Cannabis 101: Everything You Need to Know

Leaf of cannabis plant
Elsa Olofsson/Oracle

It’s safe to say cannabis has a controversial history. But despite this, it has been used medicinally as far back as the 8th century, B.C. while Hemp boasts 10,000 years of use. The plant contains around 540 compounds, but is mainly used for only a few – notably THC and CBD.

In many parts of the US and around the world, people are starting to embrace cannabis. While once borderline-secretive and purchased off the street, regulated markets and medicinal use have led to a cultural shift in the way we view and use cannabis. And so for many people who’ve been curious about it, what it does, what different types there are, benefits, side effects and more, there are a lot of questions to address. But we’ve collected the answers you need in this post, with more detail for each section in the linked articles.

Cannabis guide at a glance:

  • Cannabis and Marijuana aren’t always the same, Marijuana tends to be very heavy in THC only
  • There are 113 Cannabinoids, the main grouping of compounds in the plant. Primarily Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) 
  • Medicinal Cannabis is legal in 34 States in the US, Recreationally legal in 11 (12 including D.C.)
  • THC and CBD are used together (and separately) to ease symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, insomnia, chronic pain and epilepsy
  • Don’t buy Hemp oil if you require CBD oil, and don’t buy CBD oil if you require THC, they all serve a different purpose
  • Hemp is federally legal, making CBD is legal in 47 states – all except Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis usually describes the flowers of three plants in the Cannabis genus, which are harvested and dried to produce the drug, also called weed, marijuana, pot and many other names. The flower doesn’t really look like a traditional flower, more like a bud of densely-packed green material, which people grind up to use in vaporizers, pipes, food or blunts. It’s a little confusing that the word is used for the prepared drug and the plant itself, but really they’re the same thing and it’s easy to tell what someone is referring to from context.

Marijuana usually refers specifically to products from the plant that contain substantial amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the substance that’s largely responsible for the psychoactive effects. Nowadays you’ll find THC-only weed, whereas traditional cannabis plants would have many or all naturally occurring compounds within it. 

“Cannabis” Really Refers to Three Species of Plant

The genus contains three species of plant: Cannabis sativa, C. indica and C. ruderalis. These originated in central or south Asia, but can be cultivated in many places around the world. There is some debate about whether they’re technically individual species (it’s possible that indica and ruderalis are subspecies of sativa), but for our purposes there is no need to combine them all or even wade into the debate. As a consumer of cannabis, the most important thing about each is:

  • Sativa is the most commonly recreationally used species, containing more THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) than CBD (cannabidiol), leading to a head “high.”
  • Indica is commonly used for both medical and recreational purposes, but has a more variable mixture between THC and CBD. Notably, some strains have equal amounts of each or there may be more CBD, leading to more of a sedative than stimulant effect.
  • Ruderalis is essentially “wild” cannabis, containing more CBD than THC and generally being shorter and thinner than its counterparts. This makes it non-psychoactive and usually not cultivated for medical or recreational purposes.

CBD and Hemp Aren’t the Same As Cannabis (But They Overlap)

CBD, hemp and cannabis are three separate things, but there is a lot of overlap that can easily lead to confusion.

The language around cannabis tends to be a little muddled and unclear. The distinction between “hemp” and “cannabis” or “marijuana” is the perfect example of this. The key factor is that “hemp” contains less than 0.3 % THC, while “cannabis” or “marijuana” contains more than this, but this is quite arbitrary. One source compares it to splitting all citrus fruits into “sweet” and “sour,” thus skipping over most of the factors that allow us to distinguish (say) an orange from a lemon or a lime. 

There is however a profound impact THC and CBD have that your standard Hemp (specifically Hempseed) on the shelf does not, due to the spectrum of cannabinoids present in the product. Hemp (at 0.3% THC or less) was made federally legal for agricultural production in December 2018 by the Trump administration.

CBD is something different entirely, and both cannabis and hemp contain CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the cannabinoids present in Cannabis plants, alongside the more well-known THC. Hemp oil however contains roughly 10-20% of the CBD level of CBD oil, which is why they are used interchangeably as a marketing ploy. There are generally far less cannabinoids particularly cannabinol (CBN) in hemp, and especially hempseed oils. 

