Get Started with Cannabis: A Comprehensive Overview of Medical Marijuana
October 30, 2015
You’ve finally decided to take the plunge and try medical cannabis. Perhaps you’ve received your medical marijuana recommendation, but are wondering “Now what?” Patients are often confused and many do not know where to start.
We recently chatted with Brant Hindman, resident Patient Guide with Herba Buena, regarding his advice for new cannabis patients. Herba Buena is a California medical cannabis collective which "creates artisan-crafted products for solution-based medicine". Brant and founder Alicia Rose interact with patients through their monthly Social Clubs where members receive personalized consultations in a group setting. Social clubs allow for a tasting experience of Herba Buena's product line so each person finds the medicinal marijuana that is right for them.
We always suggest speaking to your doctor or a trusted advisor at a reputable dispensary or collective before ingesting medicinal marijuana for the first time. Below is some advice on how to obtain the right medical marijuana for you.
Find a Reputable Dispensary
It's important to start with a reputable and knowledgeable dispensary. A reputable dispensary will do lab testing, which is important in the largely unregulated cannabis marketplace. Lab testing will check for pesticides, molds, fungus, and Ecoli among other substances that may negatively impact your health.
A knowledgeable dispensary will also have people on staff capable of giving good advice. Brant says:
“In my experience, I do not believe that most people who advise in dispensaries take the time to really listen and give personalized advice to the patients who walk through the door. Finding the right dispensary should be like finding a trusted advisor. Call around, ask your friends, see who you get a good feeling from before you go in. Go to the place that is going to take the time to listen to your questions and give you good answers that’s personalized to your specific needs. It’s also important to find a dispensary that carries a wide variety of medicinal marijuana, as not everyone can or wants to smoke to receive the effects of this amazing plant.”
Communicate Your Medical History & Symptoms
Once you find the right dispensary, it’s important to clearly communicate your medical history (if necessary) and define the symptoms you are trying to treat. Are you looking for something to help with chronic pain, an anti-inflammatory or are you struggling with insomnia? If you have cancer are you trying to quell nausea or trying to eat more?
Talk with a reputable ‘bud master’, the patient advisor within a dispensary, or doctor if available. A good advisor should be able to recommend an appropriate medicinal marijuana product for your condition. On this point, Brant says:
“When a new patient comes to us, we want understand symptoms they are experiencing, and what exactly they are trying to treat. We like to know as much as we can about their unique personal circumstance. How sensitive is their endocannabinoid system? Have they had any bad experiences with medicinal marijuana before? What are their preferred or prescriptive methods of ingesting cannabis? We need to understand their medical history, as well as their symptoms, so the recommendations that are made are a pairing of both the most recent scientific research and the best organic medicine that can be found/created.”
Your Reaction to Cannabis is Unique
People respond to cannabis in different ways. Some people are more sensitive to THC, the psychoactive component within cannabis. Other people are less sensitive and can tolerate larger doses. Before selecting a medicine, it is important to think about whether you are comfortable with the ‘high’ you may feel with a medicine that is THC-heavy. Some people prefer to ingest products that have zero psycho-activity.
“As an advisor, I strive to understand what experience the patient may be comfortable with. We always suggest that people new to marijuana start with an elixir (sublingual tincture) and then perhaps later they can move to a vaporizer, which is going to deliver more of a punch. We know that everyone has different sensitivity to cannabis and how his or her unique system reacts with cannabis will be different to the next person. The molecules from cannabis work differently in each person’s brain, so the result is not always consistent from person to person.”
Understand Cannabinoids and Their Effect
Cannabinoids are what make the cannabis plant so unique. The two most prevalent cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are THC and CBD. THC is what makes marijuana psychoactive. CBD (cannabidiol) has been found to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and it is not psychoactive. There are upwards of 100 cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, but CBD and THC are the biggest stars.
What’s interesting about cannabinoids is that they all work together to provide a synergistic effect within the body’s endocannibinoid system. Cannabinoids work together to create stability and optimal health within our body. Some refer to cannabis as an adaptagenic medicine due to its ability to balance the body’s internal system.
When you ingest cannabinoids they travel through the body and end up in your brain, binding to one or both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Depending on which receptor the cannabinoid prefers, it will alter the kind of relief you may feel. Both CBD and THC work together to create a balanced system, in conjunction with the myriad of other cannabinoids. This is what is referred to as the ‘entourage’ effect, meaning that the different cannabinoids work together to produce an overall effect.
Depending on your symptoms, you may want more THC or more CBD. To this point, Brant commented:
“If someone has cancer they may want to have a medicine that is higher in THC. There are studies that show THC can target some types of cancerous tumors. It is also a well known treatment for the nausea associated with chemotherapy. CBD is also being used as a treatment for some types of cancer due to its ability to attach to cancer cells, causing them to destroy themselves. Ultimately, finding the right forms and ratios of CBD to THC is important in the treatment of your condition.
