Sativa or indica? CBD or THC? What to know before cooking with cannabis
Don’t know the difference between MSG and THC? Here’s a guide to the terminology you may encounter.
Sativa versus indica versus hybrid
Cannabis sativa and cannabis indica are two of the three species of cannabis. (The third species, cannabis ruderalis, is less attractive due to its smaller stature and low concentration of THC.)
Sativa is a warm-weather species characterized by tall plants and thin leaves. The plant takes 10 to 15 weeks to mature and is known for a cerebral, energetic and invigorating high that’s particularly suited for daytime use. Medically, it can be used to help people with depression and chronic pain.
Indica is a colder-weather species with short, dense plants and dark, broad leaves. It takes six to eight weeks to mature — a shorter time than sativa — and typically has a greater yield. Indica is generally known for its relaxing high — think hanging-out-on-the-couch vibes — and medically, it can help those with nausea, anxiety and acute pain.
A hybrid is a cross between two different species of cannabis, usually sativa and indica. This allows for two or more particular traits to be selected and bred for, and it accounts for much of the diversity of options at a dispensary.
Note: When deciding between sativa, indica or a hybrid, it’s worth talking to an expert about the kind of high you’re looking for; things like dosage, tolerance, consumption method, and the specific plant’s chemical profile can have more of an effect on your experience.
THC versus CBD
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, two of the hundred-plus known chemical compounds in cannabis. They act on the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, which are found mostly in the brain and throughout our nervous and immune systems.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the cannabinoid that takes up the most volume in a given strain of marijuana. It’s the stuff that makes us feel high; it’s the chemical compound that has the primary psychoactive effect on the human body. For us to feel the effects of THC, it must go through a process called decarboxylation, which most often is accomplished through the application of heat — via smoking or vaping or, in the kitchen, through cooking the cannabis.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that accounts for the second-highest volume in cannabis (after THC). It doesn’t make us feel high and instead works to alleviate things such as anxiety, inflammation, and pain perception.
Depending on the type of high you’re looking for, you can opt for strains of marijuana with higher or lower levels of THC or CBD — or, if you’re looking for a high-less experience, you can opt for any number of CBD-only products on the market.
Marijuana versus hash versus hemp
You may have seen these terms thrown around in the conversations around cannabis, but they refer to very different things.
Marijuana is the word used to refer to the female cannabis plant and its flowers (or buds, colloquially). (Male plants don’t produce flowers and are therefore not usable in the cannabis-as-drug sense.) The word comes from the Mexican term for cannabis, which was originally spelled marihuana.
Hash, short for the Arabic term hashish, is a substance made from the THC-rich resin, or trichomes, of the female cannabis plant. The resin is compressed into a concentrate that can vary in textures (hard, soft, creamy, sticky) and colors (blond, brown, red, green). It’s stronger than marijuana and can be smoked out of a pipe, rolled into a joint or spliff, or used in food.
Hemp is a fibrous product made from male cannabis sativa plants and used in the manufacturing of more than 25,000 products — things such as rope, paper, fuel, beauty products and construction materials. It’s also used as a food source; you may see hemp seeds, hemp milk, hemp-seed oil or hemp tea at your local health-food store. Although it is not a drug, hemp production was banned for many years in the United States; only recently have a number of states started enacting legislation to begin engaging in industrial hemp research and pilot programs.
I Tried CBD in My Tea, and Here’s What I Felt
I’ve been burned by a lot of wellness fads in the past. Indeed, it’s been my job for over a decade to embrace what companies say will be the new “revolution” in health and personal care and make myself a guinea pig. I’ve tried any number of products, diets, even retreats to determine if they have hope (probiotics) or belong at the bottom of the bin (rocker bottom shoes).
So naturally, with the rapid proliferation of CBD shops across the U.S., my nature brought me to the point at which I had to try this much-hyped and ballyhooed product—and write about it so you’ll know if it’s right for you or not.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of several dozen active compounds found in cannabis. CBD’s popular first cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is the compound that’s associated with marijuana’s “high” or psychoactive effects. CBD has zero psychoactive effects.
Research shows that CBD has some positive benefits on health, however. For example, studies show CBD may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It’s also been shown to help treat or prevent seizures in people with epilepsy. CBD has shown promise as a treatment for common side effects of cancer treatment, including nausea and vomiting. It even holds promise as a treatment for anxiety, and it might help with short-term sleep problems, too.
So CBD Isn’t Marijuana?
