Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is unique among psychoactive compounds. Thus far in history, only one other natural chemical creates a similarly intoxicating experience — a little-known liverwort from New Zealand. For decades, researchers have speculated that the cannabis plant produces THC to aid in its own survival.
There’s no questioning that this is true. For one, the compound seems to act as a built-in sunscreen, shielding delicate leaves and flowers from harsh UV-B lightwaves. Secondly, the cannabinoid is a potent natural anti-microbial and insect repellent, protecting flowers from pests and infection.
Here’s where things get weird. The cannabis plant may not have developed the ability to produce THC on its own. Instead, recent science suggests that the herb borrowed the DNA from other organisms. Most notably, the cannabis plant took inspiration from ancient gene-scrambling viruses. This biological borrowing, as it turns out, may be the reason why intoxicating cannabis and CBD-rich hemp separated from one another.
The Origins of THC
It turns out, cannabis aficionados all over the globe have an accident to thank for the development of THC.
After completing an exhaustive sequence of the cannabis genome, researchers from the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai in New York found that the world’s favorite herb inherited its ability to produce the psychoactive after a series of infections millions of years ago.
Viral invasions of the genome are nothing new, most plant species contain millions of garbled fragments of their own DNA mixed with that of viruses. These infectious viral entities are called retrotransposons, and they’re sometimes referred to as “genetic parasites”.
Remnants of these genetic parasites, called retroelements can be passed along from generation to generation — a heritable trait that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to follow the rules of natural selection. Instead of developing the ability to produce THC automatically for its own benefit, the cannabis plant got a little help.
This viral help not only made the plant more appealing to humans later down the line, but it also split the cannabis plant into two generalized chemovars: intoxicating marijuana and fibrous hemp.
Ancient Viruses Cause Split Between Cannabis and Hemp
Prior to infection, there is no indication that the plant could produce either THC or CBD as two unique chemical compounds. Instead, the cannabis plant seems to only have had one enzyme that perhaps made chemicals that were similar in structure to either cannabinoid. After infection, the virus DNA coupled with natural DNA replication split the genetic makings of one enzyme into two, allowing certain plants to produce either THC or CBD.
It is important to quickly point out, however, that it’s technically incorrect to say that these viruses allowed the plant to produce THC. Instead, the viral infection enabled the plant to produce THC-acid. This acid then converts to THC slowly after exposure to heat and the elements. The cannabis plant synthesizes THC-A using an enzyme, which is a special protein that facilitates the chemical reaction that puts THC-acid together.
It’s this enzyme, along with the enzyme that produces CBD-acid, that the ancient viral infection seemed to create. After viruses made themselves at home millions of years ago, it caused the enzymes that make either THC-A or CBD-A to drift apart.
Over time, the research scientists presume, these different plants were selectively bred by humans, who relied on both plant varieties for food, fiber, medicine, and spiritual purposes. An amazing fact, considering that without infection, these revered molecules may have never come into creation.
There Needs to Be More Research on How Cannabis Affects Dreams
Most people forget their dreams shortly after waking. As soon as the eyelids flutter open, an entire evening of vivid adventures and abstract situations shuffle to an end, often leaving only lingering traces of their presence — a fragment of a dress here, the flashing face of a stranger there. While some individuals may be adept at remembering these mysterious nocturnal encounters, for the most part, the dreaming mind remains an enigma.
For those who consume cannabis, the dreaming self may remain even more elusive. The plant, you see, may prevent the sleeping mind from dreaming. Although cannabis has long been used as a meditation aid and sleep-inducer, preliminary research suggests the trance-inducing herb may suppress some forms of sleep consciousness. Of course, however, research on how cannabis affects dreams is far too premature to make any serious assessments.
The Purpose of Dreaming
Dream science over the past several decades provides more and more hints into the true nature of the dreaming mind. While the exact purpose of dreaming is unclear and dreams are particularly difficult to study, it is generally understood that the dreaming mind is also an emotional mind. While logic and rationality dominate during the day, the unique function of the dreaming mind is to help soothe and come to terms with emotional memories.
Most dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep). The REM cycle is the closest sleep state to wakefulness when electrical activity in the brain increases, along with heart rate and breathing. During this time, levels of bodily stress hormones drop to their lowest levels. During the day, the hormone norepinephrine increased in the bloodstream in response to everyday stressors and anxieties. At night, however, norepinephrine levels slowly decrease as the dreaming mind takes over.
