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Not Your Parents Weed: A Starter’s Guide to the Wide World of Cannabis

If you’re returning to clinical cannabis after a long absence, you’ve probably noticed some things have changed. For one thing, cannabis often isn’t even “smoked” anymore.

While cannabis has an incredibly long and deep history as medicine, we’ve created a primer to help you learn everything to know about weed, especially as a medical treatment. In addition, we’ll get you up to speed on cannabis products you may be unfamiliar with, including extracts, tinctures, topicals and more.

Everything to Know About Weed (Well, Almost)

While humans have undoubtedly enjoyed cannabis’ pleasurable side effects for as long as they’ve been aware of the plant, from the first references to it in ancient Chinese pharmacopeia, cannabis has been understood to be a medicine. It’s been used for treating digestive disorders, chronic pain, menstrual cramps, inflammation, and many of the same treatments for which it’s commonly prescribed today.

In the United States, cannabis was a common and uncontroversial folk remedy for centuries. That began to change in the early 20th century, spurred in part by the rise of the temperance movement (culminating in the Prohibition era, 1919 – 1929) and anti-immigrant sentiments directed at migrant workers from Mexico, who brought cannabis with them.

These days, while the legal landscape is patchy due to the state-by-state decriminalization process, the medical picture is crystal clear: Cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for a long and growing list of conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Inflammation
  • Nausea and appetite loss characteristic of chemotherapy treatment
  • Epilepsy

The Wide, Wide World of Weed

Those of us who used cannabis prior to the 1990s or so might be excused for believing the only form it comes in is flower (or, sometimes, “bud”). But there’s an incredible variety of forms cannabis is available in, and each of them is particularly well-suited to certain patients and conditions.

Here’s a rundown:

  • Flower: This is simply the harvested and dried cannabis flower. It’s likely the most familiar to longtime cannabis users. Flower can be smoked, vaporized, or baked into edibles. Unfortunately, if not carefully processed and handled, it can contain mold or spores. It’s relatively bulky, and its potency tops out at roughly 25% THC—the psychoactive component in cannabis—or 5 – 8% CBD—the second most important component in cannabis, increasingly recognized as having broad and powerful applications. That said, be aware: This is likely a good deal higher than the cannabis you (or your parents) may have smoked in the 60s and 70s.
  • Extracts: Also known as concentrates, dabs, shatter, wax, and a host of other names, extracts are a highly purified form of cannabis available in liquid or oil suspensions or waxy solid formats. While some are designed to be ingested sublingually (under the tongue), most are intended to be vaporized using a vape pen, vaporizer, or specialized “dabbing rig.” Their potency is extremely high compared to flower (sometimes up to 90% THC), so it’s recommended new users go “slow and low.” On the upside, at their best, they deliver clean, readily absorbable, and effective cannabis reliably and quickly.
  • Tinctures: Somewhat like extracts, tinctures are suspensions of cannabis flower or concentrate in a liquid medium such as alcohol or glycol. They’re designed to be ingested, typically in small amounts, either swallowed or sublingually. Unless mishandled by heating or long exposure to sunlight, they are non-psychoactive, which makes them particularly suitable for those who need to keep a clear head on the job or in demanding circumstances such as childcare. Speaking of which, for this reason, tinctures are the format typically used to treat conditions such as epilepsy in children.
  • Topicals: These cannabis-infused oils and creams are designed for use directly on the skin to treat conditions such as muscle aches and are not psychoactive.

While this list may not tell you quite everything to know about weed, we hope this is a good start in getting up to speed on the uses, the forms, and the potential of this powerful medicine. If you have further questions, we’d love to hear from you! Don’t hesitate to engage a Haven employee next time you visit the dispensary; we’d be happy to tell you all we know and direct you to further resources.

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