You can read more about CBD vs. Hemp here. In simple terms, the reason people are interested in the plant is because of the effects of these cannabinoids, and for medicinal purposes in particular CBD is an interesting and promising cannabinoid.

Marijuana, Cannabis and Weed All Mean the Same Thing

Marijuana, cannabis and weed are three different terms that basically mean the same thing, generally used for the prepared flowers of the plant.

Technically, “marijuana” is a term originating from the war on drugs, where it was used in the US to create an association between the substance and Mexican immigrants. In fact, it was originally spelled “marihuana” to further encourage this link. The reasons for this are complicated (and interesting) but for the purpose of understanding what people are talking about when using these terms it doesn’t really matter, they all just mean the same thing. “Marijuana” is basically a borderline-racist way to recast the substance as something “un-American” and scary.

Cannabinoids Interact with CB Receptors to Create the Effects of Cannabis

Cannabinoids are the substances generally produced by the cannabis plant which interact with the cannabinoid receptors (CB receptors) in your brain. This is called your endocannabinoid system. There are 113 different cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, but the precise number isn’t known and most of them are only present in very low quantities. Undoubtedly the most important two are THC and CBD.

The CB receptors (CB1 and CB2) are a little more complicated, but basically you can think of them as the parts in your brain that allow cannabinoids to have an effect on the body. It’s often described as being like a lock, with the cannabinoids being the key that fits the specific pattern of the lock. For example, the typical “high” associated with cannabis is a result of the THC interacting with the CB receptors, and the receptors in turn producing the effect in the brain.

THC is the Part That Gets You High

THC is technically called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, but even in scientific settings THC is commonly used because the full name is a serious mouthful. THC causes the “high” people experience from consuming cannabis, and it does this through interactions with the CB receptors located in the brain and central nervous system. It mimics the endogenous cannabinoid (produced by our bodies) called anandamide, which is thought to be responsible for the “runner’s high” you feel after a satisfying jog.

THC potential health benefits:

Read our beginner’s guide to THC for a deep dive into the do’s and don’ts. 

CBD is Relaxing, not Intoxicating

CBD (cannabidiol) is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid that people are interested in. This is because while THC is the source of the “high,” CBD gives you a sort of calming relaxation that while not intoxicating, is very pleasant on its own. Most of the interest in CBD comes from its potential medical benefits, and given that it’s non-intoxicating, oils, tinctures and other CBD products are the ideal choice for many of the medical uses of cannabinoids.

 CBD potential health benefits:

The Aroma of Cannabis Comes from Terpenes

Terpenes give cannabis its distinctive smell. These are quite a broad class of chemicals, including things like myrcene (a herbal smell, like hops), pinene (think pine), limonene (a citrusy smell) and terpinolene (a fruity smell), and the specific terpenes in a strain depends on the growing conditions, including the local climate, the type of soil and more. While it’s not clear at the moment, there is a possibility that terpenes themselves also influence the effects of specific cannabis strains.

Cannabis has Four Common Uses

You probably already know that there are many different reasons people use cannabis, but here’s a run-down of the most common ones.

1. Cannabis Helps With Some Medical Conditions

There are many potential medical uses of cannabis, and most of these ultimately depend on the effects of either THC or CBD. 34 US states allow you to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, for conditions such as pain, epilepsy, appetite loss, multiple sclerosis, nausea, epilepsy, glaucoma and Crohn’s disease. The amount of evidence supporting these uses varies, but pain reduction, nausea relief and loosening of muscles are the effects best-supported by evidence.

2. Cannabis Gets You High

Cannabis can also be used for recreational purposes, and in an increasing number of states it is legal to do so. The point of recreational use is very much to have fun, and so higher-THC strains are generally preferred. Now we’re well past the Reefer Madness propaganda, people are increasingly seeing cannabis as a substance much like alcohol that adults can enjoy as they see fit.

