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September 25, 2018

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Marijuana for your health: Understand the chemical compounds in cannabis

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Steve Marcus

Steve Cantwell, owner/operator of Green Life Productions, displays some marijuana buds during a tour of the Green Life Productions grow facility in Las Vegas Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Tony Candelaria, a budtender at the Exhale Nevada marijuana dispensary, spent his early career educating people about nutrition and fitness as a personal trainer and smoothie vendor in Los Angeles.

He began working in California’s marijuana industry in 2016 before he moved to Las Vegas, where state law requires the chemical properties of the plant to be listed for buyers.

“I learned in California that when budtenders could educate people on weed, their sales improved,” he said. “But it’s a weird market because there’s no mandatory lab testing there, so you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Candelaria is part of a 30-person team at Exhale Nevada that focuses on educating people about marijuana’s chemical compounds before they make a purchase. Dispelling common misconceptions about weed’s chemical properties and effects is often the team’s biggest challenge, he said.

“A lot of times you get buyers that come in and just ask for the highest THC strain or either a strong indica or sativa,” he said. “But there’s so much more to finding the right strain.”

Contrary to popular belief, indica strains don’t always give users a relaxed, sedative effect and sativa strains don’t always provide users with an energetic and euphoric high, Candelaria said. Years of marijuana cross-breeding and mislabeling in both the legal and illegal markets has made evaluating a strain’s cannabinoid and terpene properties more important than ever, he said.

Strains

• Indica: Marijuana products produced by indica plants generally have higher cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations and lower tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) counts than sativas. Indica strains are known for their sedative effects and are most commonly used for pain relief, appetite stimulation, relaxation and assistance with falling asleep.

• Hybrid: Combination strains of both indica and sativa plants come in three general variations. Sativa-dominant hybrids combine the euphoric brain effects typical of sativa strains with a slight relaxing effect to a user’s body. 50/50 hybrids produce a near-equal balance of head and body highs, and indica-dominant hybrids provide full-body pain relief with a slight head high.

• Sativa: Sativa strains are known for their high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels that contribute to euphoric feelings for users. Sativas boost serotonin levels in the brain and are popularly used to promote creativity while treating anxiety, depression and lethargy.

Cannabinoids

The most active ingredients “by far” in marijuana, cannabinoids like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) provide users with a range of effects, from head highs to pain relief and sleep aid, said Todd Denkin of Las Vegas-based DigiPath Labs. Less common cannabinoids like Cannabinol (CBN) and Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv) help reduce anxiety and suppress appetite.

Of about 110 known cannabinoids, THC and CBD are the most common. Below is a list of their functions as well as those of the next four most common cannabinoids.

Each marijuana strain is made up of different cannabinoids with varying potencies. Industry officials say patients can find strains to suit their own health needs through research and consultations with dispensary budtenders.

• THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol): Affecting mainly the central nervous and immune systems, THC is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. It’s used specifically for painkilling, anti-inflammatory and appetite-stimulating effects. It can also combat depression.

• CBD (Cannabidiol): Researchers say the nonpsychoactive, second-most common cannabinoid has shown the most medical potential among cannabinoids, and actually has an antipsychotic effect that can decrease the high from THC when taken after THC consumption. It’s also touted as a potent anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety compound.

• CBN (Cannabinol): With about 10 percent the psychoactive potency effect of THC, CBN is used as a sleep agent to help users suffering from insomnia. It also helps with anxiety and convulsions. CBN is the primary product of THC breakdown, meaning light and oxygen exposure can cause CBN content of a marijuana strain to increase as its THC content degrades.

• THCv (Tetrahydrocannabivarin): Its molecular composition is identical to THC, but THCv’s molecular sequence is different. It produces a more psychoactive and energetic high than THC, and researchers say that instead of increasing a person’s appetite, THCv suppresses it.

• CBC (Cannabichromene): CBC does very little on its own. But when paired with high amounts of THC, CBC can strengthen THC’s painkilling, anti-inflammatory, appetite-stimulating and depression combating effects. Limited research suggests that CBC on its own can work as treatment for acid reflux by reducing gastrointestinal inflammation.

• CBG (Cannabigerol): Acting as a potent muscle relaxant and anti-anxiety treatment, CBG is also touted as an agent for blocking the growth of tumors.

Terpenes

Terpenes are found in lesser quantities in marijuana. Metaphorically, budtenders tell clients to picture cannabinoids as a car and terpenes as its driver. Or in Candelaria’s case, picture cannabinoids as the cake and terpenes as the frosting. Together, terpenes with the cannabinoids produce an “entourage effect,” working together to produce and enhance various aspects of the plant’s psychoactive effects.

• Pinene: Alpha-pinene is the most prevalent terpene in nature, giving pine trees their fresh smell and serving as a natural insect repellent. Found in popular marijuana strains Chemdawg and Trainwreck, among others, alpha-pinene relaxes and widens the bronchial muscle of users, and is thought to be a helpful asthma-treating agent. Cannabis researchers believe the terpene also aids in helping a user become more alert.

• Beta-Pinene: Found in Strawberry Cough and Island Sweet Skunk strains, among others, beta-pinene has more of a parsley and basil scent. It can produce a more euphoric high for pot users and is believed to assist in relieving depression.

• Limonene: With a citrus aroma and taste, it is found in lemons—as its name suggests—and many sativa strains, like Chernobyl. Like beta-pinene, limonene is used as a mood-booster and contributes to an uplifting, euphoric high. It’s a strong anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogen used to help with acid reflux and digestive problems.

• Myrcene: Believed to act in synergy with THC to create an enhanced high, myrcene is known for its sedative effects and is used as a sleep aid. It has a citrusy scent and is prevalent in mangos.

• Terpineol: Found in many of the same strains as alpha-pinene, terpineol has a floral, lilac fragrance and causes drowsiness while helping users to relax. It’s used as a sleep aid and general sedative.

• Linalool: Associated with lavender, linalool is found in over 200 species of plants, as well as popular strains Grand Daddy Purple and Purple Kush, among others. Linalool has been touted as a calming agent, used to reduce anxiety and pain. Like CBD, linalool is believed to have anti-bacterial properties that might be effective in treating the core causes of acne.

• Camphene: Known for its damp-smelling woodland odor with a hint of fir needles, camphene could play a role in reducing heart disease, researchers say. Recommended as an alternative to pharmaceutical lipid-lowering agents, camphene is also found in products like camphor oil, citronella oil and ginger oil.

• Humulene: Prevalent in hops, coriander and several other herbs and flowers, humulene gives beer its “hoppy” flavor. It’s found in Gorilla Glue strain. Humulene is an anti-inflammatory and might play a role in eliminating cancer.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.