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Up Close and Personal with the Science Behind Cannabinoids

Get to know the three different classes of cannabinoids: phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids.

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Cannabinoids
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The cannabis plant produces literally hundreds of specialized molecules — cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids — that have been shown to deliver medicinal efficacy, lifestyle enhancement, and even performance enhancement to human beings. For those afflicted with disease, medical cannabis has been found to offer a wide range of health benefits, from killing cancerous tumors to alleviating the pain of arthritis to reducing the number of seizures experienced by epileptic children.

Of these molecules, cannabinoids are the most cited and understood. The most infamous cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the molecule responsible for most of the psychoactive (psychotropic) and euphoric effects of cannabis, but that also has been found to successfully treat serious conditions, such as PTSD and cancer. Another notable cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), a mostly non-psychoactive chemical that has been found to provide a wide range of medicinal benefits, including reductions in pain, anxiety, and depression.

Endocannabinoids vs. Phytocannabinoids

First discovered in 1964 by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam, phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant interact with the human body by mimicking the molecular characteristics of chemicals produced internally. Called endocannabinoids, these internally manufactured molecules include anandamide and 2-AG.

Anandamide has been dubbed the “bliss molecule” because of its ability to decrease depression in humans. It plays a central role in the regulation and modulation of critical bodily functions such as mood, appetite, sleep, immune system efficiency, and one’s ability to deal with stress and anxiety.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids emerged in the 1970s and are created in a laboratory. An example of it would be dronabinol (Δ9-THC synthetic), which is the active compound of Marinol, a medicine that comes in capsules and has been consumed in the US since 1985 to prevent nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and loss of weight.

The Endocannabinoid System

All mammals, not merely humans, have evolved with a network of specialized cellular receptors throughout their bodies that are designed to bind with cannabinoids — both endocannabinoids such as anandamide and phytocannabinoids from cannabis — that is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The fact that the ECS is present in all mammals is why companies and product lines dedicated to the health and wellness of household pets are beginning to emerge in legal cannabis markets. Dogs and cats suffering conditions such as arthritis, digestive issues, anxiety, and pain can gain significant benefit from the cannabinoids in cannabis and hemp.

Anandamide production has been found to increase and temporarily spike in those who engage in endurance exercise on a regular basis. However, it metabolizes quickly, exhibiting a relatively short duration of effect. Anandamide hints at the chemical underpinnings of the significant health benefits of frequent and intense exercise—and the fact that the mere consumption of cannabinoids is not enough to establish and sustain optimal health of the ECS (a condition called homeostasis that means “balance”).

Both internally produced endocannabinoids and plant-based phytocannabinoids interface with the ECS via specialized cellular receptors that were discovered in the 1990s and called CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are located primarily in the organs and tissues of the immune system—including the thymus, skin, bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, bowel, and the mucous membranes of the bladder, genitals, nose, and throat.

Major Cannabinoids + Acidic Precursors

More than 113 cannabinoids have been isolated and identified within the cannabis plant — which is, technically, also a vegetable. Beyond the two major cannabis-derived molecules, THC and CBD, are a plethora of healthful cannabinoids that deliver a slew of desirable and beneficial efficacies for lifestyle consumers and patients alike. Among these are cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).

Additional healthful cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). These chemicals represent a class of cannabinoids dubbed acidic precursors. Think of acidic precursors as the larval caterpillar stage of what becomes the butterflies of THC and CBD.

While they provide significant benefits in terms of health and wellness, the exact effects of these molecules differ from their non-acidic versions. For example, while strains of cannabis that are potent in THC can exact a significant toll in terms of psychoactivity and euphoria, THCA delivers no such psychotropic effect. THCA does, however, offer anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, making it helpful for conditions as wide-ranging as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s.

Understanding Decarboxylation

The process by which the transmogrification from the chemical state of acidic precursor (THCA) to its child molecule (THC) occurs is significant (and can be accurately controlled by anyone). A process called decarboxylation, this conversion involves the application of heat (via flame, as in combustion, or from a hot surface or airstream, as in vaporization) to catalyze a chemical reaction in which the THCA molecule drops a carbon and two oxygen atoms (called a carboxyl ring, or COOH) to become THC — and gain its euphoric effects based on its newfound binding affinity with the CB1 receptors of the ECS.

Technically, maximum decarboxylation for a sample of cannabis flowers occurs most effectively when exposed to 220 degrees F (104 degrees C) for a period of 30 to 45 minutes. Decarboxylation is easy and convenient because it can be accomplished using a standard consumer oven.

