Chemicals within Marijuana (Cannabis) Cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids… the molecules that make marijuana tasty, odiferous and potent. It used to be widely known and accepted that THC was the active ingredient in marijuana. THC made you high, and the more THC the harder the hit. It turns out that the story is a little more complicated than that. A large variety of molecules is present in cannabis, and these molecules interact to create the unique smell, flavors and effects of each strain. Cannabinoids, Terpenes and Flavonoids. A brief history of marijuana in America, its regular use as a prescribed medicine, its subsequent removal from the U.S. pharmacopeia and its eventual status as a Class 1 Drug. Marijuana’s Drug Status Makes Research Difficult Adverse Effects – There are actually very few, and that is according to the National Institute of Health. Cannabinoids – The most well-known molecules in marijuana THC - (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) LSD from Barney’s Farm Pineapple Chunk from Barney’s Farm Satori from Mandala Seeds CBD - (Cannabidiol) Nebula II CBD from Paradise Seeds Agent Orange from TGA Subcool CBG - (Cannabigerol) CBC - (Cannabichromene) Silver Pearl Black Jack Seeds CBN - (Cannabinol) THCV - (Tetrahydrocannabivarin) Pineapple Purps Super Silver Haze from Green House Seeds Durban Poison Terpenes – Hydrocarbons that give marijuana its odor, modulate the effects of THC and are pharmacologically active. Myrcene White Rhino from Green House Seeds White Widow Skunk #1 Pinene Trainwreck from Green House Seeds Super Silver Haze from Green House Seeds Jack Herer Limonene OG Kush, Super Lemon Haze and Lemon Skunk. Carene Lemon Skunk, El Nino Caryophyllene Super Silver Haze, Arjan’s Haze #2 Terpineol White Rhino, Money Maker Linalool Amnesia Haze, G-13, LA Confidential. Flavonoids – Aromatic molecules present in all plants, can be pharmacologically active. Conclusion – The action of marijuana is due to synergistic effects of many molecules, more research is warranted. Cannabinoids, Terpenes and Flavonoids. Some strains of marijuana drop you flat on the couch and leave you drooling, some lift you to euphoric heights, some inspire creativity, some dull pain, some make you social while others leave you introspective. The great variation amongst cannabis strains is due to more than differences in THC levels. The molecules in action include other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. The molecules in cannabis, especially when used in conjunction with one another, show great promise in treating diseases ranging from epilepsy to HIV to cancer. Manuel Guzman is a biochemist in Spain who studies cannabis. National Geographic just wrote this about his research: “In this study, Guzman and his colleagues, who’ve been treating cancer-riddled animals with cannabis compounds for 15 years, found that the tumors in a third of the rats were eradicated and in another third, reduced.” Guzman worries that his research may give false hope to cancer sufferers. It is in the very early stages, and it is too soon to tell if any of his results can be extrapolated to humans. Yet his studies, and those of others, suggest that marijuana may prove to be a useful drug for actually treating cancer and other diseases. Currently it is used to relieve the symptoms associated with various disorders, including pain, nausea and anxiety, but in the future it may be applied to ease the source of suffering as well. I will describe the most common cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids found in cannabis and the effects they have on the user. Each strain has a unique profile of these molecules, so choosing the appropriate strain for your needs is important. First, I would like to summarize the recent scientific history of cannabis. Despite its widespread use both medicinally and recreationally, there has been relatively little research done on marijuana, which is why the influence of cannabinoids besides THC and other molecules are only just now being discovered and explored. There is still a lot we do not know, and this is why: A brief history... Marijuana has been used around the world for thousands of years, to treat various symptoms, as a recreational drug and as a method for connecting to the spirit world. In Western society, it was first recognized as a medicinal drug in the 1840’s by the surgeon W.B. O’Shaughnessy who first encountered it in India. He recommended it as a treatment for pain as well as a sedative and anti-convulsant. For nearly 100 years doctors in Europe and the United States regularly prescribed marijuana. This changed in 1937 when the U.S. Treasury Department levied a new tax on marijuana: $1/ounce prescribed and $100/ounce for recreational use. Physicians protested because they were required to pay the tax and fill out additional paperwork to prescribe marijuana, included keeping special records of its use. Even the American Medical Association spoke out. The AMA believed that research into cannabis was lacking and that the tax and new laws would inhibit further studies. They also pointed out that there had not been any studies demonstrating the harmful effects of cannabis. Despite the lack of evidence and the objections of the medical community, cannabis was officially removed from the U.S. Pharacopoeia in 1942 due to concerns about its potentially