Glossary: Basic Cannabis Terms
Access Point: A physical location, such as a retail shop or clinic, where patients can purchase medical marijuana; also known as a "dispensary" or a "compassion club." In states with legalized cannabis, such facilities provide safe access to medicine and often fully test and label their products.
Aroma: The odor of a cannabis sample. The aroma of marijuana is caused by chemical compounds called terpenes. Depending on the exact mix of terpenes (more than 200 have been discovered), samples can produce a skunky, musky, or citrus odor.
Backcross: In cannabis breeding, backcrossing is when a hybrid plant (one that is a mix of indica and sativa) is bred with one of its parents in an effort to create offspring that are closer to the original parent with which the hybrid was bred. Backcrossing is typically performed with the goal of preserving rare strains or enhancing the effects of recessive genes.
BHO (Butane Hash Oil): An extraction, or concentrate, created by immersing cannabis in a solvent (in this case, butane), resulting in a very potent oil that contains high levels of THC. Also known as "dab," different varieties of BHO include "honey oil," "earwax," and "shatter." Many different manufacturing processes can be employed to change the consistency and quality of the oil that is derived from this process.
Bud: A reference to the flower of the cannabis plant. Buds contains the most resinous trichomes, the translucent stalk-like structures that manufacture and contain cannabinoids (such as THC, CBD, and CBG). It is the bud of the plant that is most desired and that provides the greatest value to both medical and recreational users alike.
Cannabinoids: The chemical compounds found in cannabis that are manufactured by the resinous trichomes found mostly on the bud, or flower, of the plant. 111 cannabinoids have been discovered to date; the most famous example is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which provides the euphoric high delivered by most strains of cannabis. Cannabinoids are the "miracle molecules" that provide medical efficacy to patients and are known to deliver pain relief, ease depression, reduce inflammation, eliminate nausea, and even stop the growth of or eliminate cancerous tumors.
Cannabis: This plant, used as a medical remedy for millennia, is actually three species of flowering herbs. Cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis all offer very different versions of the cannabis plant. Sativa and indica types are the most common. Because of its poor yield and low quantities of THC, ruderalis is not commonly grown or desired by patients or recreational consumers. Sativa varieties are known for their energizing, uplifting effect and are appropriate for treating depression, nausea, and obesity. Indica types are better for alleviating body pain and anxiety and are the most common type of cannabis on both the black market and in legal dispensaries.
CBD: Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the 111 cannabinoids found in cannabis. Next to THC, CBD is the second most common cannabinoid in marijuana. This cannabinoid is known to effectively treat inflammation, pain, and anxiety—but delivers no euphoric "high" like THC. CBD has value in treating conditions such as epilepsy, where it significantly reduces and sometimes even eliminates seizures. It is especially appropriate for childhood epilepsy because it delivers no euphoria. Strains high in CBD include Harlequin, Critical Mass, and Killawatt.
Concentrates: Extracts from cannabis that offer greater strength and potency than flowers from the herb and are available in many different forms. Concentrates are created by use of a solvent to dissolve the resinous cannabinoids found on the herb’s bud, or flowers. Concentrates typically have very high levels of THC and other cannabinoids. Examples of concentrates include BHO (Butane Hash Oil), kief, "wax," and "shatter."
Co-op (cooperative): A community of patients or cannabis consumers in a particular geographic area who combine their efforts to cultivate, harvest, and prepare cannabis plants and by-products that are distributed among the group. Co-ops make their own rules and typically have membership requirements, but often must comply with local or state law to avoid prosecution by authorities. Co-ops are common in California and Oregon, but can be found in several other states. In some areas, co-ops are an alternative to dispensaries and compassion clubs.
Cross (crossbreeding): The act of breeding two different strains of cannabis to produce a new and unique strain, The goal when crossing strains is to combine the most desirable traits of both parents. An example is Blue Cheese, which is a cross of Blueberry and Big Buddha Cheese.
Dab: Slang for a dose of BHO (Butane Hash Oil) that is smoked or vaporized. "Dabbing" is the act of consuming dabs, often using special pipes, bongs, or vaporizer attachments.
