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CONNECT WITH CANNABIS: A beginner’s guide to cannabis

Vaping cannabis, which is one way to ingest the drug, is considered healthier than smoking.
Vaping cannabis, which is one way to ingest the drug, is considered healthier than smoking. - 123RF Stock Photo

Everything you want to know but are afraid to ask

It’s almost here — ready or not! And from the sounds of it, the majority of people and businesses are just not ready. A big part of the reason this general unpreparedness is that for those that don’t normally ingest cannabis, it is an enigma of sorts, which until now has also been illegal in most countries. So, to simply open the cannabis doors, much like taking your finger out of the proverbial dyke, and say, “Have at it,” is not only causing a lot of confusion for people, but also even some fear. As with most fears, however, a little knowledge can go a long way to alleviate it. In an effort to help demystify this ancient plant, here are some cannabis basics.

What exactly is cannabis?

Some of the biggest confusion surrounding cannabis is that you will get “high” if you take it. While this is definitely the case for some types, not all cannabis is designed for this purpose. Recreational and medical cannabis are two very different things, which is where a lot of the sigma about people taking prescription cannabis stems from.

Cannabis is derived from the cannabis plant, which has grown wild in many countries for literally thousands of years, although it is thought to have originated in Asia. When talking about cannabis it is good to know there are two subspecies of the plant:  Cannabis sativa, also known as marijuana, which has psychoactive properties, Cannabis sativa L., known as hemp. Hemp is then non-psychoactive form of the plant, and is widely used to manufacture things such as hemp oil, clothing and food products and even fuel.

Cannabis contains roughly 400 chemicals, 80 (although that number is rising as research continues) of which are called cannabinoids and are unique to the plant. Most people have heard of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which was first isolated and synthesized in 1964. This is the chemical responsible for the plant’s psychoactive properties. THC is responsible for the relaxed, sleepy, hungry and euphoric sensations people experience when using. THC potency in dried cannabis averages 15 per cent today, although some strains can average as much as 30 per cent THC. Anything less than.3 per cent is considered hemp.

The other key cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which makes up about 40 per cent of the plant, and does not have intoxicating effects like THC, thus does not cause the “high” associated with cannabis. CBD is shown in numerous studies to have a wide range of healing effects, which is why it is widely used in most medical cannabis for such things as pain, inflammation, anxiety, seizures and a growing number of other medical issues. 

What effects you will experience from cannabis are thus highly dependent on the THC-to-CBD ratio.

What form of cannabis will become legal in Canada?

Medical cannabis has been legal with a prescription since 2001. The federal government is legalizing recreational cannabis this year, which will now be sold through the NSLC in Nova Scotia. People who use medical cannabis will still get their prescriptions filled through authorized licenced producers.

Types of cannabis

As the cannabis industry evolves in Canada, it is set to become similar to the wine industry, according to local licenced producers. Like wine, cannabis has specific varietals that have their own distinct properties such as flavour, smell, quality and effects. Two of the main species of cannabis are indica, which is a shorter and stockier plant with dense buds. This plant is native to the cold, mountainous areas of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The other species is sativa, which is tall and lanky and has skinner buds. It is native to Mexico, Colombia and Thailand, where it thrives in warmer conditions.

Indicas: These strains typically cause sedentary effects, causing almost a dream-like feeling in users. Sativas: Sativas are typically known to cause more “cerebral” effects, such as creativity and give you a more energetic feeling.  

Seven ways to consume cannabis

Cannabis is generally used in three forms: marijuana, hashish and hash oil. Marijuana consists of the dried flowers and leaves from the cannabis plant and is the least potent. It’s typically smoked or made into edible such as brownies or brownies. Hashish comes from the resin of the cannabis plant and is dried and pressed into small blocks that are smoked or added to edibles. Hash oil is by far the most potent form of cannabis and looks like a thick oil derived from hashish.

Whether medical or recreational, there are essentially seven ways to consume cannabis.

