The discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the mid-1980s was a major breakthrough in modern medicine. Yet, if you looked at the curriculum for most medical schools, you might not know it. The finding would not have been possible without the help of the cannabis plant, which remains illicit in most countries around the world. After wide-spread legalization of medical cannabis and over three decades of research, knowledge about the endocannabinoid system and its associated pathologies, like clinical endocannabinoid deficiency, remain sorely overlooked.
The Endocannabinoid System: The Find of the Century?
Two decades before the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, a team of scientists led by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a professor of medical chemistry a the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, had finally isolated the primary psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). After the discovery, researchers around the globe began the quest to figure out exactly how the compound worked. A group led by Dr. Allyn Howlett, a neuroscientist then with St. Louis University, finally cracked the mystery: THC produced its psychoactive effects through engagement with specialized cell receptors.
A cell receptor can be thought of as a lock that is embedded on the surface of a cell membrane. These locks only respond to specific chemical keys. In this case, THC was the key that engaged a cannabinoid receptor. As research would soon reveal, cannabinoid receptors are part of a larger endocannabinoid system (ECS), a neurotransmitter and cell signaling network like none other. Made up of receptor sites, their respective chemical activators, and the enzymes that deactivate these compounds, scientists quickly unveiled that the ECS was ubiquitous throughout the human body. Cannabinoid receptors are nearly everywhere — connective tissue, the brain, the spinal cord, internal organs, the digestive tract, the skin, and immune cells.
After what surely was many long hours in the lab, Howlett and her team landed on something big. Why on earth would these receptors be found in so many places? Nearly three decades down the line, scientists are still exploring the wide-reaching ramifications of the endocannabinoid system, Howlett included. In the time since its first discovery, the ECS has been found to be a potent regulator of brain activity, hormonal function, and immune response, linking the three main regulatory systems together. It’s this pervasive modulatory network that responds to THC and other cannabis constituents. When a person consumes intoxicating forms of cannabis, THC hijacks the cannabinoid receptor sites that are normally inhabited by compounds that the body produces naturally.
These compounds are called endocannabinoids. The prefix endo- refers to endogenous or internal cannabinoids. In contrast, the cannabinoids found on the cannabis plant are phytocannabinoids with the prefix phyto referring to plants. As it turns out, endocannabinoids are molecules that help maintain a state of equilibrium, or homeostasis, throughout the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Endocannabinoids play the part of harmonizers or middlemen, managing how each of these systems responds to stressful stimuli and communicates with the others.
Endocannabinoids are at least in part responsible for regulating the biological clock, managing things like hunger and sleep over the course of the day. Cannabinoid receptors are also highly concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, and metabolism, giving them regulatory effects over a remarkable number of physiological functions. One endocannabinoid, called anandamide, even takes its name from the Sanskrit word for bliss Ananda thanks to its calming and relaxing effects.
With such a profound influence over so many basic bodily commands, it is now theorized that problems in the ECS may contribute to a wide variety of difficult-to-treat pathologies. These potential pathologies include ailments as diverse as migraines and autism.
Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency May Contribute to Disease
Howlett and Mechulam may have kicked off the first forays into the endocannabinoid system, but they are far from the only scientists who made serious contributions to this emerging arena of health and medicine. Back in 2001, Ethan Russo, a neurologist and medical researcher, first made the case for clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). Russo is currently the Director of Research and Development with the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI). His theory? That many common diseases stem from deficiencies of the endocannabinoid system.
“Many human disorders relate to deficiencies of neurotransmitter function,” Russo told Cannabis Aficionado. “We know that a lack of acetylcholine, the memory neurotransmitter, is key to dementia in Alzheimer disease and related disorders. Parkinson disease is associated with a lack of dopamine function. Depression is related to problems with serotonin.”
Now, Russo suggests that something similar could occur in the endocannabinoid system. “In 2001,” he explains, “I hypothesized that various human disorders could be related to a lack of endocannabinoids, the natural chemicals within our brain and bodies that are similar in activity to THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.”