harmful effects. Nine years later the Boggs Act passed Congress, officially listing cannabis as a narcotic drug. In 1970 marijuana became classified as a Schedule 1 drug, a category for drugs with no accepted medical use which includes heroin, LSD and mescaline. To this day Federal law considers cannabis a Schedule 1 drug, though many states around the country have legalized it to varying degrees within their borders. Despite the persistant legal status of marijuana, this plant of myriad potentials is slowly gaining approval even amongst the higher-ups. A recent article from National Geographic revealed that, “Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently expressed interest in what science will learn about marijuana, noting that preliminary data show that ‘for certain medical conditions and symptoms’ it can be ‘helpful’.” In other countries cannabis is also slowly gaining acceptance as a medically useful drug. The same National Geographic article explains, “Israel has one of the world’s most advanced medical marijuana programs… over 20,000 patients have a license to use cannabis to treat such conditions as glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, inflammation, appetite loss, Tourette’s syndrome and asthma.” As cannabis becomes legalized throughout the States, there is hope that it will become one of the items in every physician’s toolbox for the treatment of many diseases and disorders. Marijuana’s Drug Status makes Research Difficult The Federal status of cannabis has had exactly the effects that the AMA feared back in the 1940’s. Because marijuana is considered legally to have no accepted medical use, it cannot be freely studied in the same way as pharmaceuticals. In fact, studies on cannabis have to file as though they were examining an entirely new drug. The negative impact of this drug classification is so great that to date there have only been three small clinical trials of cannabis in cancer patients. With its effects on nausea, pain and insomnia as well as potential tumor-shrinking properties, cannabis is potentially a very important drug to be considered in in cancer patients. And yet the laws around it have made actual clinical studies exceedingly difficult. Why the fuss? Adverse Effects? So what is the big deal? What is so harmful about smoking cannabis that it needed to be removed entirely from the U.S. Pharacopoeia? According to the Summary of Cannabis for Medical Professionals published by the National Institute for Health (NIH), there isn’t much harmful about cannabis, especially when cannabis is compared to many common prescription drugs. The main psychoactive effects of cannabis are attributed to cannabinoids which bind to specific receptors distributed throughout the body. Unlike opioid receptors, none of the cannabinoid receptors are located on the part brain stem which controls respiration. This means that lethal overdoses do not occur with cannabis. Likewise, withdrawal symptoms from cannabis are much milder than those from opioids. Cannabinoids are stored in fat tissues, and are slowly excreted from the body over several days. Essentially the body is weaned off of marijuana so major withdrawal symptoms do not occur. Some smokes may experience irritability, insomnia or restlessness, but these symptoms go away within a day or two, even in heavy smokers. The NIH comments that these symptoms are very mild in comparison with opiate withdrawal. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that mice born to mothers regularly given high doses of THC are born with problems including poor coordination, high levels of anxiety and paralytic fear and lack of social skills. While further studies will elucidate the application of these results in humans, these studies suggest that marijuana use should be minimized in pregnant women. There has been concern that marijuana is addictive. It is true that the brain does develop a tolerance to cannabinoids, so a larger dose is required to create the same effect over time. However the addictive potential of cannabinoids is considerably lower than that many prescribed drugs. Ok. So marijuana is less addictive than opioids and other drugs, creates minimal withdrawal symptoms and has no potential for lethal overdose. What are the side effects? Some people may experience decreased movement of their intestines (potentially leading to constipation), increased heart rate and low blood pressure. The logical area of concern is the lungs. One study compared occasional and low cumulative use of marijuana vs. tobacco over a 20 year period. The marijuana smokers showed no change in lung function, while the tobacco smokers demonstrated decreased lung capacity at the end of the study. However, this is only one set of data, which is not enough to draw reasonable conclusions. More research is needed to define the effects of cannabinoids on the lungs. As marijuana becomes legalized in different states, there are people stepping up to do more research. Thanks to the recent legalizations we know more about cannabinoids and terpenes than we ever have before. The more the legal red tape is lifted the greater the research opportunities will be. So what exactly are these molecules we are talking about? The different players... Cannabinoids Cannabinoids are the best known of the active molecules in marijuana, and they also occur naturally in the body where they