Education Guide to Cannabis

Cannabis has become a mainstream topic of conversation since the advent of legalization in various US states. It is a plant with a fascinating history and a wide variety of uses, which is why education is so important in our industry. Not to mention, depending on which state you reside in, cannabis exists in a gray area, without any straightforward legal status. This beginners guide is a great place to start if you’d like to learn the basics and benefits of cannabis.

Cannabis in the United States

For thousands of years, people all over the world have been using and ingesting cannabis for a variety of purposes. Since its legalization in California in 1996, it’s become more widely available across the US and with its legalization, the stigma associated with it is slowly starting to fade.

“More Americans believe pot should be legal — 68% according to a 2021 Gallup Poll— and 18% of Americans now admit to using it, an increase of 10% from 2005, according to Forbes.

Currently in the US, cannabis is available for medical use in 39 states, and for recreational use in 19 states. The cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans. The rapid expansion of the legal industry paired with the plant's rising popularity is driving changes to laws across the country at both state and federal levels. While some states have legalized recreational consumption, it is still illegal at a federal level due to its Schedule 1 status. In order to stay on the right side of the law, it's always important check your state’s laws and guidelines concerning cannabis consumption and possession.

Cannabis or marijuana, what’s the difference?

In short, cannabis and marijuana are two names that both refer to the same plant.

The name marijuana, pronounced “marihuana”, is thought to have originated in Mexico, around the 1840s. More recently, the medical and scientific communities use the name cannabis, referring to its Latin name ‘Cannabis Sativa’. This is intentional, as a means to steer away from any residual anti-Mexican sentiment the name marijuana might have from cannabis' criminalization in the 1930s.

It's important to note that the prohibition of cannabis was steeped in racist ideologies of the 1930s. The damaging rhetoric of the time period is still alive today and contributes to the stigma which the plant and its advocates and users, still carry. As a means to eradicate propaganda and prejudice, the term "marijuana" is slowly being removed from the industry's lexicon.

"Cannabis sativa" is a genus of psychoactive plants that have been cultivated for thousands of years all over the world, with possible origins in Central Asia. Another common variety included in this genus is hemp. In the US, "Hemp" is used to refer to cannabis plants with 0.3% THC or less.

In popular culture, thanks to music and TV shows, there’s a rich list of slang for cannabis including weed, pot, skunk, chronic, grass, bud, flower, mary jane, and so on. All of these slang terms refer to the same plant: cannabis.

What are the origins of cannabis use?

For centuries, civilizations used cannabis recreationally and medically, in tribal rituals and healing ceremonies. There’s evidence of its use across the globe from the Indian Hindus, the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Its medicinal properties were thought to help with arthritis, depression, amenorrhea, inflammation, pain, lack of appetite, and asthma.

As far back as 2800 BC, Emperor Shen Nung, who is believed to be the Father of Chinese Medicine, recorded the positive benefits of cannabis in his pharmacopeia. Research published in 2022 by archaeologists in Science Advances suggests mourners burned cannabis as part of their tribal ceremonies in a remote mountain in Central Asia over 2500 years ago.

There are many different ways to consume cannabis, you can smoke it, vape with a device, eat it, take droplets from an oil, or apply it topically. As a plant, cannabis is extremely resiliant against wind, rain and other elements. Thanks to the advances of indoor horticulture, it can also be grown relatively easily all over the world, which contributes to its widespread use.

What do people use cannabis for today?

People enjoy cannabis recreationally to de-stress and have fun, and medically to help with chronic pain or the symptoms of illness. There are a few different factors that contribute to the effects you might feel:

  • Your body’s chemistry
  • The type or variety you try
  • How much you take
  • How you take it (delivery method)
  • Your intention. For example, are you using cannabis to help with pain or are you just looking to relax?

According to a Gallup survey in 2019:

  • 40% of Americans said they used cannabis products for pain
  • 20% for anxiety
  • 11% to help with sleep and insomnia
  • 8% for arthritis

Americans use cannabis for mental health, and for physical symptoms. Research from BoFa Securities show sales of cannabis grew by 40 percent to $25 billion in 2022.

