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Speaking the Endocannabinoid System: A Glossary of Terms Used to Describe Marijuana, Cannabidiol, the Endocannabinoid System, and Cannabis

Curious about cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabis (aka marijuana)? Here’s the lowdown on the vocabulary you’ll need to ask questions and learn more.

Your body has an intricate system that’s designed to interact with the chemical compounds found in cannabis: your endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS affects many functions, including how you feel, move, and react. Since this system was discovered, products capable of interacting with it, such as cannabidiol (CBD), have been touted as treatments for a range of health issues, including seizures, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and arthritis. If you’re thinking of trying one of these products, it’s important to know the lingo surrounding the ECS. The glossary below will make it easier for you to parse the technical terminology as well as the not-so-scientific vernacular — aka, slang — you’ll need to know.

Aeroponics A cultivation technique in which plants are grown in an environment dependent on air rather than soil. In this system, seeds are embedded in foam stuffed into tiny pots that hold the stem and root mass in place. Plants are nurtured with light and a fine mist enriched with nutrients.

Alcohol extraction A method commonly used to extract cannabinoids from cannabis plants. In this process, cannabis is first soaked in an alcohol, such as ethanol, to remove the plant material. The alcohol is removed through evaporation.

Anandamide (AEA) An endocannabinoid that binds to cannabinoid receptors and mimics the activity of plant-derived cannabinoid drugs.

2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) An endocannabinoid that’s present at relatively high levels in the central nervous system.

Black market cannabis Cannabis that’s sold, traded, or obtained illegally.

Cannabichromene (CBC) One of 120 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBC is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it does not cause feelings of being high.

Cannabidiol (CBD) The second most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis, after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabidiol has been shown to calm the movements in people suffering from dystonia, a condition characterized by muscle spasms. Research also suggests that it may be helpful for the treatment of anxiety, movement disorders, and pain.

Cannabinoid Any of the various naturally occurring, biologically active chemical constituents of hemp or cannabis, including some that possess psychoactive properties, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids.

Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor CB1 receptors are found on the surface of certain cells, tissues, and organs, and help regulate biological function. CB1 receptors are present in several regions of the brain and spinal cord and, in lesser quantities, in other parts of the body, such as the endocrine glands and the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. CB1 receptors mediate the effects of cannabinoids on these organs.

Cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptor CB2 receptors regulate the biological function of certain cells, tissues, and organs. CB2 receptors are present on white blood cells and in the tonsils, the spleen, immune cells, and neurons. CB2 receptors help mediate the effect of cannabinoids on these organs and cells.

Cannabinoid profile The concentration of active cannabinoids in a product or medication.

Cannabinol A crystalline, mildly psychoactive cannabinoid found in small quantities in cannabis. Cannabinol is a breakdown product of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that may have a sedating effect.

Cannabis Cannabis refers to a group of three varieties of marijuana plants with psychoactive properties: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis contains more than 120 chemical and biologically active components, known as cannabinoids.

Cannabis indica A strain of cannabis known for higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Also called indica, it is known for its sedative effects. Because indica contains higher concentrations of THC, it is popular as a recreational and medicinal drug.

Cannabis sativa A strain of cannabis known for promoting a cerebral high. Also known as sativa, it has hallucinogenic, hypnotic, sedative, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) The theory that insufficient levels of endocannabinoids can lead to ailments, such as migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Closed-loop extraction An extraction method in which solvents aren’t exposed to the open air. Used in the past to produce perfume and beauty products, the process has been used more recently to create cannabis concentrates.

Concentrates (or extracts) Cannabis concentrates, or extracts, are significantly more potent than a standard cannabis bud or flower. They are processed to keep only the most desirable medicinal compounds while removing excess plant material. Concentrates are often developed for medical applications.

Cultivator An individual who grows marijuana plants, usually with a focus on soil quality and plant health.

Cure A process used to preserve the cannabis plant and retain its flavors and therapeutic properties. Curing involves removing moisture from the flowers under controlled environmental conditions.

