Monday, April 18, 2011


Cannabis 101

Have you heard about how marijuana is pretty much legal in California now? Not fully or federally legal, but still, pretty much legal. It’s also pretty much legal in Colorado and sort of legal in a bunch of other states, but it’s the most legal in California.

First, you’ll need a medical marijuana recommendation (and here I should note that I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist), which you can easily obtain by explaining to a “pot doctor” that you already use marijuana to alleviate symptoms of “cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” (I use it to relieve back and neck pain, muscle soreness, headaches, nausea, cramps, anxiety, stress, bad moods, and lack of creative inspiration.)

Then you can bring your recommendation to a dispensary, where you’ll encounter a variety of strains, edibles, and concentrates. You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store as you explore your options, assisted by helpful labels, detailed menus, and friendly budtenders.

Cannabis can do wonders for your quality of life, from alleviating boredom to easing the symptoms of cancer. Since different strains and consumption methods produce different effects, you’ll need a basic understanding of how cannabis works in order to make an informed selection.

If you’re part of the unfortunate majority without access to legal medical marijuana, even if your only resort is mystery weed from an unsavory character under a bridge somewhere, you can still benefit from a more mindful approach to cannabis consumption.

When you smoke pot, you are burning the dried and cured flowers of a female cannabis plant to inhale THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that give cannabis its unique effects, and are mostly found in the sticky, sparkly resin that oozes from glands known as trichomes, which coat the plant’s flowers and leaves. The ratio of THC to CBD and other cannabinoids helps determine the character of a particular strain.

For decades, growers have sought to maximize the presence of THC, since THC makes users feel intoxicated and euphoric. As a result, there are few strains with a high percentage of CBD. This is a shame because CBD seems to cancel out many potentially negative effects of THC. While some studies link THC with schizophrenia, CBD has an anti-psychotic effect. THC may induce a panicked sensation, but CBD calms that feeling. CBD acts as a neuroprotective agent, reducing short-term memory loss caused by THC.

CBD is not psychoactive, but offers excellent therapeutic benefits. The medical marijuana community has created a demand for CBD-rich strains, which can provide relief from pain, inflammation, anxiety, or spasms without disorienting or sedating the user. (Queen Victoria is said to have used CBD-rich cannabis for menstrual cramps.)

It’s impossible to know the THC and CBD content of a particular strain without laboratory tests that are not yet widely available or consistently reliable. Instead, growers and dispensaries categorize strains as indicas, sativas, or hybrids. This categorization is based partially on a strain’s genetics, but also on the strain’s characteristics and effects. Even if you don’t know anything about the genetics or chemical makeup of your mystery weed, you draw reasonably reliable conclusions based purely on your own observations.

Cannabis indica is a shorter, bushier plant with a relaxing, sedative body effect. Indicas get you “stoned” and are more likely to induce sleepiness or “couch lock.” This type of cannabis is good for pain, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, and tension. An indica strain’s effects are longer lasting, and indicas are usually best in the evening. Indicas tend to be richer in CBD.

Cannabis sativa is a tall, spindly plant with longer, thinner leaves and an energetic, uplifting mental effect. Sativas get you “high” and are more likely to induce paranoia or anxiety. This type of cannabis is good for depression, lethargy, headaches, mental stress, and lack of focus. A sativa strain’s effects have a shorter duration and are usually best during the day. Sativas generally contain more THC.

Pure indica and sativa strains have been crossed to create hybrids. Most strains you encounter will be hybrids, which can be indica dominant, sativa dominant, or evenly balanced. Ideally, hybrids combine a mood-enhancing sativa high with a physically relaxing indica stone.

A heavy indica, like Grand Daddy Purple, Romulan, or Purple Urkle, offers long-lasting pain relief and deep relaxation, and can help combat insomnia, but may be overly sedative. If you want physical relaxation and pain relief while remaining mentally clear and functional, you need an indica dominant hybrid, like Hindu Skunk or Bubba Kush. For a balanced high with a range of mental and physical effects that won’t make you too tired or too wired, try an even hybrid like Silver Haze or Bubblegum. Sativa dominant hybrids like Sour Diesel and Chemdog are physically soothing and mentally uplifting. Potent, nearly pure sativas like Headband and Green Crack offer a creative, stimulating, sometimes psychedelic high with little or no physical effect. If you want pain relief without the high, keep an eye out for CBD-rich strains like Harlequin, Omrita Rx3, or Cannatonic.

If strain names like these mean nothing to you or your dealer, you might try specifying whether you are primarily looking for a body stone or a head high. You can also evaluate mystery weed’s smell and appearance. The buds should be as intact as possible, as any physical damage decreases potency. They should be properly cured but not overly dry, otherwise the smoke will be harsh and unpleasant.

