The month of May is coming to a close, and with the end of Mental Health Awareness month comes one of the most difficult topics of discussion among the cannabis industry: Does cannabis improve mental health, or make it worse? Many dedicated consumers and patients would be quick to tell you that the plant has had a profoundly positive influence on their lives. And yet, emerging science on the topic has revealed that cannabis and mental health have a much more complicated relationship than ever predicted.
What is Mental Health?
Before diving into the ways in which cannabis affects mental health, it’s useful to paint a picture of what mental health actually means. For most, mental health means being free from depression, free from psychiatric illness, and perhaps even blissfully happy. Unfortunately, while more people are aware of mental and emotional health than ever before, the concept is still far too often boiled down to either a means of coping with severe mental disorders or as a reinforcement of the idea that you should strive to be happy all of the time.
Both of these popular beliefs are a myth — most people must learn how to develop mental health skills at some point in their lives, and, although it is difficult to admit, being happy all of the time is a scientific anomaly. Contented and peaceful, sure, but moments of blissfulness and pure happiness wax and wane for just about everyone. Of course, this is not to discount the lives or experiences of the many who struggle with severe mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress, severe depression, and other psychiatric ailments.
For Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and a world-renowned psychologist, mental health can be broken down into four primary components: mindfulness skills, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. While the names may seem like a mouthful, Linehan believes that each building block is essential for being able to both tolerate and relate to the world in a healthy way.
First, mindfulness is the ability to observe what is happening in the present moment without judgment. Secondly, interpersonal effectiveness relates to your ability to ask respectfully for what you want while setting clear boundaries and saying no what you don’t want. Emotional regulation refers to the ability to feel your emotions without clinging to them or letting them get the better of you. Finally, distress tolerance is the ability to tolerate daily stresses and bounce back from stressful situations.
For Linehan, mental health means practising and maintaining fitness in all four of these skills. Even those with a diagnosed psychiatric disease can still practice these skills to improve their mental health. The therapy was initially designed for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, but the concepts have taken root in the world of psychology and are often readily applied to individuals experiencing all sorts of mental health concerns — from addiction to depression to schizophrenia to struggling with an unexpected life transition.
The Complex Relationship Between Cannabis and Mental Health
So, why bring up Linehan? The definitions of mental health are perhaps as vast as the types of therapies available. As such, there are numerous ways to approach the broad topic of mental health. Most psychiatrists offer a mixture of skill-building and medications in order to treat their patients. Is cannabis a worthwhile therapy for mental health? Well, if early research is any indication, it appears that it would depend on how you use it.
Cannabis for Mental Health: The Pros
For many, cannabis is a go-to remedy for mental health concerns. Whether that means popping a CBD capsule to get through a stressful day or if that means developing a treatment plan to keep symptoms of traumatic stress at bay, cannabis is oft touted as an effective way to improve your state of mind. Cannabis has a long-held reputation as a mood-lifter, inspiring laughing fits, improving sleep, and promoting all-around feelings of well-being.
In patients with serious diseases like cancer, the plant has been proven to reduce pain and improve quality of life, factors which have a profound influence on mental health. There is some early evidence that specific cannabis compounds may be helpful for reducing psychosis related to advanced diseases like Parkinson’s Disease.
Similarly, early experiments suggest that isolated cannabis extracts may reduce agitation associated with dementia. In early clinical trials, CBD treatment has even improved the lives of patients living with treatment-resistant schizophrenia. In the area of post-traumatic stress, cannabis compounds are being studied as uniquely viable treatments for the condition. Amazingly, research suggests that chemicals in the cannabis plant may be able to address possible neurotransmitter deficiencies in PTSD patients.
Further research still explores the ability of low to moderate doses of cannabis medicines to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, perhaps offering patients an alternative to medicines like benzodiazepines, which come with a greater addiction potential and a host of severe side effects. Cannabis, in contrast, has been dubbed as well-tolerated with limited side effects in most of the mental health trials conducted so far.
