Marijuana Terms: Cannabis Terminology and Concepts Explained
As the popularity and accessibility of cannabis in Canada for both medicinal and recreational purposes continues to grow, the amount of comprehension which an average cannabis user should possess is also exponentially growing.
It’s very easy to get lost in all the new terms and technologies, and the scientific and chemistry aspects of cannabis can also appear quite perplexing.
This is especially hindering for new users who lack the accumulated knowledge of experienced consumers.
This glossary is mostly aimed towards them, and if you’re looking for any particular term, feel free to hit CTRL+F and search the text.
Let’s get to it.
Cannabis is a plant genus that envelops three separate species of plants, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.
Flowering female sativa and indica plants are consumed for both medicinal and recreational purposes, while Cannabis ruderalis is not because of its miniscule cannabinoid levels, in direct comparison to the first two species.
Cannabis can be successfully grown practically everywhere on Earth and has been cultivated since ancient times, both for the creation of textile, fabrics and rope with hemp (hemp is the male plant without flowers which has minimal levels of cannabinoids), and for the medicinally beneficial and mind-altering effects of sativas and indicas.
Marijuana is an all-around term for both the female cannabis plant, and the dried flowers it produces (which are called flowers, buds or nugs).
The female plant can be differentiated from a male one because only female plants yield flowers that are rich in cannabinoids, which are the main active chemical compounds unique to cannabis.
The term marijuana was actually forcefully established by the American press during the 1930’s, because the establishment at the time wanted to alienate the cannabis plant in the eyes of the general public.
For more information on this topic head to our article on how cannabis got prohibited in the first place.
Cannabinoids are active chemical compounds that are unique to the cannabis plant.
They create their effects by engaging our cannabinoid receptors, which are a vital part of the endocannabinoid system.
Over a hundred different cannabinoids have been identified so far, but most of them are found only in very small (or trace) amounts. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most prominent cannabinoids.
The endocannabinoid system (also called the ECS) is a vast network of receptors that are located on individual cells, and these cell receptors exist in various parts of our body like the brain, spinal cord, vital and reproductive organs, but also the peripheral areas like the extremities and so forth.
It was discovered in 1992.
Besides humans, all other animals also have an endocannabinoid system, and the oldest animal found that has an ECS is the sea-squirt (also known as a tunicate), which is a creature that hasn’t changed in the last 600 million years.
The function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain the delicate balance of all the separate but interconnected systems (circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, lymphatic, reproductive, digestive, urinary and integumentary) of our body.
This perfect functioning of an entire organism is called the homeostasis, and preserving an organism in a state of homeostasis is the prime purpose of the ECS.
The cellular receptors of the ECS get stimulated by cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, but our body also produces its own cannabinoids, called the endocannabinoids.
Two main endocannabinoids have been identified so far: Anandamide and 2-AG.
THC closely resembles anandamide moleculary and even binds to the same group of endocannabinoid receptors.
When our body has a deficiency of endocannabinoids this can lead to some conditions such as migraines, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
Numerous other health conditions can also be lessened and even completely overcome by introducing cannabinoids from cannabis.
Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules that determine the taste and aroma of every individual strain. Every strain of cannabis has at least several different terpenes in it.
Besides providing the cannabis with fragrance, terpenes are also responsible for some beneficial therapeutic effects. They also aid the cannabinoids to achieve greater medicinal impact, in what’s called the entourage effect.
Trichomes are the production glands found in cannabis flowers, and they secrete resin where the majority of cannabinoids and terpenes are located.
Trichomes resemble mushroom-like bulges, and are quite tiny in size.
The entourage effect can be described as a synergistic cooperation between different cannabinoids and terpenes for maximizing therapeutic impact.
This is especially important to consider when a person is using cannabis derivatives like capsules and oils.
Products that are plant-based (and are not cannabinoid isolates) will always perform much better, because they have this cooperation of various active compounds, comparing to the isolation-based single-molecule products.
Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most abundant cannabinoid unique to cannabis, and it’s responsible for the mind-altering psychoactive state that all recreational users know and love.
Besides these recreational effects, THC also creates a very wide range of health benefits, differently engaging our endocannabinoid system depending on the condition a patient is troubled with.
As the second most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, cannabidiol is also heavily researched and extremely therapeutic, especially when combined with THC.
For some health conditions like anxiety and epilepsy CBD can be used as an isolated compound, but for most ailments it is best to consume both these cannabinoids in combination with terpenes in order to fully utilize what cannabis medicine really has to offer—the only way that’s possible is to use either a dried flower or a whole plant extract.
CBD creates very minimal mental stimulation (unlike THC), but it is known to cause some energizing effects if it is taken in large amounts, making a user feel hyperactive and restless.
Indica strains are one of the two main subspecies of cannabis.
These strains originate from Asia and the Middle East, and compared to the Cannabis sativa plants they are smaller in size, with a tighter bud structure.
This type of cannabis creates a very sedative and mellow effect, perfect for nighttime use, largely due to higher concentrations of a terpene called myrcene which produces sedation and the famous “couch lock”.
Cannabis sativa is the second main subspecies of cannabis, and sativa strains in general have a very uplifting and invigorating effect. They are far better suited for daytime use, as they will most likely keep you up at night.
The main physical difference between sativa and indica plants is that sativas grow quite taller and take considerably more time to flower.
Hybrid strains are a genetic combination of both sativa and indica strains, created by crossbreeding.
Depending on how balanced they are, hybrids will have the dominant traits of either sativas or indicas.
Most of the strains available on both the recreational and medical market in Canada are hybrids.
Cannabinoid Acids (THCA, CBDA)
In the cannabis plant, cannabinoids exist in their acidic form; THC is THCA, and CBD is CBDA.
Here the “A” stands for acid, and the full name would be tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).
What’s interesting is that THCA is completely non-psychoactive, but it still delivers the therapeutic effects of THC.
So when we consume the THC cannabinoid in its raw acidic form, we avoid the psychoactivity but still get the medicinal impact.
What’s very fascinating about cannabinoid acids is their bioavailability.
Our body can absorb cannabinoid acids much better than cannabinoids, and because of this the amount of cannabinoid acids that is needed to achieve a desired medicinal effect is very smaller when compared to cannabinoids.
One study showed (find which one) that the human body absorbs THCA about 60x better than THC, and that CBDA gets absorbed about 10x better than CBD.
This is a truly revolutionary discovery, because the overall needed quantity immensely diminishes.
Decarboxylation is a chemical process where cannabinoid acids lose an atom of carbon, and become cannabinoids.
This is usually achieved by heating, but the decarboxylation process also naturally happens over extended period of time, but this takes much longer.
Because of this we use vaporizers, lighters and ovens to decarboxylate cannabis.
When we decarboxylate cannabis, the cannabinoid acids lose an atom of carbon and become cannabinoids, and in this form interact with our endocannabinoid system.
Cannabis concentrates are basically just concentrated forms of cannabinoids and terpenes produced by by separating resin from the flowers. Cannabis concetrates usually have between 60-90% cannabinoid contents (compared to flowers who usually have up to 20%) and so they are much more potent than consuming only buds.
Hash (full name hashish) is a cannabis extract, mostly stronger in potency than regular flowers, because it is made solely out of trichomes which contain colossal amounts of cannabinoids.
Hash is made by collecting, filtering and later pressing these miniature trichomes.
Another name for a collection of collected trichomes is kief, and it is the main ingredient in hash production.
Kief is an intensely potent extract, because the trichomes have a very large concentration of cannabinoids in them.
Butane hash oil (or BHO), is a potent concentrate manufactured by dissolving cannabis flowers with a solvent (butane), pressure and heat.
This process produces a strong cannabinoid-packed product which can be called honey oil, ear wax or shatter.
There are many different techniques for making BHO and these slang terms refer to all these differing techniques.
