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Cannabis 101

There are very few plants that are as iconic and recognizable as the cannabis plant.  This is most likely due to the unique shape of its fan leaves. Cannabis is one of oldest psychoactive substances used by man.  A genus of flowering plant from the family Cannabaceae, there are three species of cannabis plants, cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis.  Most likely originating in Central Asia, some twelve thousand years ago it is the oldest and first crops to be cultivated by agriculturists.  

The cannabis plant grows in a manner very similar to many other flowering species. Cannabis extends up from the ground on thin green stems, incrementally branching from nodes along the way, unfolding unique serrated leaves along the way. Cannabis begins to show its complexity in its flower, distinctly different from other common flowering plant species.

Cannabis Plant Anatomy

Trichomes  Trichomes are the mushroom structures that form on the outside the cannabis plant. They appear as the glistening, sticky layer found on the flowers. In contrast to the highly sought after cannabis oils and terpenes secreted from these structures, their main role is to provide a form of protection for the plant. Within the bulb-like structure of the trichome, the plant changes its cannabinoid profile to adjust for the amount of UV light it receives, acting as a form of sunscreen for the plant.

Male Cannabis Plants  Male plants do not produce flowering buds, but they do produce pollen sacs that effectively pop open and allow the wind to spread the pollen to female plants.

Female Cannabis Plants  Female plants grow large flowers known as buds. If pollinated by a male, the buds will produce seeds and not swell with cannabinoids. The cannabis flower found in dispensaries are from female plants that have not been pollinated by a male and are able produce cannabinoids within the flower.  

Cola  A cola is formation of budding sites closely knit together. Most commonly found at the tops of branches, these dense clusters form when budding sites grow increasingly close together.

Stigma  Stigmas are the white hairs used to easily identify a female cannabis plant. These hair-like structures play an important part in the plants’ reproductive process, creating the receptive organs to receive male pollen. As the flowering cycle nears its end, the stigmas begin to change in color, giving cannabis its unique flecks of orange and brown.

Pistil  Help identify female plants.  The pistil are the “hair -like” structures on the buds.  Prior to flowering, pistils will be on display notifying the grower that the plant is a female.

Calyx  The calyx is the raindrop-shaped budding formation that appears during flower. Often sprouting stigmas, these form the pocket that is filled with pistil or reproductive unit of the plant. During flower, these formations swell and become the factory for producing cannabinoids.

Bract  Bracts are most easily identified early in a plant’s life. They are the small, narrow, triangular leaves that form at nodes in tandem with the calyx.

Terpenes

Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in the oils of the cannabis plant.  Terpenes are responsible for potent scents of pine, citrus fruits, and berries. There is a vast array of terpenes that may have the ability to interact in a beneficial way with the other cannabinoids in cannabis. Originally created by cannabis to attract pollinators for reproductive purposes, these unique oils can help anxiety or increase your awareness and are able to mediate our bodies’ interactions with cannabinoids.  Easily identifiable by their intense flavor profile, terpenes and cannabinoids work in harmony together to create an “entourage effect” that enhances the medicinal properties of cannabis.

Most common types of terpenes

Pinene — This common cannabis terpene has a scent similar to pine needles or Christmas trees. It can be found in most culinary herbs as well, like basil, rosemary, and dill. Research has found that it can keep you alert and be used to treat asthma, inflammation, and anxiety.

Caryophyllene — Most spices, like black pepper and chili peppers, commonly contain caryophyllene. Known for its anti-stress properties, it can also be used to treat pain and depression.

Limonene — Often described as a pungent lemon scent, this terpene has stress relieving qualities. Used primarily as an antidepressant, it can also be used to treat anxiety and inflammation. It also has antibacterial and anti-carcinogenic uses. High concentrations of this terpene are found in lemons.  

Linalool — With hints of flowers and freshness, this terpene is known for its calming and anti-anxiety effects. It can also be used as a treatment for depression, pain, and insomnia.

Myrcene — A precursor in the formation of other terpenes, myrcene can also be found in mangoes, ylang-ylang, wild thyme, and parsley. This terpene is known for its calming effects, antioxidant properties, and for reducing inflammation.

Humulene — Also produced also in hops and often reminiscent of beer, this terpene is valued medically for anti-inflammatory properties.

Terpineol — Many oils produced by plants contain this terpene, giving it a citrus or floral scent. Used for its anti-carcinogenic effects and especially for sleep, it is known that in high doses it can have a very sedative effect.

Cannabis Strains

Cannabis plants have two main strains—indica and sativa. Each affects the body and mind in different ways, allowing a vast diversity in its use. Understanding how these strains interact with the body is important for helping patients determine which strain best suits their needs.

Sativa — Popular for daytime use, this strain is most often described as energetic and invigorating. Growing tall and thin, this strain generally yields less, has long, narrow leaves, takes longer to flower, and requires much more light. Flowers from this strain have a higher THC content than CBD.

Indica —  Known for a more relaxed body sensation, this strain is popular for night-time use. Plants tend to grow short and bushy with wide leaves growing more outward instead of upward. This strain also flowers faster and can commonly be found with higher CBD levels than sativa strains.

Hybrid — Contains a mix of genetics from both sativa and indica plant genetics. Depending on the lineage of the plant genetics, hybrid plants can take on the characteristics of both sativa and indica plants.