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Cannabis 101

Choosing your Cannabis Flower

The conversation around whole, raw cannabis flower access is growing. How do patients in
Florida prepare for this new legal landscape? What does one look for when purchasing
medicine in its whole plant form? How do we determine its safety and utility? In this article, we
open a dialogue to introduce the many uses and benefits of raw cannabis flower, providing a
map for the new patient on what to expect, consider, and be wary of when purchasing raw
cannabis flower from their local dispensary. To help pave the way, we invited Max Montrose,
Founder and President of the Trichome Institute, to share his views and perspectives on what’s
important when choosing your whole flower medicine. Here are the top three most important
things a patient should consider.

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1.) Follow your senses

It seems rudimentary, but the old adage is true: The nose knows. According to Montrose, you have the ability to decipher for yourself if the medicine you’re ingesting is something your body will respond well to. But why is smelling cannabis so important?

“For the same reason it is important to use your senses when shopping for food at the grocery store,” explains Montrose. Our bodies are constantly absorbing information from all around us. Sight, smell, taste, touch—these senses allow us to take in our surroundings, sending signals to our brain on what is and isn’t good for us.

“It’s just like shopping for food,” Montrose explains. “If there is a pyramid of apples, why did you pick this over that? It didn’t have a bruise. Its form was consistent. It was robust. In a shamanic way, it is called out to you. Anything that you are attracted to from a scent perspective is good for your body from a chemical perspective.” If you are buying meat, for example, and it smelled rotten, you likely wouldn’t buy it. Whether or not we realize it, we use our natural signals to determine what to put in our bodies, and what isn’t safe for consumption.

Shopping for cannabis flower is the same. Cannabis contains compounds known as terpenes, which are oily organic compounds contained in the resin. Aromatherapy-like in nature, terpenes are responsible for the plant’s unique smell and taste and have many therapeutic benefits and effects. When combined together in their natural state, they contribute to cannabis’ entourage effect. In a revolutionary paper by Dr. Ethan Russo, the researcher finds that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to enhance and regulate the effects of one another.1 This means that terpenes are as important as— if not more important than— cannabinoids.

There are many different terpenes that exist, and each strain of cannabis has its own unique terpene profile. This profile is responsible for the strain’s unique smell, taste, and medicinal effect. Like cannabinoids, terpenes work together like a musical group, each plays its own part, and when they work together—their unique natural combination provides a symphony of balanced medicinal effects. All plants, and some animals, contain terpenes. When we hold a ripe piece of fruit or a flower to our nose and are attracted to its scent, what we are actually acknowledging is the body’s attraction to its unique terpene profile.

So, how do we use this information? In short: If a strain appeals to your senses, give it a try. If you find yourself overcome with attraction and curiosity, this is a good sign. However, if your nose tells you to put the jar down, then listen. Even though a terpene profile may be labeled on the product, our nose is our first point of contact for knowing which terpene profiles to choose. And as it turns out, your nose may be your secret weapon.

“When shopping for flower, most people look for two things: strain name and THC percentage. In reality, these are the two most meaningless things,” says Montrose. “Science has proven how and why strain names do not correlate to an effect or variety type, so this doesn’t really tell you anything. But if you can see and smell the quality for yourself and know how that smell correlates to different psychotropic effects, you have more control over the medicine and what it provides.”

For this reason, it is absolutely essential for medical patients to have access to smelling and visually assessing their flower before purchase. As Florida shifts its weight over the topic of smokable flower, patients and educators alike must contact their legislators to explain why access to whole flower medicine—before it is rolled into pre-rolled joints or stuffed into small ceramic containers—is imperative to the process of properly medicating with cannabis. If your dispensary does not offer you this experience, it may be wise to ask a manager why. Explaining our needs as patients is a great way to help encourage dispensaries to meet their patients’ needs.

2.) Quality

Just like with food, the quality of your cannabis matters. Did you know that your cannabis, just like the food in your refrigerator and pantry, has a shelf life? Cannabis’ terpene profile and cannabinoid levels will shift and change depending on when it is harvested and how long it is left to sit between production and sale. Something that may surprise you is that cannabis actually has a peak ripeness in the same way that fruit does. A green tomato picked before peak ripeness, for example, is bitter, flavorless, and less nutritious than a tomato that is left to ripen on the vine. Cannabis is no different, and once again, it all comes back to terpenes.

