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It goes without saying that the potency and quantity of the marijuana flower or product you consume are major contributors to how it will affect you. But there’s a lot more to it. As it turns out, no two humans or cannabis strains are the same. Even identical twins or clones brought up in different environments will turn out dissimilar. Plant, human, non-human, and environmental factors all play fascinating roles in the unique ways in which cannabis affects us.
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Fun fact: Plants don’t want to be eaten. That is, not unless they’re producing sugary, fructose-filled fruit, intentionally encouraging you to spread their seed, which is obviously less natural nowadays where we make use of the modern-day toilet. Cannabis does too, in fact, not want to be eaten, which just happens to be one major reason why it produces chemicals like THC-A, the precursor to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the most famous marijuana compound notorious for its intoxicating effects. Tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid and other phytocannabinoids, like CBG-A, are known to have insecticidal properties.
If you subscribe to the notion that God, Mother Nature, or another divine entity gave us cannabis for recreational as well as medicinal purposes, this concept may not be too far from the truth in terms of our built-in endocannabinoid systems (which we’ll touch on next in ‘human factors’). The bottom line is this: Plants produce compounds that interact with our bodies in beautifully intrinsic ways. Hence, some of their most beloved effects – from simplicities like exquisite smells and tastes (from flavonoids and terpenes) all the way over to therapeutic properties like pain relief and tumour suppression (largely linked to cannabinoids).
Strain genetics and the way plants are grown (and processed) affect the chemical composition and potency of the marijuana produced. Genetics and growing affect the potency or lack thereof. One classic example is high-THC, low-CBD strains being very intoxicating, while rising levels of CBD relative to THC lead to less of a “high” (as CBD prevents THC binding to its CB1 target receptor). Also, genetically-strong hemp grown well usually contains high amounts of CBD (cannabidiol) and little to no THC, while some poor-quality CBD products out there contain little to no CBD at all.
For the best therapeutic effects, the right genetics need to be grown in the right environment, before being carefully nurtured, and then harvested at the optimal time for potency. Add to this the way in which the harvested plant material is cured, decarboxylated, and processed into product form and there are even more dynamics at play.
Some fascinating human factors are at the forefront of how cannabis affects us all differently. Of course, you make a conscious decision on the amount or dose you consume. The way cannabis is consumed further affects the outcome. Some people choose to unhealthily smoke raw cannabis flowers, bringing with it a flood of toxic by-products, which can cause a more intoxicating effect compared to a clean, medical-grade product like a tincture, vape concentrate, or capsules.
THC mimics the body’s natural chemical anandamide, affecting brain areas responsible for controlling thinking, memory, concentration, pleasure, coordination, and movement. Edibles take longer to digest and are often highly concentrated, leading to a slowed onset but longer-lasting effects. Suppositories bypass first-pass metabolism by the liver, allowing high therapeutic amounts of THC to be consumed without an intoxicating effect. As for gender differences, oestrogen may make females more sensitive to intoxicating and pain-relieving qualities of THC, while males may be more prone to the munchies. Age too is a factor, such as the potential for harm in adolescents with their developing brains.
Additionally, “It’s genetic” or “It runs in the family” are expressions that have been thrown around for a few decades now. So much so, that we accept them unconditionally and think we understand the basic concept, but in truth, there’s nothing basic about it. Genetics are constantly evolving and can even shift in real time – a concept known as ‘epigenetics’. Things like major life trauma, viral infections, and nutritional deficiencies come to mind, which can all shift our genetic expression towards a state of disease. However, the opposite is also true. With the right ammunition, our genes can shift towards a state of ease.
While many of us now know about things like methylation and the importance of getting the right B vitamins based on our genetic composition (methylated Bs are not simply good for all), our knowledge of this field is, unfortunately still in its infancy. Despite having figured out how to modify the genome through CRISPR technology, the truth is we’re only beginning to scratch the surface, and what lies beneath needs time to carefully be uncovered. We can only hope that science and medicine might begin to catch up on many of the not-yet-well-understood healing benefits of natural and holistic therapies, and begin to discover more about genetic encoding and epigenetic modification in the next century or so.
Fascinatingly, it was first discovered in 1988 that our bodies have evolved to have intrinsic endocannabinoid systems, which consist of cannabinoid receptors with which our own innate endocannabinoids as well as phytocannabinoids (from plants) can interact. You can learn more about this in Cannabis Science. Science has since gone on to discover that roughly 20% of U.S. adults have elevated levels of the body’s natural endocannabinoids. It’s equally likely that a percentage of people genetically predisposed to have heightened levels of specific endocannabinoids, lower levels of others, and higher or lower levels of the enzymes responsible for breaking them down. All of these factors will influence tolerance levels.
