What Makes a Strain “Medical”?
When it comes to cannabis, there are thousands of varieties which can have quite a wide spectrum of possible effects, and some of these effects are more “medical” than others. In fact, there are so many strains known as cannabis that it’s pretty much impossible to try to neatly categorize them all. You’ll hear people talk about the difference between “indica” and “sativa” strains, but nearly every single strain of cannabis you run into today is actually some sort of hybrid. Instead of focusing on whether a strain is indica or sativa, or some other aspect like how it looks/smells, when it comes to medical marijuana it’s often a lot more useful to choose based purely on the effects of each individual strain.While many types of cannabis have strong mental and/or physical effects, some types of cannabis are completely non-psychoactive, which means they won’t affect your thinking much, if at all. Non-psychoactive varieties of cannabis have very low levels of THC. However, there are many patients who use high-THC varieties of cannabis for the relief of certain types of symptoms like pain and nausea.
Which Strains Work for Which Symptoms?
Buds of a high-CBD medical marijuana strain look like any other… on the outside. But inside the cannabinoid profile is different.I can give you some general guidelines (find them below) to help you get started, but there are no absolutes when it comes to the effects of different strains. Not only do strains have different effects if they’re grown under different conditions, even the same buds affect people differently.
What gives some people relief from persistent pain or muscle spasms may aggravate those same symptoms for others. A strain might be so potent that it causes some people anxiety, meanwhile someone else might be looking for that same potency to reduce pain. What helps prevent some people from having seizures can actually trigger seizures in others. This huge spectrum of effects is part of why we need to legally reschedule cannabis as a whole plant, so we can start to tease apart the specific components of cannabis that cause each specific effect, like how we would with any other medicine.
As it is now, patients in the medical marijuana scene must go off of ‘iffy’ information combined with personal trial and error. There is no current database or other good way for medical marijuana providers and patients to share their experiences with each other. Because cannabis is illegal on a federal level in the US, there is very little reputable research that can be conducted on a large scale without the worry of some kind of legal trouble.
There are different components found in cannabis which cause different effects. Although some substances such as terpenes (aromatics/smells) may alter the mental and physical effects of buds, it is the cannabinoids found in cannabis flowers that are the subject of most research and interest. Cannabinoids work on natural receptors in our brain, causing the majority of effects attributed to cannabis.
Here’s a very short list of common cannabis cannabinoids that have medical interest for researchers and patients:
THC vs CBD vs CBN
- THC – responsible for many of the mental, anti-nausea and possibly pain-relieving effects
- CBD – great promise for the relief of anxiety, seizures, and many more conditions
- CBN – CBN levels rise as buds are allowed to go longer before harvest. It has a relaxing or body effect, and is less psychoactive than THC.
- Other Cannabinoids – There are dozens, even hundreds of cannabinoids that can be found in various strains of cannabis or hemp. Most of these are not well studied or may not even be officially identified yet!
Grow Tactics for Medical Marijuana
Strain is the most important aspect of growing cannabis plants when it comes to producing the effects you want!
- Start with a high-THC strain Keep plants healthy
- Maintain a good growing environment
- Don’t harvest early
- Dry and cure your buds after harvest to maximize potency
- High-CBD Strain – Like THC, the most important aspect of producing high levels of CBD is to grow a high-CBD strain. Although clones are best because you know exactly what you’re getting, there are now seeds available online for those who don’t have access to medical marijuana clones.
- Autoflowering Strains – Auto-flowering strains can be a good choice because they are more closely related to wild hemp and naturally have higher levels of CBD than most other types of cannabis. Although there are cannabis strains bred specifically for CBD which have higher levels, nearly all auto-flowers have at least 1-2% CBD (compared to less than 1% in most strains).
- Don’t harvest early – Harvesting at right time maximizes cannabinoid and CBD levels
Cannabis Growing Methods
Any of these methods will yield good results for a dedicated gardener. However, what you get out of it will depend upon what you put into it. A crop is subject to all kinds of threats, ranging from lack of water, to improper fertilizer, to bugs and animals that will eat it. If you really want good, high-grade marijuana you will have to put a little work into it, no matter which method you use.