Thus, one who eats the raw flowers of cannabis will gain significant medicinal benefits, but no euphoria. The simple application of a flame or hot air, however, leads to the nearly instantaneous transformation of these molecules into their chemical cousins, delivering beneficial — but sometimes very different — effects.

The Research

A 2017 research study entitled “Medicinal Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, and Implications for the Acute Care Setting” that was published in the journal Pharmacy & Therapeutics found the cannabinoids of cannabis, such as THC and CBD, to be effective in the treatment of a wide range of diseases and conditions.

The study’s researchers stated, the “Beneficial cannabinoids exist, as evidenced by single-entity agents derived from cannabis containing the compounds THC and CBD.” The study concluded that “cannabis is relatively safe; therapy is self-titratable by the patient; and…therapy is relatively inexpensive compared with pharmaceutical agents.”

CBC is a powerful cannabinoid first isolated in 1964 by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam. It is considered one of the “big six” cannabinoids that, according to Steep Hill Labs in Berkeley, California, is ten times more effective than CBD in treating anxiety and stress.

In a 2011 study conducted by cannabis research pioneer Ethan Russo entitled “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-terpenoid Entourage Effects” and published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, Russo found that a CBC-extract displayed “pronounced antidepressant effect,” meaning it may be helpful for humans suffering from anxiety and depression.

Additional evidence of the medical benefits of cannabinoids derived from cannabis — this time for an ocular disease — was revealed in a 2008 study entitled “Possibilities of Applying Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Glaucoma” that was published in the journal Klinika Oczna. The study concluded that cannabinoids like CBG are “able to decrease intraocular pressure. These compounds are characterized by neuroprotection and vasodilatation properties that additionally substantiate their therapeutic utility in conservative treatment of glaucoma.”

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BC Bud Depot and the Collective Cannabis Consciousness

Matt Harvey from BC Bud Depot on genetics, Canada’s path to legalization, and why human connection is an integral part of the plant’s vitality.

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BC Bud Depot
PHOTOS | BC Bud Depot

Based in British Columbia, Canada, award-winning seeds producer BC Bud Depot has been collecting elite cannabis strains for over 25 years. They have received over 21 Cannabis Cup awards, including seven first-place awards, nine top strain awards, six top three strain awards and an induction to the Seed Bank Hall of Fame in 2009.

Their genetics vault contains over two hundred unique strains, including the cultivar that put Canada on the map; the feminized version of the BC God Bud, whose dense and heavy crystal-coated nuggets make for an out-of-body experience.

Master grower Matt Harvey is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of BC Bud Depot. We spoke exclusively to Harvey about genetics, Canada’s path to legalization, and why human connection is an integral part of the cannabis plant’s vitality.

CA: How did you get interested in breeding as opposed to growing flower?

MH: Back in the late 1090s in BC, not many people were breeding in a serious way, or at least not with the intention of sharing their work outside of their tight-knit grow communities. Breeding in those days was mostly directed at increasing potency and yield, and shortening flowering times for an early harvest. Some really nice flower was hitting the market, but BC breeders were generally more interested in keeping their strains proprietary rather than distributing their genetics worldwide. The reputation and demand for BC-bred genetics was growing, so we stepped up to the plate and the rest became history in the making.

Growing top quality flower is part of the breeding process, and you can’t breed properly without also growing flower. How the flower is received by connoisseurs, in both taste and effects, is a key data set that informs our breeding processes. It’s also necessary to grow seedless flower to test peak cannabinoid production potential.

What makes a great seed better than a good seed?

For home gardeners and professionals alike, a great seed will pop a vigorous sprout, and a strong start to life is an important factor in achieving maximum growth potential, yield, and flavor. With a great seed, you know what to expect in the mature plant, since its genetics will be fully expressed and stable.

Every once in a while though, a great seed will grow a bit differently than what you’d expect and expresses a natural mutation that can open up a new trajectory into a breeding program, such as exhibiting ultra-high levels of a newly discovered cannabinoid or terpene. This recently happened with a Sweet God plant mutating to produce a staggeringly high CBG content.

Great seeds are always the most vigorous, and generally the most predictable, but occasionally the greatest seeds can be the most unpredictable of all.

How do you qualify genetics?

Genetics need to exhibit certain qualities in order to enter and to exit a breeding program. When elite cuts [clones] are used to start a breeding program, in cases where seeds are not available, it’s important to pollinate them with a well-known and stable male plant and to grow out a variety trial to see how stable the female genetics are.

