4 Facts About Cannabis You Need to Know
What do you know about cannabis? Could you spot it if it were growing in the wild? Have you smelled the fresh flowers? Do you know which parts of the plant are used to make which industrial and consumable products? Cannabis is a fascinating plant because of just how many uses it has in our everyday life, from medicine, to recreation, to clothing, housing, food, and fuel. There is little in our lives that couldn't be replaced by a cannabis product. It's a classic, "anything 'X' can do, hemp can do better" situation. Cannabis is also captivating due to it's appearance. It certainly doesn't look like other "flowers", nor does it produce nectar. It draws in pollinators with alluring cloud of lies - not that pollinators are necessary. If there is a male cannabis plant among females it will release puffs of fine particulate pollen in a even the gentlest breeze that is certain to hit all possible targets. This, as it turns out, brings us to our first key cannabis fact.
Medical & Recreational Cannabis is Exclusively Female
Most plants produce both male and female parts (monoecious), but cannabis plants are almost exclusively male, or female (dioecious). In order to produce seeds, plants of both genders are needed. However, when the goal is to produce large, resinous flowers to be used recreationally or turned into a cannabis infused product, it is best to not allow the female plants to be pollinated and produce seeds.
The product of this method was nicknamed "sinsemilla", with the first use on record in 1975. Since then, sinsemilla has made it into Merriam-Webster's dictionary, where it bears the following definition: "highly potent marijuana from female plants that are specially tended and kept seedless by preventing pollination in order to induce a high resin content." The majority of cannabinoids and terpenes are found in the resinous trichomes that coat cannabis flowers, however there are also very low levels of cannabinoids present in the leaves and stocks. That's why rope, cloth, and other industrial products are made from hemp, not resinous cannabis. That brings us to our second key cannabis fact:
Marijuana and Hemp are the Same Species
While they don't always look alike, all types of cannabis are the same species. Over time we've just selectively bred them, like dogs, to be better at different things. A Pomeranean doesn't look anything like a St. Bernard, but they will still produce a wicked furball of a puppy. This means that it is impolite/impractical/impossible to grow an industrial hemp crop anywhere near a sinsemilla crop, because the hemp will pollinate the resinous females, ruin the crop, and produce a useless genetic line that is good neither for fiber nor resin production. And likewise, if someone is breeding a new line of resinous cannabis and their males happen to pollinate a hemp field, any seeds produced will be unusable for the hemp farmer! It's very important to keep these two types of cannabis farms far, far away from each other. Because all cannabis is the same species, that also means most of the language that we've been using to talk about types of cannabis for the last couple of decades is just flat-out wrong. Which brings us to our next key cannabis fact:
Indica/Sativa is a Lie - All Your Weed is Both
There is a lot of scientifically inaccurate jargon thrown around in the cannabis community and culture, to the point that accuracy seems to have fled the scene entirely and we all now communicate using words we know are wrong but use anyhow because it's the only way anyone will understand us /EndRant. So, today only, here's the reality: sativa, indica, and ruderalis are subspecies of cannabis, with sativa referring to cultivated type, and indica and ruderalis referring to regional "wild" types. The only "pure" sativa is industrial hemp - anything else has been mixed with indica and potentially ruderalis at some point in time. That means anything that is grown for resin production, medical or recreational use, is all "hybrid". Yes, all of it.
So what are we actually talking about when we say "indica", or "sativa"? When a cultivator says it they are talking about how it grows, with massive generalization: A "sativa" can be expected to grow tall and leggy with long thin branches and a long flowering cycle, whereas an "indica" can be expected to grow short, fat, and dense, with a short flowering cycle. When a consumer says it, they are talking about the host of effects, with massive generalization: A "sativa" can be expected to deliver a light, energetic, and uplifting "high" that is cerebral and functional, whereas an "indica" can be expected to deliver a heavy, sedative "stone" that induces hunger, relieves pain, and makes one sleep. Unfortunately, as generalizations go, these descriptions can rarely be relied upon, and there is still a lot of personal trial and error that goes on. When shopping for effect, it might be better to consider the terpene (flavor/scent) profile of the "strains" you're considering, rather than a claim of "sativa" or "indica". Which brings is to our next key cannabis fact:
Terpenes Matter - A Lot
Terpenes are the chemicals in cannabis (and other plants) that bestow their unique scent. Cannabis is particularly notable because of the wide range of terpene types and levels that it can express, and for the way that these chemicals interact with cannabinoids to produce different effects. It was documented as far back as 1974 that the pharmacological effects of full-spectrum cannabis (with all of it's terpenes present) were 3-4x greater than isolated THC alone, which was the earliest indication that there is a lot more to cannabis than just THC (and now, CBD).
According to SC Labs, who have performed chemical analysis on tens of thousands of cannabis flowers, the level of myrcene is the greatest indicator of whether the effect will feel more like a sedative "indica", or more like an energizing "sativa". Limonene, a terpene smelling of citrus, is frequently found in "sativa" feeling cultivars and is thought to be responsible for the mood boosting effect, whereas high levels of alpha-pinene, a fairly cannabis ubiquitous terpene, is thought to be responsible for the uncommon instances where cannabis use causes paranoia, panic, and anxiety attacks. Beta-caryophyllene, frequently found in high levels in "drug" type varietals, is almost non-existent in hemp. This special terpene interacts directly with the endocannabinoid system at the CB2 receptor, producing an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect.
Bonus Fact: Hemp Seeds Contain No Cannabinoids, But Are Still Good for You
Hemp seed oil (NOT the same thing as "hemp oil") comes from the seeds of industrial hemp that is grown for fiber. The seeds may be the primary or the secondary product of a hemp crop and are processed into hulled "hemp hearts", made into hemp milk, or cold-pressed to make hemp seed oil. Hemp seeds contain 25% protein by weight, and are high in omega-3, making them a very healthy option for both fat and protein.