When you decide that cannabis is the right choice to add a little more wellness into your life, there are a lot of things to consider and decisions to make. The great thing about cannabis, though, is that there are so many options to choose from. Having a plethora of options, however, can be daunting. With so many strains and administration methods available, how do you know what’s right for you?
Every person is unique, and the way a particular strain, consumption method or potency will affect you can vary based on a number of factors. With unique endocannabinoid systems and physiologies, it’s important to analyze your personal needs and experiences before jumping right in. Researching and finding something that’s right for you is the most important thing.
Species and Strains
When you talk to someone about the cannabis plant, or cannabis flowers in particular, they will often be referred to in one of three categories: indica, sativa or hybrid. Indica and sativa refers to the species of the cannabis plant and they each have specific physical characteristics and each species has a ton of variations, all with different cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Indica plants are typically short, bushy plants with dark, broad leaves and sativas are tall and thin, with more vivid green, slim leaves. In addition to the physical characteristics of indica and sativa plants, it’s common for each of them to have a stereotype of effects, if you will. Indica strains are often touted for their pain relief and – sometimes intense – body highs. Sativas, on the other hand, can be helpful with energy and focus, and can be ideal for daytime use. It is important to note that scientifically speaking, the generalized effects of indicas and sativas are not well researched. THC and CBD have very different effects on the cannabinoid system but there are also over 100 other cannabinoids that have been identified by scientists, and not all of them are as well understood with regard to the different species. Generally speaking, though, indicas tend to be higher in CBD, with a close to 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC, and sativas tend to be higher in THC. Most of the strains you can find today are hybrids, a mixture of indica and sativa species, sometimes with a heavy leaning towards one or the other.
Splitting cannabis into indica and sativa categories that have general “guidelines” can be extremely useful when trying to discern what medicine will work best for you, however, as we often discover with cannabis, it’s not as simple as “indica always does this and sativa always does that”. Try to use indica and sativa categories as an indicator of the intended effects, but remember that the intended effects can vary greatly from person to person.
Strain typically refers to a specific variety of indica or sativa; “Kush” commonly refers to indica strains, for example. While this is common, it’s always best to check it’s intended effects with a budtender or reliable website.
THC and CBD Content
When choosing a cannabis product, knowing the THC and CBD content can play an important role in picking the product that’s right for you.
A Quick Review
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid primarily associated with and responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) interacts with THC and can cause a variety of effects, the most common being the psychoactive, or “high” associated with cannabis. THCs interaction with the endocannabinoid system can also cause feelings of relaxation by releasing dopamine, physical responses, like reduced inflammation or various effects on different regions of the brain affecting memory, decision making or coordination.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the most prevalent cannabinoid found in cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive effect, although it does have a wide range of physical benefits. It’s believed that CBD works not by binding to the ECS like THC does, but by instead stimulating the production of our natural cannabinoids. Increased production of natural cannabinoids can have a wide range of overall physical benefits.
THC and CBD content is often displayed on cannabis products in percentages. If a product is labeled at 15% THC, that’s 150 milligrams of THC per gram, and 15% of the total cannabis content.
Keeping in mind that you are still the most important factor in choosing a cannabis product, THC and CBD content can be great guide posts on your cannabis journey. The higher in THC a product is, the more likely you are to experience the psychoactive effects, which are not ideal or enjoyable for some patients. While THC does have a number of other benefits, it’s important to keep that in mind. It’s also important to remember that it’s totally fine to not enjoy the psychoactive aspect of some cannabis products, and that there are a ton of products that may help you with little to no psychoactive effects. There’s even some evidence to suggest that CBD may have some ability to “mellow” the psychoactive nature of THC. This may mean that products with a more even percentage of THC and CBD may give you less of a “high”, and having a high CBD strain on hand might take the edge off of a “too high” experience.
Flower is the old standard, the cannabis that I would bet was the first exposure for a lot of us. Flower is versatile and the starting point for a huge variety of cannabis products, but for many people including myself, smoking flower is their go to method.
Now that you’ve done a little research on THC and CBD content and strain preferences, you’re ready to get into the dispensary and look at some flower (or bud, or nugs or many other names). What are you looking for? Start with the person behind the counter. Many of the budtenders and other cannabis industry pros are passionate and educated about their work and will be able to point you in the right direction.
When you look at a cannabis flower in a dispensary, you should be able to see trichomes. Trichomes are the little hairs and crystals that cover the flower and are responsible for the production of cannabinoids and terpenes. Terpenes are responsible for the smell and flavor of a cannabis flower and they are unique to each strain. They are what give the buds that unique smell and taste that can range from fruity and sweet to skunk-y and diesel-y. Certain strains can get their name from a particular terpene profile, fruity strains being the first to come to mind for me.
Smell may also be a powerful tool when it comes to choosing your best bud. The scent of a cannabis flower that has been carefully cultivated and properly dried and cured can be, and is generally accepted as, a good gauge of quality. This isn’t the end all be all of rules, but a strong but pleasant smell is a good sign of quality flower. The flower should also smell good to you. There have definitely been some occasions where I have been underwhelmed by the smell of a bud, but I can’t think of any that have smelled downright bad, but there are flowers that I prefer, smell-wise. You’re going to have a preference to certain terpene profiles in your cannabis just like you prefer different perfumes or flavor combinations. There’s also some speculation that preferring certain terpene profiles may be our body’s way of signaling what we need in our cannabis.
Flower can be used in a variety of ways, but it has its downsides. Smoking is fast acting, but can also be quick to wear off, and while smell can be useful, it’s also not the easiest to hide. If you’re on the go frequently or just trying to be generally more discreet, smoking flower may not be your best option, but vaping can be a little less smelly. Cannabis flower can also be used to make DIY edibles and oil at home – and you can usually find strains with terpene profiles to compliment your cooking!
There are so many things on the cannabis market now. From topicals and tinctures to edibles and concentrates, you can find something to suit all of your needs. I’ve found the cannabis market to be so diverse that even if your needs change day by day or hour by hour, there’s likely a product or combination of products that’s right for you.
Vape pens (from a reliable source, of course) are great for discreet use and edibles are fantastic for long lasting physical effects. Mixing a pain relieving topical with an energy and mood boosting sativa dominant strain – with a terpene profile you liked – might be perfect for handling a day of house or yard work. Maybe you’ll find an indica strain that helps you relax, so after a long day you unwind with a joint or a cookie or a tea mixed with tincture, all of which could be made from your favorite strain!
Starting at the source is important, and in this case it’s you and your wellness. Think about what you need, what’s important for you. Consider your current health and your goals when choosing a consumption method; if you have breathing issues, you’ll probably want to avoid smoking. Sniffing out your favorite buds, snacking your way to the perfect edible or massaging cannabis oils into sore muscles are all part of the fun when it comes to experimenting with what cannabis products are right for you.
Kelly Mahoney worked at a medical cannabis Co-op with her mother, Laura Mastropietro, dealing mainly with helping new patients acquire their medical cards and helping them find the best strains and methods. Diagnosed at a young age with spinal muscular atrophy, she was also a medical cannabis patient and still advocates for the incredible benefits, and downright fun, of cannabis. She now lives in a prohibition state as a cat mom and gamer wife.