How I Learned to Speak Cannabis
Much like learning another language, when you start to hear about and learn about cannabis, many of the terms and abbreviations may sound strange and confusing. I remember one of my first conversations about cannabis with someone who was an expert. The words and abbreviations flew: THC, CBD, endocannabinoid system, Raphael Mechoulam, rec states, and on and on. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I knew nothing about cannabis. To be fair, my knowledge at that point was just informed by the few times that I had tried cannabis in high school and college- so I didn’t have much of a baseline. I made it my mission to find out about these terms and to begin to become informed about cannabis.
Being Your Journey with a Trusted Sherpa
This means that I can save you some time. And much like a trusted Sherpa, I’m here to help you navigate the cannabis landscape. Let’s start with a very quick history lesson and then we’ll cover some key, basic terms. Here goes:
Humans have had a relationship with cannabis for thousands of years. This relationship started with the cultivation of hemp that was used for food, shelter, clothing and more. In fact, today hemp can create over 25,000 products from fuel, to fabric, to shampoo, to building products, to paper, and on and on. At one point in US history, hemp was used in about 70% of all consumer products! It was even cultivated by the Jamestown colonists who were required to send 100 hemp plants back to Britain in the form of a tax. So yes, hemp is woven into the very fiber of American life.
Aside from hemp that is not an intoxicant, humans soon learned that some hemp/cannabis plants could be intoxicating and it often formed part of a religious ceremony or other spiritual exercise. It was often smoked or eaten and was also thought to be medicinal. The medicinal properties of cannabis were even cataloged in the US Pharmacopeia (which is the accepted, respected resource for doctors and pharmacists which lists medicinal drugs, their effects and directions for use) from 1850 to 1937. Several large drug manufacturers offered cannabis tinctures (or drops) for a number of conditions.
All of this changed in 1937 when the Marijuana Act was enacted which taxed cannabis and hemp off of the market. For quick clarification, when we talk about hemp we are talking about the non-intoxicating cannabis plant that is used for consumer products and when we talk about cannabis we are assuming it is an intoxicant. After 1937, several attempts were made to legalize hemp and cannabis with limited success. Progress was made largely in the 1960’s and 1970’s and then the “War on Drugs/Just Say No” campaign and the placement of cannabis and hemp as a Schedule 1 drug which also includes drugs like LSD, heroin, and peyote which are categorized as highly addictive and having no medical benefit. Of course, we know that that is not true about hemp/cannabis and many people are fighting to change cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug.
Fast forward to today and there are 30 states (plus the District of Columbia) that allow for medical cannabis and 9 states (plus the District of Columbia) that allow for Recreational or Adult Use. In addition, hemp is being grown legally in 40 states and it looks like it may be legally across the nation soon; it is only a plant/fiber after all.
Now that you know a bit about the history of hemp and cannabis in the United States, let’s move on to some basic definitions:
Basic definitions in the cannabis language
Hemp: a fast growing, non-intoxicating plant useful in the creation of many consumer products.
Cannabis: a plant that can be intoxicating or non-intoxicating and is known by many other names including hemp, marijuana, weed, pot, grass and hundreds of other nicknames.
Endocannabinoid System (also known as ECS): a network of receptors in vertebrates that covers the entire body and controls mood, appetite, pain, and keeps the body in balance.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC): the cannabinoid (or element) in cannabis that adheres to receptors in the brain and neck and gives users a feeling of euphoria.
Cannabidiol (also knowns as CBD): the cannabinoid (or element) in cannabis that adheres to receptors in the body, naturally fights inflammation, and does not get the user high.
Cannabinoid: elements in the cannabis plant that have different effects; hundreds of cannabinoids have been discovered and we are just learning about many of them.
Raphael Mechoulam: the Grandfather of Cannabis research who has been studying cannabis in Israel for decades and was the first person to isolate THC.
Recreational States (also known as Adult Use states): the 10 states (congratulations Michigan!) in the United States that allow adults 21 and over to buy and use cannabis products legally.
Medical States: the 32 states (congratulations Missouri and Utah) that allow qualifying medical patients to use cannabis as medicine when prescribed by a doctor; common qualifying conditions include extreme pain (from cancer and other conditions), spasticity, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, wasting syndrome, and anxiety.
There are, of course, hundreds of additional terms – and the history of cannabis is far more complex- but this list will get you started on your educational journey. Who knows, this knowledge may one day help you or someone you love to enjoy a better life.
with love and peace,
Your Cannabis Sherpa Rob Mejia