You may want to inquire as to whether your cannabis was grown indoors or outdoors. The difference is negligible as far as effect is concerned, but indoor-grown cannabis is generally prettier, with a thicker coat of resin, while growing outdoors is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

If you’d rather not risk damaging your lungs or throat, you could try using a vaporizer, which creates water vapor instead of smoke. Or you might prefer edibles or concentrates.

Many medical marijuana patients favor edibles because they are more discrete and practical than smoking, especially for those who require all day pain relief. Of course, pot brownies are the most iconic edible, but almost any food can be made with cannabis-infused butter or oil. When marijuana is eaten rather than smoked, the effect may take up to an hour to be felt, and tends to be longer, stronger, and more sedative. Approach edibles with caution, as it’s relatively easy to overmedicate and become uncomfortably high.

Cannabis flowers can be sifted or tumbled to collect the resin that contains the highest concentration of cannabinoids. This potent powder is known as kief. Kief can be vaporized, smoked, or pressed and baked to create hash.

Cannabinoids can also be extracted using alcohol to create a tincture. Tinctures are quite strong and allow users to measure doses more precisely. Before marijuana was prohibited in 1937, cannabis tinctures were widely available for medical purposes. Some dispensaries also sell topical oils, which offer localized pain relief and subtle mood enhancement.

To learn more about individual strains, check out Leafly or just Google, as there are dozens of less comprehensive review websites. When smoking mystery weed, take note of its distinguishing characteristics, including appearance, aroma, flavor, potency, and effects. And support legalization efforts, so that eventually we can all benefit from the life-enhancing potential of this marvelous plant.

Caitlin Podiak tumblstweets, and brags about the dankness of her weed at Pot Couture.

49 Comments / Post A Comment

Matthew Gallaway

Nobody writes about weed like Caitlin P!


Don't forget that weed doesn't work for some people! We can't ALL benefit from marijuana, just like we can't all benefit from coffee. Some people become withdrawn or depressed, paranoid or anxious. I am manic depressive, and smoking weed turns on manic behaviour for me. It's important to be cautious with any substances, even if it's a "natural herb!"

Caitlin Podiak

@pumpkin True enough, although I would argue that those who have had bad reactions to mystery weed in the past might still benefit from CBD-rich cannabis.

But there are always exceptions, of course. Penicillin has certainly been quite beneficial to humanity, but it makes me break out into awful hives.


As I understand it, the appropriately named Nederland, Colorado is where marijuana is "most legal." Legal to buy, sell and carry up to an ounce for people over 21.


Has it really been shown to reduce inflammation (I don't want to Google at work)? I'm asking for a friend who is dealing with some joint pain issues currently and is worried about the huge amount of ibuprofen she is taking to manage it (under a doctor's orders), but needs to be alert at work.

Caitlin Podiak

@formergr Yes, CBD-rich cannabis has been shown to reduce inflammation.


This was so informative and well-reasoned. Thank you for being another soldier in the Upstanding Members of Society Smoke Pot, Too battle.

Feminist Killjoy

is there any actual research surrounding indica- vs. sativa-heavy strains, or is this based mostly on anecdotal experience as a stoner?


The latter. But who doesn't want to hear another stoner anecdote?

(Everybody, actually.)


You know what I like to clean my pieces with? A hairpin! Also makes a fantastic roach clip! <3


Is it possible to get a prescription from another state, and use it in your own? No such thing as a stupid question, right?


i'm not a big proponent for smoking weed but this was the smartest article i have ever read in its defense. very impressed!!


Ladystoners everywhere! Thanks for the info on CBD. I should revisit indicas for more than just insomnia.

I also wanted to throw in my favorite brunchtime medible:
A little ganja sprinkled into yogurt makes for a faster acting edible (thanks to acids and enzymes in the yogurt) helping to keep the dosage where you want it. Grind up a pinky fingernail sized bud (a pizza cutter performs this task nobly) into one of those little lunch yogurts and have a loverly day.


@Vito@twitter Wait this sounds fantastic! Can you eat the yogurt immediately upon mixing in the weed or do you have to let it sit a bit (for, I don't know, enzymes or something)?

I am all for the non-baked-sweets edibles. My friends and I made weed hummus once, and it was fantastic.



It's great to keep in the fridge for a bit, but you can eat it right away. Cannabinoids are fat soluble--so though fat free yogurt will still work, full fat yogurt is better.


I used to smoke plenty when I was younger. In the past couple of years I've developed some gnarly anxiety. Any time I have tried smoking pot to chill or whatever, I have a full-blown panic attack. So sad. No more for me.

Feminist Killjoy

eating buds raw doesn't get you high, even on yogurt...

Feminist Killjoy

i'm pretty sure?

Pelvic Trust

You are correct. Eating raw bud does nothing. I haven't tried the method described above. There are some activation methods that involve vinegar (which I can assure you is very effective), but even those take days, so it's hard to imagine that the acids in yogurt would do the trick instantaneously.


