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Cannabis 101

Cannabis is derived from the Cannabis Sativa L plant.

endocannabinoid system

A group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors in the human body.


Class of diverse chemical compounds that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain.


Class of organic compounds produced by a variety plants that create unique aromas.

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Cannabis 101

Cannabis Plant

Cannabis is a flowering plant with a multitude of purposes. Cannabis seeds can be used for food (Hemp seeds). Its stalks can be used for many industrial purposes: paper, clothing, rope, building material, etc. and, cannabis leaves, flowers and roots can be used for medicinal purposes.

The female cannabis plant produces flowers or buds that are most common for human consumption. The plant’s bud site or the "cola" is where female plants' flowers bloom. On the flowers or buds there are little translucent crystals called trichomes. Trichomes were originally developed to protect the plant against nature's elements and predators. These glands ooze very fragrant oils called terpenes as well as the therapeutic cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).

Variations of Cannabis: Marijuana vs. Hemp

Hemp and Marijuana are both of the cannabis family, coming from the same plant species Cannabis Sativa L. However, hemp does not contain the psychoactive compound, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that marijuana does. Hemp contains < 0.3% THC and is grown for industrial purposes as well as therapeutic purposes due to its high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD).

Physically, marijuana plants tend to be shorter and wider than hemp's tall and narrow physique.

Hemp is a highly versatile crop and innovation continues to bring new unique products to the market. Hemp is used as the base for products such as paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, etc.


Marijuana has been used for centuries as a medical and spiritual healing agent. The high levels of THC available in marijuana, amongst other important cannabinoids, allows the plant to deliver a euphoric feeling to users. This affect can be altered and controlled to be used as a therapy to improve the quality of life of patients with many different debilitating conditions.


Marijuana [1] has levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is known to have a psychoactive (euphoric or “high”) effect when consumed. Marijuana is comprised of various strains of two primary sub-species known as Sativa and Indica or combinations of both (hybrids). In general, strains that are more Sativa dominant have been historically known to have more of an uplifting effect and referred to as more of a “head driven high”. The more Indica dominant strains often produce more of a sedating and relaxing feeling. The hybrids produce effects that vary across the spectrums of both, and often create effects that can resemble each side of the lineage.

Historically, the demand for stronger Cannabis with higher levels of THC has continually pressured the legal medical/recreational industry. Extensive cross breeding has occurred over the years to increase THC potency and plant resiliency to external factors. The clear distinction between the genetic lineage and the effects of Indica and Sativa species (and even Hemp species) have been blurred to some degree. There are some 100% Indica strains available today that are actually a hybrid of two other 100% Indica strains (“a double Indica”) that have similar uplifting effects as many Sativa strains. Consequently, many of the genetics for naturally occurring strains grown in the wild have long since vanished.

Beyond cross breeding, there have also been tremendous research advancements in the past 30 years that have revealed the numerous compounds in Cannabis (“Cannabinoids”:400-500 total known today). In addition, the study of natural receptors in mammals and the effects of these Cannabinoids on the human body were identified through the Endocannabinoid system in 1991. More recently, additional compounds such as terpenes which are the fragrant oils found in Cannabis responsible for its aroma, are being studied. Flavonoids, along with the terpenes, account for the taste one experiences when vaporizing, smoking or eating cannabis products that have these elements preserved. Flavonoids and terpenes have also shown to have therapeutic effects to the human body.

While the Indica / Sativa classification is still often used in the Cannabis business to be a coarse guide to likely psychoactive and physical effects, the specific concentrations and ratios of cannabinoids, terpenes and even flavonoids that provide a given footprint to a strain are now viewed as a much more accurate and meaningful way to identify a particular variety as well as predict their effects on most people.

[1] “Marijuana” is actually a controversial slang term for the non-industrial form of Cannabis. Please see for background on origin of the term Marijuana: Leafly - Cannabis 101


Hemp has been grown and harvested historically dating back well over 10,000 years. It was commonly harvested for its rich fiber content and can be refined into numerous industrial and commercial products such as textiles, paper, clothing, paint, ink, insulation, biofuels, biodegradable plastics, human and animal food and recently even electrical conductors.

