Strains? Bio-Availability? Entourage effect?
Am I saying it right?!?
In this episode of The Hemp Community Podcast we explain some of the jargon used in the cannabis industry. A useful listen for anyone interested in cannabis, hemp, endocannabinoid biology, medicine, public health and drugs policy.
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Episode 15 – Let’s bust some Jargon…
Hi there and thank you for tuning into this episode of the hemp community podcast. If you haven’t already, please take a few seconds and subscribe to the podcast on your favourite platform so that you don’t miss any new releases! You can also scroll through previous episodes to find a topic you’re interested in and if you have any questions you can get in touch via our website hempcommunity.scot
For those of you who don’t already know, the hemp community is a social enterprise in Edinburgh, Scotland and our mission is to introduce people to CBD. As well as selling a range of CBD products such as oil, capsules and vapes, a big part of our work consists of teaching people about cannabis, hemp and other subjects related to endocannabinoid health.
To begin with I’d like to address the irony that I have decided to write an episode about busting jargon, when I myself am prone to using it. If you’ve listened to any previous editions you’ll probably be aware that I am not scared of big words, and in fact I often go out of my way to find them, endlessly rehearse them and desperately wait for an opportunity to use them. In many cases, complicated technical language is little more than an ego boost for nerds like me, or a marketing technique to impress potential customers. Here a the hemp community we believe that everyone should be able to access cannabis, including linguistically, so in today’s episode of the podcast I’m going to go through and explain some of the jargon that you might have heard or read when you’ve been browsing for CBD products.
Let’s get started with the first and most obvious term; CBD. CBD is short for “cannabidiol” and it is an oily chemical made by cannabis and hemp plants. While we’re on the subject of plants, cannabis is not just 1 plant, but rather refers to a genus of plants. Already the jargon is starting to stack up! A genus is the level above “species” and what we can surmise is that there are many thousands of varieties or “strains” of cannabis. There is debate in the cannabis world as to whether or not cannabis strains are indeed strains, or cultivars (short for cultivated varieties). Regardless of the technicalities involved here, most people in the industry have a common understanding of what the phrase “strain” refers to, even if it is somewhat at odds with the scientific definition. How we classify these strains varies on the appearance of the plant, it’s genetics and growing habits and of course it’s effect on the end user. Some cannabis plants can get you high, or “stoned” which is another little bit of jargon used to describe the giddy, floaty feeling of using cannabis. Many varieties do not exert this psychoactive effect, i.e. they do not get you high, because not all types of cannabis produce THC. Cannabis plants that are low in THC are commonly referred to as hemp, and frequently hemp plants are used for industrial purposes such as making textiles, building materials, paper and even food supplements.
Canny listeners will have noticed that I have slipped in another bit of Jargon by introducing the acronym “THC”. For those of you who are curious, THC is short for Tetra Hydra Cannabinol and it is the product of the cannabis plant that induces the “high” feeling that makes cannabis such a popular drug. THC and CBD are sister molecules that are produced on the flowering tops of cannabis and hemp plants, although generally hemp plants produce very low quantities of THC. Cannabis strains that are high in THC are commonly referred to as “weed” although we will go into more detail on nicknames for cannabis later on in the podcast.
CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, although they are far from the only ones. There are many cannabinoids in the world, of course including plant derived cannabinoids known as “phyto-cannabinoids”. Cannabis isn’t the only plant that produces phyto-cannabinoids, but it is by far the best at it. Cannabinoids show up in all kinds of interesting places, for example some species of fungus produce cannabinoids and we would call those “myco-cannabinoids”. The human body even produces its own cannabinoids and we call them “endocannabinoids”. When someone is talking about endocannabnioids, they are talking about the chemicals made by our own body, that just so happen to fall into the same category of compounds as those produced by cannabis plants. Before we dive any deeper, I’d like to point out that the phrase “cannabinoid” was coined in recognition of the cannabis’ plants’ chemical prowess, although cannabinoids as a group have existed for far longer than the cannabis plant.
The next bit of jargon we need to bust is in my humble opinion one of the most important pieces of information that people using cannabis for their health should be made aware of. So important is this term that a few weeks back we released a podcast on this very subject; the endocannabinoid system. So as we already know “endocannabinoid” refers to our on-board, home-made and naturally produced cannabinoids, and altogether they are put to work in your endocannabinoid system. You have many systems in your body, for example your nervous system which includes all the nerves carrying signals to and from its centrepiece; the brain which appropriately we call the central nervous system. Your circulatory system moves blood around your body to and from the heart. The pulmonary system makes sure your blood has enough oxygen. You also have your muscular-skeletal system, your reproductive organs, and your immune system amongst others. When we use the phrase “system” we are typically describing more than individual organs or tissues, looking instead at complex networks or groupings of body parts that interlock and serve a shared purpose. Your endocannabinoid system interacts with all of your other systems; in fact not only does it interact with, it regulates the activity of all these other systems. Whether we are looking at your brain’s response to stress, or your skin’s response to sunlight, your endocannabinoid system is at work maintaining balanced function. In theory, a healthy endocannabinoid system makes for a healthy human; that’s why CBD and THC products are so useful doctors and patients alike, they are tools that our endocannabinoid systems can put to good use. Your body is able to absorb and manage the transport of CBD and THC and direct the chemicals to endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body. Receptors are like little locks, and the key that opens them depends on the receptor. In the case of cannabinoids, our endocannabinoid systems are able to take plant-derived cannabinoids and use them to bolster its activity.
