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Cannabis Education

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Higher Grade’s goal with providing this education is to expand our customers' and budtenders' conversations about cannabis beyond individual flavor preferences and Sativa/Indica classifications,
to include the phytochemically rich and diverse nature of cannabis and its
connection to flavor profiles and effects.

*We are not medical professionals, and this discussion is not a medical recommendation. The information we provide is for educational purposes only, and we encourage you to consult a healthcare provider if you seek medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We hope this discussion helps you understand the human body’s relationship with cannabis and aids you in determining which strains and styles have the potential to provide your desired flavors and effects.

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 BRIEF HISTORY OF CANNABIS 

Cannabis has grown naturally on the Earth for millions of years. Fossil pollen evidence shows that cannabis diverged from its genetic ancestor 27.8 million years ago, with recent studies placing ancient ancestors of modern cannabis in the Tibetan Plateau 19.6 million years ago. The ancestors of today's cannabis developed into landrace strains as they dispersed naturally throughout the world, experiencing times of growth, shrinkage, and isolation as the Earth went through periods of significant environmental change.
 

There are three types of landrace cannabis, Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis. Ruderalis is exotic and finicky, originating from the most rugged northern regions of the world and rarely, if ever, found in modern cannabis. Indica varieties mainly originate from Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, Tibet, and Nepal. Sativa varieties primarily have origins in the equatorial regions of Africa, North America, and South America.

Humans have a unique and longstanding relationship with cannabis that has lasted at least 12 thousand years. Initially, we domesticated and cultivated landrace cannabis, with very low or nonexistent THC content, for its oily seeds and strong fibers, similar to modern-day hemp. However, 5000-year-old artifacts show humans were cultivating and consuming cannabis for reasons beyond its hemp fibers, actually seeking out the psychoactive properties of THC. For example, the discovery of molecular remnants of THC in bowls used to burn plant matter at ancient Chinese burial grounds suggests a ritual use of psycho-actively potent cannabis.

 

Over time, humans bred and manipulated landrace cannabis varieties to cultivate strains with desired bud structure, flavor, aroma, environmental resiliencies, medicinal value, and psychoactive potency. Selective breeding by humans in variable climate conditions produced the parent strains of modern cannabis, known as heirloom strains. Most of the cannabis varieties we enjoy today result from landrace and heirloom strains bred together.

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 INDICA / SATIVA / HYBRID 

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The terms Indica and Sativa indicate the kind of plant, its growing style, its bud and leaf structure, and the location on the Earth where the plant originated. In the modern cannabis industry, these terms are no longer indicators of flavors or effects.
 

Indica and Sativa are varieties of landrace strains, which have developed over time in their natural environment without being crossed with other types. Indica plant varieties originate from Central Asia's cool and dry mountainous regions, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, Tibet, and Nepal. Indica plants are short and bushy with thick leaves and minimal space between the buds. The dried buds from Indica plants are tight, round, and dense.
 

Sativa varieties originated from the sunny and moist equatorial regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, North America, and South America. Sativa plants are tall with skinny leaves and plenty of space between the nodes. The dried buds of Sativa plants are fluffy, loose, and elongated.
 

When a landrace Sativa variety cross-breeds with a landrace Indica variety, the result is a Hybrid strain. Hybrid varieties can display characteristics of both Sativa and Indica, often favoring one type over the other. True landrace Indica or Sativa strains are rare and hard to come by today. Therefore, it is safe to assume the majority of cannabis genetics we see today are hybridized varieties.

Suppose we understand that every modern strain is essentially a hybrid variety. In that case, the conversation about cannabis must expand beyond Indica, Sativa, and the effects traditionally associated with these plant types. Instead, we must look more profoundly than a plant classification to understand why we are attracted to particular kinds of cannabis. So often, a specific flavor, effect, or aesthetic draws most people to different strains.
 

Traditionally Indica strains have been connected with the quintessential heavy “stoned” feeling. Indica consumers anecdotally report feeling deep body relaxation and noticed relief from chronic pain, anxiety, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Sativa strains are usually associated with a cerebral energetic “high” that encourages creativity and productivity. In addition, Sativa consumption is reported to bring relief from migraines, depression, nausea, pain, and lack of appetite.

 

We are not here to discredit these widely held experiences with cannabis but rather encourage a conversation beyond plant classifications and explore the phytochemically-rich nature of cannabis responsible for its flavors, effects, and reported medicinal value.