3. You Can Make a Lot of Stuff From Hemp

For all of the amazing things sativa and indica can do, you might be surprised to learn that C. ruderalis potentially has the most applications of the whole family. Hemp is used for making paper, clothing, biofuel, plastics and even as part of car interiors. You can also eat hemp seeds – they’re seen as a potential “superfood” – but hemp is also the source of most of the CBD in products on the market.

4. Cannabis Opens Your Mind

People call cannabis an “entheogen,” that is, a substance that can facilitate spiritual growth and expand your consciousness. So it isn’t much of a surprise that cannabis has a range of spiritual uses as well, from various modern “cannabis churches,” to more ancient or established religions including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Ayurveda and Rastafarianism. If you’ve ever used cannabis, you’ll understand why this is – the experience is definitely a good one if you’re looking for a sense of greater meaning or spiritual understanding.   

Recreational Cannabis is High in THC; Medical Cannabis Has More CBD

The main differences between medical and recreational cannabis is that medical cannabis tends to be higher in CBD while recreational cannabis is usually higher in THC. In line with the intention behind the use, it’s generally the case that recreational users consume more than medical users, and are more likely to use a less-than-ideal method (from a medical perspective) like smoking than something safer like vaping or edibles.

Cannabis Comes in Many Different Forms

Although all cannabis ultimately comes from the plant, there are still a wide range of forms of usable cannabis that you should learn about if you want to get the most out of the plant – whether you’re a medical user or just want the best way to get high.

Flower

This is the most common form of cannabis because it’s pretty much how it comes from the plant, given some time to dry. The “flower” consists of the bud from the plant, and is sometimes referred to as “leaves” although there are usually no leaves. People consume it by vaporizing, smoking and making it into edibles and in many other ways. You’ll usually have to grind or break up the material before you use it.

Concentrate

Cannabis users class a whole bunch of different forms of cannabis as “concentrates,” which essentially means anything where the THC and/or CBD has been concentrated into a more pure form. These are differentiated by their texture and consistency, with shatter, budder, crumble, sugar, sauce and crystal being common terms used to describe the various options. For all of them, the concentration is much higher than it is in flower, because the key components have been extracted and purified, but both the processes used and the results can vary.

Kief

Kief is the term for the powdery “trichome” residue caught in three-chamber grinders, which contains the cannabinoids and terpenes that give cannabis its taste and create the effects. The best way to get kief is to grind up some cannabis flower in a special grinder which has a screen to catch the larger bits of flower but let the smaller kief fall through. Most of the time people just use kief as a “topper” for flower, increasing the potency with just a little sprinkle, but you can also smoke it on its own or use it in cooking.

Hashish

If you compress resin or kief, you get hashish (or just hash). Essentially it’s a type of concentrate but generally has a firm or slightly waxy texture, and is generally formed into a block. You can make “dry sift” hash (basically by compressing kief), ice water hash and even just press it together from resin left on your hands after handling the plant. It contains cannabinoids and terpenes, and it is used essentially like other concentrates.

People consider it separately from concentrates for historical reasons more than anything, because for a long time the only options were flower and hash, with modern concentrates coming to prominence more when cannabis became a fully-fledged industry.

Tincture

A cannabis tincture refers to a THC and/or CBD containing extract that you consume orally in drop form. Producers usually use alcohol as a medium for the extract, but it’s also possible to do it with glycerin and other substances. Tinctures offer tons of benefits, notably a quicker effect than edibles, while still avoiding the risks that come with smoking and being a very reliable way to dose.

Hash Oil

Hash oil is essentially a concentrate in oil form. The trichomes are separated from the plant, usually either using alcohol, CO2 or butane, and then (after the alcohol or butane is removed) formed into an oil, which you can then consume either by vaping or dabbing it, by using it in edibles or straight-up consuming it like a tincture.

Three Ways to Take Cannabis

So you can acquire cannabis in those forms, but then what do you do with it?

Ingestion

You can ingest cannabis in pretty much any form, but usually hash, flower or tinctures are used for ingestion. Popular options include making cannabis cookies or brownies, but provided you make an oil or butter with cannabis you can put it in basically any type of food you want.

