Are You Cannabis Curious?
Updated: Feb 4
Now that Cannabis is legal for recreational consumption in Illinois some folks who have never tried marijuana are now are curious. Canna-curious, if you will.
First thing you need to know is the difference between CBD and THC. All cannabinoids carry similar benefits. They stimulate appetite, control nausea and vomiting, muscle spasms, seizures and convulsions. They reduce pain, inflammation, sleeplessness and blood sugar levels and have even been shown to inhibit tumor growth.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most famous compound in the plant, it’s the substance primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects (high), which moderated by the other cannabinoids (CBD) and terpenes. The Cannabidiols (CBD, mostly but also CBN, CBC and CBG), possess similar medicinal qualities to THC without the psychoactive effects. Many standalone products CBD products are sourced from hemp (a cousin of cannabis) and lack THC completely, but can accomplish most of the medical effect of cannabis for people who don’t want to be high.
The THC gets the brain high and the CBD keeps you from getting too high. But the two together seem to enhance and alter the overall effect of both. CBD works just fine without THC.
Effects will differ depending on the delivery method and type. Remember that all products for sale in Illinois are non-toxic using a single dose, but individual tolerance levels make a big difference in perceived effects. A good basic rule for the newbie is to start low and slow, and try different delivery methods until you find the right combo and strength for your needs.
There are three basic ways of ingesting cannabis: inhalation, ingestion, and absorption.
Inhalation is the most common method, and can be achieved by burning the flower (buds) in a pipe, water pipe (bong) or rolled into papers (joint), or through a vaporizer. Inhalation is one of the most efficient methods of consumption and has the most rapid onset, with the effects on setting in less than three minutes and lasting about 1-3 hours. Inhalation allows for easy moderation of dose, since you know quickly if you have reached the desired effect and/or to have achieved immediate relief from pain, nausea, and other symptoms.
Inhalation by combustion has downsides, the most obviously being subjecting their lungs to potentially noxious smoke and heat. Combustion of a plant creates a cascade of chemicals similar to the reaction that causes unhealthy browning of meat. And then we inhale it.
While evidence doesn’t show the same level of danger presented by tobacco to adverse pulmonary effects or with higher prevalence of cancers such as lung cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, or breast cancer, this is not a free pass. Anyone who has ever even seen a TV show or movie knows that smoking cannabis makes you cough, and coughing is a reaction to irritation of the lungs and air passages. Any time the breathing passages are irritated, the natural immune response will be decreased and you will be more susceptible to coughing, wheezing, or chronic bronchitis. It also often proves too irritating for many to even want to try, they are so bothered by inhaling smoke.
Use of water filtration in a bong will cool and smooth the smoke but not eliminate the toxic by-products of combustion. The answer for that is the vaporizer. With vaporizing, the plant material (or aqueous suspension thereof) is heated sufficiently to liberate cannabinoids (THC & CBD) into vapor, but not enough to ignite it and cause actual smoke. Vaporizing is the medically-preferred method of inhalation and has been shown “safe and effective” in several clinical trials. In addition vaping results in higher plasma concentrations of THC compared to smoked cannabis. Vaporizers can use fresh buds or liquids and will vary in how complicated the machine is, but are generally easy to use.
Ingestion of edibles or tincture is an excellent way for people who don’t smoke to enjoy cannabis in a safe and predictable way. There are a wide range of available products that have been precisely manufactured to contain a specific dose. Available as gummies, brownies, chocolate bars and beverages, many even consider GF and no sugar options. Be careful with homemade or small batch products as the dose can be different than expected.
Because they are eaten, the onset of effects can vary by person and type of product. As a result, edibles are also the easiest way to take too much, or WAY too much, without realizing it until too late. Some edibles can be quite potent and effects can last up to eight hours. Best to start slowly by taking a small dose (2.5-5mg) and then wait anywhere from 30 to 120 minutes for the full onset of effects. DO NOT double down because you think “nothing is happening”. Experienced users can dose in the 10-20 mg range. Once you know how it will affect you, edibles can be the best way to have a predictable and enjoyable experience from cannabis.
Another ingestible form of cannabis is a tincture, just like we use with other botanical medicines. The tincture is often used for a targeted medicinal effect because it can be calibrated to more specific constituents and dosed more precisely and consistently. Tinctures can be placed directly under the tongue for fast and direct absorption into the blood, or mixed with food or drink for a more gradual effect. Onset of effects can occur is as little as 5-20 minutes, and usually last for 2 to 4 hours.
Topical application of cannabis is usually through a salve or balm. It is often accompanied by menthol and/or camphor to enhance effects. Typically used for pain, they are applied directly to the affected area (hands, joints, back, etc.), with results evident in 5 to 20 minutes and relief from symptoms for up to three hours. There is actually a good amount of absorption of cannabinoids through the skin.
Now a primer on the different types of plant.
Currently there are three varieties in common use: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis. Each type has its own history and characteristics.
Cannabis Sativa is usually a taller plant with its slender leafed foliage more spread out. Sativa produces fewer flowers per plant, but the buds can be more potent (higher THC) and have a wider variety of terpenes (flavors). In general, the effects of sativa involve uplifting stimulation and are better for daytime use, described as energetic and even cerebral. Sativa is a great enhancement for conversation, “creative quietude” projects, or walks in the woods. Medically, sativa strains are used to relieve nausea and headache and are well known to relieve eye pressure associated with glaucoma. Popular Sativa strains available include Lemon Haze, OG, Birthday Cake and Sour Diesel.
Cannabis Indica is the potent variety of marijuana with a typically high THC content. Indica varieties are used to provide pain relief, increase appetite, and as an effective sleep aid. Because of its sedative properties, indica (“in-de-couch”) delivers a body high that can leave you sitting with the munchies. The plant is short and bushy with wider leaves and abundant flowers and is named from its cultivation in the Indus valley. Strains have names that include Purple Haze, Grand Daddy Purple and Bubba Kush.
The popular movement these days is an increasing number of hybrid strains are being used to tailor content to specific needs, creating different levels of cannabinoids for potency and balanced medicinal effects. They are usually named as clever combinations of their progenitor plants, OG hybrid with Afghan Kush is called OG Kush.
The third plant is mostly known for its robustness and short flowering cycle, a result of being adapted for harsher conditions, Cannabis Ruderalis is a small, bushy plant with little THC content. Ruderalis is sometimes cross-bred with Sativa or Indica varieties and can be used as a source for CBD.
If you are looking to foray into the newly legal realm of recreational cannabis, I hope this will help you make wise and safe choices. If you have any further questions, or want to find the right product to meet your more medical needs, feel free to contact your friendly naturopathic doctor at World Tree and we will guide you.
Here is a link to a list of dispensaries in the Chicago area.