The Risks of Cannabis For Mental Health
But, is cannabis a cure or a crutch? While a body of positive research on cannabis as a mental health aid exists, the plant cannot simply be lumped into a category as either good or bad. Instead, research seems to indicate that cannabis may be beneficial in some circumstances, but it may also worsen overall mental health in others. In high doses, for example, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), may increase anxiety and cause panic attacks.
Further, professionals also have concerns about the chronic consumption of high-potency cannabis. Several epidemiological studies have suggested that long-term cannabis consumption, especially of the high potency variety, is correlated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and poor mental health. While correlation does not always indicate causation, researchers have found that the younger you are when you pick up a regular cannabis habit, the more likely you are to experience negative mental health outcomes.
And then, of course, is the argument that cannabis can cause psychosis in some people. This is not exactly the same Reefer Madness argument that has dominated since the late 1930s. Instead, modern genetic research suggests that cannabis consumption may contribute to psychiatric illness in those with a genetic predisposition, especially in those that heavily consume the plant. In teens and adolescents, regular cannabis consumption was correlated to an earlier onset of psychotic symptoms in those with a predisposition to this type of mental health trouble.
Finally, both cannabidiol (CBD) and medical cannabis consumption show potential in treating some forms of addiction, including alcohol, nicotine, and opioid addiction. Regular cannabis consumers, however, can also develop a dependency on the herb. For some, this dependency can cause symptoms of withdrawal after stopping the herb. For this reason, many health professionals are reluctant to offer cannabis as a mental health treatment.
Everything in Moderation
What Linehan describes in her Dialectical Model of Behavioral Therapy are a series of skills that an individual must learn in order to developmental and emotional resilience. While progressive mental health and medical professionals see cannabis medicines as tools that better enable patients to focus on these skills, the plant itself is not a cure-all for mental health problems. In fact, in some cases, overreliance on the herb may lead to greater problems, such as dependence on the plant in order to cope with stressful situations.
And yet, it is almost impossible to evaluate the subjective benefits of the herb. When consumed in moderation, the cannabis plant has a knack for providing sudden shifts in perspective and for opening mental doors that once seemed impossible. After a stressful day, a little cannabis may feel like a nudge in the right direction — a glimpse into another way of thinking that was suffocated by a sour mood. A time-out from a stagnate way of thinking can be an invaluable source of healing and self-compassion.
Scientists and medical professionals have yet to decide whether or not chronic and continuous cannabis consumption is an effective treatment for mental health issues. When consumed in moderation, with mindfulness, and with proper support, however, it’s difficult to deny that the plant holds real value and has the ability to affect lives in a positive way.
Ultimately, it’s up to the patient and their trusted medical professional to decide when the plant is helpful and when it has become an unhealthy diversion.
If you or someone you know needs help with mental health issues, please reach out to Mental Health America or your local helpline.
Why Independent Third-Party Cannabis Testing Is Important
During cultivation, the cannabis plant acts like a sponge. It absorbs everything it is exposed to, from pesticides, nutrients, and heavy metals present in the soil. For these reasons, it is essential that reputable and reliable third-party labs carry out cannabis testing to assure safety and efficacy of the product.
Lab testing of cannabis products is an essential part of the regulated market’s supply chain. It detects offensive chemicals or contaminants that can lead to adverse health effects when consumed, while additionally providing cultivators and retailers with efficacious cannabinoid and terpene profiles of legal cannabis products.
In Canada’s regulated market, batch release quality control testing is required for potency and product safety, so it is necessary to measure substances like pesticides, mycotoxins, bacteria, and molds. Unfortunately, reports on potency and contaminants can vary from lab to lab, while recalls of contaminated products threaten consumer trust of legal products.
Sigma Analytical Services is a full-service pesticide, elemental, molecular, genetic, and pathogen analysis laboratory for cannabis, hemp, and cannabis-derived products. It delivers reliable science for cannabis products to the cannabis industry and cannabis consumers.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke with Ashton Abrahams, co-founder and COO of Sigma Analytical Services, to learn more about the importance of cannabis testing and Sigma’s strict processes.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell me about your entrepreneurial journey to cannabis.