Brain scans suggest that the dreaming mind is very similar to the waking mind; visual areas of the brain are highly engaged, as well as areas related to memory and conscious thinking. A primary difference, however, is that the waking mind also responds to stress signals by releasing hormones like norepinephrine for fight-or-flight response. When dreaming, even strong emotions are distanced from this fight-or-flight impulse of the nervous system.
While the content of dreams may be very different than your visual memories from everyday life, it appears that emotional memory processing is a core function of REM sleep. The situations that your dreaming self is exposed to may be abstract or downright weird, but the emotional context of the dream may be what holds real value.
How Cannabis Affects Dreams
If dreams are the brain’s way of de-escalating and filing away emotional memories, then the effects of cannabis on dreams are well worth knowing. Thus far, a multitude of preclinical and small human trials show that cannabis consumption causes a reduction in REM sleep. This reduction is most strongly correlated with THC, although animal research thus far hasn’t determined whether or not the same effect occurs with CBD.
For individuals with recurring nightmares, this could be a positive benefit. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, often demonstrate disturbed REM sleep patterns and may consistently remember their dreams. Healthy sleep is sleep that promotes feelings of restfulness upon waking. If a person plagued by chronic nightmares, it can have a distressing impact on the next wakeful day
In PTSD, patients are unable to delete fear-based experiences from their memories. Already, preclinical research suggests that cannabis medicines may be beneficial for those with the condition, potentially helping patients extinguish fear-based memories during the waking day.
And yet, for the everyday individual, the overall effect of cannabis on dreams remains unknown. Research suggests that the plant does, in fact, reduce dreams and limits the amount of time spent in REM sleep. Given that REM sleep is when the body records and desensitizes emotional memories, it’s possible that reducing time spent in REM may have a negative effect on emotional processing.
The catch? Very little research has been conducted on the aftermath of cannabis consumption on dreaming. Although cannabis is one of the most popular illicit sleep aids in the world, no high-quality or conclusive evidence exists on the impact of cannabis on sleep. Further, the bulk of research on the topic was conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, with isolated cannabis compounds and small participant numbers. As a result, the way in which cannabis affects dreaming and the implications this may have on waking life are simply unknown.
The human brain does not like to go without enough REM sleep. While quality research on cannabis and dreaming is appallingly absent from the scientific literature, what is known, however, is that dreams come back with a vengeance after a brief period of abstinence from the plant. When regular cannabis consumers abstain from the herb, one of the most common side effects of withdrawal is the resurgence of very vivid and memorable dreams. This phenomenon has a proper name: REM rebound.
During REM rebound, a person is able to reach a state of REM sleep more quickly. They’re also more likely to remain in REM sleep for an extended amount of time. This dreaming rebound most often occurs after a person experiences sleep deprivation. The brain, it would seem, opens the floodgates of emotion once you’ve finally safe to hit the hay.
In terms of REM sleep, does cannabis produce similar effects to sleep deprivation? Without more research on how cannabis affects dreams, it’s hard to say.
Wizard Stones: The Magic of Making Cannabis Diamonds
Aaron Palmer and Graham Jennings, founders of Oleum Extracts in Washington State, talk about Wizard Stones, their THCA isolate product.
Heat, pressure, and time. The three components required to form a diamond from carbon. But what about diamonds made from cannabis? The founders of Oleum Extracts, Aaron Palmer and Graham Jennings both agree that a good diamond product ultimately comes down to the flavor provided by its terpene fraction.
Diamonds is a slang term for the crystal formations of the cannabinoid THCA. The molecule’s lattice structure builds upon itself naturally as individual molecules clump together creating the faceted formations that resemble diamond or quartz.
When most people talk about cannabis diamonds, they’re talking about THCA structures that form in their own terpene sauce. So, it’s a little different technique than other isolation methods.
Oleum —While their chemical composition is the same, the process to make them is slightly different than the traditional diamonds mined from a raw extract. Instead, they use a specially formulated solvent mix to create a solution with a composition that encourages crystallization.
Due to Washington state’s regulations, Oleum is limited in the chemical solvents they can use. So that blend is the crucial variable to isolating THCA into their Wizard Stones product.
Growing cannabis diamonds within their original terpene fraction comes down to creating an environment with the right amounts of pressure and heat to encourage crystal growth.
