Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Cannabis is a medicinal flowering plant with many therapeutic uses. Tracing its origins to Central Asia, this versatile plant has traveled the world and earned the nickname “weed” for its ability to grow quickly and prolifically.
The most popular reason to use cannabis is to experience the psychoactive effects or “the high” that the plant’s compounds trigger. But there’s so much more to cannabis than feeling high. Learn everything you need to know about cannabis, its effects, therapeutic properties, benefits, and risks in our ultimate guide to cannabis.
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What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis is usually used as a shorthand to refer to Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Whether it is called hemp, marijuana, weed, pot, or any other number of slang and non-slang terms, they are all cannabis.
Marijuana is a slang term derived from Spanish that has come to refer to cannabis that is consumed for its psychoactive effect. People usually refer to cannabis grown for its flower or THC content as “marijuana” and the cannabis grown for its fiber as “hemp.”
Hemp is also a variety of Cannabis sativa. Instead of being grown for its flower, hemp is usually grown for its stalk as a material for rope, textiles, clothing, and insulation, as well as food, biofuel, and phytoremediation (sucking out the pollution in industrial areas).
Is Medical Marijuana the Same as Marijuana?
Those who use marijuana for a particular condition are said to be consuming “medical marijuana.” Those who are using it for enjoyment are said to be using “recreational marijuana.” However, these products all derive from the same source – cannabis plants.
There is a subset of non-medical cannabis users who use it to prevent stress as opposed to just its psychoactivity. Yes, they may enjoy cannabis, but they also get some of its everyday therapeutic benefits.
Eating better, sleeping better, and recovery from strenuous physical and mental activity – all of these things are essential to a healthy life. Cannabis can achieve all of these things with cannabis.
Types of Cannabis
The main types of cannabis are Sativa, indica, ruderalis, and hybrids.
Sativa is feral or wild cannabis from Eastern Europe, Russia, or Central Asia. Hemp varieties, often grown for their stalk and fiber rather than flower, could be classified as Cannabis sativa. Some varieties may display auto-flowering traits. Autoflowering varieties grow shorter, whereas hemp varieties grow taller.
Indica is cannabis from India and other equatorial regions of Africa, South America, and Jamaica. This type of cannabis is taller and has a flowering time ranging from 10 to 14 weeks. Branches are spaced out, and the buds/flowers are less dense.
Cannabis ruderalis is CBD-dominant and doesn’t get most people high. Most ruderalis strains contain less than 3 percent THC.
Ruderalis strains are auto-flowering and easy to grow. Popular ruderalis strains include Royal Haze Automatic, Haze Berry Automatic, and Amnesia Haze Automatic.
Hybrids are the wild cards of cannabis strains. They could contain a sky-high amount of Sativa and rock bottom level of indica, or vice versa. Unless you know the Sativa-indica concentrations (and your response to cannabis), there’s no way to determine what type of high you’ll experience.
Which Type Is Best?
However you wish to classify cannabis, indica, Sativa, hemp, and ruderalis plants may all potentially be beneficial for you. What works for you could come down to a range of factors. You may prefer something with more CBD during the day to help ease pain and anxiety when out-and-about, but something with a little more THC and cannabinol (CBN) at the end of the day when you need to get to sleep.
Ultimately, the best way to find out if a strain or product works for you is to look at the test results on the packaging and test a few different products out for yourself.
How Marijuana Works in the Body
Marijuana contains plant compounds that naturally bind to receptors in our endocannabinoid system, or ECS also called the master regulator. The ECS oversees numerous critical life functions, including fertility and reproduction, immunity, memory, appetite, and much more.
The two primary cannabinoids or active ingredients found in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These two cannabinoids are complementary yet very different.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive compound found in the resin of cannabis plants. THC is the most well-known of the 150 cannabinoids found in cannabis and turns on CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain, creating that “high” feeling so often associated with marijuana.
Many people misunderstand THC as the “non-medical” part of cannabis. Still, it also activates CB2 receptors in the immune system, making it an effective anti-inflammatory that can help relieve both chronic and acute pain (like muscle cramps).
CBD could be seen as the opposite of THC. CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), and in fact, blocks THC from attaching itself to CB1 receptors. This means that CBD dampens THC’s effects.
Flavonoids are responsible for much of the flavor of cannabis, as well as many of its colors. Flavonoids come in yellow, blue, purple, or red colors and are helpful to the plant itself for both blocking harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and attracting pollinators, and repelling pests.
Cannabis does much more than create a euphoric high; it may help manage and treat symptoms of certain conditions. Here are some common conditions that cannabis is approved to treat in different states:
- ALS (A.K.A. Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
- Anxiety Disorders and Depression
- Cachexia or Wasting Syndrome (some states also consider anorexia or bulimia a qualifying condition)
- Cancer (and Chemotherapy Side-Effects)
- Chronic Pain (for some states, this expands to include migraines, headaches, and arthritis)
- Hepatitis C
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, in particular, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Neurodegenerative Diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease)
- Persistent Muscle Spasms and Cramps from conditions
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Seizures (e.g., from Epilepsy)
- Severe Nausea
- Spinal Cord Injuries or Diseases
Other Ways to Use Cannabis
In addition to medical uses, cannabis may be used in the following ways:
Cannabis’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties have convinced many consumers to use cannabis-based beauty products for skin and beauty treatments. Cannabis also boasts anti-bacterial and vitamin-rich properties.
Cannabis edibles are food products infused with extracted cannabis. The classic example would be a pot brownie, but edibles can be almost any food or drink, particularly if cooking with infused cannabis oil or cannabutter.
