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Cannabis Vocabulary 101: What's in this?

Most dispensaries have menus available online so that you can take a look before going to the store. Remember these terms when looking at labels, and use these terms when speaking with budtenders to get the products that work best for you!
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman
November 22, 2023

It’s holiday time. A time for family, food, and relatives asking you about weed. With access to cannabis spreading across the country, the canna-curious are often coming to us experienced tokers to ask about products, effects, and how to enjoy their cannabis experience. Of course, their first stop should be Personal Plants, but to help your aunties, parents and grandparents navigate the world of legal cannabis, here is a review of some of the terms they might find on product labels in a dispensary, and what they mean.

What’s in this?

There are hundreds of components in the cannabis plant that act in harmony to produce an effect (think of it like a 200 piece orchestra!). However, the two main categories you will see on a label are cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids are the chemicals that bind to the endocannabinoid receptors in our bodies. Terpenes are the smells in the plant, and like cannabinoids, can produce an effect. Both cannabinoids and terpenes have therapeutic properties. Here are some of the most common:

THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol: This is the cannabinoid most responsible for the feeling of being high. In cannabis flower, THC and other cannabinoids are shown as a percentage. In manufactured products like edibles and tinctures, they are shown as mg. In many states, 10mg of THC is considered a standard dose, but beginners, a dose of 2-5 mg is more appropriate. 

CBD or Cannabidiol: This is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that, like THC, has therapeutic properties. CBD can make you feel relaxed, but most people say it does not make them feel high or impaired. 

Minor cannabinoids: Sometimes you will see edibles and tinctures with cannabinoids like CBG, CBN and THCV. These are referred to as minor cannabinoids because they naturally occur in the plant with less abundance than THC and CBD. They also have therapeutic properties. In raw flower, it is tough to create a strain through breeding with enough of these minor cannabinoids to impact the effect. However, these cannabinoids can be isolated and added to edibles and tinctures as an ingredient (more on that below). We are just starting to understand the therapeutic properties of minor cannabinoids, but so far research suggests that CBN may aid with sleep, and consumers report that THCV suppresses appetite (like an anti-munchie!) but more research is needed. 

Terpenes: Not all cannabis products have the terpenes on the label, but they are in every cannabis flower. Terpenes are in other plants as well. Pinene makes a pine tree smell like pine. Limonene makes a lemon smell like a lemon. These terpenes can make a difference in how a particular plant makes you feel. You can have two cannabis strains that each have 20% THC, but different terpenes, and the effect can be very different. Here are some common terpenes found in cannabis flower:

Limonene: Smells like citrus. Can produce an uplifting effect and help with digestion.

Pinene: Smells like a pine tree. Also uplifting and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Myrcene: Smells like mango and a bit dusky. Relaxing, and often blamed for “couch lock”.

Linalool: Floral (found in lavender), relaxing and can help with anxiety.

Beta-Caryophyllene: Earthy and spicy. Can act as an anti-bacterial. 

How was this made? Reading the label of manufactured products

In addition to telling you the cannabinoid and (sometimes) the terpene content of your edible, beverage or tincture, one way that cannabis products differentiate themselves is by production method. Here are some ways that cannabis companies describe their process on the label.

Isolate and Distillate: When manufactured products are made, many times, the plant is broken down into its key ingredients (cannabinoids and terpenes) and these are isolated and then added back into the final product. The source of the ingredient is not important. If you are isolating THC for use in an edible, you just need enough biomass (starter plant material) to extract enough THC to make your edible product. You can then add the exact amount of THC to the product during manufacturing. Many times, the oil in vape pens is made this way, with THC and terpenes being mixed together as isolated ingredients. Using isolates and distillates allows for control and specificity around what will be in the final product. There is reason to believe that this method, although it offers targeted cannabinoid and terpene content, reduces the therapeutic value because it leaves out some of the naturally occuring components of the plant. Think orange juice vs. a whole orange.

Single Strain: You might see this on an edibles package or tincture bottle. It means that the cannabinoids and terpenes in the product come from one strain of cannabis. So, rather than biomass of various strains being the source of isolated cannabinoids and terpenes, in this case, only one strain is used to make the product. So, for example, if you see an edible that says it is “single strain” Blue Dream, that means that the strain Blue Dream was used to make the ingredients in the edible. The idea is that the product should give the same effect as smoking Blue Dream. Sometimes the source strain is still isolated into its various components before being added back into the product. But, sometimes, it is what we call a full spectrum or whole plant process.

Full spectrum: This means that the product has multiple cannabinoids and terpenes in it vs. just isolated THC or CBD. The cannabinoids and terpenes may still be added in the form of isolates, but the finished product contains the full spectrum of the cannabis plant. This is thought to add to the balanced effect and therapeutic value through a phenomenon called The Entourage Effect. 

Whole Plant: This production method takes Full Spectrum a step further. In full spectrum products, the cannabinoids and terpenes still may be in the form of isolates, just mixed together to make the product. If a label says Whole Plant, it means that rather than use isolated ingredients, the whole plant was used in the extraction so that the resulting product is as close to the natural plant as possible. This is a common process for making tinctures, where a solvent like alcohol is used with the whole plant to extract the active ingredients before the remaining solids are drained out. For those looking to preserve the therapeutic effect of the entire plant, this is what you are looking for. Whole plant preparations are mostly found in tinctures. One of the downsides of whole plant extraction is that the resulting product will have the cannabinoid and terpene content of the source plant. In isolate-created products, the manufacturer can add specific levels and ingredients to create a product evenly balanced with a variety of cannabinoids and terpenes.

What will this do?

One of the more recent developments in cannabis manufacturing is the fast-acting edible or beverage. Traditionally, when cannabis is swallowed, it passes through the liver. This both increases the time to feel the effect, and transforms THC into a stronger version of itself. Both of these have been barriers to adoption by people who don’t want to wait an hour to feel the effects and find that when they do feel the effect, it is too strong. So, when you go into a dispensary, you might see the following labels on beverages and edibles.

Fast-Acting and Nano-Emulsified: Both of these terms refer to a product where the THC can be broken down into particles small enough to absorb into the bloodstream without passing through the liver. This means that not only will the effect happen in 10-15 minutes, it will feel a lot more like smoking cannabis than the traditional effect of an edible. For people looking to use cannabis as a replacement for alcohol, these products allow the effects to appear in a similar time frame. These products are also useful for pain patients and others who do not want to smoke but want to feel the therapeutic effects quickly. 

Know Before You Go

Most dispensaries have menus available online so that you can take a look before going to the store. Remember these terms when looking at labels, and use these terms when speaking with budtenders to get the products that work best for you! And if you are in need of some additional guidance on how to use cannabis safely and effectively, check out The Truth About the Plant! This web series answers all of your pressing cannabis questions in 15 minutes or less!

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