Dispensary: A business or non-profit retail location where patients (and sometimes recreational users) can gain consultation from an expert (called a budtender), select, and purchase cannabis. Dispensaries provide something called "safe access," helping patients and consumers avoid the black market. Many dispensaries cultivate most or all of the cannabis they sell, whereas others purchase it through legitimate channels or on the black market.
Edibles: Food that has been infused with cannabis to provide it with medical efficacy and possibly to deliver euphoria. Although there are several different methods by which edibles can be produced, one of the most popular is the use of cannabis butter (cannabutter) or cannabis-infused oil. Edibles are sometimes called "medibles" due to their medical quality and popularity among patients who cannot or do not desire to smoke. Edibles feature a significantly longer onset time than smoking or vaporizing (both of which take effect in only about 2.5 minutes), typically requiring 45 minutes to an hour to achieve onset. The medical efficacy and euphoria delivered by edibles lasts longer than smoking or vaporizing and is typically perceived as more potent.
Feminized: Cannabis seeds that have been selectively bred to produce only females. This is desirable because it is the mature female plants that produce the most resinous trichomes that contain cannabinoids, the source of all medical efficacy in cannabis. Male plants are identified at the beginning of the flower stage of cultivation and typically destroyed. While many sources will cite feminized seeds as producing the same quality plants as non-feminized varieties, some master breeders claim that feminization produces plants that aren’t as reliable or stable as their non-feminized siblings.
Flowering Time: The period of time required for a cannabis plant to go from the end of the vegetative stage (the first stage of growth) to harvest. Sativa varieties typically require a few weeks more to mature than indica strains (why indica types are the most popular—especially on the black market). Flowering time may be a consideration for cultivation facilities and patients growing their own medicine.
Flowers: The "bud" section of the cannabis plant that matures at the end of the "flower" stage of cultivation, when the number and size of resinous trichomes is greatest. Flowers are the reproductive organs of the female plant and contain nearly all of the trichomes in cannabis. It is typically the flowers that are used to create extracts and concentrates (although these can be derived from trim leaves). When fertilized by male plants, it is the flowers that produce seeds.
Hash: Short for hashish, this is a form of cannabis concentrate that is significantly more potent than regular marijuana flowers and has been employed by humans for thousands of years. Hash production involves the separation of the resinous trichomes from the flowers of the plant, typically through use of filtering or sieving. After trichomes are collected, they are pressed or rolled into a brown, gooey paste or sticky, crumbly powder.
Heirloom: A cannabis strain taken from its native land and bred and cultivated in another area of the world. Many heirloom varieties are also landrace strains, meaning they have not been crossbred.
Hemp: The non-euphoric variety of cannabis that contains little or no THC. By legal definition in the United States and Canada, hemp may contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. Unlike cannabis, which is derived from the female plant, hemp is typically grown from male plants. This fibrous plant can be used for more than 5,000 applications, including shelter, food, medicine, fuel, and even the manufacture of plastics. In southern climates of the United States, up to three crops per year can be grown. Hemp cultivation remains illegal in the United States, although hemp products are readily available (all hemp used in the U.S. must be imported).
Hybrid: A cannabis plant that is a cross of two or more different strains. Most of the cannabis available on both the black market and also in legal states is derived from hybrid strains. Hybrids are created to combine the best traits of two or more strains in an effort to create more effective medicine or a more potent, pleasant, or long-lasting high.
Hydroponics: A cultivation system commonly employed in cannabis gardens that involves the use of plant roots suspended in a liquid solution of water and nutrients. No soil is used in hydroponics. Advantages include greater control of nutrient volumes and the ability to make small adjustments to the health of the plant. Hydroponic gardens typically yield about double the flower volume of dirt-grown cannabis, although some claim that organic cannabis grown in dirt—especially outdoors—is the highest quality. Gardeners are obviously attracted to hydroponic growing because of the exceptionally high yield it delivers.
