A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding Cannabis

A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding Cannabis

Being a beginner in the wondrous world of weed (or cannabis) can be super confusing. Immediately you’re faced with almost too many decisions to find the strain or product that’s right for you. There’s so much more you need to know than the famous and popular strain names like Pineapple Express, Northern Lights, or Sour Diesel- which sound anything but medicinal.

So as a novice consumer, you may have questions as you should! Do these sound familiar:

  • How can someone truly understand the effects of cannabis? 
  • What actually makes strains different than their wacky names? 
  • How do you know which strains to choose? 

The simple answer: it’s complicated. That’s where this beginner’s guide comes in…

All the Cannabinoids in Cannabis

Cannabis is one of the most powerful and misunderstood plants on earth. However you don’t have to be a botanist to know something about cannabis cannabinoids- ya know, the chemical compounds in the cannabis plant that pack powerful punches! There are 100+ cannabinoids but you really only need to know about eight of them. Each offers various effects and functions to help the body and mind find balance. So you need to know which ones you want to achieve the effect you’re looking for. Let’s review…

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is known as the intoxicating, psychoactive component of cannabis. Yup, this is the part that gets you high. It’s not the only chemical component that can get you high but it’s the most abundant one! So it can change your cognitive ability, impact your immune system, trigger your appetite, and sometimes make you sleepy. The high that THC gives often can provide euphoric feelings, giggles, and lots of therapeutic effects. The exact nature of THC’s effects on these functions will vary from person to person. Be sure to reach more about this chemical compound in regard to what you are treating!
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is not only all the rage but also one of the most abundant chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. While it is psychoactive- meaning it’s a mood-regulating substance, it is not intoxicating and will not get you high. CBD affects how other cannabinoids interact with the body, and helps us find balance or homeostasis. Science has just begun to scratch the surface on CBD but it apparently has every different potential for goodness.
  • Cannabigerol (CBG) is being talked about as the next CBD- ya know like Orange is the New Black. CGB is the chemical precursor to other cannabinoids including THC, CBD, and CBC. It’s non-intoxicating, meaning they won’t alter your state of mind in a way that would inhibit your day-to-day function and mental clarity, and may counteract the intoxicating effects of THC.
  • Cannabinol (CBN) is the cannabinoid that’s ready for bed. Yup, that’s right CNB wants to put you to sleep and tuck you in, too! It’s a powerful sedative that’s popular with patients living with sleep disorders and chronic pain. CBN is the byproduct of THC oxidizing. Yup, that cannabis you forgot you had will now be chock full of CBN and ready for lights out.
  • Cannabichromene (CBC) is typically found in low levels in most cannabis strains and shares molecular similarity to other cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. CBC is thought to work most effectively to maximize the whole plant medicinal spectrum cannabis offers.
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a cannabinoid that holds potentially potent intoxicating effects, along with a host of medicinal benefits. Similar in chemical composition to THC, THCV is thought to act as an antagonist to some of the effects of THC. Strains or products rich in THCV may result in a stimulating, clear headed, almost psychedelic type of energetic high that is typically shorter in duration. It’s been deemed “diet weed” as some say it suppresses appetite.

Now that we’ve reviewed the major cannabinoids, there’s a bit more to know about how they contribute to choosing strains and products. Sure it’s important to note which cannabinoids are in what strains and products but the most important one is THC. Why you ask? Well because it’s intoxicating. Whether you want to get high or you don’t, your dose of THC will determine how your sesh goes. Keep in mind- some states only require THC and CBD to be listed on product labels but if you ask your budtender they should be able to print out more info about the other cannabinoid contents for you!

Keep reading more about cannabinoids in these posts:

Know Your Terpenes

It turns out terpenes are found in, well, an incredible number of plants! Terpenes are organic compounds responsible for strong smells. So if you enjoy a fresh field of lavender, the sweet smell of peeling an orange, or a deep breath of pine forest air, you have terpenes to thank. Cannabis strains in particular have a significant concentration of terpenes. 

Terpenes are important to pay attention to, but not just because of their unique smells. Different cannabis strains may have different terpenes that are particularly dominant, or abundant in the strain. Many of these terpenes have shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and therapeutic properties which can provide relief to those looking for cannabis to treat conditions from depression to chronic pain. 

To understand cannabis strains and their potential impact on you, you have to understand what the terpenes are in the strains you consume. Tracking the strains you try in a journal is a handy way to notice trends in how certain terpenes impact you!