Since endocannabinoids have wide-spread functions in the body, a lack or deficiency of these signaling molecules could cause a whole host of trouble. Symptoms like seizures, mood troubles, and generalized pain, nausea, and inflammation are all possible side effects of an endocannabinoid imbalance. Further, the universal nature of the ECS means that ailments which are seemingly unrelated to each other may now be classified together under the endocannabinoid umbrella.
“The prime candidates for clinical endocannabinoid deficiency are migraine, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome,” says Russo, describing conditions that are currently thought of as distinct and separate pathologies. “All [three] have compelling evidence in the interim that there are deficiencies in endocannabinoid function. Additional evidence has accumulated to include post-traumatic stress, autism, and other disorders.”
It is the ECS that perhaps describes why conditions like migraine and irritable bowel syndrome may share so many overlapping symptoms, including changes in mood, digestive distress, pain, and fatigue. These problems may be genetic in nature or acquired over time. At least one scientist has even gone as far as to describe the endocannabinoid system as a “bridge between body and mind”, connecting the physical reality with an emotional and intellectual one.
Toward Recognition of the ECS
Researchers have been investigating the influence of the endocannabinoid system in disease pathology for the past 30 years. Despite advancements in our understanding about the ECS, however, therapies targeting the endocannabinoid system are still few and far between. While some cannabinoid-based therapies are available to select patients, medical cannabis still remains one of the primary therapies that targets the ECS.
Yet, while the herb has been immensely helpful to patients around the world, both cannabis and endocannabinoid research still suffers from underutilization and harsh political barriers to research. In fact, a 2018 study from the Washington School of Medicine found that only a meager nine percent of medical schools teach their students about medical cannabis. This is despite the fact that the medicinal use of the herb is legal in 33 U.S. states and all of Canada.
“In my opinion, the media attention [on the endocannabinoid system] is not yet sufficient,” says Russo, “as the scientific evidence behind the theory is now quite solid based on serum and cerebrospinal fluid tests and other data.” He is referring to tests conducted in patients with schizophrenia, migraine, and epilepsy. In each of these conditions, patients exhibited a dysregulation of endocannabinoid molecules in their cerebrospinal fluid. In post-traumatic stress, scientists at the New York University Langone Medical Center made a similar finding back in 2013. Compared with controls, PTSD patients demonstrated reduced endocannabinoid circulation.
“Considering the extreme amount of suffering and economic costs associated with clinical endocannabinoid deficiency disorders, it is necessary to have better research support and clinical investigations,” he presses. Better research and support would enable medical researchers and other scientists to more efficiently establish key therapies and interventions for endocannabinoid disorders. “While it is clear that cannabis in one form or another can be very effective in treating such disorders, certain lifestyle approaches, such as low impact aerobic activity, and dietary manipulations with prebiotics and probiotics may also be effective.”
Unfortunately, nearly 75 percent of medical schools also fail to provide students with the required amount of nutrition education. In a world of quasi-legal remedies and underacknowledged illnesses, its past time that formal institutions look seriously into endocannabinoid health.
Cannabis Classification System Announced for 2022 Emerald Cup Awards
One of the factors that make the Emerald Cup so important to California’s cannabis market is its continued strive for excellence and innovation. For the 2022 awards, the judging process is undergoing a transformation and with it comes a new cannabis classification system that will classify entries based on terpenes, flavour, and effects for anybody — from customers to budtenders, dispensaries, judges, and cultivators.
Cannabis Is More Than Just THC
The days of just searching out the highest THC totals are rapidly receding as research has now proven that terpenes are at the base of the entourage effect that customers desire are rapidly fading.
Terpenes, on the other hand, have mostly added to the consumer confusion already caused by overly broad Indica/Sativa/Hybrid terminology, whimsical strain names, irrelevant THC/CBD percentages, and other ambiguous factors that make selecting the best or correct strain a less-than-satisfying ordeal for even the most experienced cannabis connoisseurs.