I’d like to introduce a relatively new phrase that I’ve seen pop up recently; “endocannabinoid tone”. As with any part of your body, your endocannabinoid system can experience deficits in its own performance even as it seeks to regulate other systems. We refer to this as endocannabinoid tone and it is a way of understanding the general health of your endocannabinoid system. You may have too many cannabinoids receptors and not enough cannabinoids, or visa versa! An individual with low endocannabinoid tone may experience difficulties with mood, sleep, appetite and may even have a lower threshold for pain. If your endocannabinoid system has chronically low tone, we could nominate it as an example of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. Conversely, an overactive endocannabinoid system may be linked to increased risk of conditions like diabetes and obesity. If an individual wishes to address the balance in their own endocannabinoid system, they would do well to investigate and indeed experiment with cannabis products, referring to both CBD and THC preparations.
The next question is how to consume our CBD or THC. As you’ll likely know there are many ways to take cannabis, and every method has its own nuances. We’ve gone into this in more detail in previous episodes, but what I’d like to do is bust a little jargon that you may have run into when shopping for CBD. The phrase “bio-availability” is used frequently to sell supplements and it refers to a measure of how much of the active substance consumed that your body can absorb and put to use. For example, water-soluble products are described as having a high bio-availability, whereas something like a balm applied to the skin has relatively low bio-availability. Oils applied under the tongue have about 20% bio-availability, edibles/capsules about 10%. Smoking cannabis seems to have bio-availability in the 30-40% range, whereas vaping is slightly higher nudging towards 50%. Ultimately these are just numbers, and our experience at the hemp community is that ranked bio-availability is a poor predictor of sales and outcomes. Despite only having a bio-availability of 20%, oils and pastes remain the most popular category of product. On paper cannabinoid infused balms do practically nothing in terms of bio-availability, and yet balms remain a popular option for people all over the world. Don’t even get me started on tea and drinks! Basically, my point is that you shoudl take claims of “enhanced absorption” and “bio-availability” with a pinch of salt; it definitely interesting and important to know how products work, but experience is a far better teacher and you might be surprised with what “old fashioned” cannabinoids can do.
Speaking of old-fashioned cannabinoids, there is a category of cannabinoids that we haven’t discussed yet except in passing in previous episodes. This sub-category of cannabinoids deserves its own podcast and I promise I’ll get round to writing it soon, but in the meantime let’s very quickly discuss “synthetic cannabinoids”. As the name suggests, synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals made by humans in a lab. Generally speaking these novel substances are intended to emulate the effects of compounds like THC. It’s important to note that not all lab-produced cannabinoids are synthetic; it is possible to make CBD in a lab, but the title “synthetic cannabinoid” refers mostly to the kinds of chemicals that were used to make so-called “legal highs” during the epidemic of novel psychoactive substance use during the noughties. Synthetic cannabinoids are generally unpleasant and in contrast to phyto-cannabninoids, synthetics can be dangerous or even lethal.
Synthetic substances aside, as cannabis science has developed over the last 2-3 decades, so has the list of cannabinoids that we can extract from the cannabis plant. While we may call these “new” cannabinoids, they are not “novel” in the sense that humans made them. To put it more accurately these new cannabinoids are not new, but they are new to us. Some of these so called newcomers include CBC or cannabichromene, CBG (aka cannabigerol) and CBDv which is short for cannabidivarin. All of these compounds are naturally occurring phyto-cannabinoids found on the cannabis plants in varying ratios depending on the strain of cannabis and other variables such as timing and production. For example, CBG is found in larger quantities on younger flowers, wherease CBDv is found in higher levels in products like hashish. There is a even a category for “raw” cannabinoids, referring to compounds like CBDa, CBGa and THCa. The “A” in these acronyms stands for “acid” so CBDa is short for cannabidiolic acid. Most cannabinoids have raw forms, and they have become the subject of much scientific inquiry over the last couple of years, particularly as CBDa and CBGa have both been found to reduce likelihood of covid infection, and may even be linked to lower risk of long-covid and better immune system recovery following infection. Personally I quite like products with CBDa and CBG and they are a part of my daily routine, but that doesn’t mean they are better all round; we’ve had many customers at the hemp community for whom these cannabinoids just didn’t “click” which is why it’s important that people have choices over the types of cannabis they consume.