I’m a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in starting and growing several successful ventures. In 2017, when Canada was in the process of legalizing cannabis, my partner and I saw an opportunity to focus on a different side of the new cannabis industry — ancillary testing and quality reassurance requirements. We knew there would be new products in the market, and they would all require testing. So, we started a testing lab that focused on cannabis and cannabis products, and this is how Sigma started.
What sets Sigma apart from other testing labs?
We want to ensure products available in this new market are efficacious and safe, and ensure the levels of both remain consistent. Sigma is the only GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified, cannabis-focused lab in Canada and the only cannabis-focused lab with cross-continental operations. We developed and validated our methods back in 2018 and 2019, so we are the frontrunner in Cannabis 2.0 product testing and are set up to test a comprehensive list of cannabis products — including flower, edibles, beverages, and topicals.
Sigma also has validated methods for quantifying and testing 16 cannabinoids and 43 terpenes — one of the highest in the market — and our analytical and microbiology tests are compliant with Health Canada, EU, and US Pharmacopeia.
Additionally, Sigma was awarded the Best Cannabis Lab/Testing Facility in Canada at the Grow Up 2019 awards.
What need does Sigma fill in the global cannabis industry?
Sigma brings reliable science that is already available in food and pharma to the cannabis industry, its products, and consumers.
Cannabis, food, and pharma share certain quality requirements. However, there is a big difference: in terms of quality assurance, food and pharma have decades of testing experience, while cannabis is a new industry, and the science is still being developed.
What kind of samples do you test?
We have developed and validated testing methods for many different types of cannabis products, from traditional dried flower and oils to Cannabis 2.0 products , such as concentrates, beverages, edibles, and topicals. From a testing standpoint, each and every one of these products is different and can have a different matrix. In turn, we develop a testing method for each one.
What should customers be looking for to see reassurance that a product’s been tested?
Make sure their products are purchased through legal channels. It’s the regulatory bodies’ responsibility to make sure the products launched in the market are not just tested, but tested specifically by qualified labs.
Moldy cannabis is a problem in legal markets and there are numerous reports of Health Canada product recalls after customers discovered moldy flower. Can you talk to us about how you test for these pathogens?
From day one, instead of using the traditional culture-based method, Sigma has tested for mould and all microbial contamination using a newer technology called qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction). When we first started it in late 2018, nobody was familiar with it in the cannabis industry, so we had to take time to explain to our clients that it was a better, more reliable, and faster process. In the last six months, however, we have seen a huge shift in attitude. Not only have the cannabis producers accepted qPCR, but more cannabis labs are starting to use the technology to test for microbial contaminations.
What are some of the most exciting developments in cannabis testing?
Using qPCR for microbial contamination is very new for the cannabis industry. We’re happy and excited about it because we see the benefits and we hope the whole cannabis industry embraces it.
Secondly, the challenges of formulating, developing, and testing new products. The developments in the past six months have been really promising.
Thirdly, discovering more about the cannabis plant and what ends up in cannabis products is really an exciting development. As we progress, we are sure to learn more about the effects of cannabinoids and terpenes.
What’s your pinnacle vision of cannabis testing?
There are two sides to it. There is a regulatory side, and there is the testing side. On the regulatory side, it’s about what needs to be tested, and how it needs to be tested.
A very important part of the quality assurance initiative for cannabis is ensuring the testing sample is representative of that batch. There are different factors in place. Is that batch homogeneous or not? Are the characteristics consistent or not? Cannabis is a plant. It’s an agricultural product. It’s not something that’s coming out of a machine, so we cannot expect all of the plants to have exactly the same characteristics. I believe one key is to limit the size of the batch. Other jurisdictions have clearly defined regulations. For example, in California, it clearly states that each batch cannot be larger than fifty pounds. In the Canadian regulations, there is no definition at all.