Inhalation

You can smoke or vaporize cannabis to inhale it, of course, and this is still the most popular method to use it. The benefit to this is that the effects are basically instantaneous, but the downside is the inherent risk that comes with inhaling smoke in particular, and likely from vapor to a much lesser extent. You can use vaporizers, pipes, bongs, dab rigs and many other devices to inhale cannabis smoke or vapor.

Topicals

You can also make cannabis into topical balms, lotions and oils and apply them directly to your skin. People do this for pain relief or to soothe inflammation, but of course this won’t get you high, even if it has THC. There are cannabinoid receptors throughout your body, so topical application can have a localized effect but they don’t get into your bloodstream, which sets it apart from ingestion and inhalation.

Cannabis Has a Range of Medical Benefits

Many people report medical benefits from cannabis for a wide variety of conditions. While the potential benefits for some conditions haven’t been investigated too much, there are a few key areas that tend to be the focus of medical marijuana programs.

1. It Can Help With Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a problem for millions of Americans, and while cannabis likely can’t help with severe pain, it appears to help with ongoing, less-intense pain, in particular when it’s related to nerve damage or inflammation. This is expected to be related to both THC and CBD, so you can use it in pretty much any form for this purpose

Many studies have been conducted on neuropathic (i.e. nerve related) pain specifically and non-cancer related chronic pain overall, and these generally show small benefits, although more studies are needed.

2. CBD Eases Anxiety

Anybody who’s experienced the effects of cannabis will likely understand why anxiety is one of the areas it’s expected to hold a benefit. Here CBD is likely to be the key ingredient and is the main area of focus, and so high-CBD strains or CBD products are the best option for users.

There have been several small studies on this and they tend to show a benefit for anxiety, including PTSD, and for people with social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder.

3. CBD Treats Rare Forms of Epilepsy

The effectiveness of CBD for some types of epilepsy is one of the most well-known and widely-studied uses of cannabis as medicine, thanks in part to Charlotte Figi and the strain “Charlotte’s Web” named after her. There is a CBD medication that has been approved by the FDA, for the treatment of seizures from Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which tend to start in childhood.

There isn’t enough research into its effects on more common forms of epilepsy, but it is an area of interest.

4. THC Reduces Nausea and Vomiting

Many people use cannabis to reduce nausea and prevent vomiting, especially when it’s related to chemotherapy. THC primarily causes this effect, although CBD may play a role too, so most forms of cannabis could be used for the purpose.

The THC medication Marinol or Dronabinol has been studied for chemotherapy-related nausea, and it was found to be effective and about as good for the purposes as usual treatment at the time (mainly in the 80s and 90s). You can also use it for nausea more generally.

5. Cannabis Reduces Eye Pressure, Slowing the Progression of Glaucoma

Glaucoma can lead to vision loss through damage to the optic nerve, but cannabis can reduce the pressure in your eye and slow the progression of the disease. Studies on the topic date back to the 70s, and they show that it’s effective for reducing eye pressure but the effect is relatively short-lived.  

And It Helps With Many Other Conditions

This really just scratches the surface of the conditions cannabis has potential to treat or that it’s been investigated for. Others include sleep problems, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and the weight loss related to HIV/AIDS are other examples.

Cannabis Has Side Effects, But Most are Minor

As with any medication, using cannabis for medical purposes may result in side effects. Really, context is crucial here, because you’d consider some of these effects if you were using it recreationally or for other medical purposes, and most are related to THC rather than CBD, which only very rarely has side effects.

THC side effects include:

  • Lethargy 
  • Drowsiness
  • Risk of psychosis
  • Increase in anxiety
  • Nausea & vomiting 
  • Memory loss
  • Visual impairment
  • Mental impairment

CBD side-effects include:

  • Changes in appetite & weight
  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhea 

Smoking Weed Isn’t as Risky as Smoking Tobacco for Lung Cancer

Most people know that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer, but what about weed? Since many of the same substances found in tobacco smoke are also found in cannabis smoke, it’s reasonable to expect that it does, and certainly smoking it will come with some risks. For cancer specifically, though, the evidence is limited and many studies haven’t found a link between the two.