No, it’s not. Some people confuse hemp with marijuana because they’re both types of cannabis. Indeed, both hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. But marijuana typically has between three and 15 percent THC, and hemp has less than one percent. CBD products, by law, cannot have more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
In December 2018, the U.S. Congress removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. It is no longer illegal to possess hemp-derived products in all 50 states. That’s why you’ve likely seen so many stores popping up in your town, or even found your local spa or health food store selling CBD products. Indeed, a recent report found that the popularity and accelerated growth in the market has CBD on track to be a $2-billion dollar industry by 2024.
I Tried CBD in My Tea
There’s a stigma, for better or worse, associated with marijuana that may be deterring people from trying CBD. I will be the first one to tell you that, as a rule, I’m no fan of the sensation of being “high” or stoned. I do, however, like and am always curious about, alternative treatments to health issues I face, whether it’s essential oils for headaches, acupuncture for low-back pain, or probiotics for regular tummy troubles. Because research shows CBD may help ease symptoms of anxiety, I decided it was a good option for me to try.
I started by using half a dropper of a 500-milligram tincture in a cup of green tea in the morning and a cup of herbal tea before bed. I did this every day for one week. Each half dropper delivers about 8 milligrams of CBD; a full dropper would be 16. Typical recommended doses for people trying CBD for the first time are between 20 and 40mg per day. However, research shows much higher doses are well tolerated.
My first experience with CBD was at night, after a long day of work. I was exhausted but decided to go ahead and give it a try. Many brands recommend you take CBD oil sublingually, or under the tongue, for a faster-acting effect. I chose tea in order to mask the bitter oil flavor of the tincture.
I don’t know if I can fully credit the CBD—I was very tired already—but I found myself quite relaxed within 15 minutes of finishing my cup of tea. I was asleep shortly after, and I had very deep sleep that night. My sleep tracker recorded 100 percent sleep quality, with very little movement. That’s unusual for me, but again, it was a long, taxing day. My body could have been responding to the exhaustion, not the CBD. But I was certainly curious.
The next morning, I repeated the amount and felt nothing, not even a hint of relaxation. That’s OK. I’m typically more relaxed and refreshed in the morning as is, so it could be that I didn’t have any “symptoms” to alleviate.
Over the course of the next four days, I only noticed mild effects when I would take the CBD with my tea before bed. During the day, I felt nothing. I decided to up my dosage to a full stopper for the three remaining days. That’s when I began to notice some differences.
My first day with two full droppers (32mg), I felt incredibly relaxed, almost too relaxed. I struggled a bit to find motivation for work. Thankfully, it was a Saturday, so I could afford the luxury of laziness. I didn’t experience any “head” symptoms, like dopiness or feeling spaced out, as some people with higher doses report. But I did certainly feel a bit disconnected from my sense of drive. That night, when I used another whole dropper in my tea, I fell to sleep rapidly and slept harder than I had slept in some time.
The next day, the effects of my first higher-dose day weren’t as strong. I was able to accomplish my work and felt productive, but a certain “edge” was taken off my mind. When I work, I typically feel crunched or pinched by deadlines, even when I’m on not late. The higher CBD didn’t fully erase the “urgency” I feel with my work, but it helped me feel calmer, less frantic.
For that, my week with CBD counts as a win, and I will likely keep taking it, especially during periods of high stress or anxiety. I may also venture to try other options, like gummies. Other brands have different formulations that may make the effects of CBD more or less powerful, too. Though my total dose, even on the “high” dose days, was well within the recommended limits for a first-time user, I would be curious to see the impact of a higher dose. I’ll just be sure to do it on days when I don’t have deadlines.
My initial impression is a positive one. I fully believe people can have positive results after taking CBD for a variety of issues. In my experiment, I was only trying to treat anxiety, and I found it to be moderately helpful. It did not eliminate the anxiety or associated stress, but it felt as if it took the sharp edge off the running worries and constant stream of thoughts that I frequently experience. I felt calmer, though not at all “high.”
It's important to note that CBD use and products are still in their infancy, and newer, better products will probably be available in the next few years that will make these initial products look silly. Indeed, some studies suggest CBD is really, truly only beneficial in large doses (over 300 milligrams), so it’s possible the impacts people like myself do experience are minimal compared to what’s possible. As studies increase and products improve, the CBD landscape may change dramatically.
If you are interested in trying CBD yourself, be sure to source high-quality CBD products. Unfortunately, CBD products have been dropping in quality in recent years, and they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means you cannot know for sure, just by looking at a bottle, if you have a good product. Look for third-party lab tests—reputable companies will proudly promote them—and read a lot of reviews. Websites like Leafly and CannaInsider provide extensive reviews on effectiveness and potency.