Well over 20,000 terpenes have been identified, and a typical cannabis strain has hundreds in it. But don’t get overwhelmed! You don’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge to enjoy bud, just get to know five of the most important and abundant ones and you’ll be good. 

  • Myrcene is a particularly important terpene to know as it is one of the most widespread and dominant in a large number of strains. OG Kush, Blue Dream, and Grandaddy Purple all have high levels. Myrcene is believed to have an array of calming effects, from relaxing muscles to helping sleep. 
  • Limonene, which is found in orange and lemon peels as well as being particularly present in strains such as Strawberry Banana and Wedding Cake. Scientific studies have shown that it can boast anti-inflammatory effects and is an antioxidant. Most importantly for cannabis users, inhalation of limonene vapors can increase serotonin and dopamine in key areas of the brain linked to depression and anxiety. 
  • Pinene is another terpene that is easy to guess where it is found naturally, pine needles! Pinene in the air can act as a bronchodilator, allowing more air in. As well as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety effects Pinene is good for pain relief. In one study, it was found to be particularly beneficial for inflammatory and neuropathic pain. If you’re interested in applying Pinene’s benefits, look at strains such as Big Smooth and Cotton Candy Kush.
  • Caryophyllene might just be the reason Girl Scout Cookies or Sour Diesel are so popular. This terpene is responsible for the sharp fragrances of black pepper and oregano. This terpene is special because it can interact with the body in ways no other terpene does! Studies on Caryophyllene have shown it to reduce pain in a way that the body doesn’t build up a resistance to it, making it extremely important for chronic pain. 
  • Terpinolene is a terpene that is not particularly abundant, and not much is known about it. The strains that do have Terpinolene as the dominant have particularly floral and fresh smells as they are also found in apples, lilacs, nutmeg, and tea trees. Some big-name strains with this terpinolene include: Jack Herer, Golden Pineapple, and Golden Goat. 

If you wanna know more about terpenes for mental health, check these out: 

So you’ve got the hang of terpenes. You may be wondering- now that I’m starting to understand this cannabis thing, how do I choose a strain?

Understanding Cannabis Strains

When you enter a dispensary, you’ll find that all the cannabis is organized in three categories: Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid. If you know anything about cannabis botany, these terms should be familiar. They are the plant species which have changed in many ways since they started cataloguing strains in this way. Most cannabis plants these days are a blend of the species. However, in dispensaries, they are being used differently in the marketing of cannabis strains and products. Here is how cannabis is being categorized:

  • Sativa is generally understood as a daytime weed and consumers often report an uplifting and active experience. 
  • Indica is commonly known for its relaxing and pain killing effects, which lead many to use this strain in the evening. 
  • Hybrids are exactly how it sounds: a blend of the two. Hybrids can vary and often lean heavier to one side of the Sativa/Indica divide more so than the other. 

Check out this handy, dandy chart to help you with the distinction between Sativa and Indica:

Sativa / Indica Chart

Even though you’ll hear plenty of people using these terms and reporting the emotional and physical effects, scientists can’t find much of a genetic difference between Sativa and Indica. But what they- and you- can find is a difference in cannabinoids and terpenes in each strain and product. The various combinations of pack a wide range of aromatic and physiological effects.

More recently the cannabis industry has started to move away from categorizing strain in this Indica, Sativa, Hybrid paradigm. The power and impact of chemical composition has been recognized as the best way to control for medicinal treatment. Rather than classify cannabis products based on subjective effects, individuals should determine what works best for them with a combination of strain identity, and cannabinoid and terpene contents for that particular strain or product.

So Start Low and Go Slow

When you are completely new to cannabis, you should always start with the absolute smallest amount! Cannabis products take time to set in. So start with a low dose of strain or product of your choice. Then titrate your dosing up slowly as needed. You’ll find that your optimal dosing is a matter of preference and tolerance. 

It’s also worth noting that products that have particularly high THC levels or practically no CBD are more often associated with negative impacts of marijuana such as paranoia. Starting low and going slow is in your best interest to avoid health risks.

Congratulations! Now that you’ve finished reading this post, you can no longer call yourself a beginner! So the next time you relax for the night with your favorite flower or get your day started with an energizing vape, take a second to appreciate all the different elements at play. Hopefully you will have found that this beginner’s guide to understanding cannabis helped you  choose great strains on your medicinal cannabis journey. If you come across some favorite strain, be sure to let us know! If you have any questions, be sure to comment below!

About the author

Angela Morrison

Angela Morrison is happy to put her creative writing skills to work to educate others. She lives in Philadelphia and often spends her free time playing video games at home with her fiancee and five cats or taking her dog on a hike.

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