Secondly, labs need to get more serious. Some labs are testing cannabis products with outdated instruments or unvalidated methods, meaning their results cannot be truly accurate or reliable. Cannabis labs cannot use a 15-year-old second-hand instrument and expect to get the same results as pharmaceutical labs that use the best, most advanced instruments. Some people might think that testing cannabis products is not as important as pharmaceutical products, but it is just as important.
Cannabis has a very complex matrix which requires complex testing methods. Not all labs have good enough or validated methods. However, I’m optimistic that it’s a matter of years, maybe between five to ten, for cannabis testing to get there.
How is Sigma helping to foster the growth of a responsible and safe legal cannabis industry?
I think everyone active in the cannabis industry has a responsibility to make sure they are doing a good job and providing safe and efficacious products to the consumer. That’s because, if the consumer is not happy with what they’re getting from us, it will translate into unhappiness with the whole legalized framework.
Finally, what’s next for Sigma?
We are going through some expansion at our headquarters in Toronto and we’re about to acquire a lab in British Columbia, which will be our second lab in Canada. Additionally, we have a joint venture in Colombia and are setting up the first GMP certified cannabis lab in South America.
We are also becoming more involved with helping develop formulations for new products, and testing them, especially for the producers that follow GMP requirements either in pursuit of higher quality or for international cannabis markets.
We also recently received our GMP clearance from the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (“TGA”). The approval designates Sigma as an approved testing laboratory for Canadian companies to introduce their products into the Australian cannabis market.
Pink Lemonade: This Sparkling Strain Is Both Pretty & Potent
The frosted pink buds of Pink Lemonade might dazzle the beholder with glittering layer of golden trichomes, but this gorgeous flower isn’t all looks.
Dusted with a glittering layer of golden trichomes, the Pink Lemonade strain is endowed with a mystical appearance that embodies everything curious, attractive, and intriguing about cannabis flowers. Tightly bound calyxes dazzle with a bouquet of pink, violet, and sage coloration.
Cracking open one of these flowers emits a comfortable herbal aroma. A burst of crispness teases the nose, somewhat akin to the tart fizz in a carbonated cherry drink. This dessert-like aroma nicely compliments a definite happy hour high. Calm, relaxed, and downright chill, Pink Lemonade is a true afternoon delight.
The Pink Lemonade High
Put on some chill beats and pour yourself a nice drink. This plant is smooth, easy, and well-rounded. If inhaling Pink Lemonade feels like the first meaningful breath you’ve taken all day, you might be pleasantly surprised as a subtle relaxation works its way along the limbs and through the muscles.
There’s no doubt about it–this plant is a go-to strain for mellowing out. While often described as thoughtful and creative, the herb is better suited to leisure activities than it is serious concentration.
While solo consumers may enjoy putting on some Netflix after a little of this plant, it’s peaceful and contented nature is ideal for social gatherings. Spending time with friends may always be fun, but it’s easy to sit back enjoy a pleasant conversation after a few tastes of Pink Lemonade.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that cannabis affects everyone differently. The herb tends to be a mood enhancer rather than an instant remedy for happiness. If you are in an easygoing and relaxed environment, expect even more mellow after enjoying a little bud. If you’ve been having a bad day, strains like Pink Lemonade may provide relief by softening negative emotions and making them more tolerable.
Pink Lemonade Strain Background
Today’s cannabis market is truly a craft one. To say that the lack of federal recognition of the herb is problematic is an understatement. However, one benefit of state-by-state legalization is the development of truly local, expertly crafted products.
Pink Lemonade is a superb example of such a flower. There are many renditions of Pink Lemonade out there, yet the particular version pictured is a cross between two contemporary hybrids, Lemon Cheesecake and Huckleberry Soda.
Each parent strain is exceptional in its own right. Lemon Cheesecake is a sativa-dominant flower with a sour cream aroma and substantial THC production. Huckleberry Soda is a craft hybrid from Annunkanki Genetics, an intriguing cross between two hybrids, Black Cherry Soda and Huckleberry Hound.
Pink Lemonade Strain Benefits
As a craft flower, Pink Lemonade was arguably bred more for enjoyment than serious medical potential. It’s frosted pink buds dazzle the beholder, showcasing the fact that this plant is truly a treat. However, this gorgeous flower isn’t all looks.