“People should think about terpenes as the beer bubble in a freshly-tapped mug of beer,” Montrose explains. Terpenes are in a constant state of evaporation. But what happens to your beer if you leave it to sit for a long period of time?

“If you let your beer sit overnight, your beer is flat,” Montrose says. And the same goes for terpenes. “It is all about the terpenes. Just like beer, cannabis can go flat. You can slow the process down but can’t prevent it 100 percent, so when this happens, cannabis no longer has it’s stimulating or sedating properties, polypharmacy, or entourage effects. When terpenes are gone, what you now have is a lacking product.” In most instances, the cannabis sold in dispensaries is “flat”—and for this reason, it is important for patients to be able to grow their own. In the same way that fresh vegetables are more nutritious than after a week in the fridge, fresh cannabis is much more beneficial to our health.

Finding fresh cannabis can be a challenging task even in the most liberal of markets, but Florida is well on its way towards establishing more reasonable laws. In the meantime, there are resources available to help train your nose and body to tune in to the quality of your cannabis flower.

“For people that are new to this, it can be overwhelming at first because the things you look for are small and subtle,” says Montrose. Some signs of quality are easier to spot than others.

According to Montrose, poor quality cannabis that hasn’t been flushed, for example, will smell like salt before you smoke it. “Because macro and micro nutrients have not been flushed from the flower properly, you will be smoking salts, and this will feel painful,” he explains. Flower that has been treated with harmful chemicals can give off a scent that reads as metallic, or chemically-pungent, but not always. These subtleties can be difficult to determine for the new patient.

Thankfully, there are resources available. The Trichome Institute, for example, has developed tools to help people train themselves on how to see these subtle differences. Their mission aims to solve one of the most complex problems in the cannabis industry: offering high-level education to cannabis professionals. In addition to government standard courses, The Trichome Institute offers a cannabis sommelier program called Interpening which teaches patients and professionals how to understand cannabis at an expert level by dissecting cannabis flower. Tools like this can be very valuable to new patients to help navigate the way.

3.) Safety: testing, chemicals, etc.

Cannabis flower is the US’s and Canada’s largest cash crop—and shockingly, this multibillion dollar industry has no quality control. “Unlike the grocery store,” Montrose explains, “There is no such thing as quality testing or certifications.”

This fact is shocking and can be difficult to come to terms with. How is it that such a booming industry lacks even a small department to make sure its products meet the standards patients need? Whether for reasons of rapid growth of demand before proper infrastructure was put in place or simply lack of diligence, the US cannabis industry currently has no required standardized testing requirements. State by state, requirements vary, and currently in the state of Florida, the only thing required for third-party testing is a test for THC. “And as aforementioned,” says Montrose, “This doesn’t matter much.”

What does matter, and what is lacking, are tests to determine the quality of the bud: tests that provide insight into the conditions under which it was grown, and the health of the plant.

“Not one lab currently tests for or has a standard for cannabis ripeness,” Montrose says. “And as previously explained, it is important that your cannabis be ripe if you are going to use it for its maximum benefit.” No lab currently tests for insects on flower, either—a common problem in commercial growing facilities, and a good gauge of how healthy the plant’s growing conditions were.  

So, what do we do? Begin by asking your dispensary questions, and don’t take a verbal affirmation of tested products as a green light. Consider the following:

  • Ask your dispensary what they test for, and why.  
  • Read up on what common pesticides are used to grow cannabis on a large scale and their risks.
  • Keep in mind that a company with a retail structure has the company’s best interests in mind, not necessarily your health. In the state of Florida, you need more licensing to apply makeup than to sell a product in a dispensary to a patient. There are some amazing dispensaries and dispensary workers out there, but he or she may or may not have the knowledge or experience to point you in a safe and healthy direction. It is wise to remember that the responsibility truly lies in our own hands. For these reasons, building trusting relationships with educators, dispensaries, doctors, and the cannabis community is essential.
  • When in doubt, build a relationship with a testing lab in your area and have your product tested yourself. Keep in mind that one batch of cannabis will differ from the next, so be mindful of the serial number when testing product. If you receive a questionable result, bring it to the attention of your grower/dispensary. As patients, it is up to us to lead the way for the industry standards to meet the quality standards we set for our own health.

