The cannabis plant, a leafy green plant  of phytocannabinoids, a class of naturally occurring chemical compounds, and terpenoid, tiny and strong-smelling molecules produced in thousands of different plant species. Phytocannabinoids in marijuana are responsible for interacting with the brain and body via cellular receptors and chemical interactions, while terpenoids are essential oils that give marijuana its scent and flavor. 

The two main phytocannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes intoxication and is what gives an individual a state of euphoria, and Cannabidiol (CBD) which has potential therapeutic benefits. Levels of THC have been increasing in cannabis as growers try to create hybrids of the substance with greater concentrations of THC. Low doses of THC are associated with reduced anxiety and stress, while  high doses may have adverse “psychotomimetic” effects such as augmented anxiety and paranoia levels.

CBD, on the other hand, is non-euphoric and has medical  benefits associated with reduced pain or nausea and the potential to prevent seizures and alleviate migraines. Marijuana is a specific strain of cannabis that is more than 0.3% THC by weight. Strains of cannabis that are less than 0.3% THC by weight are classified as hemp or a cannabidiol product.

There are several forms of cannabis:

Sativa plants with its thin and tall frame take longer to mature. They typically have lower doses of CBD and higher doses of THC. This ratio creates the feeling of highness and can reduce anxiety and stress while increasing creativity and focus when consumed. 

Indica plants have more physical than mental effects on the body. Due to its higher dose of CBD and myrcene, this variant of marijuana helps with sleep and relaxing or calming the muscles in individuals experiencing anxiety or insomnia. Combinations of sativa and indica marijuana are classified into three categories. Type one has a high THC dosage, type two is the most common and has a hybrid of THC and CBD and type three has a high dosage of CBD. 

Although THC and CBD are the main phytocannabinoids, others include Cannabinol (CBN), Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), and Cannabigerol (CBG). CBN can ease the symptoms of neurological conditions like epilepsy or seizures. THCA may be able to reduce arthritis, autoimmune inflammation and potentially reduce symptoms of conditions like Parkison’s and ALS. THCA acts similarly to THC minus the psychoactive effects that give a person the state of the euphoria associated with marijuana use. Lastly, CBG is believed to reduce symptoms of depression, post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

A general rule of thumb is that marijuana with a CBD to THC ratio of 80:20 is most suitable for beginners, and one can progress to a 50:50 or 1:1 ratio strain once more comfortable with the potent psychoactive effects. Specifically, strains of marijuana best-suited for beginners include sativa-dominant Blue Dream, high-CBD Cannatonic, CBD-rich Harlequin, indica-dominant Northern Lights, and indica-dominant Hindu Kush. Each strain has a different balance of the terpenes, which causes for each strain to have slightly different effects.

More recently, studies are determining that terpenes can significantly influence the body with marijuana use in a positive way. A few important chemical compounds that are found in different strains of marijuana include bisabolol, caryophyllene, mycenae, pinene, terpinolene, limonene and eucalyptol. 

  • Bisabolol has notes of chamomile and tea tree oils that contribute to its potential anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and pain-reducing properties. 
  • Caryophyllene is a spicy flavor molecule that may alleviate symptoms of depression and improve ulcers. 
  • Mycenae, as mentioned to be found in high doses in indica plants, is the most common terpene. It is an herbal molecule with the potential to reduce insomnia and tension in the body. 
  • Pinene has a pine tree aroma and is associated with better memory, reduced pain and dampened symptoms of THC, such as nausea and issues with coordination. 
  • Terpinolene can have a scent of apples, cumin or conifers, which smells like a hybrid between pinene and limonene. This compound has the potential as a sedative, antibacterial and antifungal substance. 
  • Limonene has a citrusy note and is claimed to improve mood and relieve stress. Humulene, an earthy molecule that has a scent similar to cloves, and Eucalyptol, a terpene with notes of eucalyptus which is used in aromatherapy, both have anti-inflammatory properties.

The effect or absorption of marijuana after consuming an edible contrasts the effect of smoking a joint of marijuana greatly. When taking an edible, absorption begins in the salivary glands under the tongue so an edible doesn’t have to be swallowed in order to have an effect. If ingested, the chemical contents of the edible pass through the liver before an effect of ‘highness’ is perceived. Absorption can take as long as 30 to 60 minutes before reaching the brain when marijuana is ingested. The effects onset more gradually, but last much longer. 

Smoking a joint or out of a bong, on the other hand, allows an individual to feel the effects of THC or intoxication more rapidly. The nearly immediate effect comes at a cost, however, as smoking marijuana is linked with adverse effects on respiratory health. The reported set of risks associated with smoking marijuana is highly similar to the consequences of smoking tobacco, which include airway inflammation, barotrauma — tissue damage due to compressive and expansive forces that causes shear stress and the overstretching of tissue in the sinuses or the lungs — and obstructive pulmonary issues. Other forms of taking marijuana include tinctures (alcohol), vaping and topicals (lotions or oils).

Both medical-use and recreational-use marijuana have no significant difference in THC dosage and strain of marijuana that is provided. The main distinction between the two categories is that individuals seeking to purchase marijuana for medical purposes must have a healthcare provider’s authorization and approval from the state, while anyone of at least 21 years can purchase recreational marijuana.

There is still insufficient data on the long-lasting and overall health effects of potent marijuana as well as the different strains of the product.

In the short term, marijuana is an addictive substance. According to American Addiction Centers, “ about 14.2 million people, aged 12 or older, struggled with marijuana addiction in 2020.” The National Institution on Drug Abuse determined that marijuana dependency or addiction occurs “when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.” Therefore, an individual could develop marijuana-use disorders if they did not control their use or consumption of marijuana.

It poses psychological risks. It can lead to consequences such as poor memory, muscle coordination, and paranoia. It can have negative effects such as poor immunity, cancer, impaired memory and cardiac or pulmonary complications in the long run. For these reasons, it is crucial to be wary and responsible when taking marijuana for medical or recreational use.

Takeaways on marijuana use. 

  • Marijuana products with high-potency THC content (>10%) are linked to psychosis due to their strong psychotomimetic effects. 
  • Marijuana is a more potent form of cannabis.
  • Understand that different components in marijuana, including the ratio of CBD to THC and the types of terpenes in the strain of cannabis, are linked to different benefits and side effects. 
  • Lastly, ingesting an edible has a slow onset and longer effect, while smoking a joint has a stronger and shorter effect. 

It is always valuable to weigh both the potential beneficial and adverse effects of consuming or smoking different strains of marijuana. To the now informed marijuana users, enjoy yourself while staying safe!

As Russell Brand says in his book, “My Booky Wook,” “We all need something to help us unwind at the end of the day…  to silence your silly brainbox of its witterings but there has to be some form of punctuation, or life just seems utterly relentless.”