Maybe your chronic pain is just that, chronic, and it isn’t responding to the “traditional” treatments your doctor is using. Maybe you don’t want to be the next statistic of opioid addiction and seek a more natural option for relief. Or maybe you just want to know more about medical marijuana/medical cannabis.
There isn’t any shortage of information out there, and it can seem overwhelming. Just the list of strains can seem daunting, everything from Jilly Bean to Gorilla Glue #4. There are hundreds of available types.
Here’s a little education to get you started on your quest. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
What is cannabis?
Cannabis is a plant genus that produces three species of flowering plants: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis. Both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana really only use the sativa and indica species. When the two are crossbred, it is called a hybrid.
When in a cannabis dispensary, the jars of cannabis flower (what you may have heard called bud in the old days) explain what the strain is; its levels of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids; and its medicinal characteristics (i.e. pain relief versus insomnia, etc.).
Marijuana is not a different thing — it is simply the slang name for cannabis.
Different strains for different pains
As a broad general rule, indica cannabis strains provide strong “body effects,” which are good for pain relief. This also means a strong or “heavy” high. This means you won’t want to plan on a big client meeting the day you use it.
Sativa strains provide strong “mind effect,” meaning they are good for relaxation and conditions that affect the mind. Think headaches, depression, anxiety, that kind of thing.
Hybrids are bred to get the best of both worlds. Now you’re really confused.
THC versus CBD versus CBN versus THCA
The active ingredients in cannabis are called cannabinoids. Each works by binding to receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. It’s as if this system was designed to respond effectively to cannabis. These are what provide the pain relief, stop the muscle spasms, calm the anxiety, etc.
- THC is tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive compound in a cannabis plant. This is the compound that makes you high, provides euphoria, whatever you call it. THC works as a potent anti-inflammatory agent, and is used to treat cancer, chronic pain, arthritis, convulsions, glaucoma, insomnia, and lots more.
- CBD is cannabidiol. CBD is one of the many other cannabinoids found in marijuana. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. It is found to reduce nausea, suppresses seizures, is anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, and has anti-cancer qualities.
- CBN is cannabinol. It is a metabolite of THC. While THC has high psychoactive effects, CBN produces less of a “high” effect and has numerous medical benefits. It is used for its sleep-inducing properties in treating insomnia. CBN also is an anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsant.
- THCA is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. Raw cannabis (that hasn’t been heated to, basically, activate it) is being put into smoothies and such as a superfood because of THCA. THCA is a cannabinoid that is non-intoxicating/euphoria producing because it is a larger molecule that doesn’t fit into the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. Ah, but when you heat THCA (or let cannabis age), it becomes THC.
How cannabis does its magic
Within the cannabis plant there are over 400 natural compounds, 80 of these are only found in cannabis plants. These 80 unique compounds are cannabinoids. Cannabinoids relieve symptoms of various body and mind problems by attaching to receptors in the brain. These receptors in the brain seek similar compounds that occur in the human body, things like dopamine.
There are five major cannabinoids in cannabis that are particularly effective for relieving all kinds of health problems with our bodies. Each of the five produces different physical and psychological effects.
What ailments does cannabis treat?
You can look at the corresponding page on qualifying conditions, where an overall list of the most common conditions approved for cannabis use are covered. This is a combination list of sorts, mashing all the states that allow cannabis together.
But the overall list of medical conditions where cannabis is proving to be an effective treatment is quite long — everything from Lou Gehrig’s disease to multiple sclerosis, chronic pain to anorexia. Instead of trying to list everything here, this takes the five main cannabinoids and gives an idea what they are used for medicinally.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the best known of the cannabinoids in cannabis, although CBD is making a move on it. Physically it acts as a muscle relaxant and has anti-inflammatory properties. Psychologically it acts as a stimulant. Cannabis strains high in THC are good for patients who need relief, but want to remain active and alert.
THC has these functions in cannabis:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Stimulates appetite
CBD (cannabidiol) reduces the psychological effects of the THC present. Stains high in cannabidiol are effective for illnesses with strong physical symptoms.
CBD has these functions in cannabis:
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced nausea
- Pain reduction
- Slows the spread of cancer
CBN (cannabinol) is very similar to THC, with less psychological effects. CBN is produced as THC breaks down within a cannabis plant. High levels of CBN can produce strong head highs.
CBN has these functions in cannabis:
- Lowering intraocular eye pressure (glaucoma)
CBC (cannabichromene) works together with THC to enhance the effects of THC, kind of a wingman for its more well-known acronym. High levels of CBC will make a high-THC cannabis strain more potent.
CBC, working together with THC, has these functions in cannabis:
CBG (cannabigerol) is not found in high amounts in most cannabis. It has no psychological effects, but is believed to be one of the oldest forms of cannabinoids, essentially a parent to the others.
CBG has these functions in cannabis:
- Lowering pressure in the eye
- Sleep assistance
You can see that by crossbreeding strains, all of these five cannabinoids can play different roles. Growers analyze their strains and seek certain levels of the major cannabinoids, depending on what medical condition they are seeking to target.