There are so many poly-hybrids being grown these days — some of which produce amazing flower — but if their progeny is all over the map, it’s going to be harder to breed a stable strain; you’re more likely to achieve better results breeding with more stable parents. Sometimes it is absolutely worth it and sometimes it is not. It all depends on your goals and what you are setting out to achieve.

Cold storage tissue culture and genome sequencing are giving us new tools to pinpoint the qualifying factors that we breed for, and with more information and accurate data we can learn which genes express what, and apply this new knowledge to achieve our breeding goals.

Is there an interest in landrace strains?

Yes, and there always should be. I’m actually doing this interview from Colombia where there are some famous landrace strains, one of them being the Santa Marta Gold, which we are very excited to breed with.

Crossing a landrace with a known cultivar can produce amazing results. Since we’re discovering new cannabinoids all the time, and landraces can have exceptionally high levels of certain cannabinoids and terpenes, it’s important that we preserve them and their habitat. It’s like preserving the rainforest because it’s full of biological treasure that we haven’t even discovered yet. Too much inbreeding with cultivars can lead to an amalgamated gene pool, which is not very desirable.

Just like blue-blood families need to outbreed with barbarian genetics every so often to maintain their biological viability and vigor, so does cannabis. Mother Nature should always play a role in the breeding process, which we sometimes forget in our scientific age.

What are the current strain trends that you are seeing?

We’re pleased to see that the kush craze seems to have passed. While there will always be a place for kush, it’s great to see things trending towards more interest in exotic fruit flavors, with more of an emphasis on terpene profile. Watermelon, cherry, peach, sours, and ice creams are all exotic terpene profiles with more rewarding qualities to breed for than just yield and THC potency. It is actually where the greater part of our interest has been since we started breeding. We are not surprised to see this trend, as cannabis connoisseurs worldwide develop more discerning palates.

While we still breed for cannabinoid ratios, and are inspired by all the new discoveries of the benefits of obscure cannabinoids like CBG, achieving these breeding goals relies more on lab data and strict variety trials, whereas the artistry of breeding is in teasing out new exotic terpene profiles; this is what makes our job fun.

Who is your favorite breeder/seed company other than yourself?

We are very impressed with the work of our homie Kasper at Kre8 Genetics, and are ecstatic to be working and collaborating with him after meeting at the San Bernardino Cup many years ago. Scott from Rare Dankness is also coming out with some great work these days. Of course, so much of our gratitude goes to all of the old school pioneers, breeders like our friend Soma, who have played such a key role in sending us on this journey.

What do you see as the most exciting thing happening in seed production and breeding?

We are all learning so much about the healing potential of cannabis these days. As we discover new cannabinoids and their medical applications, it’s very exciting to consider the positive potential that they can have for the world and our collective health.

It’s exciting to see new strains coming out with high levels of all these other little-known cannabinoids. When we see these random genetic mutations that yield astonishingly high levels of newly discovered cannabinoids, it confirms our long-held belief that cannabis has a collective consciousness that is in communication with us as people and wants to provide us with medicine.

Another great new development is high-tech genetic sequencing and cataloging, which promises to clarify our understanding of the cannabis gene pool, and provides us with useful data to inform our breeding programs.

Are there any seeds you wish you had?

We’re always open to cataloging new seeds in our vault but at this point in time we have so much in the way of new genetics to work with, and with our breeding facilities at full capacity, we’re not in a place to be wishing for any new genetic stock.

I suppose, though, there’s always some unique old strains that would be great to work with, though unfortunately, we don’t expect to see them again. I’ll give a shout-out to the Legends Ultimate Indica circa 2002 — that would be a fun surprise.

Do you have a favorite cultivar to grow?

The BC God Bud will always be my personal favorite. Her pink pistils and fragrance are so familiar and dear to me. I’m sure a lot of veteran growers out there can relate to the way a favorite strain, cultivated lovingly for years upon years, becomes like an inseparable lifelong companion.

How many different seeds are in your inventory?

We offer over 120 elite strains bred by ourselves and other breeders. Our extensive vault of genetic breeding stock, collected over 25 years, houses thousands of different seeds in hundreds of different varieties.

What’s something you are often asked that is a misconception about growing cannabis?

The largest, glaring misconception that I see in the cannabis world today is the assumption that high-quality flowers can be grown on an industrial scale, using industrial farming methods. I mean, it can be grown on a massive scale, but not well. Cannabis thrives with a gardener’s touch and loving attention, and the element of human connection is, in my experience, an integral part of the plant’s vitality.

