New Virginia Field Test Distinguishes CBD-dominant Hemp from THC-dominant Marijuana

Virginia is one of the first states that is able to tell hemp from marijuana in the field. The Virginia Department of Forensic Science purchased 16,150 kits that accomplish this and is distributing them to law enforcement agencies in the state.  The officer in the field will first use the existing test, the “Duquenois-Levine field test”, to determine if suspect plant material is actually cannabis. (Hemp and marijuana are two different forms of cannabis.) The new test will then be used to determine whether the cannabis is hemp or marijuana.  The video below was produced to instruct local law enforcement agencies in the process.

Interestingly, North Carolina has taken a totally different approach to the problem of distinguishing hemp from marijuana.  They simply outlawed “smokable hemp.”  The new North Carolina law could go into effect in December of 2020.  Hemp was made federally legal with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.  Virginia and North Carolina have diverged politically in recent years, and this different approach to a Federally legal plant highlights these differences.

These new test kits are not perfect.  There is no way to tell what will happen if they test the new CBG hemp flower (which contains no CBD and a tiny amount of THC). There is no test for CBG “plant material.”  Hemp may be a moving target as new cannabinoids are targeted by seed companies, but the Virginia test kits are a step forward – especially compared to North Carolina’s approach. If prohibition is overturned this may be a moot point in the future.

How does CBD work to decrease the risk of Psychosis?

It has been known for some time that THC may make psychosis worse in persons who are at risk for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. There have also been studies finding that CBD decreases the risk of psychosis in these people. The mechanism of this antipsychotic property has been elusive. A team of researchers from King’s College in London Performed an interesting double-blinded placebo study that was published last year in JAMA Psychiatry.

The authors studied 33 persons deemed “at clinical high risk” (CHR) for psychosis and compared them to 19 health control participants. 16 of the CHR subjects received a single 600mg dose of CBD and the remaining 17 received a placebo. Control participants did not receive anything. According to the researchers “All subjects were then studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing a verbal learning task.”

This design allowed the researchers to see what is happening in the brain in real time while participants are using their brains to perform a standard task. They found that “Cannabidiol [CBD] may partially normalize alterations in parahippocampal, striatal, and midbrain functions associated with the CHR state.” They believe that these brain regions are involved in psychosis and that the CBD acted as a therapeutic agent to normalize brain function in these areas.

All subjects had been asked to avoid alcohol, cannabis, and other recreational drugs prior to the study and a urine test was performed to confirm that they complied with these instructions. They performed some fairly complex statistical analyses comparing the different groups – control participants, placebo participants, and CBD participants. In general the participants at high risk for psychosis showed brain patterns intermediate between the placebo participants and the controls. CBD apparently partially corrected the problems that were developing in their brains.

Will CBD ever be used as a treatment for psychosis? That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. High dose CBD (in the form of Epidiolex) is already FDA approved to treat certain seizure disorders. It could certainly be studied as a treatment for psychosis as well.

How to Decarb Cannabis: Decarboxylation activates the CBD or THC in Cannabis for edibles or Topicals

Wonder what would happen if you eat hemp flower or marijuana bud?  Probably not what you think.  The THC and CBD in cannabis emerge only after it is heated.  Raw, unheated cannabis contains mostly CBDA and THCA.  They are in an “acid form” and not available as THC or CBD to the body.  (You won’t get high or get some of the benefits of CBD.) Scientists are discovering that the cannabinoids THCA and CBDA do have some benefits of their own. CBDA is a COX-2 inhibitor, suggesting that it might be helpful for arthritis and pain.

cannabis brownie

Photo by Pixabay on

Decarboxylation can a stinky process.  You may want to use a shallow pan covered with foil, or a decarb box – a silicon box that seals in the smell.  (An oven thermometer is included for calibrating your oven.)

  1. Preheat oven. Wait until oven is fully preheated before proceeding.
  2. Break up flowers and buds into smaller pieces with your hands. There is no need to grind first.
  3. Place the material in a pan or the decarb box.
  4. Bake on the center rack
  5. When time is up, remove the material from oven. Let cool completely, or chill in freezer 10-15 minutes.