Smoking: This has been the most common way to ingest cannabis for centuries. Much like tobacco, you roll dried cannabis flowers into a “joint” and smoke it. The effects are felt almost immediately and tend to peak within the first 10 minutes and then dissipate over the next one to three hours. When legalized, people can purchased the dried, fresh and even pre-rolled cannabis directly from a participating NSLC store.

  • Vaporizing: You have no doubt seen people “vaping” as a way to quit smoking or simply for pleasure. A much healthier alternative to smoking, people can use similar devices like smoke-free “vape pens” to consume cannabis. Cannabis is heated below combustion temperature to extract the THC, CBD and other active ingredients. This method is not only easier on your lungs, but it delivers more precise doses and doesn’t leave the distinct cannabis smell on your clothes, furniture etc. Depending on the type of vaporizer you own, you can use dried cannabis or concentrated oils. Similar to smoking, the effects of vaporizing cannabis are felt almost immediately and the fade.
  • Dabbing: This is definitely not for new users. Although it is another form of vaporizing, it is essentially flash-vaporization. Cannabis concentrates are dropped onto a heated water-pipe attachment and then inhaled, resulting in a more potent effect than regular vaping.
  • Edibles: pre-made edibles will not be available for sale though the NSLC at first (not until 2019), but there are many recipes available online to create your own. Beware, however, as this form is typically highly potent, so until you understand the effects of cannabis, you should start out slowly. One of the reasons people tend to overdo it on edibles is that the effects are gradual and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in and they can last several hours. To start, you should only use one to 2.5 mg of THC concentrate and gradually increase over time until you find the desired dosing, according to most experts. 
  • Topicals: These include such things as lotions, gels, oils and balms that you use topically and are absorbed through your skin. These can be a good option for people who want to experience the medicinal effects without the intoxicating effects since the active ingredients don’t enter the bloodstream but can offer localized relief of pain, muscle stiffness and soreness, and inflammation.

Concentrates (ingestible oils): Extracts are highly concentrated forms of cannabis and can have THC levels that range from 50 to 80 per cent. Because of this, unless you are prescribed a certainly dosage by a physician, who can monitor your reactions, concentrates are not recommended for beginners. Ingestible oils are typically available in capsule form or plastic applicators that you consume directly or add to food or drink. Much like edibles, these concentrates oils are very powerful and can have intense effects that take time to fully kick in and can last for hours.

Tinctures: Like other herbal tinctures, cannabis tinctures are infused liquids that extract the active cannabis compounds by soaking in grain alcohol. They are typically applied directly under your tongue, but unlike concentrated oils or edibles, tinctures actually enter your bloodstream immediately, which provides fast-acting effects and ultimately, better dose control.

How to read a cannabis label

While what exactly or how it will appear on cannabis labels when it is available in stores in Canada is still to be seen, food and drug regulations will require the labels to include information on the specific amounts of active ingredients such as THC and CBD. What will be the most important thing to be aware of, especially for new cannabis users, is the amount of THC.

Not a lot of information is available yet about what strains, concentrations etc. the NSLC will carry, but when purchasing cannabis, it is best to start “slow and low” strains that are in the 10 to15 per cent THC range. If you can find one that has an equal balance of both THC and CBD (5 per cent THC and 5 percent CBD, for example) this is the best place to start since the CBD can help minimize the effects of psychoactive effects of the THC.

If you decide to use a vapourizer, go slowly. Start with one inhalation and then wait about 20 to 30 minutes as the effects take time to peak. 

How to store cannabis

Along the same vein as fine wines, cannabis can easily deteriorate if stored improperly. Do not expose it to direct sunlight or heat or leave it unsealed. You can prolong the quality of cannabis by storing it in a cool, dark and dry place in a sealed container — glass jars are the best option. Cupboards, drawers and other dry, dark locations are fine, but always keep it out of reach of children and pets. Do not store in the refrigerator as it can develop mildew if too humid.

Connect With Cannabis is a monthly custom content feature that focuses on education around cannabis and its legalization.

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