*Please note that when discussing the effects and medicinal value of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, we usually reference studies of isolated versions of the particular phytochemical, many of which are performed on rodents or cell cultures, not humans. Higher Grade is in no way suggesting that consuming cannabis that contains any or all of the discussed phytochemicals will produce a medicinal effect or cure an illness, especially regarding anti-cancer properties. Cannabis is still federally illegal, which means research on the impact cannabis consumption has on various health issues and diseases is extremely limited.

*Please note that when discussing the effects and medicinal value of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, we usually reference studies of isolated versions of the particular phytochemical, many of which are performed on rodents or cell cultures, not humans. Higher Grade is in no way suggesting that consuming cannabis that contains any or all of the discussed phytochemicals will produce a medicinal effect or cure an illness, especially regarding anti-cancer properties. Cannabis is still federally illegal, which means research on the impact cannabis consumption has on various health issues and diseases is extremely limited.

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 PHYTOCHEMICALS 

Phytochemicals are active compounds responsible for the colors, flavors, aromas, effects, and therapeutic value of cannabis. Phytochemicals are found all over the cannabis plant, with the highest concentration in the trichomes. Trichomes are the shiny, sticky, bulbous “crystals” that cover the flowers, upper leaves, and stems. Trichomes develop during the flowering cycle and appear clear until the plant matures, then they become dark and cloudy. These resin glands house a molecular mixture of hundreds of active phytochemicals, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. These are the most well-known and well-studied of the many active phytochemicals.
 

Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

Most people know that consuming cannabis can produce a psychoactive or mind-altering effect and that THC is the culprit. THC is one of many compounds produced by cannabis, known as cannabinoids. Upon discovery in the ’60s, cannabinoids were first thought to be unique to the cannabis plant. However, over the last few decades, we have come to understand that humans and cannabinoids are intrinsically connected.

We produce endocannabinoids internally that are part of a complex cell-signaling system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The purpose of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis within our bodies. We produce endocannabinoids, as needed, to keep our internal functions in balance. Two primary endocannabinoids are identified; anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids bind to receptors located all over the body as an ECS response to things like stress or pain.

 

There are two main types of endocannabinoid receptors in the body where endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are active. CB1 receptors are found primarily in the central nervous system, which includes nerves in the brain and spinal cord, and they affect memory, cognition, coordination, movement, appetite, emotion, energy, and immunity. CB2 receptors are located primarily in the peripheral nervous system, which includes all the nerves that branch out from the brain and spinal cord and extend to our muscles and organs, and affect our renal system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, reproductive system, immune system, digestive system, connective tissue, bone, skin, and eyes.

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Cannabis plants produce over 100 different cannabinoids, also called phytocannabinoids, that interact with our CB1 and CB2 receptors and other receptors to affect our internal balance. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the most known cannabinoids, followed by CBG (cannabigerol), CBC (cannabichromene), and CBN (cannabinol). Cannabis plants do not directly produce these cannabinoids and instead synthesize the cannabinoid acid CBGA, the chemical precursor to THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. Specific enzymes inside the plant break down most CBGA and direct it toward one of the previously mentioned cannabinoid acid lines.

The resulting cannabinoid acids, THCA, CBDA, and CBCA, and the leftover CBGA must be activated through a process known as decarboxylation to produce the sought-after cannabinoids THC, CBD, CBC, and CBG. Decarboxylation of cannabinoids happens naturally and partially over time through drying and curing, but more powerfully and direct with the application of heat, such as smoking, vaporizing, and baking.

Alternatively, CBNA, the precursor to the very sedative cannabinoid CBN, is synthesized through the decomposition of THCA, which happens over time from exposing dried cannabis to the air. Similarly, CBNA must be decarboxylated to yield CBN.

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 CANNABINOIDS 

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Dried cannabis flower is rich in THC’s biological precursor THCA, which, unlike THC, is not psychoactive. It has therapeutic value, relieving insomnia, inhibiting cancer cell growth, suppressing muscle spasms, increasing appetite, and acting as a neuroprotective agent. THCA does this by activating CB2 receptors without altering the mind. Most people cannot access the THCA in their cannabis, as it is converted to THC when heat is applied. If you are interested in the therapeutic effects of isolated THCA, isolated versions exist in a patch, tincture, and topical forms.