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/

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Cannabis 101

MMJ Educator Column

So, you’re a new medical cannabis patient. You’ve visited the doctor; you’ve received your card, and you’re ready to explore the exciting world of cannabis medicine. Congratulations!

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Our medical marijuana educators gathered some of the most commonly-asked questions patients want answered when starting their cannabis journey. Here are the top questions and their answers!

1.) Dispensary norms

  • How do I choose a dispensary?

Choosing a dispensary for most patients is often determined by simple geography: If a dispensary is close to you, it makes sense to shop there—right? While this is one thing to consider when choosing your dispensary, it is also important to consider the products they offer and the quality of those products. If your doctor has suggested tincture for you, for example, it is important to choose a dispensary that offers a variety of quality tincture.

Product quality is an important thing to consider. Websites like Leafly.com can offer some insight into products but are often lacking concise information. When in doubt, speak with your cannabis community, your doctor, or an educator you trust to help you determine where to start.  

  • Do I have to visit the same dispensary every time?

No. Florida patients are not limited to the number of dispensaries they visit. Patients are allowed to explore and order from any and all dispensaries.

  • Is delivery available?

Yes! Most dispensaries offer a delivery program for patients unable to visit their dispensary. Delivery price and time options vary—check with your local dispensary to learn more about their program!

Deliveries are made in discreet vehicles, with discreet packaging. No one will know they are delivering medical marijuana to your home. You must have the correct cash for the driver, and usually they advise of a delivery time window for each delivery.

2.) Purchasing products

  • How much money do you think things cost?

The cost of medical marijuana products vary dispensary to dispensary and product to product. Some dispensaries have small vape pens and salves for as little as $20. Other stores offer flower pods and vape cartridges ranging from $50 – $75. Others still offer higher-end products like vaporizer units and concentrates for $100+.

  • Does insurance cover any of it?

Unfortunately, there is currently no insurance coverage for medical marijuana products in the United States.

  • How do I pick what I need?

Choosing one’s medicine can be a tricky and time-consuming task. However, it is well worth your time and effort. Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, the cannabis industry is an emerging science, and there is currently no recognized medical standard for dosing requirements. Cannabis is not a one-size-fits-all medicine. Because each individual endocannabinoid system and condition is different, what works best for you may be wildly different than what works well for another person with your same ailment. A cannabis doctor can help you find a good foundation of products and dosage to get you started, but what your body actually needs may take time and experimenting to reveal. In other words, it is up to the individual to come to the dispensary armed with as much education as possible.

  • What do and don’t budtenders know? What do I need to be prepared for?

Most patients walk into a dispensary expecting to speak to experts in the cannabis field—and in some cases, there are truly brilliant educators available to help you navigate your journey. However, it is important to remember that the US cannabis market currently has no licensing around education for cannabis employees. In some cases, dispensaries prefer their employees to not be patients.

So, how do you proceed? Simply remember to keep things in perspective, be prepared, and ask questions to gauge the knowledge of the person who is helping you. If the individual can’t clearly answer every question you have about their products, their reviews, and what conditions the dispensary has successfully treated patients for with this medicine, ask for someone more qualified to help you. If no one is able to meet your standards, think about exploring another dispensary.

Always remember:

A dispensary is a retail store, and retail employees are encouraged to push products they have an overstock of, to upsell, and to engage in other sales tactics which may or may not have your best health interests in mind.

When in question, don’t overspend—if you have never tried a product before and aren’t sure if you are going to like it, buy a small amount and then later determine if you want to repurchase it.

When shopping, you should always feel as if you are being treated with respect and concern for your health.

If you ever feel pushed, explore other options.

  • Are there sales or discounts?

Yes! Most dispensaries have discounts for veterans and other choice groups regularly, as well as weekly ads for other available product price reductions. To keep current, sign up for your dispensaries text or mailing list, and you will receive a plethora of reminders of these opportunities to save.

  • What happens if it doesn’t work for me?

Each dispensary has its own conditions around the subject of returns. Most do not allow returns on purchased items. However, some will accept returns on containers if they are unopened and the packaging is not disturbed. Check with your local dispensary for their individual shop policies.

If you’d like to have your questions featured in a future issue of Florida Grass Roots, please send your inquiries to: [email protected]

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