Finding the answer on this topic is difficult, though, because people might have not been completely honest about their cannabis use (especially in the past), and there aren’t many studies to work with. But the issue is complicated because while cannabis is usually smoked unfiltered, you smoke much less than you do with tobacco. So really both possibilities could be true, but it doesn’t appear to pose the same level of risk as smoking tobacco.

Cannabis Has Positive and Negative Psychological Effects

The psychological effects of cannabis are quite well-known at this point. In the short term, you’ll feel happy, talkative, giggly and relaxed, and you might have a stronger reaction than usual to things like music. You’ll also have some difficulty concentrating and remembering things, and sometimes it can make you paranoid and anxious.

In the long term, there is a lot of interest in the potential for a link between cannabis and mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. For depression and anxiety, it’s true that there is an association between the two, but scientists don’t believe that the link is causal. In other words, they think that people with the conditions (or who would likely get them anyway) are more likely to use cannabis, not the other way around. For schizophrenia, frequent cannabis use at young ages – especially if you’re at risk anyway – can bring forward your diagnosis by around 3 years.

Cannabis Scientific Research

It goes without saying that there is a lot of scientific research on cannabis, and actually going through the available findings in detail would take up way too much space. However, some key findings can give you the overall picture of where we’re at and where we’ve come from.

19th and 20th Century Research into Cannabis was Hampered by Prohibition

Before modern scientific methods, the research on cannabis wasn’t super-reliable, but one notable early study is the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission from 1894, which used testimony from 1,200 consumers, and concluded that moderate consumption of cannabis is pretty much harmless, or possibly even beneficial. The La Guardia Report from 1944 was very much intended to counter Reefer Madness style misinformation, and used existing literature to conclude that “Prolonged use of the drug does not lead to physical, mental, or moral degeneration, nor have we observed any permanent deleterious effects from its continued use.”

It should go without saying, though, that these examples very much stood against a tidal wave of misleading, over-interpreted and downright hostile results.

More Recently, Researchers Are Uncovering More Benefits

However, things are changing for the better, and each year we learn more and more about cannabis. Here are some recent pieces of research that have had a big impact:

  • CBD for drug-resistant seizures: This double-blind, placebo-controlled trial looked at the effect of CBD on children with Dravet syndrome or drug-resistant seizures. It reduced seizures significantly more than a placebo, but also resulted in more side effects. Full study here.
  • Cannabis doesn’t change brain structure: After decades of claims that cannabis impacts adolescent brain structure, a 2019 study conducted MRIs on 781 young people aged 14 to 22, including 109 occasional and 38 frequent cannabis users. The results showed no significant differences in the brain regions covered. Full study here.
  • Cannabis helps with chronic pain in seniors: A study in the European Journal of Internal Medicine looked at 2,736 patients aged over 65 (mean age 74.5) who received care in a medical cannabis clinic. Most of the patients were using cannabis for pain or cancer, and 93.7 % said their conditions improved six months later, and pain levels declined from 8 to 4 on a ten-point scale. Full study here.

Cannabis is Mainly Illegal Around the World, but Not Everywhere

The legal status of cannabis varies around the world, but in most places it is still illegal in some form.

Where You Can Enjoy Cannabis Around the World (and Where You Can’t)

There are many countries around the world where cannabis is legal to use recreationally or decriminalized, but those not included on this list can be assumed to outlaw cannabis. There are also a few included where cannabis is illegal but use is widespread and basically tolerated.

Legalization

  • Canada
  • Uruguay
  • The Netherlands (in coffee shops)
  • Parts of the U.S.

Decriminalization

  • Mexico
  • Belize
  • Jamaica
  • Argentina
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Peru
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Australia (most regions)

Illegal but Tolerated

  • Costa Rica
  • Cambodia
  • Laos

The Disconnect Between Federal and State-Level US Law

The law surrounding cannabis in the US is complicated because of the disconnect between federal and state laws. Despite some states legalizing cannabis – and approving it for medical use – federal law still disagrees.

11 States and D.C. Have Fully Legalized Cannabis

11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adults. The 11 states are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • Vermont
  • Washington

The amounts of cannabis you’re allowed to have and the number of plants (both developing and mature) that are permitted varies by state, but in all cases it is only legal for adults aged 21 or over.