The Magical Butter people recommend the following temperatures:

Target Temperature Minutes
THC 250°F/121°C 30-45
CBD 280°F/140°C 60-90
CBN 320°F/160°C 90-120

Once you have decarbed you will notice that the material smells different.  It is now activated and you can bake it into brownies, extract it into tincture, infuse it into butter or coconut oil. CBD and THC are absorbed slowly, so be sure not to make the rookie mistake of “trying just a little more” when you don’t feel something right away.  You may have to wait as long as an hour or two for the effects to kick in.  The effects may last longer too.

CBG hemp flower requires different temperatures. Read more here.

How to make your own Green Dragon Cannabis Tincture

Before prohibition cannabis was available at drug stores in the form of a cannabis tincture.  These tinctures contained alcohol infused with cannabis.  Neither CBD nor THC are water soluble, so either alcohol or oil are needed as a solvent for the activecannabis-tincture2ingredients in cannabis.  Today the word tincture is sometimes used to refer to CBD oil as well as to alcohol-based tinctures.  The principle is the same. Cannabis is first heated to “decarb” or decarboxylate the plant matter.  This is the process that converts the inactive THCA to the intoxicant THC. It also converts CBDA to CBD.  After this decarb process the plant material is soaked in grain alcohol and one of several techniques is used to speed up the process of infusing the chemicals from cannabis into the alcohol.

I’ll list three methods that can be used at home. These techniques can be used with CBD hemp flower or with marijuana bud.  Before you start you should decarb most or all of the plant material (unless you want to include some THCA and/or CBDA in the tincture).  Decarboxilation is a process of heating cannabis to convert THCA to THC and CBDA to CBD.  If you are smoking or vaping you are decarbing the material as you smoke or vape.

The slow method: 

  • Mix your flower or extract in a mason jar with high-proof alcohol (such as Everclear)
  • Close the jar and let it sit for a few weeks, shaking it once a day
  • After a few weeks, filter it with a coffee filter

The shake method:

  • Grind your herb finely, either before or after decarb. Mix in a mason jar with high-proof alcohol (such as Everclear)
  • Shake for 3 minutes
  • Strain the mixture and store

The high tech method:

  • Use your Magical Butter machine or an Infuzium 420.  These machines make infused oils and butter, but they simplify the process for tinctures as well.  I chose the Infuzium 420 because it has good reviews, it’s cheaper, and it allows me to make smaller batches if I wish.
  • Just dump in the alcohol and the herb (grinding not necessary) and push the button for tinctures.  The machine heats the mixture safely and stirs it for you. Strain the end product with the strainer included with the machine.  Straining again through a coffee filter removes even more of the fine solids.

If you are using hemp flower to make a CBD tincture you should consider including some raw (not decarbed) plant material in addition to the decarbed material.  CBDA is a COX2 inhibitor and may inhibit some tumor growth.  Similarly, THCA is being studied for a number of health benefits, including treating some seizures.

Whichever method you choose you will end up with a tincture that may burn if you put it under your tongue.  If it does, then take it with a sip of water and swish it around in your mouth for a minute or so before swallowing.  Adding a drop of peppermint extract and a splash of stevia will make it easier to tolerate too.  Putting it in the freezer for 24 hours and then straining it through a coffee filter will remove some of the bitterness too.

You can roughly calculate the dose if you have good lab results on your cannabis.  You will likely capture 75% or so of the CBD or THC, so include this in your calculations.

References: Leafly guide to tinctures.

CBD for Anxiety and Sleep in a Real World Setting

An intriguing study from the United States has found that low dose CBD decreased anxiety in mental health patients with an anxiety diagnosis.  It seemed to help sleep as well, but less so.

shutterstock_710293651Much existing cannabis research has been in Israel and Europe.  Restrictive Federal laws in the U.S. have prevented widespread study of the potential uses of cannabinoids.  Some clinician/researchers at a holistic mental health clinic in Colorado recently published a retrospective case study of patients with anxiety and sleep disturbance who had been prescribed CBD as part of their treatment.  The setting is a little unusual.  The authors described it this way:

Wholeness Center is a large mental health clinic in Fort Collins, CO, that focuses on integrative medicine and psychiatry. Practitioners from a range of disciplines (psychiatry, naturopathy, acupuncture, neurofeedback, yoga, etc) work together in a collaborative and cross-disciplinary environment. CBD had been widely incorporated into clinical care at Wholeness Center a few years before this study, on the basis of existing research and patient experience.

