Higher Ground: Choosing the right cannabis

I had a friend named Tim who used to refer to marijuana according to the effects discerned on a first smoke. He would call a product laughing weed, or munchies weed, or sleepy weed, or happy weed, or dancing weed ... you get the idea.

Recent advances in understanding the bud actually supports Tim's manner of classifying what came his way. Tim's pronouncements weren't scientific — although his sampling of the substance was more scientific than the know-nothing government prohibition — but we are discovering that there are indeed different kinds of pot with different effects. That is particularly true when considering medicinal use. In the past, marijuana dealers on the illegal recreational market have mostly sold generic "weed" (generally Mexican), with occasional supplies of Colombian, Jamaican, Hawaiian, and a few other lines named after their supposed geographic origins.

There was no conversation about cannabinoids or THC levels; it was either good shit or it wasn't. Well, when you enter the world of medical marijuana, that's all changed — and it can be confusing. I get contacted often enough by people who are dealing with cancer and suddenly want to find out about this marijuana cure, but don't know what to do. I always tell them the first thing you need to do is get a card from the state.

However, there are some basics to consider when getting into this. For starters there is the whole sativa–indica thing. Sativas tend to be higher in THC and give a more energetic and ethereal high. Indicas tend to be higher in CBD and give you more of a body buzz. Both of them give you the munchies, which is the effect you want if you're suffering from wasting syndrome or trying to deal with the side effects of cancer and AIDS treatments. It's important to understand that both of them have some level of THC, CBD, and numerous other cannabinoids. And there are sativa–indica hybrids carrying varying attributes of both families of the plant.

If your only interest in marijuana is to get high, you can use just about any strain; many of the indicas tend to have more THC than CBD. THC gets you high, and CBD kind of calms you down. The bottom line is a full spectrum of cannabinoids work together to do what the plant does. And that also goes for those using CBD oil to treat epilepsy. Everyone I've talked to who uses marijuana to treat epilepsy tells me that they need at least a little THC in the mix for the best results.

"Yeah, Cannatonic!" said an epilepsy patient I spoke with at the Cannabis Conference in Chicago a couple of weeks ago.

Cannatonic is a CBD-dominant, indica–sativa hybrid. The review at Leafly.com says that Cannatonic has a very "relaxing" effect but not much of a buzz. One comment on the strain says: "Great for sleep and calming down the nerves!" The review at MedicalJane.com says that Cannatonic would make an effective treatment for chronic pain when used in concentrate form.

That's another thing folks seem concerned about — what form do they take it in? Well, that depends on what you're using it for. If you're partying, then you want to chose from smoke, vaporize, or have an edible.

If you're treating an illness, it depends on what you're treating. Let's consider cancer. If you just want palliative effects, then you're smoking, vaporizing, or munching edibles. If you want to actually treat the cancer, then you want to use a concentrate. I've mostly heard of high-THC strains used for this. Even so, most patients end up using some CBD to take the edge off when using mega doses of THC.

Getting your hands on such a concentrate can be tricky, especially for those who have no previous connections in the world of marijuana. According to Rick Simpson, a pioneer in treating cancer with cannabis, you need to start with 2 pounds of high-quality bud. To begin with, Michigan medical marijuana patients can only have 2 ½ ounces at a time — and 2 pounds is 32 ounces. Then you have to use a solvent to release the cannabinoid-rich oils. Then you have to cook off the solvent to leave some 60 grams of thick gooey oil. All of this takes several hours and is best left to someone with a little experience in making it.

If you're treating skin cancer, put the oil directly on the skin tumor. If you're treating brain cancer or breast cancer, then you need to ingest the oil. You start with about a half-gram a day until you build up your tolerance to about 3 grams each day. People who claim to have cured their cancers generally say they drastically changed their diets and stopped eating sugar. There is plenty of advice online. You might try Simpson's site, PhoenixTears.ca, to get started.

If you're treating PTSD, I suggest you try a couple of tokes or vaporize — you get nearly instant results through these methods. Same thing for MS tingles, although cookies or gummies work for that too. For neuropathic diabetes pain, try a salve or lotion applied directly to the painful area. Generally a well-stocked dispensary would have most of these items.

Don't be shy or put off. Talk to your doctor or find an organization such as My Compassion to learn more. In the end, if you're new to this, getting in contact with other patients online in chat rooms might be the best way to tap into how to use cannabis.

You can do that here too. I invite readers to testify to their own experiences on strains, their effects, and how to treat sickness with marijuana.

Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns for the Detroit Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.