The flower produces upwards of 25 percent THC. This means that the plant may be useful to those who benefit from high-THC therapies. Those interested in making a full-extract oil, hash, or other forms of concentrates may also enjoy experimenting with this sugary herb.
This plant is not too energizing nor is it overly sedative. However, those hoping for a little extra help falling asleep at night may find the flower helpful. The relaxed flower may also be beneficial for anxious individuals in search of a social lubricant.
However, the high-THC content in Pink Lemonade can inspire the opposite effect in some people. Bottom line: if you are prone to social anxiety or often respond poorly to THC, this potent flower is likely not the best choice.
Everything You Need to Know If You’re New to Dabbing
Dabbing is an ideal ingestion method best for those that have a high tolerance to cannabis or patients that need a quick, controlled dose of cannabis.
Dabbing is an ideal ingestion method best for those that have a high tolerance to cannabis or for medical users that need a quick, concentrated and controlled dose of cannabis. However, it can be confusing, even for long-time pot smokers. In fact, unless you’ve done it, seen it, or read up on it, dabbing can be a total mystery.
Dabbing is a relatively new way to consume cannabis and it is has become very popular in recent years despite rumors that it is dangerous. It is a highly concentrated experience, with THC at levels much more elevated than most regular flower you would encounter in a joint. For patients, dabbing can be a very effective way to dose because the effects hit the user very quickly and can typically be measured more easily. For those with a high tolerance for cannabis, dabbing can be a way of feeling the effects of pot with more potency.
Before you can get into dabbing, you need to know a little about cannabis concentrates and extracts. Shatter, budder, wax, crumble, pull and snap, and hash oil are a few of the most popular types of cannabis concentrates and extracts. Extracts and concentrates are named so because they are products of a process where THC and other cannabinoids are extracted from the flower. Sometimes, during the extraction process, a solvent (like alcohol or butane) can be used and other times a solvent is not used. Either way, the final product is a smaller, stickier package that packs a powerful punch.
The Dabbing Process
Keep in mind that nails and domes can get incredibly hot. Like, RED hot, literally. Do not underestimate the heat that can occur — be cautious to prevent any burns.
First, you will need something to dab. We have heard the recommendation more than once to keep away from alcohol-based extracts when dabbing. Consult your budtender about this one, or just skip alcohol based-extracts — your call. There are a lot of concentrates and extracts to choose from, enjoy the hunt for your perfect pick.
Next you need something to dab out of. You can purchase a dab rig or just convert an existing glass water pipe with glass dab attachments. You are also going to need a titanium, ceramic, quartz or electronic nail that fits the glass dab attachment you are using. A typical nail is going to require the use of a dome in order to trap the vapor before it dissipates into the air. A dome can be as simple as a glass piece that fits over the reservoir where the extract or concentrate is vaporizing.
Get your dabber ready. A dabber is a tool that is ceramic, metal, glass, that is used to place the dab, or concentrate/extract, on the super-hot nail.
Lastly, unless you are using an electronic nail or e-mail, you will need a mini torch. Some less patient dabbers will use a full-on, propane-fueled torch in order to more quickly heat their nails — experiment at your own risk. In case the dab is a little overwhelming for you and your body, the safest place for you to be is sitting down to avoid any falls.
Turn on your e-nail OR use your torch to heat your nail until it is red-hot. Allow it cool for at least 10 seconds (for titanium) and up to 45 seconds if you are using ceramic or quartz nail.
Once cooled, use your dabber to place your concentrated dab on the nail. Place the dome over the nail as you inhale. Then, exhale. Victory!
If you weren’t already sitting down, you probably will be now!
Take these words of advice to heart — start small. If you haven’t tried dabbing at all before, don’t make your very first dab a large one. You won’t regret taking a small dab, but you might regret taking one that is too big. Always ask your budtender any questions you have about your purchase and if the product you are buying is the best thing you can buy for dabbing, vaporizing, smoking, etc.
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