While the setting is unusual, there aren’t too many places where you could study the use of CBD in multiple patients.  The authors reviewed the cases of 103 patients who had been administered CBD over the previous year. 82 of the patients had a documented anxiety or sleep disorder.

According to the authors:

These results demonstrated a more sustained response to anxiety than for sleep over time. Patient records displayed a larger decrease in anxiety scores than in sleep scores. The sleep scores demonstrated mild improvement. The anxiety scores decreased within the first month and then remained decreased during the study duration.

Doses in the study were relatively low, ranging from 25mg per day to 175mg per day of CBD taken orally. Sleep quality was measured using the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index and anxiety was measured using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale. Some patients reported drowsiness during the first 2 weeks of treatment and this side-effect diminished over time.

The authors caution appropriately that these results might be due to placebo.  Future studies will need to compare low dose CBD to placebos in double-blinded studies.  This study is an interesting first step that confirms many of the anecdotal reports of CBD’s effectiveness for anxiety.

Reference: Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: A large case series. Perm J 2019;23:18-041. DOI:

Dosing CBD

How much CBD or hemp oil should you take?  Nobody really knows.  There are standard doses for people using the prescription form of CBD called Epidiolex to treat seizures, and these doses are very high.  Most people taking CBD for anxiety and chronic pain take much lower doses.  The video below by the “CBD Professor” is pretty good at laying this out.  At least he doesn’t pretend to know what dose you should take.

He refers to an article by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC on the Dr. Axe site that is worth reading too.  It does suggest a range of doses, but emphasized that dosing really is an individual process.  

In nature CBD does not exist in isolation.  It is found in cannabis, in both hemp and marijuana.  There is evidence that it works better when accompanied by other constituents of cannabis, such as THC, other cannabinoids, and terpenes.

CBD OilsStart by buying CBD from a reputable source that provides certificates of analysis (COAs).  Read the dosing suggestions on the label and follow the principle of “start low and go slow.”  Many experts suggest starting at the lowest dose suggested on the label and very gradually increasing if you don’t get the desired effect in a couple of weeks.  Consider trying an even lower dose after a while.  There are anecdotal reports of “reverse tolerance” where people can sometimes decrease the dose after they have been taking it for a while. Compare CBD isolate products with full spectrum and broad spectrum products.  When you find something that works, stick with it.

Cannabis sativa vs. indica vs. ruderalis – What’s in a (Latin) name?

The few times I’ve visited dispensaries in legal states the cannabis products were always described as Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica or hybrids.  In Alaska I tried two gummies and found them to be very different.  One was described as:

“707 HEADBAND: INDICA  |  18.7-21.2% THC. An indica dominant hybrid known for its potency, 707 Headband has uplifting and happy effects while also providing deep relaxation. Originating from Humbolt County (area code 707) in Northern California, Headband is a combination of NY City Sour Diesel, OG Kush and Master Kush.”

The other was described as:

“DURBAN POISON: SATIVA  |  17.2% THC. Known as the “espresso of cannabis”, Durban Poison is one of the most sought after strains in the world. Whether you’re exploring the Alaskan wilderness or just want to vacuum your house, this pure sativa will get have you ready for activity. Listed as one of the 25 Top Strains of All Time by Hightimes Magazine.”

I did find them to be quite different.  The “Sativa” was definitely more activating and made me a little paranoid.  The “Indica dominant hybrid” was more sedating and I was pretty mellow.   I preferred the Indica – but what was it I was really preferring?
Traditionally Cannabis sativa was thought to be taller, with thinner leaves and more uplifting – for daytime use.  Cannabis indica was shorter with fatter leaves and more sedating – for nighttime use.  Cannabis ruderalis was a weedy “roadside” cannabis from Eastern Europe and Russia that bloomed more quickly than the other varieties.  Genes from ruderalis have been bred into some modern varieties to produce “auto-flowering” plants that produce flowers more quickly, regardless of day length.