Within the raw extract, the terpene and cannabinoid compounds are homogenized together, but as they settle and separate the mixture “crashes” — which is the start of crystallization.
Palmer explains that it “helps to create a seed because if there’s nothing for the THCA molecules to grab onto then they have a harder time starting the diamond formation.”
There are a few ways extractors seed a solution to start diamond growth, but Oleum prefers to use freezing temperatures to solidify and then thaw their extract, helping to create small groupings of THCA for other molecules to stack off.
Another common seeding technique is to drop a previously grown crystal into the extracted mixture of cannabis compounds, giving the THCA something to grow off of.
This technique is especially useful when filming a time-lapse of the crystal growth because it gives the camera a focal point knowing where the formation will grow from.
Creating Wizard Stones
The above timelapse video wasphotographed over a four day period by Dankshire. We can see diamonds begin to form almost immediately. However, the crystallization process can take a month if not longer to complete once a raw extract is jarred and waiting to crash.
Oleum utilizes custom-built isolation vessels for their production diamond runs but admits that the jar tech allows more visibility into the process.
Jennings points out, “You see the jars, we even do the jar stuff a lot. It’s more popular… and people know what it is compared to a large isolation vessel that no one can see into it but you know it’s growing 2,000 grams of crystals.”
Each batch can present a different ratio of diamonds to sauce and it seems like everyone wants a little different combination. “We just give ‘em what it makes,” Jennings said.
That’s the beauty of isolated products like cannabis diamonds and sauce; you can mix your own cocktail of cannabis compounds and really dial in the flavors and feelings that you’re after.
Cannabis diamonds grown in their own sauce create a potent, refined, and pronounce expression of the strain they are extracted from.
Terpinolene: The Powerful Medicinal Terpene with Anti-Cancer Promise
Terpinolene (sometimes denoted as “TPO”) is considered a minor, or secondary, terpene and features an aroma resembling sweet pine.
Few cannabis consumers are fully aware of the complex molecular chemistry of the herb they vaporize, smoke, or eat. Terpenes like terpinolene are the aromatic molecules responsible for the sometimes revealingly pungent aroma of many strains of cannabis. Although the chief purpose of this family of chemicals is an evolutionary defense mechanism against pests and predators, terpenes have been found to deliver medicinal efficacy that equals that of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.
More than 20,000 terpenes exist throughout nature, about 200 of which have been identified in various strains of cannabis. Terpinolene (sometimes denoted as “TPO”) is considered a minor, or secondary, terpene and features an aroma resembling sweet pine. It delivers a taste reminiscent of citrus and is produced in many plants in nature other than cannabis, including allspice, cumin, junipers, parsnip, rosemary, sage, and tea tree.
The Details of Terpinolene
In terms of medicinal efficacy, terpinolene kills cancer cells and acts as a sedative. In addition, it displays antibacterial properties and is both an anti-fungal and an anti-oxidant. It is employed as a flavoring agent by various segments of the food industry. It is also used to manufacture plastics and resins and is an effective repellent against pests such as mosquitoes and weevils.
A 2013 study found this special molecule to be a powerful anti-cancer agent. Concluded the study’s researchers, “Our findings clearly demonstrate that terpinolene is a potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumour cells and may have potential as an anticancer agent, which needs to be further studied.”
A 2013 study entitled “Anticancer and Antioxidant Properties of Terpinolene” that was published in the journal Arh Hig Rada Toksikol found terpinolene to be a “potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumour cells” and surmised that this powerfully medicinal terpene “may have potential as an anticancer agent,” an issue in obvious need of further research due to the 91 million people worldwide who suffer more than 100 types of cancers.
The researchers concluded, “Our findings clearly demonstrate that terpinolene is a potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumor cells and may have potential as an anticancer agent, which needs to be further studied.”
A 2012 study entitled “Terpinolene, a Component of Herbal Sage, Downregulates AKT1 Expression in K562 Cells” and published in the journal Oncology Letters found the terpene terpinolene to be an effective agent in the battle against a variety of cancers.
Concluded the study’s researchers, “Increased expression and/or activation of AKT is involved in a variety of human cancers. In cells treated with sage or rosemary extract, mRNA and protein expression levels of AKT1 were reduced compared with those of the control cells 48 hours after the herbal treatments. We found that terpinolene, a common component of sage and rosemary, markedly reduced the protein expression of AKT1 in K562 cells and inhibited cell proliferation.”
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