Previously, scientists classified the Cannabis Genus into three species: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis (which was originally known as hemp – of Russian origin). Indica and Sativa hemp is considered a variety of Cannabis Sativa L by most researchers and the majority of federal government agencies. This has left the species or sub-species classifications somewhat vague and controversial. Currently, the deciding legal factor in defining a particular cannabis crop as Hemp species is the amount of total tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is found in the mature plant. Any variety of Cannabis Sativa L with less than 0.3% THC in the mature plant is considered Industrial Hemp by US federal law (less than 0.2% THC in European countries).

There are also many physical qualities that differentiate Marijuana from Hemp. Most hemp plants grow more than twice as high (up to 15 feet) and are much less bushy than Marijuana plants. Hemp has stalks that are far more fibrous and have more bark than Marijuana plants. Hemp crops have historically been grown specifically to harvest the fibrous stalks in addition to the seeds that are created after the male plants fertilize the females.

Cannabis as Medicine

Cannabis has documented use as medicine dating as far back as 2900 B.C. The impact cannabis has on the human body can be credited to Cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds secreted by the plant's trichomes that offer a wide range of therapeutic benefits. The two most commonly known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabinoids bind to receptor sites in the brain and body as part of a system of receptors called the Endocannabinoid System.

THC and CBD among other cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol [RW1] (CBN), etc. have shown to help patients suffering from a variety of conditions including: pain, nausea, sleep disorders, stress disorders [CD2], inflammation, epilepsy, anxiety, as well as many other symptoms/conditions. Cannabis contains more than 80 different cannabinoids, and as research progresses these compounds can be used to help treat more conditions and ailments. As research continues to help produce more scientifically-backed therapies, the traditional use of cannabis (smoked) is no longer the most effective method of administration. Other methods that have been recently introduced include vaporizing, ingesting (eating or taking a capsule/pill), topical with lotions and creams, as well as more unique methods. Different methods of administration allow the user to better control the dosage of their treatments; i.e. 10 mg of CBD per capsule, a 10 mg dose is also obtainable through vaporization of cannabis extract – 1 “puff” is typically controlled to release a 10 mg dose.


Cannabis Strains

A “strain” is a genetic variation of cannabis. Most strains are classified as either Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica. These two classes of strains can have very different effects on the user. Through genetic cross-breeding over the years, new strains considered hybrids have been created. Hybrids are meant to take the best attributes of each parent strain in order to give them unique cannabinoid profiles. 

Sativa is recognized to have a more uplifting and energizing effect on the user. Physically, sativa plants are tall and lanky with thin and pointy leaves. Historically, sativa strains originated from the equatorial regions of the world. Sativas can promote focus and productivity making them the preferred choice for daytime use. However, strong sativas can cause a person's mind to “race” and cause some users to feel anxious or paranoid. Always be sure to tailor your dose and usage until you know how you will respond.

Indica is traditionally used to promote relaxation and general calming. Indicas are very beneficial for pain relief, anxiety and sleep disorders. Indicas are not the best option for morning use if you want to be productive. Indica plants are short and stocky with broad and chunky leaves. Typically, indicas are great for night time use and to relieve anxiety. 

As mentioned previously, many strains are the result of cross-breeding known as “hybrids”. Hybrids are a mix of sativa and indica providing the attributes from each species. Hybrids with more indica (than sativa) are referred to as indica-dominant and vice versa for sativa-dominant strains.

The Effects of Cannabis

Different strains and methods of consumption give users different effects and experiences. The effects of cannabis can also be unique to each individual. The characteristics of each strain are a result of its cannabinoid and terpene profiles as described above. In order to have the safest, most effective experience with cannabis, it is best to consume medical cannabis cautiously; start slow with low dosage to see how it affects you. Keep track of your dosing, the type of product and how you feel as a result of use. Select strains and dose appropriately based on your doctor’s recommended use, as well as your previous experiences to best utilize the cannabis product in a safe and effective manner.

Endocannabinoid System

The biological system capable of interacting with cannabis' active chemical compounds. 

