The Cannabis Plant 101

Hemp, cannabis, CBD, full spectrum, broad spectrum — there is an entire lexicon surrounding the world of medical cannabis. Luckily, you don’t need to learn all of the hundreds of chemical components of cannabis or become an expert in all the myriad uses of the plant. Having a solid grasp of the basics can go a long way in making informed decisions.


What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a term used to refer to the Cannabis sativa plant, which has long been prized for its variety of health benefits. It has also been stigmatized for much of the past century due to the prohibition of marijuana and concerns over abuse.

What is Hemp?

Cannabis plants that have very low THC levels — in the United States, 0.3% or less — are legally defined as “hemp.” They are gener- ally cultivated for the extraction of CBD as well as for industrial uses, namely, to produce textiles from its stalks and stems and oils from its seeds.

Hemp plants have a different chemical profile than non-hemp variet- ies of cannabis. While they characteristically have very low levels of THC, they are often grown to have high levels of cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is the main active ingredient in hemp flowers that provides many of its health benefits — without the high of marijuana.

Although hemp grown for industrial purposes is often much taller and stalkier than marijuana, hemp plants grown for CBD are often indistinguishable from their intoxicating counterparts.


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What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabis includes more than 500 chemicals, including at least 144 cannabinoids. The two most common cannabinoids, and the most studied, are THC and CBD.

Cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, known as phyto- cannabinoids, affect the human body in part by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. While the body produces its own cannabi- noids that activate its cannabinoid receptors, phytocannabinoids can also interact with those receptors and cause similar effects as their endogenous counterparts.

Scientists believe that the endocannabinoid system regulates a large number of processes and functions in the body, including memo- ry, sleep, appetite, pain, the reproductive system, and the immune system.

Hemp varieties of cannabis tend to have a lower overall cannabinoid concentration compared to non-hemp varieties, which have more complex cannabinoid profiles.

Terpenes and Flavonoids

Cannabinoids are not the only important active ingredients in can- nabis and hemp. Terpenes, found primarily in the cannabis plant’s flowers, are responsible for the flavor and aroma and also provide some health benefits.

There are as many as 200 terpenes in cannabis, but a number of them are more common than others.

The most common terpene in cannabis, myrcene, is also abundant in fruits and herbs including mangos and basil, and is known for promoting relaxation. Another common terpene, limonene, is famed for the citrus flavor it endows. And that piney scent present in some cannabis varieties? That’s the result of terpinolene, which is also found in nutmeg, apples, and lilacs.

Of course terpenes are not only responsible for smell and taste
— they also have therapeutic effects of their own. When combined with the cannabinoids and other chemicals in the cannabis plant, they are said to create what is known as the “entourage effect” — that is, they work in concert in a way that goes beyond what each of them can do individually.

“Full-spectrum” hemp and cannabis products take advantage of the entourage effect by extracting not only one cannabinoid like CBD, but the full terpene and flavonoid profile as well.

Flavonoids, a lesser-known group of chemicals in cannabis and a wide variety of other plants and fungi, are also responsible for the color of cannabis flowers. For instance, anthocyanins are responsi- ble for the deep purple hues seen in many popular cannabis strains. Flavonoids also affect the taste and aroma of cannabis flowers, and possibly the plant’s therapeutic effects.

Highly common terpenes in cannabis and some of their attributes include:

How CBD Extracts Are Made

There are a number of types of cannabis products on the market today, from dried flower that is smoked and vaporized to various formulations of extracts sold as tinctures, oils, balms, and creams.

One of the most common forms of extraction is CO2 extraction.

Other methods include ethanol, butane, and isopropyl alcohol extraction. These methods involve pumping the gas or solvent into a chamber with the cannabis material, allowing the solvent to absorb the active ingredients, and then removing the solvent or gas, leaving behind the desired cannabinoids and other chemicals.

While some of those extracts are isolates, meaning they contain only one active ingredient like CBD, there are also full-spectrum and broad-spectrum extracts. Full-spectrum cannabis or hemp products include the full gamut of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids contained in the plant. Broad spectrum products contain most of the full spectrum but with the THC removed.

In order to take advantage of the entourage effect, opt for full-spec- trum or broad-spectrum products.

The Hemp Market Today

There is a wide range of cannabis-based products available today. Most hemp products aim to deliver CBD in one of three forms — oils, tinctures, and topicals.
Tinctures come in a dropper bottle and are meant to be placed under the tongue, which are absorbed sublingually and directly into the bloodstream. Ingestibles can also include oils, capsules, and “edi- bles” such as CBD gummies and chews.

Topicals are cannabis-based products that include a certain amount of CBD placed into a base which is then applied directly to the skin much like any other lotion or skin care product. These can be face serums or body scrubs, face moisturizers, replenishing creams, and even bath bombs. They are generally used for localized therapies.

Transdermal patches are another form of cannabis-based product, and they are designed to pass through the skin and enter the blood- stream, usually to achieve a controlled, slow release.