Effects of THC
Changes in perception, mood, consciousness, and behavior, Antispasmodic, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, appetite stimulating, antinausaint, antiemetic, sedative, anticancer, bronchodilator

THC is the most active of all cannabinoids, and it’s the molecule responsible for the feeling of being “high.” THC can activate CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors and other receptors in the body, making it very pharmacologically (medicinally) powerful. In addition, THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid, and by activating specific CB1 receptors in our central nervous system, it can affect temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness, and behavior. Consumption of THC can be intoxicating, inducing feelings of euphoria and enhanced senses.
 

Studies of the use of isolated THC have shown it can offer relief from muscles spasms, convulsions, pain, and inflammation, with 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin and double the power of hydrocortisone. Additionally, THC is a bronchodilator, opens the lungs, making it easier to breathe.

 

THC is a neuroprotective antioxidant, targeting oxidative stress in the brain to protect neurons by regulating glutamate production. Glutamate is a powerful neurotransmitter that, at normal levels, is crucial for brain function, but at too high levels can become toxic and cause cellular damage. THC can stimulate the appetite by binding to and activating CB1 receptors in the brain and gut dealing with hunger, satiety, and food palatability.

THC’s activity on CB1 receptors and intracellular pathways increases levels of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage, partially accounting for “the munchies” many people experience with consuming cannabis. THC can reduce nausea and vomiting by activating specific CB1 receptors in the brain and stomach. THC can be very sedative when activating our CB1 receptors that deal with cycadean rhythm.

Studies of isolated THC show it is valuable in cancer treatment for its palliative, appetite-stimulating, antiemetic power, and antitumor activity. THC is currently being studied for its potential to impair tumor progression by inducing cancer cell death (apoptosis) and inhibiting tumor cell proliferation and invasion.

 

While THC has a rich therapeutic value, it can cause unwanted side effects when consumed in significant amounts. For example, after smoking THC-rich cannabis or eating a potent edible, some people report feeling anxious and paranoid. THC is also known to cause short-term memory loss, as it temporarily reduces the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.

A Note on POTENCY:

When we discuss the potency of our Higher Grade strains, we are referring to the Total THC percentage. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s 2019 Hemp Rules, a sample’s “Total THC” potency is calculated at a conversion rate of 87.7% THCA to THC.

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CBD can be an anti-convulsant and is studied as a possible therapeutic agent for treating epilepsy. Like THC, CBD has extensive cancer-fighting potential. Different studies of CBD’s effect on cancer cells show, in some cases, it is a potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth and invasion, as well as an inducer of cancer cell death.
 

CBDA, the chemical precursor to CBD, has shown the potential to have similar effects as CBD, only more powerful. Unfortunately, HG strains have negligible CBDA and CBD, as modern cannabis strains are typically cultivated for high THC levels. If the therapeutic and non-psychoactive effects of CBD and CBDA are what you are interested in, consider looking for 100% CBD flower, patches, tinctures, capsules, topicals, or edibles with isolated CBD/CBDA.


Effects of CBD

Anti-nausea and vomiting, neuroprotective, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, acne-fighting, pain perception and pain relief, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, cancer-fighting

CBD is the most commonly found phytocannabinoid in hemp varieties, with smaller amounts found in modern cannabis strains. CBD is a powerful cannabinoid; however, it is not psychoactive or mind-altering like THC. CBD does not directly activate CB1 receptors like THC, and when consumed together, CBD can block CB1 receptors, reducing THC’s ability to stimulate them. As a result, CBD can help mitigate the adverse effects of too much THC, like memory loss, elevated heart rate, hunger, and anxiety. If you experience anxiety or memory loss occasionally with cannabis use, it might be good to keep a high CBD strain or isolated CBD product on hand.
 

CBD is not directly active at our CB2 receptors either. However, CBD can slow down activity at our CB2 receptors, decreasing inflammation and soothing the body by regulating the absorption of our endocannabinoids, anandamide, and adenosine. In addition, CBD can modulate multiple non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels, extending its therapeutic activity beyond our ECS, interacting with our opioid, serotonin, and dopamine receptors, as well as enhancing norepinephrine activity.
 

Studies of isolated CBD have shown it aids in relaxation and reduces anxiety by activating 5-HT serotonin receptors. CBD can also affect nausea and vomiting by interacting with the same serotonin receptors in the brain and gut. In addition, it can be a neuroprotective agent, as it protects neurons from the glutamate toxicity associated with neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. Additionally, CBD is a far more potent antioxidant than Vitamin C (ascorbate) or Vitamin E (tocopherol) and can be a powerful antibacterial, and antifungal agent, with significant effect against MRSA. CBD is becoming popular as an acne-fighting agent in many facial products for its ability to reduce excess sebum (oil) production at the root source of acne. Through desensitizing specific receptors in the body that deal with pain perception, CBD has great potential to aid in pain relief.