Three key components of the Endocannabinoid System:

  • Cannabinoid Receptors: Found on the surface of cells

  • Endocannabinoids: Small molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors

  • Metabolic Enzymes: Break down endocannabinoids after they are used

Cannabinoid Receptors

Cannabinoid receptors sit on the surface of cells and "listen" to conditions outside of the cell. They transmit information about changing conditions to the inside of the cell, kick-starting the appropriate cellular response. 

There are two major cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. These aren't the only cannabinoid receptors but they were the first to be discovered and remain the most studied. CB1 receptors are one of the most abundant receptor types in the brain and are the receptors that interact with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) producing a psychoactive effect. CB2 receptors are more abundant outside of the nervous system in places like the immune system. However, both receptors can be found throughout the body








Endocannabinoids are molecules that, like the plant cannabinoid THC, bind to and activate cannabinoid receptors. However, unlike THC, endocannabinoids are produced naturally by cells in the body.

There are two major endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. These endocannabinoids are made from fat-like molecules within cell membranes and are synthesized on-demand. This means they get made and used exactly when they are needed rather than packaged and stored for later use. 

Metabolic Enzymes

Metabolic enzymes quickly destroy endocannabinoids once they are used. Two of the main enzymes here are FAAH which breaks down anandamide and MAGL which breaks down 2-AG. These enzymes ensure that endocannabinoids are broken down once they are no longer necessary. This feature distinguishes endocannabinoids from many other molecular signals in the body. For example, hormones or neurotransmitters can persist for many seconds or minutes and get stored for later use.

The endocannabinoid system, comprised of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoid molecules and their metabolic enzymes, is a crucial molecular system that the body uses to help maintain homeostasis. Because of its vital role in making sure the cells and systems remain in their “Goldilocks zone” (homeostasis), the endocannabinoid system is tightly regulated. It gets deployed exactly when and where it is needed. To understand the human endocannabinoid system, it’s helpful to know a little about one of the most fundamental concepts in biology: homeostasis. And the best way to understand homeostasis is to think of Goldilocks and the three bears. That classic fairy tale illustrated the idea that the best outcome often lies somewhere in the middle, between two extremes. We don’t want things too hot or too cold, but just right.



Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers that provide relief to an array of symptoms including pain, nausea, anxiety and inflammation. Cannabinoids work by imitating compounds our bodies naturally produce, called endocannabinoids which activate to maintain internal stability and health. 

When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids bind to receptor sites throughout our brain (CB-1) and body (CB-2). Different cannabinoids have different effects depending on which receptors they bind to, i.e. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds to receptors in the brain whereas Cannabidiol (CBD) has a strong affinity for CB-2 receptors located throughout the body. Different types and levels of relief are achievable depending on the cannabis products and their cannabinoid profiles. 

Cannabis contains more than 85 types of cannabinoids, many of which have potential for medical use. Specific products and strains have been developed to deliver different cannabinoids to help treat certain symptoms.





Trichomes are glands on the cannabis plant that secrete the cannabinoids which have therapeutic and euphoric effects on the mind and body. Trichomes also produce terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic oils that color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, pine, etc. 

Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant and every strain tends toward a unique terpene composition. The diverse palate of cannabis flavors is accredited to its terpene composition. Terpenes’ ability to interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant, like cannabinoids, is not only fascinating but impressive. 

Each terpene is associated with unique effects. Some promote relaxation and stress-relief while others promote focus and acuity. However, the effect profile of a specific terpene may change in the presence of another compound. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect


[1] Ashton, C. (2001). Pharmacology and effects of cannabis: A brief review. British Journal of Psychiatry, 178(2), 101-106. doi:10.1192/bjp.178.2.101

[2] Pertwee R.G. (2005) Pharmacological Actions of Cannabinoids. In: Pertwee R.G. (eds) Cannabinoids. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, vol 168. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

[3] Reynolds, P. (2015). Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence. Clear Cannabis Reform.

[4] Szabo B., Schlicker E. (2005) Effects of Cannabinoids on Neurotransmission. In: Pertwee R.G. (eds) Cannabinoids. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, vol 168. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

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