Cannabis can be confusing to a novice user as there are hundreds of strains available on the recreational and medical market. Each strain contains a unique profile of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids which all act in unison to produce the effects a user experiences. It takes time to determine which strain and terpene profile works best for individualized needs as well as determine an appropriate dosage for each strain.
There are three basic classes of cannabis: indica, sativa and hybrid. Each class produces distinct effects, although even these effects differ amongst different strains in the same class.
It can take months and even years for medical cannabis users to determine what cannabis strain or strains suit their needs best, so don’t give up! It is also advisable to work with a patient educator who can provide more information on terpenes and flavinoids as well as provide recommendations on different cannabis products. Patient educators will also assist individuals in coming up with a dosing schedule and treatment plan.
Apollo Cannabis Clinic has a team of experienced doctors and patient educators to assist medical cannabis users in getting the most from their medication. Visit apollocannabis.ca and fill out an intake form to begin the process of obtaining a medical cannabis recommendation.
It’s All In the Name
All cannabis falls under the genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae and there is ongoing debate as to whether there are two or three species within the cannabis sativa genus. These species include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis, indica and Cannabis ruderalis. Oftentimes, Cannabis ruderalis is combined with Cannabis sativa or alternately all three are treated as a subspecies of the single species Cannabis sativa.
No matter the scientific designation for different cannabis plants, they all possess unique qualities and produce different effects. Due to extensive breeding of cannabis genetics it is very rare to find a pure sativa or pure indica strain. Most strains have become a hybrid comprised of both Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica genetics.
Nowadays cannabis is referred to by its strain name. It has become common to purchase cannabis called Northern Lights, Purple Haze, Blueberry or Green Crack and each uniquely named strain has a different set of effects based on its cannabinoid, terpene and flavonoid profile.
Cannabinoids and Terpenes
Cannabinoids and terpenes are two different compounds contained within both the cannabis sativa and cannabis indicaas plants. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are two of the more widely known cannabinoids in cannabis, although researchers have determined that there are over 100 additional cannabinoids contained within the plant. Cannabinoids contribute to the effects of cannabis but are not solely responsible for the effects a user will feel.
Terpenes are the essential oils contained within all plants. Terpenes are also found within the resin of cannabis flowers and give each strain its unique smell and taste. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in medicine and continue to be popular in modern times. Researchers are also starting to show that it may be the terpene profile of different strains of cannabis that lead to its differing effects between strains.
For example, Pinene is the most common terpene in the world and boasts anti-inflammatory properties. Pinene is found in many common food and plants including orange peels, pine needs, basil, parsley and cannabis. Pinene has also been found to improve airflow to the lungs, promote alertness and combat short term memory loss from THC consumption.
Myrcene is another naturally occurring terpene that occurs in mangoes, thyme, hops, lemongrass and basil. It is also the most common terpene found in cannabis and may constitute up to 50% of the terpenes in some cannabis strains. Myrcene boasts anti-inflammatory properties as well as producing sedative and muscle relaxant effects. It is common for indica strains to contain a large percentage of Myrcene, which is what gives it the “couch lock” effects most users will experience.
Terpene profiles for different strains of cannabis may be just as important as the cannabinoid profile to understanding the therapeutic benefits a user will feel when consuming each strain.
The Entourage Effect
The Entourage Effect takes place when cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids act together in the body to enhance the effects of cannabis. There are over 100 cannabinoids in cannabis and many of them are non-psychoactive, such as the commonly-known compound cannabidiol (CBD). Even though many cannabinoids are non-psychoactive they enhance the effects of THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids.
Dr. Ethan Russo, M.D. is a neurologist who has spent his life studying cannabis compounds and their role in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). In Russo’s study titled “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects”, he discusses how cannabinoids influence the way each other work. Russo concluded that his data supports “the concept that selective breeding of cannabis chemotypes rich in ameliorative phytocannabinoid and terpenoid content offer complementary pharmacological activities that may strengthen and broaden clinical applications and improve the therapeutic index of cannabis extracts containing THC, or other base phytocannabinoids”. In other words, cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids acting together are more powerful than their separate entities.
Indica, Sativa and Hybrid Strains
Due to years of genetic breeding of cannabis it is very rare to find a “pure sativa” or “pure indica” strain. Most modern strains are a hybrid of sativa and indica genetics and produce effects somewhere in the middle of the two types of cannabis. Therefore, almost all cannabis can be considered a hybrid strain.
As medical cannabis may be used to treat a wide array of symptoms it is important to understand what is being consumed. Indica dominant cannabis strains generally grow short and bushy with large, wide leaves and a short distance between nodes. They also tend to produce a higher yield as compared to sativa or hybrid plants. Medicine that is produced by the indica plant tends to have higher CBD levels and lower THC content.
Indica strains are well known for their “couch-lock” effects that produce feelings of relaxation, drowsiness and calm. Medically, indica strains are used to manage symptoms such as edginess, tense muscles, nausea, acute pain, decreased appetite and feelings of depression. Indica strains also increase dopamine in the brain which is a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure control.
Indica strains may be more appropriate for night time use as they produce drowsiness and sedative effects. Common indica strains include: Northern Lights, Afghani Kush, Blue Mystic, and O.G. Kush.
Alternately, sativas are well known for the euphoric and energizing feelings they produce. Sativa strains tend to be higher in THC content and lower in CBD. They grow tall with thin, narrow leaves and large internodal spaces. Sativa plants tend to produce fewer flowers than their indica counterpart and take longer to grow.
Sativas are recommended for daytime use as they produce energizing effects. They are generally utilized to treat anxiety, depression and chronic pain as well as increase focus and creativity. Sativa strains also increase serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for the regulation of learning, mood, sleep, anxiety and appetite.
Some common sativa strains include Jack Herer, Happy Feet, Green Crack and Sour Diesel.
Hybrid strains fall somewhere in the middle of sativa and indica strains and are expressed as a ratio of indica to sativa or vice versa. For instance an 80% indica, 20% strain is listed as a 4:1 indica dominant hybrid. A hybrid strain that is 50% indica and 50% sativa is a 50:50 hybrid.
Hybrids are well known for their mixed effects that treat a wide range of symptoms. Hybrids are preferred by many medical consumers as they do not produce the intense effects of a sativa or indica but rather a milder version of the two.
Some well known 50:50 hybrid strains include: White Widow, Afghan Haze, Agent Orange and BC Big Bud.
Know What Is Being Consumed
As a medical cannabis user it is extremely important to understand the medication that you are taking. Oftentimes a course of trial and error is necessary to determine what strain works best to treat unwanted symptoms.
For instance, an individual who suffer from chronic pain and depression may prefer the uplifting effects of a sativa. Whereas an individual who suffers from chronic anxiety and muscle tightness may prefer the relaxing effects of an indica.
It is important to work with a multidisciplinary team of specialists to help determine what is the appropriate medication. This may include cannabis doctors, patient educators and Licensed Producers (LPs). All of these individuals will be able to guide medical cannabis users toward appropriate strains and products for their needs.
Finally, know where your medication comes from. While it may be tempting for medical cannabis users to shop on the grey market, these cannabis products are unregulated and may interfere with the medical action of cannabis an individual is seeking. Licensed Producers (LPs) must adhere to strict quality assurance guidelines and testing and produce products that meet high quality standards. Cannabis produced by Licensed Producers is intended for medical use and is free from contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.