I just have to chime in here, this is my first comment ever on Hairpin. While I certainly appreciate this article (I'm a lover of the green myself), I have to point out that these days pot secured "under the bridge," in the area where I live, has a high chance (no pun intended) of coming from Mexico. This pot contributes to violence that is ripping that country apart, and us U.S. buyers are the demand side of the chain. As someone who tries to have a social conscience in my individual actions (I recycle! I eat local food when possible!), I have recently decided that it's time to take that step in my pot consumption as well. Sucks, because I have no idea how to find a dealer who can guarantee that the product was grown in the USA, wish it were just legal, etc, but... I think it's time we all became a little more conscious of the impact of our consumption.


@littleswan How do people who do heroin deal with the ethical aspects? That supports the Taliban!

I know for a fact the weed I get is grown in a basement in the city, so that's one less thing off my mind.

Feminist Killjoy

@Napoleon THATS SO UNSUSTAINABLE LOL. but really, some article did just come out about weed growers accounting for, like, some ridiculous proportion of california's energy use: http://blogs.forbes.com/eco-nomics/2011/04/14/new-study-reveals-massive-energy-consumption-of-pot-industry/

dunno if i really buy the exact numbers but i guess the point stands? "a single joint represents 2 pounds of CO2 emissions (!) which is equivalent to running a 100-watt incandescent light bulb for 17 hours (or about 30 hours in California)" hmm

oh, and i think that on most heroin addicts' "reasons not to do heroin" list, foreign politics is gonna be pretty far down the list



That's why buying outdoor is the thing to do. Not only is it cheaper, but it's healthier for body and earth.
You might not get the same level of sugar or big hydro style nugs--but who the hell smokes a whole nug anyway? That's more like a show thing, from a business that's been male driven for way too long.


sugar or big hydro style nugs--but who the hell smokes a whole nug anyway? That's more like a show thing...backless prom dresses

tea tray in the sky.

Any Hairpinners have experience using this for migraine relief?


@Twinkle Little Bat Yes! I've had severe migraines since I hit puberty. Usually they are stress-related or come with PMS, but I have triggers, too, like red wine (so very sad). Marijuana is extremely affective for treatment of my migraines. Every migraine is different depending on the person, but I find smoking to help immensely with nausea and light sensitivity, two of the most debilitating symptoms I encounter during a migraine headache.


....or "effective", even.


@kayjay Are your migraines with auras, or are they common migraines? I've been wondering about this too!

tea tray in the sky.

@kayjay That's good to here! Not about your migraines, about the effectiveness of the marijuana. I have chronic daily migraines which often come without nausea or light sensitivity, usually I'm just sensitive to movement of any kind. I wonder if it would help?

tea tray in the sky.

Here? Hear. How I only noticed this four days later I'm not sure.

Tammy Pajamas

@Twinkle Little Bat This is WAY late, so you probably won't see it. Weed makes my migraines worse, but if I'm also nauseated, I smoke some to take of the nausea so I don't throw up the migraine pill. What a ridiculous cycle, but it works!


Dear friend,
First of all let me express my gratitude for your great insight. Then I should mention that sadly marijuana is illegal where I live so we smoke mistery weed all the time. These being said I'd like to ask you to explain us (or point me in the right direction) why there are such BIG differences between how different people would react to marijuana? I'm in no way an aficionado, I smoke once a month or two but I am extremely sensible to pot. After two smokes or such I get extremely high, with waves of pleasure trough my whole body, lasting for as long as 4 hours. I've had actually friends asking me if I'm OK and if I'd need an ambulance ;)) These happens to me as far I can say with both high/stoned oriented strains. Meantime, pot buddies of mine have much more moderated reactions to the same stuff we smoke. Worst of all - and this make me really sad - my wife doesn't feel a thing, even if once she smoked my two months stash :( Shes a moderate drinker and I saw her getting much higher after two shots of liquor. Why is that? Havent we all those receptors in our brains? Thank you in advance for your kind answer.


My friend opened up a dispensary back when it was hush hush and the threat of legal repurcussions were always in the air. Now you can open a dispensary like nothing. There are even guides on Squidoo about dispensary packaging!


it was hush hush and the threat of legal repurcussions were always in the air. Now you can open a dispensary like nothing...freelance makeup artist


I'm not quite sure what to think about legalizing marijuana, I'm aware of its medical benefits, but what about addiction? Anyways since we live in a free county, some people will Buy Januvia, while others medical marijuana to improve their health!


Cannabis sativa is a tall, spindly plant with longer, thinner leaves and an energetic, uplifting mental effect. Sativas get you “high” and are more likely to induce paranoia or anxiety. This type of cannabis is good for depression, lethargy, headaches, mental stress, and lack of focus. A sativa strain’s effects have a shorter duration and are usually best during the day. Sativas generally contain more THC. trailer tent


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