Cannabis 101: Guest Post by Emma Andrews
It’s a big week in Canada.
I’ve been watching what’s evolving with respect to cannabis in Canada with great curiosity. As a dietitian, now that cannabis is legal in Canada I believe it is my role to educate others about cannabis – its potential uses and dangers – in the same way that I educate about the uses of alcohol within a healthy lifestyle.
Given that I have a focus on digestive wellbeing and inflammation, many of my clients currently use cannabis – either CBD or THC or both – with reported benefit. Until now, I have not been able to weigh in or provide guidance…but my goal is to fully educate myself now that legalization is in place, so that I may have one more potential tool to support you in your wellness journey.
Until then, I have asked my dear friend Emma, who works within the cannabis industry and is well on her way to becoming a canna-boss, to help us figure out the basics. Take it away, Emma!
Cannabis for Wellness & Therapeutic Consumption
Cannabis has long played a role in my wellness toolkit. But it hasn’t come without its share of stigma. As Canada ushers in the era of legalized cannabis, and as a health practitioner with an (almost) lifelong passion for this plant, I view it as my responsibility to dispel myth, educate on responsible adult consumption, and create a supportive environment to find greater wellbeing and happiness through Cannabis.
I believe there is a form of cannabis for everyone, and as you’ll come to learn through this Cannabis 101 collab with Desiree, there’s a wide variety of ways to consume, and forms of cannabis that don’t always include getting high. There goes myth #1!
A big thanks to Desiree for being open to this conversation through her platform, trusting me to share this information with you, and for always exposing her reader to the cutting edge of wellness science.
And now, let’s get to the root of it…
Let’s start by exploring the basics of cannabis vocab. Using proper cannabis lingo helps normalize consumption and reduce stigma, along with giving you a knowledge base to reference when making your own informed choices regarding consumption.
Cannabis refers to a wide variety of plant species including sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Their differentiation is based on where they are natively grown, how they grow, and how each variety can be used/consumed.
Hemp, while also a form of cannabis, is notably different in its chemical make-up. Hemp is primarily cultivated for its stalk, seeds and fibre – none of which contain any intoxicating compounds. The flowering portion of a hemp plant contains a therapeutic compound known as CBD.
CBD, or cannabidiol is non-intoxicating and provides a wide range of therapeutic benefits (which we’ll explore shortly!). It’s one of the most abundant compounds found in cannabis and hemp.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most abundant compound found in the flowering portion of cannabis only (not hemp). It provides an intoxicating response, or euphoric “high” feeling when consumed, and also has therapeutic applications.
Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found within cannabis and hemp, which include THC and CBD. However, there are over 100+ known cannabinoids (including CBG, CBN), which over time will become more recognizable as medical research advances and continues to expose their unique health applications. In the future, cannabis may be cultivated for these lesser abundant compounds through a form of technology known as cellular agriculture (for all you food science junkies!).
Our Endocannabinoid System is a biological system within our bodies, closely connected to our nervous system, and comprised of receptor sites which accept and bind to endogenous cannabinoids (produced natively within our own bodies), and exogenous cannabinoids which are consumed from external sources – such as cannabis.
Last note – you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned Marijuana once. Marijuana, while synonymous for cannabis, is associated with negative stigma. Originally used with racial connotation throughout prohibition, marijuana has also come to be known as a dangerous and addictive intoxicant, not a holistic medicine. I encourage you to #callitcannabis instead!
A Note on Safety
It’s very important to note, no one has ever died of cannabis overdose. It’s a VERY safe substance, especially when compared to other legal pharmaceuticals and intoxicants such as alcohol. An LD50 rating is used in evaluating the lethal dose of an intoxicant needed to induce death in at least 50% of the test subjects. Researchers have not been able to induce mortality through cannabis administration (during animal-based studies). Whereas completely legal, and socially acceptable substances like caffeine, alcohol, Asprin and sugar all have proven toxicity (in varying intake quantities).
While maybe all the above sounded a bit depressing (thinking about inducing morbidity and all)… but I really want to dispel stigma, and ensure we can embrace and celebrate cannabis without fear. So, let’s move ahead!
Cannabis for Wellness: Health Benefits
Given the niche of readers likely here, I’ll narrow in on two very relevant applications within the consumption of cannabis for wellness: gut health and inflammation.
Gut health: Our endocannabinoid system performs many protective actions within the gut, based on circulating endogenous cannabinoids (produced innately within our own bodies). However, in conditions where gut health is impaired, such as colitis, Crohn’s, leaky gut or IBS, consuming supplemental cannabinoids could help support optimal function, and provide symptom management (such as relief from nausea, pain, or lack of appetite)1.
Cannabis can also promote better motility (bowel movements), and our endocannabinoid system has been indicated in gut-brain-mediated fat intake, gut permeability, and the gut microbiome balance2. We can have endocannabinoid health deficiencies, just like nutrient deficiencies, where supplementation may play a role in optimizing functionality.
