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Cannabis 101 – Basic Explainer

How to Tell Different Types of Legal Cannabis Apart

Cannabis 101 – Explainer – How to Tell Different Types of Legal Cannabis Apart

Cannabis vs. Hemp

Cannabis, weed, pot, hemp. Are they all the same plant? Yes and no. Cannabis has been cultivated by humans for at least 6,000 years, and for the majority of that time, the plant was called hemp. The hemp plant and its various components were utilized for a variety of purposes throughout history. The seeds served as a great food source, the fibrous material making up the stalk was used to create clothing, rope, and other utilitarian materials, and the flower was both consumed and smoked for medicinal and spiritual purposes. The categorical distinction between cannabis and hemp is a recent change in the relative history of the plant.

Starting in the 20th century, the term hemp became universally used when describing the plant grown for use as food or materials. Conversely, cannabis has become the name given to the plant when grown and used for recreational and medicinal use. Another key distinction between the two terms is the concentration of THC in the plant. Hemp generally has a THC concentration of less than 0.3%, meaning smoking or consuming the plant will not result in any kind of psychoactive high. Conversely, cannabis plants have a higher concentration of THC and will indeed result in a high when smoked or consumed. While these differences paint a picture of clear distinctions between the two terms, we are still talking about the same plant.

Since 2018, a new factor has come into the picture regarding the terms cannabis and hemp. When federal prohibitions against growing hemp ended in 2018 as a result of the “2018 Farm Bill”, it became legal for all 50 states to grow the plant. This has resulted in many states growing hemp with THC concentrations of less than 0.3% for the purpose of extracting cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, and delta-8 THC. Products made with these cannabinoids can produce a mildly psychoactive experience similar to that of products containing regular cannabis.

The proliferation of cannabinoid-rich products created with federally legal hemp has exploded since 2018, allowing the cannabis industry to imbed itself in states where recreational cannabis use is still federally illegal. As the market demand for these products has grown with little regulation, the quality of cannabis products on the market has varied wildly. This fact underscores the importance of sourcing your cannabis products from brands that utilize thorough third-party testing and offer full transparency around their products. At Asheville Dispensary, we’re proud to hold our products to the highest standards in the industry when it comes to the purity and quality of cannabinoids. Learn more about our third-party testing and quality control measures here (link to third-party testing page).

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What are Cannabinoids?

There are over 100 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The most famous cannabinoids associated with the cannabis plant are THC and CBD, but the plant does not directly make these cannabinoids. Rather, it synthesizes several cannabinoid acids which must be activated by heat to yield the desired compound and its associated effects. Exposure to heat energy causes cannabinoids to lose their acid part, converting to a neutral, non-acidic plant cannabinoid. In addition to acid forms and neutral forms, some cannabinoids come from the breakdown of THC. CBN is an example of a cannabinoid that comes from the breakdown of THC, and thus it can be found in older cannabis plants. Below you will find a brief description of a variety of well-known cannabinoids.

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CBD: Cannabidiol (CBD) produces and regulates endocannabinoids. It is commonly used for anxiety, depression, and pain relief. There is promising research suggesting CBD is potentially neuroprotective, and the use of CBD as an antipsychotic and anti-tumor treatment is also under study. CBD is non-psychoactive.

CBG: Cannabigerol (CBG) is often referred to as the mother of all cannabinoids, as all cannabinoids are derived from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). CBG binds to both cannabinoid receptors in the body (CB1 and CB2). This dual binding strengthens the function of a neurotransmitter that plays a role in enhancing pleasure and motivation, regulating appetite and sleep, and alleviating pain. CBG is very mildly psychoactive.


Delta 9 THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid chemical responsible for most of cannabis’ psychoactive effects. THC attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the body and brain and activates them, affecting memory, pleasure centers, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception. THC stimulates cells in the brain to release dopamine, creating a sense of euphoria.

CBN: Cannabinol (CBN) is created as THC ages, making it present in high amounts in older cannabis plants. CBN is currently being studied as an anti-inflammatory, an appetite stimulant, and for its antibacterial and neuroprotective qualities. 

CBC: Cannabichromene (CBC) is a lesser-known cannabinoid, but it is considered one of the “big six” cannabinoids prominent in medical research. Research around CBC suggests that it is potentially powerful anticarcinogenic. It is also being studied as an anti-inflammatory, specifically for its potential ability to protect the brain from oxidative stress. CBC binds with specific receptors in the body linked to pain perception. When CBC activates these receptors, increased levels of the body’s natural endocannabinoids like anandamide are released.

Delta-8 THC: delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8 THC) is a recently popular cannabinoid due to its similarity to delta-9 THC (“regular THC”). The two have very similar chemical structures, and delta-8 THC can have very similar effects to delta-9 THC, but with much lower potency. Delta-8 THC can be extracted from either hemp or cannabis. In the body, Delta-8 behaves similarly to Delta-9 THC, binding to the endocannabinoid system in a way that creates a psychoactive “high” feeling. The double bond present in the chemical structure of both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC is what is thought to create this psychoactive effect.

Delta-10 THC: delta-10-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-10 THC) is a cannabinoid present in trace amounts in the cannabis plant. Like delta-8, it has a psychoactive effect similar to delta-9 THC but less potent. Because delta-10 is processed from hemp-derived CBD, it is technically legal in states where delta-9 THC is illegal and still, some states have outlawed the use of delta-10. It is difficult to manufacture delta-10 THC because it must be heavily refined using a variety of chemical processes. Delta-10 products should only be sourced from reputable companies that utilize thorough third-party testing procedures.

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CBDA: Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is a compound produced in the cannabis and hemp plant. With time and exposure to heat, this compound converts to cannabidiol (CBD). CBDA interacts with the endocannabinoid system in an interesting way, inhibiting an enzyme associated with post-injury infection or inflammation.

CBGA: Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) is one of many active compounds produced by cannabis and hemp plants. All cannabinoids are derived from CBGA. CBG is very similar to CBGA, as CBGA is just the acid form of CBG. This acetate makes the body more receptive to other cannabinoids by acting as an antagonist to CB1 receptors.

CBL: Cannabicyclol (CBL) is a lesser-known cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. When the cannabinoid CBC breaks down from heat and light it forms CBL, making CBL present at higher levels in older cannabis plants. CBL has the same molecular formula as THC and CBD, but the different arrangement of these atoms in each cannabinoid causes different effects. This cannabinoid is currently being studied in order to better understand its potential benefits and uses.

THCV: Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a fascinating compound found in the cannabis plant. THCV’s variety of effects and medical benefits have made this compound a topic of great interest for the cannabis community. Although THCV is molecularly and has psychoactive effects similar to THC, it offers its own unique set of effects including functioning as an appetite suppressant, blood sugar regulator, anti-panic agent, and bone growth stimulator. THCV is growing in popularity, but it is still only present in most strains of cannabis in small amounts. Strains that contain higher amounts of THCV are African sativas like Cherry Pie. To ensure THCV-rich content in your strain of interest, consumers should request lab-tested strains. It should be noted that THCV has a boiling point of 428 °F, higher than that of regular THC.

THCO: Tetrahydrocannabinol-O acetate (THC-)O) is a synthetic compound derived from the hemp plant. Research seems to indicate that THC-O is three times more potent than regular THC and that this cannabinoid is mildly psychedelic due to its slightly hallucinatory effects. THCO is derived from the federal legal hump, and thus THC-O products are gaining popularity in states where delta-9 THC is illegal. THC-O products are becoming more widely available online daily, but the legal status and safety of these products remain uncertain. Only obtain THC-O-containing products that have undergone rigorous third-party testing for efficacy and safety.