Cannabis also offers several general health benefits. Whether or not you’re using marijuana for medical purposes, you may be able to experience these health and wellness benefits.
If you are one of the more than 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, you may prefer a natural alternative to chemical-laced prescription painkillers. Cannabis has been shown in numerous studies to reduce both pain and related inflammation. Indeed, for decades, scientists have been examining the potential beneficial effects of marijuana on pain.
One recent study uncovered that cannabis medicine, specifically CBD, could benefit people experiencing anxiety and sleep disorders. Nearly 80% of the individuals in the study reported improvement in anxiety, while close to 60% claimed they were sleeping better after two months of CBD treatment. Other research supports the anti-anxiety effects of cannabis while emphasizing the plant’s excellent safety profile.
Cannabis helps the body regulate insulin, an imbalance of which can lead to significant weight gain. In addition, cannabis boosts the body’s efficiency in managing caloric intake. While many people believe that marijuana use gives people “the munchies,” the plant can help suppress appetite, especially strains high in CBD.
Diabetes is a disease with strong ties to obesity. The body’s inability to regulate insulin leads to elevated blood sugar levels and, ultimately, diabetes. Researchers have found that cannabis may help stabilize blood sugar levels, delaying or preventing the onset of diabetes. As diabetes is a challenging disease to treat, preventative medicine should be the first course of action.
Protect Your Brain
One of the most thrilling discoveries about cannabis is its potential role as a neuroprotector. Extensive research indicates that cannabis has the power to protect and even stimulate the growth of new brain cells. Such findings could be a revelation for people suffering from memory loss due to Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
Side Effects and Risks
Although cannabis has a safety profile unlike any other medicine, there are some associated risks and side effects. The potential side effects of cannabis include:
- Sleepiness or lethargy
- Feeling hot and sweaty or cold
- Anxiety and/or paranoia
- “Cotton” or “dry” mouth (i.e., a lack of saliva)
- The “munchies” (extreme hunger pangs)
sense of a loss of self; dissociation from the body
- Short-term memory loss
- Dry, red eyes
- Dizziness and nausea
- Increased heart rate
- Psychotic episodes (rarely)
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Is Cannabis Legal?
Cannabis has a patchy legal status throughout the United States, with neighboring states sometimes stipulating very different laws.
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Medical and recreational use of cannabis is illegal under federal law, where the plant remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
States with Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
States with Recreational Marijuana
Recreational marijuana is currently approved for use in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Cannabis Products and Ingestion Methods
There are many forms of cannabis products and ingestion methods to consider.
Smoking & Vaping
Smoking cannabis is perhaps the oldest method of ingesting the plant. It is the “tried and tested” method most associated with the cannabis enthusiasts of recent decades. However, due to potential health problems, smoking and vaping cannabis are becoming less-and-less popular ingestion methods.
High-quality, lab-tested tinctures where MCT, coconut, or olive oil is the leading cannabinoid-terpenoid carrier make it the best way to consume cannabis for most people.
Cannabinoids can be applied externally and internally, and for conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, direct application to the skin is necessary.
Edibles are known for being considerably stronger and more psychoactive than smoking or vaping cannabis. The cannabis is digested and processed by the liver, converting THC into the more potent 11-Hydroxy-THC.
Cannabis Dosing: How Much Should You Use?
Dosing is highly individual, and you should consult with your physician for precise guidelines. Here is some general information about dosing cannabis:
If You’re a Beginner
Start low and go slow. Choose a CBD-dominant strain or pure CBD product for the best results as a marijuana novice.
If You’re Experienced
Start to experiment with CBD:THC ratios with 1:1 as your benchmark. Increase THC concentrations slowly and according to your body’s reactions.
What to Do If You Use Too Much
Stay calm if you overconsume cannabis and drink plenty of water. Stay home if possible and get some rest.
Best Strains to Buy
The best weed strain for a beginner is probably different from the best strain for a seasoned cannabis user. Here are some tips for finding the best cannabis strains:
If You’re a Beginner
Harlequin, Cannatonic, and Northern Lights are among the best strains for beginners.
If You’re Experienced
Try a strong Sour Diesel or Black Magic Kush if you’re experienced with cannabis.
Most Popular Right Now
The most popular weed strains now are sweet, with Wedding Cake and Gelato Cake topping the list.
How to Grow Cannabis
Growing cannabis is possible for the novice gardener and can be accomplished with as little as $200 to start.
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Why Should You Grow Your Own Cannabis?
Growing your own cannabis is a rewarding process that ultimately saves you money on weed products and gives you consistent access to the benefits of the plant.
Be aware of growing laws in your state. Many states only allow home growers to cultivate up to six marijuana plants at a time.
Start by getting informed about the cannabis laws in your state.
Would you like to get a medical marijuana card? The physicians at Leafwell are here to meet with you online and guide you through the process. Reach out today and get started!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is it possible to overdose on marijuana?
It is possible to over-consume cannabis but not to overdose in the lethal sense. There are several strategies to try if you have consumed too much cannabis.
Can you die from using cannabis?
There has never been a reported death directly linked to cannabis use. However, you should avoid using alcohol and certain medications with cannabis.
How long does marijuana stay in your blood?
Marijuana is detectable on blood tests for up to thirty days following use.
Do the benefits of cannabis outweigh the risks?
For millions of people, the benefits of cannabis do outweigh the risks. From general enjoyment to symptom management, cannabis offers more than any prescription pill.