As we mentioned earlier in the podcast, different types of cannabis have different monikers to describe them. Low THC cannabis is generally called “hemp”, wheras high THC cannabis has many names. Commonly referred to as “weed”, sometimes called “pot” or “dope”, there are many names for cannabis. Stranger still are the official names for strains, which are frequently named by breeders. Names like “Blue Dream”, “Grand-daddy Purp”, “Cat Piss” and “Skywalker Kush” which all indicate varieties of cannabis that share genetic and physical traits. As well as THC and CBD, cannabis plants produce prolific volumes of aromatic compounds called “terpenes”. Terpenes, or terps for short, are responsible for the smells and flavours of cannabis plants. Some varieties are citrusy, some are gassy, some are floral and some…well some smell like cat piss. Terpenes typically have names like linalool, myrcene, pinine, caryophyllene, limonene and terpinolene. Moreover terpenes are found on every plant, not just cannabis, although cannabis plants to put them to particularly good effect. Some types of cannabis are better for daytime, and some for night, and largely these differences are down to the terpenes. Think of it like aromatherapy but cranked up to 11. Terpenes can be extracted from cannabis and reintroduced later in the production process, for example in the form of terpene infused vape cartridges, or oils with extra added terps. Cannabis derived terpenes are also frequently used in cooking to enhance the flavours in a dish, and critically, to bolster the effect of CBD and THC. Your cannabinoids work well by themselves, but they work so much better when used in combination with a robust terpene profile.
Funnily enough, theres a little bit of jargon associated with this phenomenon; when we use all the parts of the cannabis plant together we unlock what is called the “entourage effect”. Simply put, the entourage effect is a real life example of the rule that says “the whole is more valuable than the some of the parts”. Lots of pharmaceutical cannabis products use isolated cannabinoids, but research has shown, confirming the lived experience of millions of cannabis users, that the less we do to the plant, the more it can do for us. If you are using a purified CBD product with only CBD and no other cannabinoids, we would call it “isolate CBD”. If your CBD supplement has a mix of all the cannabinoids and a little THC we call it “full spectrum. The compromise is “broad spectrum”, which refers to products that have multiple cannabinoids present, but crucially the THC has been removed entirely.
The production techniques used to make products also have their own jargon. For example, you may have heard of “super critical CO2 extraction” which is a method of taking cannabinoids from the cannabis flower using high pressure, low temperature carbon dioxide as a solvent. This is probably the most common type of extraction used in the legal cannabis industry because it is safe and efficient. There are other ways of achieving the same goal including ethanol extraction, but this can effect the end product and due the volatility of ethanol the practitioner needs to be careful not to explode themselves and their laboratory.
As we draw near the end of the episode, I’d like to discuss a piece of non-jargon. What I mean by “non-jargon” is the clumsy use of technical language in a non-technical kind of way. In particular, I am referring to the UK media and political establisment’s use of the word “Skunk”. It is unfortunately quite common to hear high-THC cannabis referred to as “Skunk”, and in particular British journalists love this phrase as it conjures up the idea of a noxious, nuisance plant. Those of you in the know regarding cannabis history will know that “Skunk” refers to a specific variety, or strain of cannabis first bred in the early 90s. Named for its pungent aroma, Skunk became a worldwide hit because of its consistently high THC levels. Varieties of Skunk are even grown under license and used in pharmaceutical cannabis preparations, such is the quality and consistency of skunk genetics. It seems to be the case that in the 90s and noughties, as the market moved away from products like hash and towards high-THC strains, the phrase “Skunk” was adopted as an umbrella term for all such strains. For reference, this is both technically incorrect, and kind of annoying. It would be like referring to all wine as “chardonnay”, or all beer as “fosters”. The continued and inaccurate use of the word “Skunk” by proponents in the British Media is indicative of the prejudice against the plant; why bother learning the nuances and understanding the topic at hand when you can throw out a lazy stereotype to incense the readers or viewers at home.
There are of course many other terms and phrases used in the cannabis word that I haven’t covered today, if you can think of any please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Better still, if you have any burning questions or suggestions we’d love to hear from you. The Hemp Community isn’t just a CBD shop, nor is it just me in front of my computer. If you are listening to this podcast, you are part of the community already!
In conclusion, there is more to cannabis than meets the eye. There is much depth to the science of cannabinoids that we have yet to plumb, and undoubtedly as society learns more about cannabis there will be more technical jargon to match each new development. Rest assured though, that you don’t have to know all the big words to get the most from your dose; cannabis works perfectly well with or without your understanding.
Thanks very much for listening, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast for future updates. Until next time, take care!