Mindfulness in (Cannabis) Medicine
Exploring a wider profile of substance in Cannabis than just THC and CBD.
For some people, cannabis is shrouded in mystery and a vague sense of danger. It is not surprising within the context of a century of popular policy regarding the prohibition of specific plant medicines that were endemic to certain groups of people that have immigrated to the U.S. Nowadays recent States’ decisions to lift Prohibition within their borders, however, have coincided with new businesses, more public exposure, and consequently more information available for those who are unfamiliar with psychoactive substances in general, and cannabis in particular. With so much information (of varying degrees of accuracy) and so many products available in the commercial market, it is important to be able to identify those products that can offer the specific relief and therapeutic effects that you need with as few undesired effects as possible. Aside from THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), known widely for its consciousness-altering properties, CBD (cannabidiol) — as a therapeutic anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relief), and anxiolytic (anxiety-relief) — is often where knowledge becomes more sparse. Interesting new research is highlighting some substances, namely Terpenes, that make up only a minute part of the mass of the plant but have a deep-reaching impact on the mind and body. You may not recognize the name, terpene, but you have definitely experienced their odiferous presence.
Terpenes are present in many of the plant-based foods, as well as herbs and spices, that we taste and smell every day. In fact, these aromatic hydrocarbons help us recognize what makes an orange smell different from an apple, as each plant produces its own unique profile of hundreds of possible (identified) terpenoids. Though they have been isolated, tested, and identified for many health benefits over many years, terpenes remain as yet unstudied in concert with cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, all of which are present together in Cannabis. Terpenes are likely to be the most important components in identifying the kind of strain, and whether it’s distinguished as an indica or sativa. Many indica strains are noted for their high — more than half a gram per kilogram — beta-Myrcene content (notable from mangoes, hops, and cloves), whereas many sativas’ Limonene content (common in citrus, mints, and juniper) may outweigh Myrcene and other terpenes present. That just leaves over 130 other terpenes, not to mention the dozens of recognized cannabinoids in our favorite flowers, in their unique ratios and concentrations that make each strain so deliciously different from one another.
Synergy is an important principle when it comes to understanding how basic molecules, like terpenes, affect our bodies and minds. More and more research, as well as generations of anecdotal evidence, show us that when terpenes and cannabinoids are present together then the resulting effects are observably more potent. You may have heard of the so-called ‘entourage effect’ that budtenders like to mention when describing different strains’ traits which describes how a cannabis plant’s constituent substances, when present at the same time within the body, can enhance positive or therapeutic effects — such as pain relief and mood elevation — and minimize some potentially overwhelming psychoactive qualities from certain cannabinoids. To preserve these valuable substances, which are primarily found in the tiny, crystalline trichomes that cover cannabis flowers and leaves like sparkling dew, some people are making whole-plant extractions. It’s important to mention that not all extractions, or concentrates, offer similar contents. Some methods utilize volatile solvents that are later evaporated away, others require high pressure, but all require a precise temperature — different for each terpene and cannabinoid — to draw out the beloved contents of our favorite flowers. Extraction, as opposed to direct decarboxylation (like smoking), produces a much more potent material that can be more precisely dosed.
When you are new to cannabis consumption it can be a challenge to understand the differences between dozens of different concentrates that are available. A helpful place to start tasting is a large variety of individual vaporizer pens and cartridges, especially ones that contain whole-plant, contaminant-free distillates. Often ‘vapes’ will contain single strains which can give you an opportunity to become more familiar with different profiles of effects and start to build a profile of qualities you are looking for. Vaporization relies on heating, not burning, and therefore can offer more control in the temperature that you inhale. This can offer some relief from the irritating effects of smoking and allow you to isolate which substances you take in because different terpenes and cannabinoids are vaporized at different temperatures. Armed with your budding experience (if you’ll pardon the pun), and hopefully more understanding of the different terpenes and cannabinoids that make cannabis a customizable therapeutic substance, you can slowly start to take more control in your own mental and physical health.