Dabs and dabbing Dabs are concentrated doses of cannabis that are made by extracting tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or CBD using a solvent like butane; the resulting sticky oils are sometimes referred to as wax. Dabbing is the flash vaporization and inhalation of these concentrates. CBD dabbing is noted for its quick therapeutic effects.

Decarboxylation The process of applying heat to activate and release the CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis.

Dispensary Medical cannabis dispensaries are designed to give people a secure location to gather information and purchase cannabis grown to treat ailments. Laws regarding access vary by state.

Dosing The quantity of medicine prescribed at one time. Dosing CBD depends on therapeutic goals, as well as how it is ingested or applied.

Dronabinol (Marinol and Syndros) Dronabinol is a man-made form of a natural substance in marijuana, and it is often used to treat loss of appetite and weight loss in people with cancer or HIV infection. Marinol and Syndros are common brand names of dronabinol.

Edible Food or candy products infused with marijuana. Edibles must be digested in order to take effect, and as a result, it may take more time to feel their effects.

Eicosanoids Signaling molecules made from arachidonic acid or other polyunsaturated fatty acids that are similar to arachidonic acid. Endocannabinoids are all eicosanoids.

Electronic smoking device An electronic smoking device generally consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge containing an e-liquid (a mixture of water, flavoring, and an active chemical component), and a heating component powered by a battery. These devices are often referred to as vaporizers, vapes, or e-cigarettes.

Endocannabinoids (endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters) Natural chemicals produced by your body that interact with your endocannabinoid system and regulate important body functions. Their purpose is to maintain homeostasis. So far, two have been identified: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

Endocannabinoid enhancer A drug that enhances the activity of the endocannabinoid system.

Endocannabinoid enzymes Proteins that your body makes to break down endocannabinoids that have fulfilled their purpose. The two main endocannabinoid enzymes are: fatty acid amidohydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL).

Endocannabinoid receptors Special receptors that endocannabinoids bind to as a way of signaling that the endocannabinoid system needs to act. They’re found throughout your body and can interact with the chemical compounds in cannabis. There are two types of receptors: B1 receptors and CB2 receptors.

Endocannabinoid reuptake inhibitor A drug that limits the reabsorption of endocannabinoid neurotransmitters by the releasing neuron.

Endocannabinoid system (ECS) A complex system within the human body that affects many important functions, including how a person moves, feels, and reacts. It includes endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and endocannabinoid enzymes.

Extraction Extraction techniques are used to separate the chemical components of cannabis from the plant matrix.

Flower The smokable portion of the female cannabis plant.

Hemp An industrial plant cultivated for its fiber and edible seeds. While hemp is in the same family as the cannabis plant, it does not have psychoactive effects. Commercial items made from hemp fiber include paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastic, and food.

Homeostasis A term that describes the dynamic stability of your internal environment.

Homogeneity This refers to testing to ensure the genetic consistency across strains of cannabis, or to the even distribution of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or CBD in a product, such as an edible.

Hybrid A strain that mixes two varieties of cannabis, indica and sativa.

Hydroponics The method of growing a plant without soil. Sand, gravel, water, and other materials may take the place of dirt.

Marijuana The dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Slang names for marijuana include weed, herb, and pot.

Cesamet (nabilone) A synthetic cannabinoid prescribed for severe nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics The way drugs are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted in and from the body.

Phytocannabinoids Cannabinoids that occur naturally in a cannabis plant.

Retailer A person (or business) who sells goods to the public. Major retailers including CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid all sell CBD products.

Route of administration The path by which a drug or substance is taken into the body. An example might be a medication that is taken in pill form (oral administration) or applied to the skin (topical application).

Schedule 1 drug Schedule 1 drugs are those that have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Strain A strain refers to the different varieties of cannabis. Some examples include indica, sativa, and hybrid.

Synthetic cannabis Synthetic cannabis, such as Spice and K2, refers to products using man-made chemicals. Some people may use synthetic cannabis as an alternative to marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the effects of synthetic cannabis on the body can be unpredictable, harmful, and very different from those of marijuana.