The Emerald Cup competition will serve as a testbed for a new classification system for cannabis flowers. The event organisers and their testing partners at SC Labs decided to further break down the flower categories based on the chemometrics of each cultivar (better known as “chemovar” — the evolution of the term “dominant terpene”) evolving beyond last year’s flower category sorting by primary terpene content, in order to level the playing field and eliminate as much bias as possible in the blind/anonymous sampling done by Emerald Cup judges each year.
This paradigm-shifting insight sparked months of additional research and discussion, culminating in the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification System based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs.
The all-new classification system builds on last year’s approach of sorting flower entries by primary terpene content, leveraging a decade of Cannabis phytochemistry research between PhytoFacts®, developed by Napro Research in 2013, and a powerful database of over 250,000 terpene tests aggregated by SC Labs, dating back to their launch of terpene testing on Cannabis in 2013. The key class names were chosen to represent current terminology, are widely used in the business and are familiar to dispensaries and consumers. Each class is further explained using taste notes, effects, and popular strains or cultivars to promote understanding and acceptance.
The New Cannabis Classification System
The classes of the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification Based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs include:
“Jacks + Haze” Class
- Mostly ‘Sativa’-leaning varietals
- Tasting notes – Fruity, Pinesol, Haze
- Effects – Energizing, Cerebral, Artistically Inspiring
- Common Cultivars – Classic Trainwreck, Jack Herer, Durban Poison, Super Lemon Haze
- Terpenes Profile: Terpinolene, Caryophyllene, Myrcene
“Tropical + Floral” Class
- Mostly ‘Indica’-leaning varietals
- Tasting notes – Sweet, Floral, Tropical Fruit
- Effects – Calming, Soothing, Relaxing
- Common Cultivars – Super Skunk, Hawaiian, In the Pines, Dream Queen
- Terpenes Profile: Ocimene, Myrcene
“Sweets + Dreams” Class
- Mostly ‘Indica’-leaning varietals
- Tasting Notes – Fruity, Sweet, Woody, Hoppy, Herbaceous
- Effects – Relaxation, Couch Lock, Analgesic
- Common Cultivars – Blue Dream, Tangie, Forbidden fruit, Grandaddy Purple, Purple Urkel, Grape Ape, Cherry AK, God’s Gift, Purple Punch
- Terpenes Profile: Myrcene, Pinene, Caryophyllene
“OGs + Gas” Class
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting Notes – Gas, Fuel, Sweet, Citrus, and Pepper
- Effect – Uplifting, Stimulating, Analgesic, Relaxation
- Common Cultivars – Classic OG Kush, ChemDawg, Sour Diesel, Gorilla Glue
- Terpenes Profile: Any combination or shifting codominance of Caryophyllene, Limonene, Myrcene
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting Notes – Deserts, Doughs, Citrusy & Spicy
- Effects – Stimulating, Racy, Uplifting, Comforting
- Common Cultivars – Classic Bubba Kush, GSC, Gelatos, Cakes
- Any shift in codominance of Caryophyllene & Limonene
“Exotics” (Rare Terpene Combinations) Class
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting notes – varied based on chemistry of entry
- Effect – varied based on chemistry of entry
- Common Cultivars – rarest terpene profiles entered into the Emerald Cup Competition
This game-changing development in cannabis classification levels the playing ground for the 2022 Cup as well as market competitiveness amongst brands. The system seeks to become an open-source, globally recognised grading solution for Cannabis, with six simple classes/names/descriptions. In the same way that a Chardonnay would not be tested against a Merlot in the wine business, this new system permits strains with comparable profiles to be judged against each other. This new classification system will also be used at the California State Fair Cannabis Awards in July 2022.
The 2022 Emerald Cup Awards will be presented live on stage on May 14th at the Green Street Festival in Downtown Los Angeles, California.
The Sativa Preservation Society Project Will Protect Rare Haze Genetics
Space Coyote, the totally cosmic cannabis company, has launched the Sativa Preservation Society Project — a movement that protects Haze genetics while paying homage to the custodians and cultivators who kept the seeds alive.
Celebrators of the cannabis culture’s stoner heritage, Space Coyote’s aesthetic and ethos embraces the vibes and psychedelic Seventies scene, where the creativity and community of cannabis intersect.