Inflammation:Use of exogenous cannabinoids (consumed from external sources) has been demonstrated as a potent treatment against inflammatory disorders, particularly in autoimmune disease, or conditions connected to our central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis3.
Promising early research indicates cannabis (specifically THC) upregulates T-cells, and downregulates cytokine and chemokine production (connected to immune cells), as a mechanism to supress inflammation4.
Receptor sites within our endocannabinoid system include our CB1 receptors (in our brain), and CB2 receptors (in our tissues, including our gut lining). CB2 receptors are responsible for mediating inflammation.
Cannabinoids beyond THC, such as non-psychoactive Cannabidiol (CBD), are also becoming widely researched on a global scale for its many benefits. This includes activation of the immune system and conditions associated with oxidative stress, including arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, type 1 & 2 diabetes, among others5.
Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many therapeutic benefits of cannabis, but a selection of emerging (and promising) research. Leave a comment on Desiree’s Instagram if there’s more applications you’re interested in learning about!
Methods of Consumption
We may frequently associate cannabis with the ‘stoner stigma’ of smoking joints, and getting high, but Cannabis consumption can be far from this. Combustible isn’t the only way to consume.
Depending on what state or province you live in, you may have access to various product formats including some of the most common:
Flower: This is the most natural form of cannabis, simply harvested and cured. Just like eating whole food and a wide array of nutrients, the whole flower offers a wide array of chemical compounds. This broad assortment is said to offer greater efficacy through something known as the “entourage effect”. Flower is traditionally consumed through combustion (rolling in paper to smoke, or inhaled through a pipe). If you’re health conscious – like me – you may prefer using a vaporizer made for flower, such as the Pax.
Concentrates: This included products made from the resin, extracted from the cannabis flower. Much like essential oil extraction from other plants and herbs! Concentrates may be consumed through custom made vaporizers, or infused into food and drink.
Edibles: Absorbed and digested in the intestinal tract, versus through the lungs, edibles tend to have a slower onset time, and linger longer in your system. Often preferred for the discreet consumption (i.e. through food and drink), edible cannabis tends to produce a whole body response, rather than be isolated to a neurological response.
Sublingual: Mucosal membranes such as those in the mouth are a highly effective site of absorption compared to edible cannabis, which has to be digested through the gut. Sublingual consumption includes tinctures, dropped under the tongue. This is a very common format for consuming CBD.
Topicals: Application of infused body-care products act exclusively on CB2 receptors found in the skin. This is an ideal consumption format for anyone with inflammatory conditions on the external body. Absorption of cannabinoids through topical application, whether containing THC or CBD will not produce a psychoactive response, and therefor are one of the most approachable forms of cannabis.
Legalization in Canada
I am so grateful to be living in an era where cannabis is coming out of the shadows and into the light. Canada will lead the world stage through its effort to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational consumption.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, speak to your doctor about medical cannabis options, a pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart nation-wide, or consult National Access Cannabis for more information on medical prescription, and extended health coverage for medical cannabis.
Check out Lift, a Canadian-centric online resource centre to learn more about Canada’s Cannabis Regulations by Province. And they’ve also published a great article on which cannabis products will be legalized in Canada,and when. We have a lot to look forward to!
There’s SO much we could discuss about Cannabis, and maybe I’ll come back for another guest post in the future?!. If you made it here, that shows you’re open minded and curious about cannabis’ role in a wellness toolkit. I applaud you!
I am so passionate about reducing stigma, dispelling myth, and contributing to a positive conversation around cannabis consumption. I truly believe there is a form of cannabis that’s right for everyone.
Yours in elevated wellness,
Stay tuned on social media for an upcoming website launch for Emma!
Disclaimer: This blog post was written independently and may not reflect the views of Desiree herself. This blog post is intended as educational only, and not as medical information. Please talk to your physician or pharmacist before deciding if Cannabis – if legal in your area – is right for you.
- Role of Cannabis in Digestive Disorders: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27792038
- Endocannabinoids within the Gut: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940133/
- Endocannabinoids and immune regulation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044336/
- Cannabis as a novel anti-inflammatory: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/
- Cannabidiol as an emergent therapeutic strategy for lessening the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21238581
- Cannabinoid receptors in the gastrointestinal tract: a regulatory system in states of inflammation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2219529/
- The role of the endocannabinoid system in the gut-brain axis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4961581/
- Why cannabis stems inflammation: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080720222549.htm
- Project CBD: https://www.projectcbd.org/inflammation
- Canada’s Cannabis Concierge: https://lift.co/
- Cannabis & Herbal Wellness Guidance via http://hempsley.com/
- Education for Cannabis Advocates: https://www.sativascienceclub.com/
Photo Credit: Emma Andrews and Anita Cheung