Indica: The common reference for cannabis indica, one of the three species of cannabis. Indica strains are the most commonly available on both the black market and also in legal dispensaries and compassion clubs. Indica plants originate in Asia and the Middle East. Afghan and Kush varieties are both indicas. Indica plants are characterized by short, broad leaves and relatively large yields during harvest. This species delivers a relaxing body high and is effective in treating pain and providing relaxation and relief from stress or anxiety. Indica strains are often known for their sedative effects ("couchlock"), especially when a large quantity is consumed.
Kief: Resinous trichomes that have been extracted, or collected, from a female cannabis plant. Unlike hash, kief is not pressed, but rather loose (a powder). In this respect, hash and kief are nearly identical. Kief is one of the most easily created extracts of cannabis and can be created by gently rubbing cannabis flowers over a screen that features a collection plate below to capture the trichomes. Like hash, kief is much more potent than raw cannabis flowers.
Kush: Cannabis plants from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kush varieties are indicas and most effective for fighting pain, appetite stimulation, and use as a sedative. Many kush strains feature an earthy or citrus aroma.
Landrace: A native strain of cannabis that has experienced no breeding or human intervention with its genetic structure. Landrace strains have evolved over millions of years and are the source of today’s wealth of hybrid strains most commonly available on both the black market and in legal dispensaries and compassion clubs. These strains sometimes are named for the region in which they are derived, such as Afghani and Thai. Pure indica and sativa strains are typically landraces and relatively rare. Durban Poison is an example of a landrace sativa.
Marijuana: The term given to cannabis in the early 20th century by prohibitionist forces within the United States government and big business that were intent on outlawing the plant. The term was derived from the Mexican "marihuana" (either accidentally or purposefully misspelled) and was used to deceive the public, which was already very familiar with the term "cannabis." Cannabis was available in the form of a tincture and typically administered for everything from headaches and bruised knees to painful menstruation and childbirth (aspirin wasn’t commonly available until after 1920). While "marijuana" and "pot" are the most common references for the herb in the United States and Canada, "cannabis" is the default reference for the plant in the United Kingdom, Europe, and many other parts of the world.
OG: A label used to describe a family of cannabis strains originating in Southern California. "OG" stands for "ocean grown." Most OG strains available today are variations of the original OG Kush, which helped make the West Coast a mecca for medical and recreational cannabis.
Phenotype: The physical characteristics of a particular strain of cannabis—such as height, leaf structure, and color—that quickly differentiate it from other strains. The phenotype of indica strains is short and fat, with thick leaves, whereas sativa strains are tall, skinny, and feature thin leaves.
Pistil: Part of the female anatomy of the cannabis plant. These hair-like growths in the center of the flower, or bud, range in color from white to orange. Functionally, the pistil collects the pollen dispersed by male plants. When pistils catch no pollen and produce no seeds, cannabis plants invest their energy into producing resinous trichomes (this is why only female plants are consumed by patients and recreational users). The state and color of pistils can help gardeners understand the readiness of plants for harvest.
Pot: Slang for "marijuana" or "cannabis." Possibly the most common reference for the recreational variety of the plant in the United States. In the U.K. and Europe, "cannabis" is the most common label.
Pre-roll: A cannabis cigarette, or "joint," that is sold by many dispensaries and compassion clubs (typically for patients and customers who do not know how to roll joints or prefer not to). In prohibitionist states, pre-rolled joints are convenient because they can be consumed in public and without the use of paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, and other smoking devices), meaning consumers are breaking only one law.
Rosin: Rosin is concentrated cannabis oil extrated without the use of solvents. Heat and pressure are applied until the oil is extracted from the cannabis plant.
Ruderalis: The common reference for cannabis ruderalis, one of the three species of cannabis. It is characterized by low THC and poor yields. Ruderalis strains are increasing in popularity due to the need for low-THC, CBD-rich strains for conditions like epilepsy and cancer. Ruderalis is unique in that, during cultivation, it is an "autoflowering" species of cannabis that does not require a change in light cycles to enter the flowering stage. Ruderalis landrace strains originated in Russia and are very hardy and capable of surviving in harsh climates.
