The abc’s of cannabis: 10 basic concepts for the newbie

As the world of cannabis opens up, so does its vocabulary. I’ve found when I talk to anyone who’s not involved in the industry, it’s like I’m speaking a different language. It’s not just the new words like cannabinoids, dabs and edibles. It’s basic concepts like a sativa vs. indica or head vs. body high. It’s the dizzying array of devices and methods of consumption. And so on.

I’ve been told talking to me can be like drinking from a firehose—people on the outside of the industry are fascinated by what’s taking shape. Whether they are, or ever will be, a cannabis consumer is irrelevant. But more and more people want to join the conversation, and so here are some of the ABC’s to help you keep up and even join in. Think of it like the crib sheet of phrases for traveling to a foreign country. Or like the older lady in Airplane who helped translate jive to the stewardess.

  1. Cannabis, marijuana or hemp? Vastly simplified: marijuana gets you high. Hemp does not (it lacks enough THC to provide any psychoactivity.) Both are cannabis. Both offer fantastic benefits and potential. Cannabis has been adopted as the preferred term by many in the industry as part of our effort to legitimize it and leave the stoner stereotype behind.

  2. Sativa, indica, hybrid: Strains of cannabis, like a red, white or rose wine. A sativa is typically a ‘head high,’ which tends to bring out creativity, energy and focus in people… it can provide brilliant moments of inspiration, power a garage cleaning session or send you down a rabbit hole of cosmic speculation. An indica generally leans towards a ‘body high’ – that couch locked, melty feeling that makes the outside world go away. A hybrid, well, clearly is a strain that will have some mix of sativa and indica.Why is this important to know? If you’re looking to chill out and are prone to anxiety, using a sativa could very well do exactly the opposite…That paranoia people talk about? It doesn’t have to be that way. And if you’re looking to be active and social and use an indica, you could end up blowing off your plans and eating stuffing and chocolate ice cream while binging on Netflix. I’ve heard so many times about a bad experience someone has had, and the assumption is that is just how that person reacts to pot…but in all likelihood, it was just the wrong strain for that situation.

  3. Cannabinoids, terpenes and THC: The core components of cannabis… most people have heard of THC, which is the stuff that gets you “high.” Up until recently, pretty much the only thing people cared about; the higher the percentage the better (and why pot today is much stronger than the weed of our youth.) Stories and research are emerging every day about how cannabis and its cannabinoids like CBD, CBN and CGB are helping with seizures, cancer, insomnia, inflammation and a plethora of medical conditions. Not just providing relief from symptoms, but actually killing cancer cells, shrinking tumors and reducing and sometimes eliminating seizures. (Side note and topic for future post: the U.S. Government, which has marijuana classified as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value, filed a patent for cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. Um, hello, hypocrisy?)Much of the focus today is on the cannabinoids, but terpenes are part of the mix and key to the ‘entourage effect,’ the ultimate feeling/relief you get from the combination and interaction of all of the components in cannabis. Terpenes are what make pot smelly…and what gives one strain an aroma of pine needles and gasoline, and another bubblegum and blueberries. They also affect your feelings, playing a big role in the therapeutic effects of cannabis.

  4. Vaping, dabbing, concentrates: Alternatives to smoking a joint or ripping a bong hit, this is one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis today. Instead of burning the weed (referred to as ‘flower’), it’s vaporized at various temperatures to release the compounds; either as flower or as concentrate (forms may include oil, shatter, wax, budder, honey.) It’s a cleaner, less harsh way to inhale; and far more discreet than a joint and more portable than a bong.There are an increasing number of products on the market to choose from: desktop vaporizers, portable pens, dab rigs (if you’re still reading this, a dab rig is not for you…baby steps, my friends) and pre-loaded cartridges are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s overwhelming and easy to make a disappointing choice….so do homework and see if you can try before you buy to ensure you pick what works for you. BTW, Healthy Headie is a great new business that’s focused on helping people do just that, essentially bring the store to your door. Think Tupperware parties or ‘the Mary K for Mary J.’ If you don’t want to go to a head shop, check it out.