play a role in balance, immune function, movement, memory and neuroprotection. These molecules interact neurologically in a way very similar to endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Exercise raises levels of cannabinoids in the brain, accounting in part for the experience of “runner’s high”. Cannabinoids like anandamide help protect our brains by allowing us to forget certain physical and emotional traumas like war, abuse or other horrific memories. According to a National Geographic interview with biochemist Manuel Guzman, CBD and other non-THC cannabinoids “have shown at least anecdotal promise in treating such diseases and disorders as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, osteoporosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)”. Cannabinoids are fat soluble molecules which act differently in the body depending on how they enter it. This helps to explain the different effects of smoking vs. consuming marijuana. When cannabinoids are consumed orally, they are processed in the liver where delta-9 THC (the “normal” THC) is converted to 11-OH-THC, a more powerful psychoactive metabolite. It takes 1-6 hours for effects to be felt, and they can last for over 20 hours as the fat soluble molecules are slowly processed out. When inhaled, cannabinoids are quickly absorbed into the blood, with effects noticeable within two to ten minutes. The effects decline much more rapidly, and a smaller amount of the psychoactive 11-OH-THC is generated. Of the handful of cannabinoids that have been identified and studied the most influential are shown in the image below. THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) Our old friend THC has received new attention as interest in cannabinoids grows. It has been shown to be exceptionally effective at eliminating stress, reducing inflammation in Crohn’s and Tourette’s patients, stimulating appetite in those with eating disorders as well as calming those with PTSD and phobias. Additionally, it binds to a part of the hippocampus which improves a process referred to as Long Term Potentiation. Essentially this means it can improve your ability to learn. THC has been used since the 80’s to treat the nausea, fatigue and pain associated with HIV/AIDS and now there is evidence that it may actually slow the progression of the disease. When pure THC extracts are used at the exclusion of other cannabinoids and terpenes, it has been found to cause anxiety and increased heart rate. Our Favorite Strains with High THC #1 LSD from Barney’s Farm An Indica dominant hybrid of a powerful Skunk and THC loaded Mazar, LSD is potent weed. The high is surprisingly euphoric for an Indica, with a psychedelic edge that gives this strain its name. Type: Indica Dominant THC: 22%+ Height: Short Flowering period: 6-7 weeks #2 Pineapple Chunk from Barney’s Farm With a distinctive pineapple tang, Pineapple Chunk is a unique and well loved strain that will knock you to the floor. With some growers claiming THC levels of 25%, Pineapple Chunk will lock you to the couch. It is great for pain relief and sedative effects. Type: Indica Dominant THC: 20%+ Height: Medium Flowering period: 8 weeks #3 Satori from Mandala Seeds Called some of the strongest bud on the planet, Satori tops the charts with THC levels. The plants are resistant to spider mites and are easy to grow. The high is a classic cerebral Sativa effect, with lots of creativity and enough relaxation to ease sleep disorders and anxiety. Type: Sativa THC: 23-28% Height: Tall Flowering period: 8-10 weeks For more high THC strains, check out this page. CBD (Cannabidiol) After THC, CBD is the most well-known of the cannabinoids. Celebrated for its powerful medicinal effects without the psychoactivity of THC, high CBD strains are popular amongst medical users who want symptom relief without getting really high. In fact, CBD actually reduces the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD relieves pain, inflammation, stress and epileptic symptoms. It lowers blood sugar and has a calming impact on those suffering anxiety or insomnia. Our Favorite Strains with High CBD #1 Nebula II CBD from Paradise Seeds A very mild weed with only 6% THC, Nebula II is smooth to smoke and produces big, sticky buds. This strain is great for relieving stress, anxiety and depression. Type: Sativa CBD: 7% Height: Tall Flowering period: 7 weeks #2 A Sativa dominant hybrid, Freedom Baby has been bred to maximize CBD content. She is particularly effective at treating migraines and relieving back pain. This is great weed for pain relief without any psychoactive effects. Type: Sativa 75% CBD: 5-7% Height: Medium Flowering period: 7-9 weeks #3 Agent Orange from TGA Subcool A tall, high yielding hybrid, Agent Orange is great for both medicinal and recreational use. With high CBD and THC levels hanging around 12%, the high is balanced and energetic. Expect to be motivated, lifted out of depression and filled with creative energy. Type: Sativa/Indica CBD: Varies Height: Tall Flowering period: 9 weeks For more high CBD strains, check out this page. CBG (Cannabigerol) Think of CBG as the cannabinoid stem cell. It is the precursor to many of the other cannabinoids, and thus is found at very low levels in most strains. CBG does bind to receptors on the central nervous system and appears to have a balancing effect on the other cannabinoids. CBC (Cannabichromene) CBC