If you could give one tip to beginners, what would it be? What about other professionals?

For beginners, I would suggest growing organic in the best soil you can make, and to avoid the use of fertilizer salts. Connect with and talk to your plants; grow with them and meditate on their health and vitality. Know that your plants are aware of your presence and resonate with them on a vibrational level.

For professionals, never cut corners, and stay connected with your plants even if it means longer work hours. Keep your fundamentals sound and keep experimenting while logging all of your data.

How has demand changed over the years?

The demand for new genetics is constant, and every year there are more and more people wanting to grow BC Bud Depot genetics in their gardens, for the joy of it more than for any other reason. People start growing, fall in love with the process and become interested in growing new and exotic cultivars. Seasoned and veteran growers find their elite strains and comfort levels. Legalization has accelerated this trend, and even more people are experiencing the joy of cultivating their own cannabis.

Which BC Bud Depot strains are most popular?

BC God Bud still remains our most popular strain, 15 years after it was released for the world to enjoy. Other classics like Original Blueberry, The Purps, and Girl Scout Cookies are still very popular. The Tangie Cookies and Animal Cookies are growing in popularity. We expect that the soon to be released Wedding Cake will be a hit!

Which BC Bud Depot strains are your favorites?

Every strain in the catalog is a favorite. There are dozens upon dozens more that haven’t quite achieved favorite status, so they’re not in the catalog and stay in the vault, or are works in progress for now. We are always working on developing new elite strains.

How has cannabis legalization in Canada affected your business?

It’s created an environment in which we can make new partnerships out in the open, and have access to resources that were previously unavailable to us, such as genome sequencing. There are a lot of very bright people entering the industry now; that the stigma and legal liability are things of the past. It allows us to operate how we have always wanted to throughout those dark years of prohibition. It has been an overall positive transition, with many new opportunities and relationships among professionals and the general public, now that we can all work out in the open. Legalization has shone a bright spotlight upon us and the industry, which allows us to share the benefits of our unparalleled cannabis genetics with even more people.

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6 Cannabis Cultivars That Will Help Induce Sleep

Sometimes the best way to get to sleep – and stay asleep – is to ease an anxious mind or an achy body, and cannabis is an effective sleep aid.

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Sleep
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There are 40 to 70 million Americans currently suffering from sleep disorders nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control, which also found that four percent of adults use prescription medication to fall asleep.

More Americans are ditching the pharmaceuticals for cannabis. In fact, one of the main reasons users report consuming cannabis is to relieve a sleep disorder. Study after study shows that cannabis is an effective sleep aid. Research has also shown that some cannabinoids found in cannabis, like CBD, are effective treatments for pain, anxiety, stress, and many of the underlying factors that cause sleeplessness. CBN has several of the same effects in the body, including relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and improving sleep. And of course, there’s THC, which research shows has sedative effects, and can make it easier to fall asleep.

Girl Scout Cookies

Sometimes the best way to get to sleep – and stay asleep – is to ease an anxious mind or an achy body. According to HelloMD, GSC is a potent strain that’s commonly consumed to relieve stress, pain, anxiety, and depression — all of which can seriously disrupt our ability to sleep. The versatile, hybrid strain is known for its cerebral highs, and full-body relaxation — which can be particularly effective for focus, and sleep. GSC is also reported to help ease muscle spasms, which can result in better rest.

Granddaddy Purple

The strain was specifically developed to fight pain and insomnia, according to Leafly. Users report intense, heady and physical highs that feel like “[…] a warm thick fuzzy blanket was gently placed around your entire body.”

According to Leafly, “your thoughts may float in a dreamy buzz, [but] your body is more likely to find itself fixed in one spot for the duration of GDP’s effects,” the site adds, “Like most heavy indica varieties, Granddaddy Purple is typically pulled off the shelf for consumers looking to combat pain, stress, insomnia, appetite loss and muscle spasms.”

Afghan Kush

This internationally renowned indica packs some seriously sedative properties. The strain has been sought out for centuries for its relaxing effects. According to MassRoots, Afghan Kush “is known to induce intense relaxation that may hinder functionality, induce drowsiness, and increase appetite.” In other words, it’s a perfect strain to end the day with!