RSO (Rick Simpson Oil)
RSO is an oil created with the use of a solvent (99% isopropyl alcohol, or butane / ethanol).
Once the solvent dissolves the buds heat is introduced to decarboxylate cannabinoids and also to evaporate the solvent, leaving the end product pure and very rich in cannabinoids.
RSO is mostly used for very serious conditions like cancer, and is still completely unresearched from a scientific standpoint.
This concentrate is manufactured without any solvents by using only pressure and heat to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes from the flower mass.
Because of this rosin is considered purer than other extraction methods, because BHO and other solvent-based methods have to go through a process of removing the solvents from the concentrate end-product, which isn’t always 100% successful.
These devices function by using moderate heat to decarboxylate cannabinoids from flowers, in the form of vapor.
What differentiates vaporizers from smoking is the temperature range, which is significantly lower than an open flame.
By heating cannabis in these lower temperatures many harmful substances aren’t released from cannabis like tar and carbon monoxide.
This is why vaping is so superior to smoking, because long term exposure to tar, carbon monoxide and other carcinogens most likely wreaks havoc to our organism.
Dabbing, Dab Rig
Dab rig is a tool used for dabbing—consuming cannabis concentrates.
There are many different styles, but all function on the same principle of heating the dab nail to temperatures similar to those created by vaporizers.
This way the releasing of harmful substances is avoided, and users can experience pure vapor from their dab rig.
Active components from the edibles take longer to achieve any effects because they have to be absorbed via the digestive system, but the effects also last much longer than with vaping/dabbing/smoking.
Edibles are used by both medical and recreational users:
- Medical users who are unable to smoke or vape are very fond of making both high-THC and high-CBD edibles;
- Recreational users usually stick to high-THC edibles, because they produce stronger effects than smoked cannabis and the high lasts longer.
Tinctures are liquid cannabis extracts made with glycerol or alcohol, and are usually dosed with a dripper. These tinctures can come in many flavours, and are mostly used by placing the liquid under the tongue (sublingual).
They can also be added to drinks, but this way it takes longer for the effects to take hold.
Topicals are high-CBD and high-THC ointments that are applied directly to the skin, in order to treat different types of skin cancer and arthritis.
This way cannabinoids are absorbed peripherally, allowing for relief of pain, soreness and muscle aches.
Flowers, Buds, Nugs
Even though they appear physically different from flowers of other plants, cannabis flowers we consume are also the female reproductive parts of the plant.
They are the main source of cannabinoids in cannabis and they also produce seeds if they are fertilized by male plants.
Cannabis flowers look like crystal-covered chunky parts of the plant, usually laced with bright colors.
Pistils are an important part of the cannabis flower, as they are designed to soak up male pollen. For the plants that are left unfertilized (this is intentionally avoided in the cannabis industry), they also signal ripeness and time for harvest.
Anatomically, they appear as hair-like growths, ranging in color from white to red to dark brown.
Each strain of cannabis has its own unique aroma that involves both the smell and the taste of a specific plant.
Words usually used to describe the aroma of cannabis are diesel, skunky, pungent, earthy and citrusy.
This aroma is the result of different terpenes playing together to produce a unique scent of cannabis plant, and each strain has its own “aromatic profile”.
Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa subspecies and is grown for industrial use: This subspecies is used for the creation of paper, fabric, rope and many more.
Hemp is very rich in CBD and low in THC, as such, is legal to grow in many areas of the world. It is known that some Hemp species (for example, Helena species that grows in the Balkans) have upwards of 30% CBD.
Joint, Blunt, Spliff
Blunt is a cannabis cigar—it’s wrapped in a tobacco wrap. It lasts much longer than a regular joint, because the tobacco leaf wrap burns much more slowly than regular rolling paper.
Spliff is a slang term for a joint made exclusively with rolling papers and a mixture of cannabis and tobacco.
Strains are distinct types of cannabis, and are nowadays designed to create precise effects on a consumer.
They are mostly named after the region they come from, the strain’s physical characteristics, or the type of high it produces.
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