Among the misconceptions of cannabis, many people think of it as a singular substance. They associate marijuana with THC, known for its psychoactive effects —and, in doing so, assume all buds are created equal.
Fact is, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is among 50 constituents known as cannabinoids. Cannabis contains other active molecules, too, called terpenes. Each compound has its own properties. So, depending on the plants’ chemical composition, varieties really do vary.
“The reason why each type of cannabis is so different, and the reason why cannabis in general helps so many different illnesses and disorders, is because of the different ratios of the cannabinoids and terpenes in each strain,” explained Kimberly Cargile, board member of the Sacramento collective A Therapeutic Alternative. “Cannabis is not a one-type-fits-all kind of medicine.”
Each cannabinoid offers different relief. For instance, Cargile said, CBD (cannabidiol) reduces nerve inflammation, suppresses seizures, muscle spasms and migraines. CBN (cannabinol) is a sedative, providing great relief for insomnia. THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) — the naturally occurring form of THC, which only turns psychoactive when heated above 215 degrees Fahrenheit — works as a pain reliever, mood elevator and mood regulator.
Other cannabinoids include CBC (cannabichromene), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), CBG (cannabigerol) and THCV (tertahydrocannabivarin). Terpines, meanwhile, are molecules that are smaller than cannabinoids and similar to aromatic compounds in lavender and citrus. Scientists are studying terpines in the way they’re studying cannabinoids to identify their particular effects.
“Now we’re starting to put scientific evidence behind what patients have already been telling us,” Cargile said.
Selective breeding gives rise to new strains each year. As the plants change, so do their chemical combinations. Laboratories play a big role in classifying them.
Collectives such as A Therapeutic Alternative send out each new variety for lab testing, not only to ensure purity but also to determine the precise concentration of each compound.
“For instance,” Cargile said, “one strain will have 10 percent CBD, 20 percent THC and 2 percent CBN, and that would help someone more with anxiety — whereas if you get a different strain with 10 percent CBN, 2 percent THC and 4 percent CBD, that would help someone sleep.”
At any given time, A Therapeutic Alternative may have 25 strains of cannabis, if not more. “One reason why collectives are so important is so a patient can go and get the right kind of cannabis,” Cargile said. “You need to have a specific type for your illness or disorder. Patients deserve a safe place, similar to a pharmacy, to access their medicine, with educated and knowledgeable staff, and lab-tested cannabis with a variety of strains so they can find one that fits their individual needs.”
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