What are the common reasons for cannabis medical use?

The most common reason Americans use cannabis is pain control. According to a study published by Harvard University in 2020, evidence suggests that cannabis is effective at:

  • Treating chronic pain, neuropathic pain (a burning sensation in the nerves), and helping with muscle spasticity associated with MS and other degenerative diseases. The study went on to note that, “Part of its allure is that it is clearly safer than opiates (it is impossible to overdose on and far less addictive) and it can take the place of NSAIDs such as Advil if people can’t take them due to problems with their kidneys or ulcers or GERD.”
  • The FDA has approved one cannabis-derived drug called Epidiolex, a CBD isolate used for people suffering from seizures. There are also synthetic cannabinoid drugs created to help with nausea, anorexia, AIDs symptoms, the negative side effects of chemotherapy, and patients for whom there are no other satisfactory alternative treatments.

What are the common reasons people enjoy cannabis recreationally?

Recreational cannabis use is about relaxation, leisure and mental health. In most states where recreational use is legal there is an age limit imposed for 21 years old and over.

A 2021 Gallup Poll explored the most common reasons people use cannabis recreationally. Women are more likely than men to use CBD products for anxiety (25% vs 14% respectively), and men are more likely to use CBD to improve their sleep.

There was a dramatic increase in cannabis consumption during the Covid-19 pandemic, likely due to increased stress and anxiety. People have been turning to cannabis to help cope with stress, using it to wind down, relax and improve their sleep.

What are cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are the compounds found in cannabis. Our bodies also have naturally occurring cannabinoids, they're called endogenous cannabinoids, and cannabinoids contained in the cannabis plant are called phytocannabinoids.

There are two main cannabinoids related to how cannabis works with your body THC and CBD. They react with the receptors in our brains, called the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

  • THC, short for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive ingredient that gives a “high” feeling.
  • CBD stands for cannabidiol which can be extracted from both hemp and cannabis. CBD has a very similar structure to THC but doesn’t produce the same high.

Legally, a THC percentage of 0.3 or above in any cannabis product is still illegal in some states. Whereas CBD and hemp products with a THC percentage below 0.3 are legal ever since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed. It's always a good idea to check the laws where you live to stay within the legal bounds of the law.

How does cannabis work in the body?

The way cannabis works in the body is linked to our Endocannabinoid system, also known as our ECS. When cannabis is taken in any form, the cannabinoids from the plant engage a series of receptors in our bodies, especially CB1 and CB2.

The cannabinoid THC reacts with the CB1 receptor in our brain, which contributes to psychoactive effects and causes the cerebral, "high" feeling. The CBD cannabinoids react with the CB2 receptors in the wider parts of our body, for example, our joints, muscles, and digestive system.

The ECS plays a vital role in pain sensation, mood, appetite and other bodily functions — that’s why cannabinoids can affect how we feel in various ways.

CBD is not psychoactive in the same way that THC can be - It has a much more subtle effect that allows it to be helpful for stress and anxiety related issues. CBD also has actions on the central nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, our hormones, bones, immune system, metabolism, and our muscular-skeletal system.

What is a cannabis strain?

Cannabis comes in many different varieties called cultivars. There are thousands of different types of cannabis cultivars because of widespread crossbreeding of different plants. In the US, you’re more likely to encounter Sativa-dominant and Indica-dominant strains of cannabis.

The cannabis plant possesses different chemical compounds such as cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. These compounds can be enhanced and manipulated in different ways as part of the growing process. It’s important to note the name of the strain of cannabis doesn’t determine the effect it has on the body - it’s more to do with the compounds within that specific cultivar.

The three main types of cannabis strain designations that are widely used in the industry are:

  1. Indica - this plant typically has short, bushy, dark green leaves. These strains are known to produce a more relaxed feeling.
  2. Sativa - this plant has thin, wide, light green leaves. The effects are said to be more energizing and cerebral.
  3. Hybrid - this means cross-cultivation of two other strains (Indica and Sativa). There are literally thousands of hybrid plants, each with their own unique properties.

