What is cannabis?

 
 
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A rich history

Humans have been utilizing cannabis for medical benefits for centuries. Believed to have origins in Central Asia, regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia; cannabis is among one of humanity’s oldest cultivated crops spanning a history as far back as 12,000 years. The plant was used for textiles, food, fiber, as an anesthetic during surgical procedures and pain relievers; these practices were used as early as 4000 B.C.

Modern day medical cannabis is now one of the fastest moving industries in the United States. With medical benefits ranging from stress and pain relief to treating patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and multiple sclerosis; the 113 cannabinoids within the plant offer a variety of medical effects that benefit people suffering from debilitating conditions.

Cannabis has shown to help thousands of patients suffering from:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Chronic Pain

  • HIV/AIDS

  • Cancer

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Epilepsy

  • Glaucoma

How does it help?

As mentioned above, cannabis produces 113 naturally occurring chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids can affect a person’s central nervous and immune system when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by way of cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are located throughout the human body and interact with cannabinoids much like a lock (receptor) and key (cannabinoid), this system of receptors is known as the endocannabinoid system.

  • CB1 Receptors: Located throughout the brain, central nervous system and the lungs. This receptor harmoniously binds with cannabinoids such as THC. This can give patients relief from nausea, depression and pain.

  • CB2 Receptors: Located throughout the immune system and in areas such as the spleen and tonsils. They are also found in greater concentrations throughout a person’s gastrointestinal system. Patients with conditions such as Crohn’s disease generally find relief due to the fact that CB2’s help regulate intestinal inflammation.

Cannabis is a diverse plant with thousands of different varieties called ‘strains’. Each strain can affect a person differently due to the fact that everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, much like fingerprints. Strains also contain different levels of cannabinoids, producing many different effects on a patient that can be beneficial to different conditions.

Since cannabis can vary so greatly from strain to strain, it is always recommended to speak with your certifying physician and local dispensary about proper dosage and the correct strain for your diagnosis.


Taxonomy

Cannabis belongs to a small family of flowering plants called cannabaceae, within the genus are two main varieties: C. Sativa and C. Indica.

  • Cannabis Indica: Describes the varieties discovered in India that were used for fiber and hashish. These plants were harvested for their psychoactive uses.

  • Cannabis Sativa: Described hemp plants that were found in Eurasia, these plants were used for fiber and seeds for food.

In today’s industry, cannabis sativa refers to a tall plant with narrow leaves, however this plant can be classified as Cannabis indica ssp. Indica. The effects of this plant usually include:

  • Best suited for day use

  • Energy inducing

  • Enhances creativity

Cannabis indica that describes a short, stout plant with broad leaves technically is Cannabis indica ssp. Afghanica. The effects of this plant usually include:

  • Best suited for night use

  • Calming

  • Reduces anxiety

What the industry refers to as ‘hemp’ is the industrial cousin that contains no intoxicating traits; this plant was originally named Cannabis sativa.

Growing medical cannabis

Cannabis is extremely self-sufficient, growing all over the world allows it to easily adapt to different environments. Generally speaking, cannabis is an annual plant, so it only produces flowers for one growth cycle in one growing season in one year. In nature cannabis begins as a seedling/vegetative plant in spring, flowers in the summer, and is harvested in the fall. Ideal spring temperatures may range from 68-74°F, where in the summer temperatures would be around 85°F.

In a production setting, cannabis is generally produced via cuttings or clones. A larger mother plant is kept in its vegetative phase (so it will not flower) and cultivation staff will take multiple cuttings from it by removing the newly formed branches. These branches are then placed in a propagation area where they will develop their initial roots and be readied for their vegetative phase.

A vegetative plant will be exposed to a specific photo-period of light to keep it from flowering, generally 24 hours of light or 18 hours of light and 6 hours of dark. The vegetative phase is a crucial time for the plant to develop healthy foliage and a strong root structure. When the plant has reached the appropriate size, it is switched into its flowering phase; this is generally done by introducing the plant to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. A plant will flower for 8-12 weeks until it is ready for harvesting where it will then be cut down, inverted, and hung to dry for about a week.

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From the moment cannabis is cut from its roots it begins to degrade as aerobic bacteria begin to break down the sugars and starches, as well as eat away at excess nutrients before the plant can get a chance to assimilate them. Curing puts a halt to the degradation process before compounds such as terpenes and cannabinoids are broken down and instead are reabsorbed by the dried flowers. The goal is ultimately to preserve the product while retaining all of the vital flavors, cannabinoids, and terpenes.

After being cured to a desirable degree, the flowers are safely packaged and distributed to a licensed dispensary where it will be sold to qualifying patients.