Cannabis Curious? Everything You Want To Know But Feel Dorky Asking

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Cannabis Curious? Everything You Want To Know But Feel Dorky Asking

It’s hard not to feel a little paranoid buying weed these days

Remember the good old days, when you just could just stroll into Washington Square Park and buy a dime bag? (Right, neither do I…)

It’s ironic given the fact that we have never been in a looser place, legally speaking, when it comes to cannabis. Twenty-four states and Washington, D.C., have all green-lighted the recreational use of marijuana, and it’s decriminalized for medical use in 14 other states. Most notably, the Biden administration is firing up a plan to downgrade marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug on the federal level, which would reclassify it as a highly dangerous and addictive substance to one that can be lawfully prescribed.

It’s not an outright legalization, but it’s pretty darn close. 

But as restrictions around the use of cannabis get lifted and conversations about the use of marijuana become more frequent and open, it’s becoming increasingly clear how little is truly understood about the effects of different types of cannabis and how it can and should be consumed for euphoric, pain relieving, relaxing and/or psychoactive effects. 

There is still a lot to learn, but thankfully, there is more clarity than appears at first glance when perusing the hodgepodge of conflicting headlines and research.

Strains vs. Terpenes + Cannabinoids

For decades, cannabis connoisseurs divided marijuana into two camps, by strain: indica and sativa. Indica was supposed to be sedative, and sativa was supposed to energize. But there’s more to it. 

“Indica and sativa refer to a strain’s genetic chemical makeup,” says Miri Gregor, VP of Cannabis at Gotham NYC, a licensed dispensary in Manhattan. “But after generations of breeding and crossbreeding, it is rare to find genetics that are purely indica or sativa. Most strains are hybridized to take on desirable characteristics of both.”

While some brands and retailers use the terms “indica” and “sativa” as shorthand to suggest a strain’s commonly reported effects, terpene profiles likely play a bigger role in the strains’ effects, Gregor says. 

Sang Choi, a pharmacist and the downstate dispensary director at Etain Health, agrees.

“Depending on where it is grown, a strain’s effects will be different,” Choi says. “A kush grown in California is going to be very different than a kush grown in New York because growing conditions affect everything.”

(To put that in perspective, think about terroir and wine. A Cabernet Sauvignon grown in California will taste totally different, and even have a different alcohol level, than one grown in Northern Italy). 

Terpenes, meanwhile, are hydrocarbons with small isoprene units that link together to form chains—simply put, they are responsible for the way plants smell. They can be found in the essential oils of many plants, including conifers, citrus trees and cannabis. 

“There is so much incorrect information out there about strains,” agrees Robert Holland, founder of Tempo Crackers, a low-dose cannabis cracker company. “Instead of focusing on strains, we encourage people to focus on terpenes. Personally, if it’s a Saturday morning and I’m looking for energy, I look for a citrus profile, like limonene. If I’m hoping to wind down, I’ll look for myrcene, which smells earthy. For anti-inflammatory effects, I look for caryophyllene, which has a warm, zesty aroma.”

There’s more: cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds, and they’re the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. 

“Research on cannabinoids is expanding, and scientists have already identified over 100,” says Jeff Koz, president and co-founder of Dr. Norm’s, an L.A.-based edibles company. “THC is the most extensively researched cannabinoid, known for its psychoactive effects—the “getting high” part. However, the truly exciting aspect lies in the potential benefits of numerous other cannabinoids, each offering a wide range of effects and potential medical applications.”

At Dr. Norm’s, Koz has focused on creating wellness products that leverage specific cannabinoids. The sleep line at Dr. Norm’s, for example, contains a mix of THC, CBN, CBG and CBD, while the pain relief products blend THC, THCV, CBC, CBD, CBDA and CBG for maximum efficacy.

Deciding on Dosage + Vehicle

Knowing how much THC you’re getting in one serving and knowing how much a serving constitutes is essential, especially for cannabis newbies. It’s also key to think about how you want to ingest your cannabis: inhale, sip or snack?

Cannabis products that can be eaten or sipped are easier for beginners who want to measure their servings carefully. 

Given the wide range of potencies available, it’s vital to avoid overdosing, which can lead to unpleasant effects like paranoia, anxiety and immobilization,” Koz notes. “We’ve always advocated starting slow to determine the optimal dose that works for you, ensuring you can fully enjoy the benefits of cannabis.”

Start small with 2 mg, and work your way up from there, advises Shari Berman, MS of medical cannabis science and therapeutics and founder of Canna Healing Consulting

“I often teach people that low doses of THC can be more therapeutic than higher doses,” Berman says. “Individuals self-medicating their anxiety should know that higher levels of THC can increase anxiety. And you can build a tolerance to THC, which means you need more to get the same effect, which may cause unwanted side effects and possibly cannabis use disorder.”

Unfortunately, Berman adds, the recreational market tends to push high levels of THC. 

For those looking for therapeutic effects, she advises looking for products that combine THC with the non-psychoactive CBD.

“It can be therapeutic, and people tend to tolerate the combination very well compared to THC alone,” she says. 

How should cannabis be consumed?

Sabrina Wheeler, COO at Stone Road, a biodynamic cannabis farm in Nevada City, California, explains that inhaling or smoking cannabis products will lead to the fastest onset and shortest duration.

“But smoking is not ideal for lung health,” Wheeler says. “On the other hand, ingesting cannabis in edible or drink form offers longer-lasting effects, making it suitable for conditions like pain relief and insomnia. The downside is prolonged duration of effects. I’ve also sometimes experienced a “weed hangover” from edibles, regardless of the dosage.”

It’s important to consider what you’re sipping or ingesting and to look closely at the number of servings, Holland adds.

“A chocolate bar may be 10 mg per serving, with 10 servings in the bar,” Holland says. “You’re going to want to start with a small section, not the entire bar.”

And give it time to kick in, he warns. 

“Edibles and drinkables with sugar will be metabolized faster, which means it will kick in and be out of your system fairly quickly,” Holland says. “But if there’s fat, you’ll metabolize it slower, which means it will take time to kick in and will last longer.”

If you want to party, think sugar-based, he says. For medicinal purposes or a long wellness high, he advises going fat-based.

Bottom Line: When in Doubt, Ask & Buy Legally 

If all of this information prompts as many questions as it answers, you’re not alone. And asking questions—a lot of questions—at recreational and medical dispensaries is encouraged. 

“I always encourage people to ask a lot of questions,” says Choi. “And always bring in a list of medications you currently use, and know what your goals with cannabis are.”

Also, buy your cannabis legally: You’re guaranteed to know what’s inside.

“It’s so important to purchase clean, safe and tested cannabis so you can trust the legitimacy of what you’re consuming,” Wheeler says. “Untested products may contain chemicals or fillers.” 

And if you’re using cannabis to help you with a serious medical condition, consult your doctor.

“While cannabinoids may offer benefits for treating autoimmune diseases, PTSD, depression, chronic pain and more, their effectiveness can vary between individuals,” Koz warns.

The reefer madness era is over, but as with any substance used to party, unwind or treat a medical condition, caution is warranted. Start small, ask a lot of questions… and have fun. 

(Just not too much fun.) 

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