CBC is another primary cannabinoid that stems from the cannabinoid acid CBGA. It binds poorly to CB1 receptors in the brain and does not produce psychoactive effects.
 

However, CBC interacts very well with our receptors linked to pain perception, showing promise as an effective pain reliever. Studies of isolated CBC show it's a powerful uptake inhibitor of anandamide, meaning it prevents the quick breakdown of the endocannabinoid, allowing more to remain in the bloodstream. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid and a neurotransmitter created in parts of the brain that deal with memory, motivation, movement control, and complex thought processes. Additionally, anandamide exhibits antianxiety and antidepressant effects. Anandamide has vigorous activity against breast cancer cells, and because the presence of CBC increases the amount of the endocannabinoid, CBC could be considered a chemoprotective agent.
 

CBC has anti-inflammatory effects and suppresses excessive lipid production in the sebaceous glands, making it a potential acne treatment. Research on isolated CBC shows it positively impacts cells essential to healthy brain function, helping to combat the oxidative stress, toxicity, and inflammation that lead to neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The CBCA found in raw cannabis is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, and like other cannabinoid acids, isolated versions exist in capsules, topicals, and tinctures.

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Effects of CBC

Increased brain function, antianxiety, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and acne-fighting

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CBN is a very sedative cannabinoid with a slight affinity for CB1 receptors, making it mildly psychoactive, especially with the presence of THC. Research on CBN is still minimal; however, it has demonstrated anticonvulsant and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as strong activity against MRSA. It may promote bone formation through its ability to stimulate dormant stem cells in the marrow that differentiate into various cell types like bone cells, cartilage cells, and muscle cells.

Limited studies have shown CBN to stimulate the concentration and production of multiple hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone and testicular testosterone. CBN does not stem from the enzymatic breakdown of CBGA and should be understood as the oxidative by-product of THC. CBNA, unlike the other major cannabinoid acids, comes from the breakdown of THCA due to prolonged exposure to air or oxidation.

The resulting CBNA becomes CBN up decarboxylation during consumption. If the potentially powerful and sedative effects of CBN are what you are after, leave some of your flower unsealed and exposed to the air and let the THCA convert naturally to CBNA, or search out tinctures, capsules, or topicals with isolated versions.

CBG Most strains have very little CBG, as much of its chemical parent CBGA is directed toward synthesizing THCA, CBDA, and CBCA. Any leftover CBGA becomes CBG when decarboxylated by heat or over time through drying. CBG has minimal activity at CB1 receptors and is not psychoactive. CBG helps treat glaucoma because it acts on endocannabinoid receptors in the eye, reducing intraocular pressure. Additionally, CBG can treat fungal over-growth and bacterial infections like MRSA. Research has shown that CBG offers relief from pain and inflammation and has stronger muscle relaxing properties than THC. Like other cannabinoids, CBG is a strong uptake inhibitor of anandamide (AEA), allowing more to remain in the bloodstream, to be utilized by the ECS. CBG may be a future treatment in bladder disorders, as studies have shown it reduces contractions in the human bladder. Lab tests show CBG has robust activity against certain types of colon cancer, soft tissue cancer, and breast cancer, making it a promising addition to cancer treatment.

 

CBGA, the chemical precursor to all major cannabinoid acids, as found in raw cannabis, has been shown to reduce oxidative stress associated with cardiovascular and other diseases. With the recent buzz around CBG, cultivators have started to experiment with breeding high CBGA strains, which like high CBDA strains, will not get you “high” but could have significant therapeutic value. CBGA can be extracted from cannabis plants a few weeks into the flowering cycle and converted into CBGA/CBG tinctures, topicals, patches, and capsules.

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*Please note that when discussing the effects and medicinal value of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, we usually reference studies of isolated versions of the particular phytochemical, many of which are performed on rodents or cell cultures, not humans. Higher Grade is in no way suggesting that consuming cannabis that contains any or all of the discussed phytochemicals will produce a medicinal effect or cure an illness, especially regarding anti-cancer properties. Cannabis is still federally illegal, which means research on the impact cannabis consumption has on various health issues and diseases is extremely limited.

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Immersive Cannabis Experience

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Get immersed in education related to cannabis & terpenes and make an informed decision on the strains you consume.

Terpenes

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In depth information on Terpenes, their effects and how they relate to the way we consume cannabis.