Lexis-Olivier Ray interviewed Aaron Riley, president and co-founder of Van Nuys-based Cannasafe, one of the nations most prominent cannabis testing facilities for an article in LA Taco. Riley reported that

“Almost all of [the] current crops have been crossed and are somewhat hybridized. Also the terpenes, which really deliver the effects associated with the indicia-sativa argument, are present in both strains,”

All cannabis (including marijuana and hemp) is now considered botanically to be Cannabis sativa.  Differences between strains are largely due to different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes (and possibly other substances).  This is the same “entourage effect” that results in full-spectrum cannabis products being more effective than isolated substances like CBD isolate and THC isolate.

According to Riley:

The Entourage Effect is what happens with different combinations of terpenes and cannabinoids. This is why smoking cannabis that contains different cannabinoids and terpenes is better and more effective than drugs like Marinol which is Synthetic THC Delta 9,”

So how do you know what to buy?  Buy cannabis that includes Certificates of Analysis (COAs) from independent testing laboratories.  These certificates should list the cannabinoids and terpenes present, as well as whether any harmful chemicals were detected.  Make notes on how different terpenes affect you and read up on different strains.  It’s also fine to use “Indica” vs “Sativa” and a rule-of-thumb to let you know if a strain is sedating (indica) or uplifting and possibly paranoia-inducing (sativa) – but be aware that these labels may not reflect the actual genetics of the plant.


Qi and The Endocannabinoid System

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  This is apparently one of the body’s more complex systems – on the level of the digestive system, the nervous system, and the immune system.  It is believed to play a major role in maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the mind and body.  Where would I start writing about the digestive system (for example)?  How could I do it justice in this format? To get a sense of the complexity of the ECS see this 2012 “overview.”

shutterstock_623123291.jpgEndo stands is short for “endogenous”, which means originating within the body. Cannabinoids are the substances that activate the ECS.  We are more familiar with phytocannabinoids (plant-derived cannabinoids) such as THC and CBD.  After Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam and his associates discovered THC in 1963 (and later CBD) they began to search for how these substances worked. In 1991 they discovered that THC binds to certain sites in the brain and nervous system and they called these “CB1 receptors.” In 1992 the team found the natural substance that binds to this receptor and named it “anandamide.”  The team found another receptor, mostly in the gut and the immune system, and named it CB2.  They discovered the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) as a substance that naturally binds to the CB2 receptor (also binding to a lesser extent to the CB1 receptor).

So if the phytocannabinoid THC binds to the CB1 receptor, does the phytocannabinoid CBD bind to the CB2 receptor?  It would be great if it were that simple, but it is not. CBD does not bond directly to either CB1 or CB2 receptors but it appears to increase the level of natural cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). It is also a “negative allosteric modulator” to the CB1 receptor, actually reducing THC’s ability to bind with CB1.  This may be one reason that CBD seems to mellow THC’s high and decrease paranoia.  CBD also acts on chemicals like serotonin.  CBD’s ability to relieve pain is likely due to a different mechanism entirely.  It is the result of activating transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) receptors.

Got all that?  Me neither.

What I do get is the idea of homeostatis.  Wikipedia defines homeostasis as

“the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant. Examples of homeostasis include the regulation of temperature and the balance between acidity and alkalinity (pH).”

The ECS appears to be responsible for regulating balance in the body.  Dr. Ethan Russo believes that some challenging syndromes, such as migraine headaches and fibromyalgia, are actually due to an endocannabinoid deficiency.  If our body produces too little anandamide and 2-AG (and other endocannabinoids) it may result in painful syndromes such as these. The implication is that cannabinoids may eventually be part of a treatment for migraines and fibromyalgia.

In China migraines and fibromyalgia might be addressed as imbalances in Qi (pronounced “chi”). Qi is the concept of vital energy.  Acupuncture meridians are thought of as channels for Qi in the body.  Qigong and Tai Chi are techniques for improving Qi.

Western Medicine is missing a system of vital energy.  Most systems of medicine around the world recognize the importance of this vital energy for the mind and body. The concepts of yin and yang are important components of Qi, and it is critical that yin and yang are balanced.  In Japan vital energy is called Ki.  In India it is prana.   Some Western medicine doctors understand that “the will to live” is an important component in someone’s battle against a chronic or terminal illness, but that’s about the only time you hear anything approaching this concept in the West.

Is the endocannabinoid system the same as Qi?  Do they at least overlap?  What do you think?