Different strains and variants mean people can choose what suits them best depending on the results they're looking for. Despite these three commonly-used designations, we're now learning that effects are determined by the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids present within each cultivar.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in a variety of plants. They make up a plant’s unique fragrance, colors, and flavors. They can influence our mood and reduce stress. Terpenes are already widely used in medicinal and holistic health, for example, lavender to enhance sleep, or eucalyptus for opening airways.

Why are terpenes important?

Terpenes play an integral role in a cannabis plant's growth and survival. These organic compounds enrich the color and pigmentation in leaves and buds and contribute to the flavor of the plant.

As our understanding of terpenes develops, it's clear these aromatic compounds are a medical powerhouse too. Unique combinations of terpenes from other plants and cannabis offer unlimited potential for healing, wellness and enjoyment.

There’s now a rich variety of terpene combinations and “flavors” popping up in dispensaries, so whatever health benefit you’re looking for, you can choose the one that suits you. For example, cultivars rich in the terpene Limonene develop citrus-forward flavors and aromas and are most typically associated with energetic and uplifting effects. More research needs to be done to solidify our understanding of terpenes, but so far terpenes looks promising for their antiviral, anti-cancer and even anti-depressant qualities.

What is the “Entourage Effect”?

The entourage effect is a term for the positive effect terpenes and cannabinoids have when they're combined. There's emerging evidence that all plant compounds in cannabis work in synergy, known as the entourage effect. A review in Frontiers in Neurology found that people with epilepsy who took a full spectrum CBD extract - a CBD-rich extract that also contains the range of other beneficial compunds found in the cannabis plant - had improved symptoms and fewer side effects than those who took isolated CBD.

There’s plenty of medical research on isolated terpenes and terpenoids (aka how they work on the body on their own). There’s more research needed to see the potential possibilities terpenes and cannabis could have for alternative medicines or therapies.

Some examples of popular terpenes include limonene, pinene, and linalool:


Limonene can be recognized by its strong citrusy scent. It’s been shown to positively work with how certain immune cells behave. Some therapeutic properties of limonene are:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • antiviral
  • anti-diabetic
  • anticancer


Another naturally abundant terpene is pinene. Pinene exists in two forms: a-pinene and b-pinene. It’s a fresh, bright scent, derived from pine needles, rosemary, and basil.

Pinene is a bronchodilator, when inhaled it helps us breathe more air into our lungs. It has anti-inflammatory properties and fights against some infectious germs.

Shinrin-yoku, a Japanese tradition, directly translated means forest bathing. It’s a therapy of leisurely walking in a forest, soaking up the environment and breathing in fresh air. The air would be rich with pinene and give restorative effects on a person’s psyche and physiology.


Linalool is abundant in lavender and gives the flower its rich floral scent. It’s one of the most important compounds in aromatherapy, responsible for the calming effect many people get when smelling lavender. A study in Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces observed Linalool may affect the body in a variety of ways:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antimicrobial
  • neuroprotective
  • antidepressant
  • anticancer
  • anti-anxiety

Where do I start my cannabis journey?

For a beginner, there’s no one best product or perfect dosage to recommend because everyone's body, needs, and preferences are different. How you feel when you use cannabis depends on your body, the strain, the compound, and the delivery method you choose. However, if you are a beginner, it's wise to begin "low and slow" with work your way up. For example, if you're interested in trying edibles, start with a low dose of 2.5mg, wait an hour to see how you feel, and slowly work your way up to 5mg and so on. This dosing method is called "titration" and is the best way to find the perfect dosage for you.

To keep yourself informed, keep abreast of new research, ask your budtender or medical cannabis professional for suggestions or advice, and to look into what might suit you best based on your personal tastes.

Visit us at one of our Panacea Wellness dispensary locations in Middleborough, Massachusetts and Annapolis, Maryland! We're looking forward to serving you.