The Controlled Substances Act is Federal-Level Prohibition

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the federal-level drug law in the US, which places different substances into schedules (out of five possibilities). By this law, substances in Schedule I have no potential for medical use and a high potential for abuse. Tetrahydrocannabinols (i.e. THC) is in Schedule I, so from a federal point of view cannabis is still about as illegal as a substance can be.

Weed was Illegal Through the 1900s, but Now Things are Changing

Cannabis legalization in the US has a long and complex history, but you can broadly break it down into medical, recreational and CBD-only laws. After the passing of the CSA in 1970, many states attempted to put together medical cannabis programs of some sort (starting with New Mexico in 1978), but most of the efforts amounted to nothing until the 1990s and 2000s, when 13 states and D.C. established medical marijuana laws.

With these changes, moves to decriminalize or legalize cannabis started gaining steam. Eleven states had decriminalized marijuana in the 70s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s and especially the 2010s when efforts to change things picked up again. In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, and after the Cole Memorandum in 2013, states could rest assured that the federal government would only get involved in limited circumstances. More state-level legalization followed, but the Memorandum was rescinded in 2018, leading to more uncertainty about how federal law would be enforced.

History of Cannabis

Cannabis Comes from Central Asia, but Humans Helped it Spread

Cannabis sativa grew naturally in central Asia and India, and it’s likely that it has been used for its spiritual properties since 3,000 to 2,500 B.C., because burned seeds were found in burial mounds in Siberia dating back to 3,000 B.C. and mummified cannabis was discovered in the tombs of nobles in China and Siberia in 2,500 B.C.. The plant was then brought to the Middle East in the second millennium B.C., where it was used by an Indo-European group called the Scythians, and it had spread to Europe by the early centuries A.D.. It reached Britain in the fifth century with the Anglo-Saxon invasions, and seeds have also been found in Viking ships dating back to the ninth century.

Moving Across the Atlantic and Into the Modern Age

The plant didn’t make its way across the Atlantic until much later. After being introduced to Africa, the plant was taken across to South America in approximately 1,600 A.D., to the Caribbean in 1,800 A.D. and finally up to the US via Mexico from the early 1900s. This coincided with the Mexican revolution in 1910 and 1911, where it came along with a wave of immigrants that people in the US at the time were suspicious of. This period is where the term “marijuana” comes from, as prejudice against the new citizens was passed on to the substance itself.

Additionally, around the 1830s, an Irish doctor called Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (in India at the time) found that the plant may have some beneficial medical properties, in particular reducing stomach pain and vomiting in cholera sufferers. This led to many extracts being sold across the US and Europe around these times, especially for stomach problems. However, the 20th century primarily involved creeping prohibition around the world, notably the run-up to the CSA in 1970.

Cannabis has Almost Always Been Legal, Except for in the 1900s

For much of the history of civilization, cannabis use has been legal. Aside from one example in Arabia in the 1300s, and a handful of examples in the 1700s and 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1900s when prohibition really started to sweep across the planet. Starting in 1913 with Jamaica, a wave of bans and rescinding of licenses followed from countries across the world, spurred on by the 1925 International Opium Convention and the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The only countries to really buck this trend were the Netherlands, who made possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis a misdemeanor; Paraguay, who decriminalized possession of 10 grams or less; and California legalizing medical use.

The 21st century has been very different, with increasing decriminalization, medical use laws and legalization. Some of the more notable changes include Portugal decriminalizing all drugs (not just cannabis), the UK lowering the classification of cannabis but then reversing the decision five years later and full legalization in several US states (see above), Australian Capital Territory, Canada and Uruguay. In many countries, punishment for cannabis is now more in line with punishment for traffic offenses than actual criminal activity.

