know of and only a couple of them are psychoactive. THC is, while most of them, like CBD, are actually not."
"Cannabinoids work on different receptors in the body," she explains further. "So CBD works with the CB2 receptor, which works with the immune system, the nervous system, and these types of internal pathways. Then the THC works on the CB1 receptor, which forms a relationship to the brain."
Since psychoactive THC is what can cause those euphoric "high" effects, it's only legalized for recreational use in certain states (you can find a breakdown of where here). Yet unlike destructive drugs, it can produce some really positive effects for your health.
"There are benefits to just THC in a developed brain," says Zimmer. "Researchers have seen results in studies from Israel, Canada, and Spain. It reacts with certain receptors in the brain. A little bit of THC really changes how you perceive things. Everything can be a little more clear and a little more focused. It enhances sexual arousal and creativity. It also helps to calm us down a little too and get us feeling relaxed."
"THC also has medical benefits as well apart from just mood," she explains. "I know UCSF is doing a study on THC and Alzheimers. They were seeing that when they gave patients THC, they actually were seeing some of the symptoms being reversed. So there’s a lot of power in these compounds and cannabinoids that are very complex. It is a very sophisticated plant."
If you use cannabis either medicinally or recreationally, you probably have heard about (and have a preference for) sativa and indica strains. These names often reflect the terpenes qualities in a particular plant. "Historically, people have thought of indica of having profiles with more relaxing effects and sativa having profiles with more uplifting effects. Really those don’t mean anything," says Zimmer. "Sativa is the Latin name of the plant and indica comes from the name of the plant from the Kush mountains. But we are going to see these names disappear. I think what’s really important is if you go into a dispensary, they’ll be able to steer you towards something whether you want an experience that’s more uplifting or relaxing."
"With this new legal market, people are beginning to understand the specifications of the plant and how in microdoses, we can have very different experiences with it," Zimmer explains. "We could have something with the profiles of say, a historical sativa, and you will feel a little lift, a little creativity, and a little focus to go out and be social. Or you can come back to this indica profile. Really it’s all about having lower levels of THC and finding the plant with the terpenes that you like. Either you want to feel like you just had a glass of wine and are at that relaxed place, or you want a little lift."
While THC can only be used in certain states, you can easily purchase hemp-based CBD (aka cannabidiol) in most. While the compound can produce anti-inflammatory and calming effects, the way it is formulated within products can change the benefits you receive.
"When the entire cannabis plant is able to work together, there is something that happens called the entourage effect. They basically help everything work more effectively. So a little bit of THC helps to activate CBD," shares Zimmer. "In the CBD market, especially with hemp CBD, it can become confusing because there are laws that are in place and those that aren’t in place. Some people sell CBD isolate, which is when you extract everything from the hemp and then remove everything except for the CBD. So you’re not getting all those other compounds that help it work more effectively. Generally, you can use more of it or your tolerance will be higher because you don’t have all these other compounds helping it work synergistically in your body to be more effective."
How can you tell if your CBD-infused gummy is going to get the job done? "I always recommend to people that with whatever they’re taking, order in their coffee, or choose to buy, they really look at the source," says Zimmer. "Is it an isolate? If it is, then you don’t have a lot of other compounds helping it be more effective or all those terpenes helping calm the mood and bring about focus. It’s going to be a more linear experience for sure." She notes, "Not that it won’t work. It’s definitely going to react with receptors and work towards reducing inflammation and things like that. But really look at that. I always tell people to make sure it’s full spectrum."
Zimmer warns that you also shouldn't trust packaging. "There are a lot of brands out there that say they are full spectrum or there is x amount of CBD. But there are people testing these products realizing it’s not valid," she says. "Don’t be afraid to ask the company that you’re ordering from. Especially if you’re ordering online from a company directly, don’t be afraid to ask for a lab test verifying that the amount of CBD in there is what they say it is." Luckily, there are some cool companies doing the work for you. "There are great CBD platforms now like Poplar based out of Brooklyn or Fleur Marché and Miss Grass out of L.A that vet products and get lab results for every batch that they keep on file. They have the COAs and are able to see if the product is what it says it is."
How To Use Cannabis & Hemp
So once you do some research and discover some brands with high-quality products, you now have to decide what way you want to take your cannabis or hemp products.
"Topical CBD products are popular among customers who want to target a specific part of their body," notes Park. "With the right type of formulation, CBD is absorbed through the dermal layers, rather than just staying on the skin."
Zimmer adds, "If you use it sublingually, it mostly absorbs into your blood system. If you eat it or have it in a beverage, it’s going to metabolize through your liver and will take a little bit longer before you feel it. But it will also last a bit longer. Then smoking, you will feel it faster, but it’s not going to last as long. You can just choose whatever delivery method works for you. It’s really to each his own."
If you're newer to CBD, Park recommends starting out with a tincture. "We’d recommend our 250mg CBD Tincture, as it is a lower concentration and a great place for first-time users to test out what dosage works best for them. We’ve also found through research and anecdotal evidence that tinctures are one of the most effective ways to take CBD."
You can even give CBD to your animals to help them with pain or stress as well. "We offer a product that is very popular among owners of older or anxious pets," shares Park. "We even have a customer who buys multiple bottles for her horse! We have had zero reports related to any type of side effects from our pet customers."
Since cannabis is still illegal federally, you should still take precautions when flying with your products. Even if you're within a state with legal recreational weed, TSA still can take action if they find it in your bags. "We have not heard of any incidents when it comes to traveling with CBD products,” says Park. “But we do advise customers to check it in their bags if possible, just to avoid any confusion. Especially if you’re traveling with a CBD product that’s packaged or branded like a marijuana product, it might cause unnecessary confusion at security.”
While laws may take some time to catch up with the positive progress that legalizing cannabis can create for both our health and the criminal justice system, that doesn't mean you should shy away from incorporating it into your regimen if your state allows it.
"I really encourage people to start experimenting with just a little bit of cannabis every day, whether it’s THC, CBD, or a mix," Zimmer shares. "You really just need to see how everything works in your body. We all have an endo-cannabinoid system — the foundation of breast milk is cannabinoids actually. It’s related to our gut health and our mental health. So really activating this entire system every day with a little bit of cannabis will literally change people’s worlds, whether they want to feel high or not."
"It’s like a vitamin or a supplement," she says. "Just enough to engage that system is really powerful. I think it’s also why we’re seeing cannabis come into our lives the way that we are right now. I think we are finally at a place where we need it. Between the environment and the crazy schedules, we are ready for it in a different way."