Sativa: The common reference for cannabis sativa, one of the three species of cannabis. This variety originated in the equatorial regions of the world (the Middle East and Asia) and includes strains from Africa, Thailand, and South America. This variety is characterized by an energetic, euphoric "head high" that is more cerebral than body-oriented. Sativa strains are well suited for helping patients deal with depression and fatigue and actually suppress appetite (the opposite of "the munchies" that are experienced by indica users). Sativa strains are more rare because they require longer to grow and, in indoor gardens, yield considerably less than indicas—making them less profitable. Most dispensaries and compassion clubs feature at least a couple of sativa-dom or pure sativa strains. An example of a high-quality sativa-dom is Jack Herer; Durban Poison is a very popular landrace sativa.
Shatter: A specialized form of BHO (Butane Hash Oil) that is characterized by a rigid, stiff form and is similar to wax (another form of BHO). Some manufacturers and gardeners prefer sativa strains for the creation of shatter.
Strain: A specific variety of a cannabis plant that falls within a particular species, such as sativa or indica. Strains deliver a particular cannabinoid profile, meaning each offers a unique mix of cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBG. For this reason, different strains deliver markedly varying efficacy. Strain names, most of which have been coined by counterculture underground breeders, typically reflect the youthful, outlaw renegade nature of the mostly illegal world of cannabis. Popular strains include Durban Poison, Jack Herer, OG Kush, Headband, and Sour Diesel.
THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most common and cited cannabinoid available in marijuana. Also referred to as Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, this cannabinoid was first isolated in 1964 in Israel. THC is one of the only cannabinoids to provide euphoria, or a "high," and thus strains high in this compound have been purposefully bred to produce strains that are more potent and deliver greater medical efficacy. Strains high in THC include Trainwreck, Durban Poison, OG Kush, and Bio-Diesel.
Tincture: A liquid form of cannabis extract typically produced using alcohol or glycerol that is most commonly administered via use of an eyedropper under the tongue. Because they are liquid, tinctures can be flavored or embellished with other herbs. Tinctures offer the benefit of rapid onset. While they can be mixed into drinks, this significantly increases the absorption rate and onset time because the cannabinoids must now travel through the digestive tract. Sublingual (under the tongue) applications offer much more rapid absorption and, thus, relief for patients (important for those suffering from severe, chronic pain).
Topical: A cannabis extract involving the infusion of cannabinoids in a lotion or cream intended to be applied to the skin. In addition to smoke, vapor, edibles, and tinctures (sublingual applications), topical products are another consumption method that can be especially helpful for those who cannot smoke. Topical cannabis products may also be very helpful for skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and even skin cancer. While relatively new, topical cannabis products are gaining popularity in states that have legalized at least medical cannabis and developed a manufacturing and dispensary infrastructure that provides such products. Patients in prohibitionist states will be hard pressed to find a topical.
Trichome: The stalk-like resin glands found on cannabis flowers that produce and contain all cannabinoids and terpenes (the molecules that give cannabis its distinctive aroma). Nearly microscopic, these "silver hairs" give cannabis flowers and some fan leaves their sticky quality. THC, CBD, CBN, and every cannabinoid or terpene of medical value is produced in the trichomes. Plants featuring more trichomes (described as "sugary" or having many "crystals") are more potent and deliver greater medical efficacy.
Vaporizer: A device employed to consume marijuana via inhalation. Vaporizers pass a stream of hot air—either actively (via a mechanized fan) or passively (via the inhale of a user)—across a sample of cannabis, which vaporizes the trichomes, but leaves the plant matter basically intact. For this reason, no combustion occurs in the process of vaporization and it is considered much healthier than smoking. Both flowers and cannabis oils can be vaporized. Available in both pocketable pen types and also more robust (and efficient) desktop models, patients who suffer respiratory ailments often prefer to vape or consume edibles. It is estimated that vaporization is twice as efficient at delivering THC and other cannabinoids to patients, meaning vaporizers, in theory, pay for themselves.
Wax: A cannabis concentrate derived from BHO (Butane Hash Oil) that is very similar to shatter. Wax offers patients and recreational consumers a way to consume very high-potency cannabis, something of value to those who are very sick and require rapid onset with the greatest potency possible.
Weed: Slang for "cannabis" or "marijuana." Low-quality examples are labeled "dirtweed" or "brickweed."