When Cannabis is Accessible and Legal, Scientists Have Investigated its Properties

The scientific history of cannabis very much mirrors the legal history, with a lot of interest in the past, fading away in the 1900s and then returning to prominence in recent years. The earliest recorded use of cannabis as medicine was by the ancient Chinese, used for constipation, malaria, rheumatic pain and female reproductive disorders, as well as other conditions. This dates back to 2,700 B.C., but wasn’t written down until its inclusion in the pen-ts’ao ching in the first century A.D., and was also used in the second century mixed with wine as a form of anesthetic. In India, medical and religious use was much more common from around 1,000 B.C., and was used for a diverse range of conditions.

In the 19th century, the most important names were William B. O’Shaughnessy and Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a doctor and psychiatrist, respectively, who learned about the plant and how it could be used in their respective practices. However, in the 20th century prohibition led to a decline in interest, until the turn of the 21st century where scientists are investigating its potential using modern methods and a much deeper understanding of what the plant can do.

How Much Cannabis You Should Take (Based on Your Experience Level)

Dosing with cannabis is really all about the quantity of THC you consume, but the challenge is that if you’re using flower, it’s pretty difficult to be precise about exactly how much THC there will be per gram of bud. Using professionally-produced edibles makes this easier, because the dosage will be stated, but otherwise you can estimate reasonably well.

  • First time users: The first time you try cannabis, the best advice is to aim for 5 mg of THC. This would be half of an average cookie or just less than half of an average American joint (containing 0.3 g of flower). If you reduce the amount to 0.1 g, you can get to this dosage with a bong or vaporizer chamber’s worth.
  • Beginner user: Beginners should aim for up to 10 mg of THC, so around a whole cookie, more than half of a 0.3 g joint (which delivers 12 mg on average) and 0.2 g in a bong or vaporizer (although sharing the vaporizer in particular is a good idea).
  • Experienced user: Things open up a lot at this point, and you can have up to 25 mg of THC. In terms of 10 mg THC cookies you can have one or even two, and you could smoke an average American joint without problems, take a bong-load or work through a vaporizer chamber.
  • Very experienced: At this point you likely need a lot of THC to really get going, but it’s better to keep things between 25 and 80 mg. Essentially, it’s going to be difficult to go much beyond this anyway, so as long as you don’t really go for it you’ll be all good.

For CBD dosage advice and much more, check out our CBD 101: Beginner’s Guide.

Some important general advice is that edibles can take up to 2 hours to have an effect. Don’t double-dose because you think the first isn’t working. On the other hand, smoking or vaporizing has almost instantaneous effects, so it’s easier to judge as you go.

 How Long Will I Be High For?

The length of time you’ll be high varies based on a few factors – for example, how much you’ve had and your experience level – but generally speaking it will be between 1 and 2 hours for flower and concentrates, and up to 6 hours for edibles. Again, though, these are estimates, so if you take a lot of edibles you might be high for longer than 6 hours.

The Golden Rules for Buying Excellent Bud: Smell it and Ask Questions

Now you know pretty much everything you could need to know about pot, there’s one thing left: how do I choose a strain and where do I buy it? The latter question is easy: if you live in a legal state, go to your local dispensary and you’ll likely have more choice than you know what to do with. In terms of working out what specifically to choose, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Type: Generally speaking, if you’re using recreationally, you’ll want to go with a sativa, if you’re using medicinally, go with an indica or a higher-CBD sativa strain.
  • Smell: Probably the easiest and most important thing to think about is the smell. You’re looking for a sharp, strong smell, often there are notes of pine but it depends on the strain.
  • Look: Good bud has a dark green color, sometimes with a purple or blue-ish tint, with orange-brown hairs and ideally, lots of visible trichomes (they look a bit like crystalline hairs).
  • Feel: A sticky and slightly spongy consistency is best, rather than something so dry it crumbles too easily or so wet that you can’t break the buds very easily.
  • If in doubt, ask: You can evaluate the bud as if you’re some type of connoisseur – and eventually you’ll get there – but at first the best option is to simply ask the “budtender” what he or she recommends and make your decision from there.

Conclusion

Cannabis has such a varied selection of forms, can be used in so many different ways and has such potential as a medicine and a more widely-accepted recreational substance that it’s hard to contain all of it in one article. This should have given you a rough overview of a huge selection of topics, but if you’re interested, we’d strongly recommend checking out some of our deeper dives on specific topics.