The point is this: Our genetics affect the expression of cannabinoids, their receptors on our cells, and the enzymes responsible for their breakdown. CB1 and CB2 receptors are main receptors upon which THC and CBD attach. But all plant compounds (phytocannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and others) can attach themselves to various receptors to bring about varying degrees of experiences for individuals. Depending on how your genetics are encoded for cannabinoid manufacturing, receptor expression, and target enzymes, you may feel the full intoxicating effect of THC from a single drop of a tincture, or it might take 8 drops for you to enjoy your movie and get a good night’s sleep.
As with many medicines, your receptors will begin to adapt (by reducing their cellular expression), allowing you to build up a tolerance for higher doses. This adaptation is also why it’s important to wean off dependency-causing medicines like antidepressant and antianxiety medications, to allow your receptors to readjust to lowering doses and avoid nasty withdrawal symptoms. Cannabis is not dissimilar in this regard. Albeit natural, in case you haven’t realised by now, marijuana is mighty medicine.
In modern times, antibiotics and chemicals from food and agriculture have begun to wage war on the harmonious, health-promoting communities that exist within, on, and all around us. Most people have heard of the gut microbiome by now. It’s a 100-trillion strong community of all sorts of microbes living inside each and every one of us, and it has a fundamental role to play in determining whether we remain healthy or shift towards a state of disease.
Bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa, and viruses all interact with cannabis compounds in unique ways. Marijuana users have shown shifts in their microbiomes, such as shifting away from obesity and all related adverse health consequences. Cannabinoids also provide natural antimicrobial properties and may even support intestinal barrier function. In truth, we are barely scratching the surface of the unimaginable amounts of potentially beneficial interactions.
When it comes to how cannabis affects us all differently, plant, human, environmental, and these non-human factors are all related and inseparable. These microbiomes are vital for human health – from harvesting food energy to essential vitamin synthesis, gut-blood barrier function, and regulating the immune system. All of these functions play a role in our state of health or disease, right down to cellular and even genetic level, which undeniably influences how we as individuals are affected by marijuana.
The microbiome is at the very frontier of modern medicine and has a fundamental role to play in its future. Perhaps, we may see targeted therapies combining medical cannabis and probiotic support for specific health ailments one day. We were tempted to use the word “aliens” here, but the truth is that we've been one with these organisms since the beginning of time. Take a deep dive into this hidden world by reading The Future of Medicine: Listen to Your Gut Microbiome.
In terms of how marijuana affects us all differently, we can talk about the environment in two ways – cultivation and consumption. Firstly, the environment in which marijuana plants are nurtured is essential to the quality and chemical composition of final product. We’ve already outlined these in ‘plant factors’ above. Essentially, the unique strain genetics as well as the way the plant is grown can affect its cannabinoid ratio, concentration, and potency, whether you’re consuming a product rich in intoxicating THC or medicating with CBD oil.
Remember, other cannabinoids like CBG, CBC and CBC, as well as plants compounds like terpenoids and flavonoids can also express themselves differently depending on strain genetics and how a plant is grown. These cannabis chemicals all interact with each other in various ways and affect our experience via the entourage effect, whereby they are believed to be mostly synergistic and complimentary to one another.
The second environmental contributor is one that can make all the difference in the world – enough to put some off cannabis for life from their very first try (thanks to very intoxicating THC) or create a lifelong affiliation with its magical therapeutic potential. We’re talking about how the actual environment in which a person spends their time when consuming marijuana (recreational or medicinal) plays an important role in their experience.
There are many factors at play here, including the inseparable nature of plant, human, and non-human contributors already mentioned. But the elephant is the room is THC – the compound renowned for its intoxicating, psychotropic, or “stoned” effect. A person’s experience of getting “high” can differ from incessant laughter and bliss, on one end, to unpleasant paranoia and palpitations.
How does one control for potential polarity of THC? It's all about the dose and the environment. First off, start low and go slow. Trust us on this one. Next, you want to be in a calm, relaxing environment when you first try it – one with which you’re familiar and in which you feel comfortable. This includes the people you surround yourself with, if anyone at all. MCDSA’s recommendation is to start off with the lowest possible dose, like one THC tincture drop, in the comfort of your own home.
Medical marijuana is complex and needs to be tailored to fit your unique needs. If you’re suffering from a condition or symptom that you believe will benefit from the use of cannabis, but you’ve had a bad past experience, maybe it’s time to shift your perspective and give it another try under trusted guidance.
Contact us today to kick-start your medicinal journey. Let us guide you with a custom plan that fits your needs, using safe and effective full-extract cannabis oil (FECO).