is another non-psychoactive cannabinoid which reduces inflammation and relieves headaches as well as stimulating bone growth and slowing tumor growth. While it is usually only found in trace amounts in cannabis, CBC is 10 times more effective than CBD for treating anxiety and stress. It only takes a little CBC to be effective as it is slow to leave the bloodstream. Our Favorite Strains with High CBC #1 Silver Pearl Expect both a euphoric head high and a numbing body bake when you smoke Silver Pearl. This is great weed for relieving migraines and killing pain while staying productive. Type: Sativa CBC: 0.08% THC: 22% CBD:0.3% #2 Black Jack Seeds Great for relieving depression and nausea, Black Jack is the daughter of Jack Herer and Black Domina. The high is balanced and taste is sweet and smooth. This is easy smoking weed that will make you feel good, body and mind. Type: Sativa/Indica CBC: 0.07% THC: 16% CBD:0.24% CBN (Cannabinol) When THC degrades from contact with oxygen (as happens in older or poorly cured marijuana) it becomes CBN. This molecule has powerful sedative effects. There is interest in isolating it to treat insomnia, glaucoma and nerve pain. Any strain will develop more CBN as it ages or is exposed to oxygen. THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin) THCV has been getting some press in the marijuana community lately. It is the other psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. This molecule is nearly identical to THC, but has unique effects. The medical community is interested in extracting it as an anti-obesity drug. That’s right; weed with a lot of THCV actually suppresses appetite! THCV also reduces tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. For the recreational user, the important key here is that THCV creates a powerfully euphoric, clear and psychedelic high. It makes the THC hit faster but it wears off faster as well. Sound familiar? THCV levels are very high in many Sativa African landrace strains and in most Hazes. If you are looking for a euphoric high or for the benefit of weight loss effects when smoking, check out these strains: Our Favorite Strains with High THCV #1 Pineapple Purps Donald P. Land, Ph.D., President/Chief Scientist at Halent (a Bay Area cannabis testing lab), says “the all-time winner, so far, has been Pineapple Purps, which tested at 5% THCVA and a ratio of 1 to 2 relative to THCA” (the A stands for acid, as plants produce the cannabinoid in an acid form which is converted to THC or THCV when heated). Type: Hybrid THCV: 5% Height: Medium Flowering period: 8-12 weeks #2 Super Silver Haze from Green House Seeds Perhaps the most famous and popular of the Hazes, Super Silver Haze blends a euphoric high with a relaxing body stone. With its high THCV content you can expect few munchies and maybe even some weight loss after smoking this fabulous bud. Type: 80% Sativa THCV: High Yield: 450 g/m2 Flowering period: 8-12 weeks #3 Durban Poison This high yielding landrace sativa comes from South Africa. With a distinct anise flavor and mind-blowing mental high, Durban Poison has stayed popular for decades. For strains with high THCV, look for Durban Poison in the family tree. Type: Landrace Sativa THCV: High Height: Tall Flowering period: variable Terpenes Terpenes are simple hydrocarbon molecules present in all plants. They are the main molecules responsible for the odor of marijuana. Cannabis uses terpenes to attract pollinating insects and repel predatory ones. The terpenes in a bud are influenced by the genetics of that particular strain, as well as the climate and soil type the plant was grown in and the maturity level at which it was harvested. On their own some terpenes have physiological effects, but they are even more powerful when they interact with other compounds in the plant. For instance, they can regulate how much THC reaches the brain, and even modify levels of dopamine and serotonin in the blood. Up to 30% of cannabis smoke is made up of these powerful molecules. There are over 100 different terpenes and terpenoids (a terpene with an extra functional group) identified so far in cannabis. Here are a few of the most influential ones: Myrcene Also present in mangoes, myrcene is the most prevalent terpene found in marijuana. It has a clove and fruit odor. Effects: antimicrobial, antiseptic, muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antioxidant. It also allows more THC to reach the brain by increasing cell permeability. A fun trick to try… eat a mango an hour before smoking weed. The extra myrcene will boost the effects of the THC. Our Favorite Strains with High Myrcene #1 White Rhino from Green House Seeds An Indica dominant strain, White Rhino is known for her sleepy, potent stone. She is much loved by medicinal users for pain relief and sleeping disorders. Type: Indica 90% THC: 11% Yield: 900 g/m2 Flowering period: 9 weeks #2 White Widow A classic strain with over 12 awards to her name, White Widow is celebrated for her potency. With THC levels reaching as high as 25%, she packs a powerful blend of heavy stone and cerebral high. The myrcene content could help explain the massiveness of White Widow’s hit. Type: Indica/Sativa THC: 20+% Yield: 450 g/m2 Flowering period: 7-8 weeks #3 Skunk #1 This balanced hybrid is the parent of dozens of strains. It has a strong odor, smooth taste and delivers a comfortable mix of