Co-founder and self-confessed ‘Sativa Diva’ Libby Cooper calls it the “ultimate passion project”.
“We’re truly passionate about saving these genetics that are the actual grandmothers of every modern-day sativa strains that people love — all of these desert strains, all of the fruity strains,” Cooper tells me from the Space Coyote van en route to Hall of Flowers.
Founding the Sativa Preservation Society Project
The concept of the Sativa Preservation Society Project was years in incubation as the Space Coyote team deliberated over how to bring it to life. It was important for them to give back to the community while helping to educate about the history of cannabis culture.
The stars aligned earlier this year when the team met Bam Vachher-Gnanathurai, nursery and plant breeding manager from the Posibl Project in Salina. A mutual love of the unique effects of Haze genetics made for a truly cosmic outcome.
“Bam is super passionate about sativa,” said Cooper. “When we went and met up with Bam for the very first time, he rolled a blunt from Cuban Black. It was such an amazing experience to smoke that flower.”
“The initial conversation of the Sativa Preservation Society coming to life happened during that smoke session. It was like, ‘holy shit, we could actually do this.’”
The Haze Experience
The Sativa Preservation Society Project is launching with three incredibly rare cultivars — Cuban Black Haze, Uptown Haze (also known as A5 Haze), and C5 Haze — all of which were originally cultivated in the 1980s by legendary grower Neville Schoenmaker. The flower will be available as bagged eighths and as infused prerolls.
Cooper likens the Haze experience to being “a bit like mushrooms” — colors are brighter, your smell is enhanced and your hearing is sharper.
“It’s really like a cup of coffee without any jitteriness or anxiety usually associated with sativas. This is pure energy without any sort of adverse effects,” explains Cooper. “You really feel as if your eyelids are getting peeled back — you’re awake, you’re uplifted. Basically, I smoke it and I immediately start stretching.”
“Many sativa genetics are dying out due to a number of reasons,” says Cooper. “Typically, they are more difficult to grow, have a longer curing time, and the fluffy buds are easily crushed in transit.” All of which makes sativas less cost-effective in California’s highly competitive legal market.
“This truly is the first time these original sativa strains are going to be commercially grown,” says Cooper. “It really wouldn’t have been possible, funnily enough, without this group named Posibl.”
Learn more about the Sativa Preservation Society Project in the video above. While you’re at it, find your nearest Space Coyote here.
Peach Oz: This Sweet And Juicy Cultivar Will Stimulate Your Creativity
If you’re looking for a premium cultivar with legendary genetics and a euphoric high, look no further than Peach Oz, the latest addition to Wonderbrett’s stellar strain menu.
A cross of Peach Rings with OZ Kush and a descendent of Zkittlez, the sweet, stimulating citrus taste profile of Peach Oz will get your creative juices flowing.
While the cultivar may be new to the public, according to Wonderbrett Co-Founder and famed Breeder Brett Feldman, it’s five-years-old in the world of genetics.
“There’s only a small handful of heady smokers who follow these things,” says Feldman. “I wanted to bring it to the masses to share the experience with everybody. That’s where my passion comes from with this strain. Similar to an amazing dish at a restaurant, you want to share it with your friends.”
Grown in small-batches at scale from the company’s state-of-the-art Long Beach cultivation facility, the strain was first created by Dying Breed Seeds, then perfected by Cannabis By Corey, before making its way to Feldman.
Bursting with flavors and aromas that bring to mind the sweet ocean breeze and fragrant fruit orchards of the California sunshine state, Peach OZ’s four dominant terpenes: Caryophyllene, Linalool, Limonene and Humulene, create a distinct sweet taste of ripe peaches, citrus candy and cream.
“When any strain has that unique, recognizable consistency in its flavor, whether that be peach, lemon or orange, that’s what myself and other breeders appreciate most and look for when bringing a genetic like this to market. It’s mind-blowing what Peach OZ can do that, translating a fruit flavor to a smoking experience,” explained Feldman.
Peach OZ is available at select dispensary and at Wonderbrett’s flagship dispensary in L.A.