Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in the regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia. The history of cannabis use goes back as far as 12,000 years, which places the plant among humanity’s oldest cultivated crop. Hemp and cannabis were widely used in ancient China, with the first recorded medicinal use dating back to 4,000 BC. Since there are hundreds of variations of cannabis flower on the market today, having a basic understanding of what they are and what they do, will help the consumer better understand how to pick the right product for their needs.
Sativa, Indica and Hybrid
The two most common cannabis plant types are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, which both have psychoactive properties. Less common is Cannabis ruderalis, which is mostly used by breeders to enhance their hybrids, which combine both species. It is important to distinguish between the two familiar subspecies of the cannabis plant. It was once believed that Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica had distinct effects. Sativa was thought to produce more energetic effects, while indica produced a more calming effect. While some of this basic knowledge may still apply, now that growers have cultivated hybrid strains for many years, references to the effects of pure species may no longer be relevant or helpful. Today there are hundreds of strains of plants and each is bred for specific characteristics and often produced for specific effects. Sativa can grow quite tall (up to 25 feet) and has long, serrated light green leaves. Indica is generally faster growing, bushier and can be up to 20 feet. There is a lot of speculation about the varying effects of consuming predominantly sativa cannabis versus indica strains, but significant differences can occur from strain to strain. Many products are made from hybrid plants, as growers explore and cultivate cannabis to produce desired effects and offer a larger variety.
Terpenes are fragrant oils found in many types of plants that produce a unique taste and give strains their unique aromas. The tastes and smells of the terpenes in cannabis products range from woodsy to spicy to citrusy sweet. Although cannabis is often associated with a certain ‘musky’ aroma, each strain has its own scent. The individual scent of a strain will be based on the number and type of terpenes present and which ones are dominant. Furthermore, each terpene itself can have multiple aroma profiles and levels can vary from crop to crop, which may lead to inconsistencies in the scents within the same strain.
Now that we’ve learned more about the plant, lets discuss how to pick the right cannabis strain for you.
Cannabis affects everyone differently and several factors contribute to the effect’s cannabis may produce. PSA, it may potentially have harmful effects if used improperly and it’s always advised to start with a small dose and consume slowly, as different delivery methods have varying onset of effects. With hundreds of cannabis strains, products and delivery methods on the market, it’s important to make an informed decision, especially if you’re inexperienced or trying a new product. There are six important factors to keep in mind when picking the right cannabis product for you:
1. The user, yes YOU!
Because everyone’s physiology and Endocannabinoid System is different, the effects of cannabis are highly individualized. Your experience will depend on many personal factors, such as your previous experience with cannabis, your age, gender, and your overall mental and physical health. For example, if a user already suffers from paranoia or other psychoses, the use of cannabis may exacerbate those symptoms.
2. THC (Tetrahudrocannabinol) levels in product
THC is the cannabinoid most associated with the psychoactive and intoxicating effects of cannabis. Understanding THC potency can be helpful in gauging the level of psychoactive sensation you may experience. THC levels are expressed as a percentage. For example, a product that is labelled 18% THC means that THC makes up 18% (or 180 milligrams per gram) of the total cannabis content. THC is a complex but important element in shaping the experience you’ll have with cannabis. You need to understand the potency potential of products you’re considering consuming. It is always advised to start with a low dose and waiting before consuming more.
3. CBD (Cannabidiol) levels in product
CBD is another one of the cannabis plant’s active cannabinoids. Consumed on its own, CBD generally has no intoxicating effect. When present in a product with at least 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, CBD may negate some of the psychoactive effects produced by THC. If you prefer a no psychoactive experience, choose “CBD Only” products or those with a high ratio of CBD to THC. High CBD concentration in dried cannabis can vary from 4% to 9% and above. CBD concentrations vary in oil, tinctures, capsule, edible and topical product formats and by manufacturer. CBD has been shown to help with acne issues, reduce pain, help with neurological, prevent and treat seizures to name a few.
4. Specific scents and flavours through Terpenes
Terpenes are the chemical compounds found in fragrant oils of many plants that influence their scents and flavours. Different strains will typically have a dominant terpene and may contain several others. Some believe cannabis terpenes may also contribute to the effect of a strain beyond their influence on aroma and flavour, although there is no scientific evidence linking terpenes to any health benefits or specific effect. However, they may affect your aromatic or taste experience depending on the strain being consumed. Terpenes are important when consuming cannabis through smoking and vaping, as they lose their appeal when it comes to oils, tinctures, edibles and topicals.
5. Choosing the right method to consume cannabis
How you choose to consume cannabis may influence the experience you have. This is mostly due to the timing of the onset and the duration of the effect. Inhalation (smoking or vaping) and ingesting (eating or drinking) produce different effects because of the way in which the cannabinoids enter your bloodstream. Inhaling cannabis can produce an effect within seconds, so waiting at least five minutes before inhaling a second time will help control your experience. Ingesting cannabis will take at least an hour for the onset of effect due to the substances need to make its way through the GI tract before being absorbed into the body. Effects will take longer to experience and may last longer than inhaling it. Before ingesting more, be sure to wait at least one hour to gauge the level of effect.
6. Quantity being consumed
The amount of cannabis you consume may directly affect the experience you have. Even if you choose a lower potency product, if you over-consume, you may experience unpleasant, negative or harmful effects. Therefore it is advisable to start with a very small amount and consume it slowly at all times.
Educating yourself on the different strains, content, delivery methods and effects will help you make an informed decision on what product is right for you. While many Licensed Producers give intended or reported effects for their products, this information is often sourced from customers who have used their products and may not have been scientifically gathered or tested. It is important to keep this in mind and read up on the latest research by checking out neutral sources, such as the Government of Canada website, to make an informed decision. Ultimately, the best way to know how cannabis will affect you is through personal experience. Begin with a product that is lower in THC and CBD potency and use a small amount to see how it affects you.