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Cannabis 101: A Guide to Cannabinoids

This guide to cannabinoids will help you understand cannabis and its uses.

What are the thoughts which come into your head when you read the word — ‘Cannabis’? If I make a conjecture, you may start by thinking of it as a psychoactive drug or simply a drug that gets you high. Names starting from marijuana, weed, pot, dope, grass, hemp, and even mary jane pop up in your head. You may call it a recreational drug or medicinal drug. You may link it to terms like CBD, THC, cannabinoids, terpenes, etc. But like me, most of you are not well-acquainted with the true chemistry, potency, and uses of cannabis. 


Until last week, I did not plan to board a ride on the cannabis exploration journey. What made me undertake this expedition was the simple task of writing articles for the Cannabis Drinks Expo Exhibitors. I got encircled by the skyrocketing global legal cannabis market growing at a stellar CAGR of 20.04%, expected to reach USD 26.92 billion by 2026. (Source: Globe news wire) It makes a booming industry for research, expertise, and technology that delivers a wide range of cannabis-infused products like medicinal oils, cosmetics, gummies, chocolates, beverages, and much more. It has set out to change the entire perception around cannabis. 

Canna Binoids

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Enlightening as it is, the cannabis industry can become quite daunting and overwhelming to understand. There is a big ocean of information and you may not easily find the edge, to begin with. To simplify it for you, here’s a quick Cannabis 101: A Guide to Cannabinoids that can help you better understand cannabis and its uses. 

What is Cannabis? 

Cannabis is a taxonomic term that refers to the genus of flowering plants that belong to the Cannabaceae family. The cannabis genus is divided into three species: 

 1. Cannabis sativa 

 2. Cannabis indica 

 3. Cannabis ruderalis or Hybrid

There are several physical and chemical differences between C. Sativa and C. Indica — such as variations in height, branching patterns, the shape of the leaf, smell, and potency.

What are the components of cannabis?

Cannabis is made up of more than 120 chemical components, which are known as cannabinoids. Out of these, the main cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). 

 - THC: THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis plants. It produces the “high” effect or the state of euphoria associated with cannabis. It has the ability to alter moods, control pain, and other feelings.

 - CBD: CBD is a non-intoxicating and non-euphoric psychoactive compound in cannabis plants. It does not produce a “high” but has the ability to ease nausea, migraine, seizures, and anxiety. 

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Image Source: Adobe stock

C. sativa plants contain more THC than CBD. They often produce a “head-high” and are said to have an energizing, anxiety-reducing effect along with enhanced creativity and productivity. 

C. indica plants contain more CBD than THC, but the ratio remains close to one. They often produce a “body-high” and are said to have a calming, relaxing effect.

Hemp is a variety of C. sativa plants, which contains 0.3% THC or less. Hemp plants contain low levels of intoxicating THC. 

According to the 2018 Farm Bill, it is legal to manufacture CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC. Therefore, most CBD products are made from hemp plants as they contain more CBD and almost no THC, which is the psychoactive compound that creates the “high”. You can find cannabis-infused products that contain either CBD, THC, or a combination of both.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are another chemical compound in the cannabis plant that directly affects the plant’s smell and taste. They produce a range of therapeutic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial properties, and mood-altering effects.

Some of the most common cannabis terpenes are:

 - Myrcene: It is an earthy, herbal terpene molecule that may help reduce anxiety and insomnia.

 - Caryophyllene: It is a peppery, spicy terpene molecule that may help reduce anxiety, ease symptoms of depression, and improve ulcers.

 - Limonene: Bright, fresh, citrus notes come from this terpene. It improves mood and reduces stress.

Terpenes are volatile compounds and are lost during standard cannabis extraction processes. Therefore, sensitive extraction methods in the form of live resin concentrates are used to retain the therapeutic value of terpenes. Live resin is a type of cannabis concentrate made from fresh frozen cannabis plants, maintained at freezing temperatures throughout the extraction process. It helps to protect the valuable terpenes, leading to a more aromatically complex and flavorful cannabis experience.

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How do cannabinoids work?

The human brain consists of a unique communication system called the Endocannabinoid system. This system naturally produces some cannabinoid molecules which bind to cannabinoid receipts and regulate how cells send, receive, or process messages. It also regulates several activities, including mood, memory, sleep, appetite, and stress.

On introducing cannabis to the body, THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors and causes a release of Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that relates to feelings of pleasure and happiness. 

THC binds to the receptors found in regions of the brain that control movement. It can slow you down and affect your activity and motor control. 

THC can also affect sensory perception. It causes visual distortions and an altered sense of reality. Colors may seem brighter, music more striking, and feelings more profound.

Article by Aanchal Sharma, Beverage Trade Network

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