head high and mellow body stone. Seeing as it is high in myrcene and THCV, it is not surprising that everyone loves Skunk #1 and her many offspring! Type: Sativa/Indica THC: 15% Yield: 500 g/m2 Flowering period: 8-9 weeks Pinene With its signature piney scent, it is not surprising that pinene is found in the oils of many pine trees and in the common herbs, rosemary, parsley, basil and dill. Pinene in cannabis helps to brighten and moderate the high. It improves mental focus and alertness, improves memory and counters some of the effects of THC. It is also a bronchodilator which can help asthma patients, acts and an antiseptic and insect repellant. Our Favorite Strains with High Pinene #1 Trainwreck from Green House Seeds Loved for her bright, euphoric and creative high, Trainwreck is popular with daytime smokers. She offers some pain killing effects. Don’t overdo it, as too much will render you useless for till tomorrow. Type: Sativa 90% THC: 21% Yield: 700 g/m2 Flowering period: 9 weeks #2 Super Silver Haze from Green House Seeds The most popular haze in the last 30 years, Super Silver Haze is often described as a spiritual experience. She gives a bright cerebral high with just enough body stone to mellow you right out. Type: 80% Sativa THC: 15% Yield: 450 g/m2 Flowering period: 8-12 weeks #3 Jack Herer Jack Here cannabis delivers a trippy cerebral high, bordering on psychedelic. There is the body stone from her Indica heritage to keep you grounded, and the combination has made this difficult-to-grow strain some of the most sought after weed on the planet. Type: 65% Sativa THC: 15-20% Yield: 400 g/m2 Flowering period: 9-11 weeks Limonene As its name suggests, Limonene provides a powerful lemon scent to buds that are high in this terpene. It is has an uplifting effect and is anti-carcinogenic. Strains high in Limonene include: OG Kush, Super Lemon Haze and Lemon Skunk. Carene This terpene with a sweet, cedar scent is used in aromatherapy to dry runny noses and perspiration. It also eases menstrual flow. Its effects in marijuana are poorly understood as yet. Strains high in Carene: Lemon Skunk, El Nino Caryophyllene With a spicy, sweet and woody odor, this terpene is anti-inflammatory and has pain killing effects. Strains high in Caryophyllen: Super Silver Haze, Arjan’s Haze #2 Terpineol With a floral and citrus aroma, this terpene has powerfully relaxation effects. There is some speculation that it contributes to the sensation of “couch lock”. Strains high in Terpineol: White Rhino, Money Maker Linalool Lending a candy like aroma to buds, Linalool has uplifting, mood elevating effcts. Strains high in Linalool: Amnesia Haze, G-13, LA Confidential. There are many more terpenes that have been identified in marijuana, and many that beg further research. Flavonoids Flavonoids are aromatic molecules present in many plants. The ones that are unique to cannabis are called cannaflavins. These compounds not only contribute to aromatic bouquet of your bud, they are also pharmacologically active. They also act like terpenes or cannabinoids to modulate the effects of THC. Cannaflavin A: reduces inflammation 30 times more effectively than aspirin, lowers blood pressure. Apigenin: anti-inflammatory and reduces anxiety. Quercetin: antioxidant, antiviral, decreases mucus and inhibits tumor growth. Beta-sitosterol: anti-inflammatory. In Conclusion Evolutionary biologist Nolan Kane told National Geographic, “Cannabis is an embarrassment of riches.” From high protein hemp seeds to high quality fibers to high CBD oils to treat epilepsy and the potential tumor shrinking potential of cannabinoids, cannabis has a lot to offer. Neither the recreational nor the medical effects of marijuana can be attributed to a single molecule. THC is the most prevalent cannabinoid in marijuana, but it works in conjunction with a whole host of other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids to create the unique taste, smell and effects of each bud. The synergistic action of all these components is still poorly understood due to a lack of research. As laboratories begin to focus on cannabis research in states where marijuana has become legalized, more information will surface. While the federal government still states that marijuana is a drug with no medical application, the scant research available tells a different story. The interactions of many molecules in cannabis have the potential to do more than just relieve symptoms of pain and stress. It seems likely that cannabis actually inhibits and prevents tumor growth and slows the progression of HIV/AIDS. It is clear that marijuana could help many more people, if only the research continues and the legal red tape comes down. Until then, you have the choice as a grower to select the strains that are high in different terpenes or cannabinoids. Perhaps you will choose to grow Super Silver Haze, a plant that can be challenging in the grow room but will reward you with an unbeatable mind and body high and is high in THCV and pinene. Or maybe you will go with a high CBC strain like Silver Pearl. Seedbanks are acknowledging the influence of terpenes and cannabinoids as well. Green House Seeds just released cannabinoid profiles on all their strains to help you choose the right one for you. Take advantage of the growing body of information available to pick the perfect strain for your needs and your grow room.