  5. Edibles, tinctures, topicals: Various forms of consuming cannabis, providing different effects and delivery methods. We’ve come a long way from the pot brownie, and every day there are new, delicious options for eating or drinking cannabis. The industry is producing products that are more consistent (key to commercialization), and there’s a strong focus on trying to ensure people, particularly newbies, don’t take too much and have a Maureen O’Dowd fail. Much like drinking, it’s a question of personal responsibility and pacing, once you know to “go low and slow.”Tinctures, topicals and other forms are coming onto the market, which bypass lungs and digestive systems and go directly into the bloodstream. They can provide a convenient and discreet way to medicate throughout the day, generally without getting you high. In fact, topicals that have THC do not deliver a psychoactive effect, meaning they can be used on children, seniors and anyone else who doesn’t want to get high.

  6. Medicating: Like ‘cannabis,’ a term being used by many to help legitimize and reinforce the medicinal value of marijuana. I would argue that even the most recreational user is receiving therapeutic benefits…relaxation, mindfulness, laughter, relief from anxiety and pressure are good for us. If you say you’re going outside to medicate, no one will be teasing you about you coming back high with the munchies.

  7. Cannabis 2.0: The next iteration of how we’ll consume cannabis, bypassing or enhancing many of the current methods. Think extraction of specific cannabinoids targeted for specific conditions like MS and Crohn’s, customizing a strain for a tailored cannabinoid and terpene profile, using a ‘smart’ vaporizer or going to a terpene ‘tasting’ party. We’re already starting to see products formulated and packaged around a mood, feeling or ailment relief. But we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what’s to come…

  8. Rescheduling vs descheduling: Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 drug, the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs which have “no currently accepted medical use” and are so dangerous that they cannot be used safely, even under medical supervision. At this point, it’s really not a question of “if” but “when” prohibition will end. And how.Rescheduling marijuana would be a huge political win, as the government would have to admit it has medical value. And it would help with many of the tax issues businesses struggle with today. But it wouldn’t necessarily open access, remove barriers to research or keep the government from interfering. And marijuana would still technically be an illegal federal drug.

    Descheduling would place cannabis in the same realm as alcohol and tobacco (even though these drugs are dangerous, addictive and kill millions.) Open to regulation and oversight, out of the hands of the DEA. It would open up research and create a new generation of small and large businesses.


  9. Indoor, outdoor and sungrown: The way in which marijuana is grown and cultivated. You will hear arguments for both methods, and there are pros and cons for each. Indoor growing was born out of prohibition, as people were forced underground, so to speak. It provides a controlled environment good for breeding new strains and efficient operations; but is an energy hog and attracting novice cultivators who rely on pesticides and other nasty stuff to optimize production.Outdoor or sungrown marijuana can be more expensive, but generally produces a better product. Think about tomatoes, would you prefer a homegrown tomato from a garden or one from an industrial hothouse? Cannabis, like wine, is tied to its terroir—the geography, geology and climate of a place, interacting with plant genetics. I’m betting within the next few years the Emerald Triangle in Northern California will be a tourist destination like Napa and Sonoma are to wine lovers.

    But perhaps the most important factor to consider (and in my recommendation, prioritize) is whether it’s organic, and verified to be pesticide- and fungus-free. It feels like there’s at least 1 recall a week while the industry figures out how to self-regulate and protect its constituents.


  10. Industrial hemp: The other side of the cannabis family tree—the straight-laced brother who is amazing at everything. It has incredible strength and versatility. Its oil is the world’s most nutritionally complete single food source. Its fiber, oil and seed can be made into an astonishing number of food, fabric/clothing, paper, cordage, body care, construction materials, biofuels, plastic composites and countless more products. (Henry Ford even built a car from hemp!)Oh, and it’s good for the environment, too. It’s easy to grow, naturally pest-resistant and grows efficiently. It thrives without pesticides or fertilizers. It’s a natural substitute for cotton and wood, and requires less chemicals in its processing and manufacturing—it has the potential to replace drilling, logging, mining and other destructive industries.

    Many say hemp will save the world, and there’s an argument to made if you can get past the image of a crazy person on the corner preaching about salvation. I’ve joined the ranks of the believers, so stay tuned for more on this topic.

Have I missed anything? Is this helpful for those of you who are not drinking from the firehose on a daily basis? Let me know!

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About Stephanie Byer

I am an author, entrepreneur, consultant and former strategy and communications executive who found a ‘higher purpose’ in cannabis.

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