If a person has insomnia, they may think about a higher THC ratio. Personally, I’d recommend a product such as our low dosed ‘Lullaby’ which is functionally dosed to be effective, yet does not leave any hangover effects the next day. CBD, is just a wonder drug. It can drastically reduce the amount of seizures people with epilepsy experience. CBD helps people from a pain and inflammation standpoint, people with arthritis and fibromyalgia and anecdotally, it has even shown promise as a treatment for some skin cancers as well.”
Look at Ratio of CBD to THC – It Matters
CBD is non-psychoactive and THC is psychoactive, and almost all products are a combination of these cannabinoids. Flowers or strains, will always display a percentage of THC to CBD. For the most part, dispensaries almost exclusively sell flowers that are THC-heavy. Other medicinal products such as tinctures, drinks and edibles will present products with a ratio in milligrams of THC to CBD.
If you are looking for a non-psychoactive product you will look for a high ratio of CBD to THC. Conversely, if you are OK with psycho-activity you will seek a product that either has an equal ratio or one where the THC is higher than the CBD. Brant commented:
“Sometimes people can feel anxious or paranoid with too much THC. CBD counteracts and is an antidote to THC. It does not lower the level of THC in your body but the THC becomes less impactful as a psychoactive. The CBD can actually ground you and your nervous system. Understanding the ratio of THC to CBD in your product will help you better understand the overall effect you may experience with the cannabis you ingest.”
You Don’t Need to Smoke Your Medicine-Necessarily
Brant says “People are often shocked that they don’t need to smoke flowers in order to imbibe with their medicine. There is an enormous amount of choice in the market today and all kinds of products a patient can choose from.” Among the myriad of choices are edibles-both food and drink, tinctures, sublingual (under the tongue) sprays, pills, topicals, among others. Some forms of medical cannabis are faster acting, such as smoking and sublinguals. Edibles can take as long as an hour to take effect, but can also last longer, sometimes up to 3-6 hours. When considering different types of medicine, consider that not all dispensaries offer a wide choice of products. In fact many dispensaries will only offer flowers (bud) for sale.
Microdose Your Medicine
Brant says his approach to dosage, is always to proceed with caution in the beginning. “At Herba Buena we are very big on micro dosing, or taking small doses at first until you find the right dosage for you.” As every person reacts differently to both CBD and THC, it is wise to start with a smaller amount and slowly ramp up to larger dosages. Brant says:
“Over time, finding your tolerance to THC is very important. When you start with a new product, start small. If it is a vaporizer, take a tiny puff and wait 15 minutes. Taking a one second puff is radically different from taking three or four puffs. If you are new to cannabis, you may suddenly find that you are extremely uncomfortable for a good stretch of time. It’s important to know what effect you ultimately want. We always suggest that first time users start with our elixirs (tinctures) as they have very small amounts of THC, so a person can work up from there.”
Although cannabis products often come with recommended dosages, it is highly dependent on the person as well as that particular batch of medicine. The percentage of THC and CBD can vary from strain to strain, crop to crop and batch to batch. Lab testing has shown that not all products are accurately labeled. In addition, the FDA does not currently regulate cannabis products. Brant gives the following advice:
“Edibles are a great example of where microdosing is imperative. A typical dose may be 85 mg but often a person will not tolerate more than 10mg. It can take up to an hour for an edible to take effect so often people will eat too much of a chocolate bar for instance, and then feel terrible for a 3 to 6 hour time period. Read the label, use caution and start small.”
Organic vs. Industrial Farming
According to Brant, it is important to know how your cannabis is grown. He says:
“Outdoor, organic farming creates a full flower medicine, which also equals healthier medicinal marijuana overall. The stars and the soil and the air are integrated systems, which help in the creation of that superior medicine. This is opposed to an industrial setting in an artificial environment, artificial lighting and hydroponics. Ultimately, this is a laboratory creation made on top of concrete.”
There is no doubt that non-organic, industrial farming sometimes relies on the use of pesticides and other dubious chemicals to produce larger more visually appealing buds. Brant says:
“Often non-organic flowers sell better because they actually look better. It is analogous to a body building competition. Before the competition the body builder will use more steroids, spray tan and artificially pump themselves up before going on display. This is the same with cannabis flowers for sale. We live in the age of Frankin-Weed. All of this can be avoided, by finding the right collective to join and trusted advisors to guide you along your way.”
Do Your Homework
In summary, doing your homework and proceeding with caution will most likely result in finding the best medicinal marijuana for you. Seek out a trusted advisor, whether that is your primary care doctor, a medical cannabis doctor, a naturopath or a reputable dispensary with a knowledgeable bud master. Taking the time to find the right medicinal marijuana for your symptoms can often give excellent results and be a pleasurable rather than confusing experience.