Erez

Though it recently hit American markets, Erez is a best seller in Israel, where the strain was developed. Erez was created by Tikun Olam, and named after their first patient. The serene strain is indica dominant (70 percent), and high in THC (15-18 percent). It’s scientifically proven to effectively treat sleep disorders. According to the Israeli-based cannabis company,  it’s best to use at nighttime. It’s also effective at relieving “severe pain, […] tremors, muscle spasms, PTSD, and Parkinson’s. Erez also relieves intestinal inflammation, helps reduce nausea and improves appetite.”

Tahoe OG Kush

This hybrid strain is consistently ranked as one of the best nighttime strains on the market. Dubbed the “stay at home strain,” by MarijuanaBreak, Tahoe OG Kush induces relaxation (and most likely, the munchies), a heavy body sensation, and a feeling of weightlessness that will ease your body into a deep sleep. The strain comes highly recommended for those suffering from insomnia, pain, or lack of appetite.

9 Pound Hammer

This earthy, sweet and (mostly) indica strain packs a powerful punch; in fact, it gets its name from its heavy hitting and long-lasting effects. 9 Pound Hammer is born from the genetics of three strains — Jack the Ripper, Hell’s Angel OG, and Fruity Goobery – but the hybrid mostly prompts calmness and relaxation.

According to Pacific Seed Bank, the strains offers “a euphoric rush to the head that will leave you happy for the first half of the high. The second half will leave you deeply relaxed and chilled out. […] 9 Pound Hammer is somewhat of a lullaby that will gradually help you fall (and stay) asleep throughout the night.”

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Dark Heart Nursery Discover Cannabis Virus HpLVd

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HpLVd

Growers around Californa are facing a virus problem, and one of California’s oldest cannabis nurseries, Dark Heart Nursery (DHN), has the antidote. With the help of Dr. Jeremy Warren, DHN discovered the HpLVd virus that has been plaguing growers for the past several years. Now, it’s time to clean up.

Cause of Cannabis “Dudding” Identified: HpLVd Virus

Throughout history, the cannabis plant has faced its fair share of viral infections. Repeated infections gave rise to genetic changes over time, altering the evolution of the plant. In fact, there is evidence that ancient viruses are at least in part responsible for the herb’s ability to produce THC.

For the past several years, however, viruses have taken a more sinister role in the plant’s life. Strains that once grew vigorously have started to show signs of ware — a drab yellow color replacing what should be a vibrant green. Misshapen leaves develop without warning, under conditions that would otherwise result in a thriving harvest. Growers developed their own term to describe the phenomenon, “dudding”.

These unusual symptoms were recorded in 2015, when Dr. Rick Crum found that as much as 35 percent of nursery samples demonstrated these symptoms, along with stunted growth. At the time, the cause of these symptoms was identified as “punitive cannabis infective agent” (PCIA), a term used to describe the unexplainable loss of vitality among cannabis plants.

Now, however, a team at DHN has finally identified a cause: the hop latent viroid. Also known as the HpLVd virus, DHN is the first organization to identify the precise cause of dudding.

From Clone to Clone

As reported by Cannabis Now, a group of underground researchers in California called Humboldt DNA articulated that PCIA appears to be passed along via pollen exposure and cloning of infected plants. This allows the virus to be transmitted quickly, infecting larger numbers of plants each year.

As you might guess from the name, hop latent viroid is a virus that traditionally attacks hop plants. Hops, which are used to make beer, are among the closest relatives to the cannabis plant. Throughout the mid-2000s, reports suggest that the HpLVd virus is spreading. In 2007, hop farmers in China filed the first statements suggesting that the virus was harming local harvests. The same virus causes similar symptoms in hops, and cannabis appears to be a prime new target.

The rapid spread of the virus was confirmed researchers at Dark Heart Nursery, who found that healthy plants exposed to infected clones were quick to “dud” themselves. The team that made the discovery was led by Jeremy Warren, Ph.D., who now works as DHN’s Director of Plant Health.

Clean Up Time

This same virus is now attacking cannabis plants, potentially causing major losses for medical and recreational cannabis growers alike. While the virus has been identified in cannabis, clear plans for eradication still illude many growers. Should the virus infect a large portion of a harvest, growers may be forced to dispose of their crops and decontaminate their soils and growing mediums.

Among identifying HpLVd, Dark Horse Nursery has developed a functioning “clean process” under the guidance of Research Manager Will Roberts. This process, however, is currently patent-pending, giving DHN ownership over the eradication processes. Apart from mimicking eradication processes used by the hop industry, however, many home growers and professional cultivators alike may still be left in the dark regarding how to properly eradicate HpLVd illness in their plants.

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