Editor’s Note: While cannabis consumption in Canada is legal for adults, constraints and age restrictions vary by province. Please familiarize yourself with provincial law before engaging in consumption.
In the four years since it was legalized for recreational use in Canada, cannabis has become integrated into our daily lives relatively discreetly. While prohibitionists worried that citizens would quickly become a cohort of half-baked half-wits, instead, people from all walks of life have simply been able to access cannabis for a range of needs from pain relief to plain old enjoyment. Life has gone on more or less the same, with new brands cropping up to provide products suited to particular customer needs and technology continuing to change the way weed is consumed.
If you find yourself wondering what the difference is between THC and CBD or what extracts and edibles are, you’re not alone — and you’ve come to the right place. Read on to ramp up your cannabis savvy.
First, familiarize yourself with cannabis strains and compounds
It’s possible that the primary information you know about cannabis is that there are two “kinds”, Sativa and Indica, and two best-known compounds — or cannabinoids — called CBD and THC. But what does it all mean?
To begin, it’s key to clarify that Sativa and Indica are the names of the two types of cannabis plant; each possesses its own physical structure, growing characteristics and activated qualities upon consumption.
Sativa cannabis is known for being uplifting and providing a cerebral experience; think properties that makes you want to socialize or do something creative. Indica, on the other hand, is reported to provide mellowing effects and a “body buzz”. You will also come across cannabis products that are described as “hybrid”; these are strains that have been botanically-bred to have uniquely combined properties.
Within these categories you’ll find particular strains; these names are what you’d commonly see at a dispensary when you’re looking at a product. There are heritage descriptors for strains, like Pink Kush (an Indica strain), and new proprietary names which have become more popular as brands vie to create marketable products. Different strains possess different properties, and a resource like Leafly can help guide you through this information.
Within each strain are types of compounds, called cannabinoids. They’re the molecules that give cannabis its varied effects. THC and CBD are acronyms for tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, the two primary compounds, or cannabinoids, found in cannabis strains. CBD is likely the one most top of mind for you, as its purported anti-inflammatory and stress-relieving properties have been widely touted by lifestyle brands and wellness influencers.
Perhaps you’ve heard that CBD can help you get a good night’s sleep, for example? That’s because of the compound’s renowned pain-quelling and anxiety-alleviating properties (amongst others). So, think of it this way: If you’re having trouble sleeping because of stress or physical pain, a strain high in CBD can diminish those symptoms and ostensibly help you slumber more soundly.
In contrast, THC is what makes you feel stoned. For this reason, THC is often described as “psychoactive” or “psychotropic”, while CBD is not. But a more appropriate way to consider the difference between CBD and THC is that CBD is non-intoxicating, or that it doesn’t make you “high”; that’s the state which aims to describe the effects of cannabis like amplified sensorial experiences, giddiness, inhibition, or excitement. Indica strains that have an elevated level of THC have also been known to induce states of sleepiness — just differently from a CBD strain.
Legally-purchased cannabis products come with information about the percentages of compounds found within them, such as capsules that are 1:4 or 5:5; these describe the ratio of CBD to THC within them, and thus offer insight into the spectrum of effects you can expect. The higher the amount of THC, the more high you’ll likely feel.
Cannabis strains are all quite unique, in part because they have different types of terpenes within them. Terpenes are compounds found in cannabis that relate to the sense of smell, and are incorporated into the contributing factors that make up a strain’s effects. Just like sniffing lavender can put you in a sleepy state of mind, the terpene Linalool — which is found in the lavender plant — is also found in cannabis strains considered to have soothing and sedating qualities.
Next, consider how you want to consume cannabis
Traditionally cannabis has been best known as something to be smoked to experience its effects; but given that smoking anything has hazards consequences, there’s been much more investigation and effort put into how to modify cannabis consumption methods in the past decade.
Every consumption method comes with its own on-set time (how long it takes to feel the effects) and experiences; if you’ve got an ache in your arm, you could consume a CBD strain as an edible or use it as a topical to address this issue. But if you’re looking for a super groovy time, you wouldn’t use a topical, know what I mean?
Here’s a brief breakdown of the consumption methods you’ll come across when purchasing legal cannabis:
Flower describes the dried cannabis plant product you would put into your pipe (or joint or bong) and smoke it; there are also vaporizer types that work with dried flower. Dried cannabis is also the base for other cannabis consumables and topical products.
For example, when you vape cannabis, you’re taking in compounds from either dried cannabis or a concentrate created from the dried plant; vaping has been lauded as a “safe” alternative to smoking, but inhaling ANYTHING foreign into your lungs will have consequences. Other cannabis concentrates include extracts (oils and capsules), hash and wax.
Edibles like chocolates, cookies and gummies have become increasingly popular as people look for alternatives to smoking and vaping; and there are also cannabis-infused beverages like sparkling waters and types of tea.
Topicals describe cannabis products like creams, lotions and bath/shower products – they largely fall into the CBD strain spectrum and are used for body-centric issues like pain. There are also topical oils you can use for pain relief and intimacy, too (wink).
Finally, heed these tips
If there’s one thing to remember when you’re experimenting with cannabis, it’s start low and go slow. That means using a small amount of a cannabis product and seeing how you feel before trying more; even strains that are non-intoxicating will produce effects you might not be used to experiencing, and it’s always good to have a baseline to recall for future use.
Note that you’ll start to feel the effects of cannabis you’ve smoked or vaped more immediately than you will from a product you’ve ingested orally or eaten, so don’t eat that whole cannabis cookie in one go (even if you’re a seasoned consumer).
Speaking of keeping track of your cannabis experiences, recording what sensations and effects you feel after consumption is a good idea. There are actual strain journals on the market, but the notes function in your phone works equally as well.
And it can’t be overstated that cannabis can affect everyone differently; talk to your doctor first before use – particularly if you’re interested in its therapeutic qualities — and read up on studies that have been done to make sure you’re setting yourself up for a safe and satisfactory experience.