From 'sativa' to 'CBD,' common cannabis terms you need to know

Published Friday, September 14, 2018 10:30PM EDT
Updated Thursday, September 27, 2018 1:39PM EDT
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With recreational cannabis sales slated to begin on Oct. 17, many Canadians are understandably still hazy when it comes to essential weed words like “sativa” and “CBD.” To help you navigate the lingo of the new legalized landscape, here’s an easy guide.

What’s the difference between ‘cannabis,’ ‘marijuana’ and ‘hemp’?

“Cannabis,” the word used in current government literature, refers to a genus of Asian flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family -- a family that also includes hops and hackberries -- that have been cultivated for millennia for their medicinal and psychoactive properties.

“Cannabis” is frequently used interchangeably with the word “marijuana” (sometimes spelled “marihuana”), a term that originated in Mexico but is viewed by some as being racially-charged.

“Hemp” primarily refers to cannabis plants raised for commercial purposes, such as making textiles, rope, cosmetics and food products like hemp seeds, which are high in protein and essential fatty acids. Hemp usually has negligible levels of the chemical compound that gets you high.

Then what’s ‘dope,’ ‘pot’ and ‘weed’?

Depending on where you are from (or what decade you were born in), common slang terms for the cannabis plant (or the dried parts of it that are smoked) include bud, chronic, dope, ganja, grass, green, herb, Mary Jane, M.J., pot, reefer, skunk (for cannabis with a very distinctive smell), trees, wacky tobaccy and weed. There are many, many more.

What does ‘sativa’ and ‘indica’ mean? Are there different types of cannabis plants?

There are two main cannabis species: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. “Sativas” tend to have more energizing and cerebral effects when used recreationally whereas “indicas” tend to have more sedative and physical effects.

In terms of physical differences, indica plants are darker, shorter and bushier than sativas, which are tall and lean. A third species, Cannabis ruderalis, is rarely cultivated.

There are different types of sativas and indicas, which are called “strains,” and these often have marketed names like “Sour Diesel” and “Bubba Kush.” “Kush,” a term sometimes used interchangeably with cannabis, can refer specifically to indica strains that originated from the Hindu Kush mountain range that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A “hybrid,” moreover, refers to a plant that is a genetic cross between different cannabis strains. Hybrid strains, which can be indica- or sativa-dominant, are bred to combine desired traits from their parent plants.

So what are ‘THC,’ ‘CBD’ and ‘cannabinoids’?

Put simply, “cannabinoids” are a class of approximately 100 known chemical compounds that are responsible for both cannabis' psychoactive and therapeutic effects. The most significant cannabinoids are delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (or “THC” for short) and cannabidiol (or “CBD”).

THC is the psychoactive compound that causes you to get “high.” It can often be seen as tiny crystal-like “trichromes” on the plant. CBD is responsible for many of the plants’ physical effects and has been used to treat anxiety, pain, inflammation, insomnia, nausea and even epilepsy in the medical world. When cannabis becomes legally available for recreational use in Canada, products will be labelled with THC and CBD percentages. The higher that number is, the more potent the product.

You may also hear the term “terpene,” which refers to a broad class of organic compounds that give cannabis strains their distinctive flavours and aromas. The “Blueberry” indica strain’s terpene profile, for example, is said to give it a sweet, berry-like taste. Terpenes are also believed to impact different strains’ effects.

How will cannabis be sold?

The female cannabis plant’s dried flowers are what are most often used by recreational users. Also known as “buds,” dried cannabis flowers tend to be dense and sticky. They also contain the highest proportion of cannabinoids in the plant. Rather than being bright and pretty like roses or daisies, cannabis flowers look more like clumps of dried oregano. The plants’ leaves, stalk and stems are seldom consumed recreationally.

Cannabis oil, which will also be available on Oct. 17, refers to a product in which cannabinoids are extracted from plants and sold in liquid form.

In addition to dried cannabis flowers and cannabis oil, fresh cannabis, live cannabis plants and cannabis seeds have also been authorized for sale on Oct. 17.

There are also “concentrates,” which are extremely potent and may not be legally available in October. They have names like “budder,” “shatter” and “wax.” Smoking concentrates is often called “dabbing.” “Hashish,” or “hash” for short, is another common cannabis-derived product that’s made from the plants’ resin glands, which contain cannabinoids like THC and CBD. This brownish substance has been used for centuries across Asia.

“Dispensaries” refers to the shops that have been openly selling medical cannabis across Canada over the past few years, often illegally. Those working the counters at such shops are called “budtenders.”

How is cannabis consumed?

The most common way to use cannabis is by smoking its dried flowers, either in a hand-rolled cigarette-like “joint” or in a pipe. Other common slang terms for “joint” include “spliff” and “doobie.” A “blunt” is a joint rolled in a tobacco leaf, much like a cigar. When purchased already manufactured, a cannabis cigarette is called a “pre-roll.” A “bong” refers to a pipe that has a water-filled chamber. Slang synonyms for the act of smoking cannabis include “hit,” “puff” and “toke.” If you’ve smoked so much that you get paranoid, lose the ability to converse or get locked to your couch, you might be experiencing a “greenout.”

Cannabis can also be “vaporized,” in which an electronic device, known as a “vaporizer,” is used to heat dried cannabis flowers (or cannabis oils) to create a cannabinoid-laden vapour. Because vaporizing does not combust the entire flower, some believe it is somewhat better for your lungs than smoking, much like e-cigarettes are when compared to traditional cigarettes.

Cannabis-infused food products -- such as so-called “space cakes” and “special brownies” -- can also be consumed recreationally. Known as “edibles,” these won’t be available for purchase until about a year after legalization goes into effect. Such products are usually made with dried cannabis flowers or cannabis oil. While consuming edibles is generally considered healthier than smoking, edibles also tend to be much more potent and long-lasting. Cannabis oil can also be consumed orally.