This is the traditional method of growing anything. Just grow the marijuana as you would any other plant. Use good soil, and make sure that you keep it watered and properly fertilized.
- It is usually easier and cheaper than any other method.
- You can use standard nursery store fertilizers.
- Unless you get commercial growing soil, the soil can be of uncertain quality. You could lose a crop or have poor results because the minerals and nutrients in the soil are out of balance.
- Yields will probably not be as great as you will get with other methods.
2. Coco Fiber/Rock Wool
Instead of using soil as a medium to hold the roots, you can use an inert medium — something that does not have the quality problems found with ordinary soil.
- Almost as easy as growing marijuana in plain soil.
- Better yields than soil.
- Almost as cheap and simple as plain soil.
- The process is generally cleaner with fewer bugs and mess..
- Requires special fertilizers which are more expensive.
- Requires the purchase of coco fiber. This is not very expensive, but you may have to find a local store that stocks it.
Hydroponics consists of growing the plants in something such as gravel, with no soil or vegetable matter in the mix. The gravel will be contained in pots or troughs. Water with a light mix of special fertilizers will be either poured through the gravel, or the troughs will be flooded with the fertilizer several times throughout the day.
If you view roots grown in hydroponics versus those grown in plain soil, you will see an immediate difference. While roots grown in soil have a big tap root, the roots grown in hydroponics will have no major tap root, but will consist of a huge bunch of small, clean white hairs.
- Much bigger yields than the previous methods.
- Cleaner because no soil is used.
- Costs a lot more because it requires troughs, pumps, and reservoirs to hold the water/fertilizer mixture.
- Requires a lot more labor. You will need to monitor pH and nutrient levels to make sure they stay within proper limits.
- It takes more equipment. Therefore it may take more room.
Aeroponics consists of growing roots in plain air. The plants are held in a mesh basket, hanging out in the air, and the water and fertilizer is continuously sprayed over the roots. This method produces roots that are even more amazing than hydroponics.
- Fastest growth and biggest yields of all. Results can be spectacular.
- Costs more than growing in soil because it requires equipment similar to that used in hydroponics.
- Requires more labor. In order to get good results, it must be monitored on a daily basis.
- Very sensitive to mistakes. You must keep the nutrients and pH in a specific range for optimum results. If the measures of nutrients and pH in your water gets out of limits, you can have really bad results in a big hurry.
One particular alternative method that has gained popularity goes by the name of Aquaponics. Aquaponics is a combination of two traditional food production techniques: Hydroponics & Aquaculture. The concept of aquaponics is based around the idea of raising fish and growing plants together in one integrated and soil-less system. The fish and the plants form a symbiotic relationship in which the fish are providing the plants with a food source, and the plants are acting as a natural filter to cleanse the water the fish live in. When operated inside a climate-controlled greenhouse, aquaponics systems are capable of producing premium quality, organic plants and fish anywhere, during any time of the year.
The key component to a thriving aquaponics system is the beneficial bacteria responsible for converting fish waste, decaying plant matter, and uneaten food into ammonia and other compounds that are consumed by the plants. This naturally occurring, nitrifying bacteria, inhabit every and all surfaces of your aquaponics system, especially the grow medium in the hydroponics system.
Most Patients Use Cannabis in Addition to Their Prescription Medications, Not as a Replacement. This doesn’t mean that cannabis won’t be effective at improving the quality of life for someone suffering from any one of a number of conditions. However, anyone trying cannabis for medicinal reasons should be aware that if you’re already taking medicine for a condition, cannabis will likely help you in conjunction with prescribed medication as opposed to replacing it. While high-CBD cannabis is helping to make massive improvements in their quality of life, many of these children are still taking prescription medications in addition to taking cannabis.
[Updated, originally published 21.4. 2017]