Terpene The aromatic and flavorful component of the essential oils contained in plants. More than 100 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) The main active psychoactive constituent of cannabis. It is responsible for the high sensation.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) A cannabinoid that does not have psychoactive effects. It is the precursor to THC. As the plant dries, THCA slowly converts to THC. The potential medicinal properties of THCA are still under study.

Tincture A liquid that contains a concentrated herbal extract.

Topical An oil, salve, lotion, or ointment infused with CBD that can be applied directly to the skin.

Vaporizer A device intended to vaporize substances for inhalation. Vaporizers can be used to heat dried cannabis, cannabis oil, or cannabis wax; they convert the active ingredients into a cannabis-infused aerosol that can be inhaled.

Vaping Inhaling a vaporized substance generated by an electronic vaporizer.

Cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical derived from the cannabis (marijuana) plant has been touted as a treatment for health issues ranging from seizures to anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and arthritis.

Reading a CBD Label: How to Find a Quality Product

Maybe you’ve been considering taking cannabidiol (CBD), to see if it eases symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety, or another condition. But reading and understanding CBD product labels can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to CBD.

Understanding CBD labels is made even more complicated by the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved any nonprescription CBD products.

Instead, it’s up to you, the consumer, to do your research or rely on third-party testing to determine if a CBD product is legit and what’s in it.

We’ve partnered with The Vitamin Shoppe™ to make a 101 guide to CBD labeling to help you understand what you’re getting.

First, you need a rundown on cannabis vocabulary.

CBD vs. THC

CBD is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. The more well-known cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is also found in the cannabis plant.

These two cannabinoids — CBD and THC — are very different. THC is psychoactive and is associated with the “high” from marijuana use, but CBD doesn’t cause that sensation.

Hemp vs. marijuana

Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants. The difference is that hemp plants have no more than 0.3 percent THC, and marijuana plants have higher levels of THC.

CBD is either hemp-derived or marijuana-derived.

Depending on where you live and the laws in your state or country, you may be able to buy both marijuana-derived and hemp-derived CBD products. Or you may have access to hemp-derived CBD products only — or no access to CBD products at all.

Knowing the difference between marijuana and hemp is important because marijuana-derived CBD products may cause some psychoactive effects, and the THC included in these products will show up on a drug test.

Hemp-derived CBD contains only trace amounts of THC — generally not enough to cause a high or register on a drug test, though it’s possible.

It’s important to keep in mind that CBD and THC are known to work better together than they do alone. This is known as the entourage effect.

Your choice of CBD isolate, full-spectrum CBD, or broad-spectrum CBD will determine what you get in your product along with the actual CBD.

  • Full-spectrum CBD contains all of the naturally available compounds of the cannabis plant, including THC. However, in hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD, the THC will be no more than 0.3 percent at the dry weight. THC levels rise when the flowers are extracted into oil.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD has all of the naturally occurring compounds, except all of the THC—or all but a very tiny amount–is typically removed.
  • CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD, isolated from the other compounds of the hemp plant. CBD isolate should have no THC.

So, which should you choose? Some people prefer full-spectrum because they want the whole kit-and-caboodle of the cannabis plant’s benefits — with all the cannabinoids and other compounds working in synergy.

Others choose broad-spectrum because they want all the terpenes and flavonoids but no THC. Some people prefer CBD isolate because it’s tasteless and odorless, and they don’t want any other compounds included.

Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids

Now, about those compounds. What are they exactly? In addition to CBD and THC, the cannabis plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids, plus a whole bunch of other compounds called terpenes and flavonoids.

Cannabinoids go to work on your body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system helps keep the nervous system and immune function on an even keel.

Like cannabinoids, terpenes are another plant compound reported to have therapeutic and health-boosting benefits. And flavonoids, compounds also found in green tea and certain fruits, have been shown to protect against disease.

Want to try CBD, but not sure how to tell a real product from a fake? We break down terminology, labeling, and how to vet a product’s legitimacy and quality before you buy.