The cannabis plant is made up of more than 500 unique, natural compounds, including around 85 cannabinoids. Of these, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) stands out, due to its psychoactive properties. In other words, it’s the reason a person feels high, euphoric, or in an altered state of mind. High THC levels are sought after by recreational because it produces a better, longer-lasting “buzz”. Medical cannabis users, researchers and medical professionals also recognize that it has medicinal properties that can be applied to a variety of illnesses, ailments and conditions. It’s a fascinating substance, but what, exactly, is THC and what are its medicinal applications?
What Is THC?
The answer to this question is actually quite simple, THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It’s chemically similar to cannabinoids that the human body already makes for the endocannabinoid system, therefore it readily connects to special receptors in the brain, as well as those within the immune system. The receptors in the brain are primarily associated with pleasure, memory, thinking, appetite, coordination and time perception. Researchers are currently looking at the role these immune system receptors play in the treatment of diseases, such as cancer.
One of the most well-known medical uses for THC is to treat nausea and vomiting associated with certain diseases and conventional treatments, like chemotherapy. It’s also known for its appetite-stimulation properties, which is beneficial to patients whose appetite is suppressed due to illnesses, such as anorexia. It’s also been used effectively to treat lack of appetite in Alzheimer’s patients, who had previously refused to eat. What’s more, users of cannabis for increasing appetite and decreasing nausea tend to maintain a stable body weight over the long-term. While some patients smoke the plant, others use it in its edible form, both methods have proven effective.
Pain and Inflammation
Doctors generally prescribe opioids for severe, chronic pain. The problem is, these drugs carry with them a high risk of addiction, especially with long-term use. What’s more, opioid use has negative impacts on the quality of life for patients. THC has proven to be useful in treating chronic pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, headache, menstrual pain, chronic bowel inflammation and nerve damage. There is a low risk of addiction, unlike opioid use, and fewer side effects. A study by the University of Michigan, involving 185 patients, showed that medical cannabis patients also reported a 45-percent increase in their quality of life.
Anxiety and Depression
Millions of people across the country suffer from anxiety and depression, for which doctors generally prescribe anti-depressant medications. The problem with these drugs is that they are addictive, and often have accompanying negative side-effects such as suicidal thoughts. THC, on the other hand, does not carry with it side effects. In fact, in smaller doses, it increases serotonin levels, which can offer relief from depression. According to one study, there was a decrease in the number of suicides for 15 to 19-year old men in states that have legalized medical cannabis, compared to states where it is not legal.
While all of the medical benefits of THC have yet to be discovered, or applied, it is preferable, in may cases, to highly-addictive opioids and other medications. It has been difficult, up until now, for doctors and researchers to experiment with cannabinoids due to its status as a Schedule I drug. However, as more states legalize the plant for medical use, it is likely that research will become easier, and more conclusive. Until then, proponents of medical cannabis use will continue to offer anecdotal evidence of its benefits and effectiveness. Likewise, opponents will continue to point towards out-dated, inaccurate information as the basis for their desire to keep it designated as an illegal substance with no medical benefits.
While the most popular strains seem to be forever-stocked on nearly all cannabis dispensary shelves, it is always nice to discover lesser-known or proprietary genetics that deserve more attention. I recently had the pleasure of discovering one such example in the Sour Apple Maui strain grown and sold by Oasis Cannabis Superstore in Denver, Colorado.
I entered Oasis Cannabis Superstore on 44th Ave without a specific strain in mind, which could easily become an overwhelming situation considering that they keep more than 100 strains on hand at all times. I was lucky enough to be helped by Lanai, a friendly and knowledgeable veteran member of the Oasis team, who was able to quickly point me in the direction of Sour Apple Maui. (Big thanks, Lanai. You rock!)
Lanai selects flowers of Cherry Lime Rickey after filling a gram of Sour Apple Maui at Oasis Cannabis Superstore.
Sour Apple Maui
Sour Diesel x Power Plant x Maui Waui
Oasis Cannabis Superstore, 5430 West 44th Avenue, Denver, CO 80212
Sour Apple Maui flower from Oasis Cannabis Superstore.
This sample of Sour Apple Maui is reminiscent of flora found on a tropical island. These dense flowers fade from dark green at the core to lighter, lime-green on the edges. Each bud was speckled with bright orange hairs (pistils) and shimmering concentrations of kief (trichomes). Once ripped in half and upon closer inspection, I noticed a few tiny leaves that were slightly purple in color.
These flowers smelled sweet and earthy with strong undertones of fuel and citrus. It likely contains higher quantities of limonene, a terpene found in cannabis, citrus fruits, juniper and several other plants, known to help to increase mental focus and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Full disclosure, I was slightly nervous about trying Sour Apple Maui for a couple of reasons. First of all, it tested highest for THC out of all strains available at Oasis, maxing out at 27 percent, and strains super high in THC often leave me with a racing heart. I usually prefer heavy indicas, but Sour Apple Maui is an 80 percent sativa dominant strain. I may have been skeptical, but I will forever trust Lanai’s recommendations because she was spot-on with this one. It provided me with just the right amount of cerebral relaxation to remain calm and clear-headed, in-the-moment, and therefore able to concentrate on one task at a time.
Just as the label very clearly stated, this strain is perfect for those, like myself, who suffer from ADD. I also found it to be a phenomenal pain reliever. It eradicated the headache I woke up with almost instantly. The Oasis team also, understandably, recommends this strain in the treatment of depression, fatigue and muscle spasms.
Officially on my list of favorites, Sour Apple Maui has become my go-to strain for summer. If it were a song, it’d be “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin because whether you’re relaxing by the pool, hiking a new trail or playing frisbee at the park, Sour Apple Maui will leave you carefree and in-the-moment. It may also be a good option for those seeking daytime pain relief at work, or for anyone suffering from PTSD.
In a study conducted at the Universidad de Cantabria, Raquel Linge and her team performed a study using cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive seizure-stopping cannabinoid found in marijuana, to treat depression.
Cannabis reacts with different endocannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body, thus producing different effects, and neuroscientists have witnessed how CBD affects serotonin and glutamate levels. These two neurotransmitters in the brain are what pharmaceuticals often target to treat the biological causes of depression.
The study used a mouse model called OBX that is often used to research depression in humans. It involves removing part of a mouse’s brain to trigger some of the symptoms of depression. The mice with the OBX surgery were compared with normal mice and both were administered CBD. Within 30 minutes, researchers noticed a significant reduction in hyperactivity, which could present as anxiety in humans. Over the course of a week, mice regained their ability to enjoy sugar. This characteristic is often translated into a human’s desire for enjoyment.
In both OBX mice and normal mice, researchers saw an increase in glutamate levels immediately, and they held over the course of the week. The serotonin levels were more subtle, and seemed to hold steady only in mice who had the OBX surgery, suggesting that it was a response based on the conditions of the brain.
There are a wide variety of pharmaceutical options on the market for treating depression, but all of them fall within nine main categories. Depression can have many different biological causes and the variety of treatment options help doctors narrow in on the best treatment for their patients. The promising data from this study suggests CBD could be used as a base for new treatment options. What’s more, the study indicates that the response to CBD was almost immediate, which is not the case for most conventional pharmaceutical treatments that take weeks or even months to balance out and produce desired effects.
Many are familiar with the major cannabinoids found in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, which have such great efficacy for conditions like depression, PTSD, and epilepsy. But cannabinoids are only part of the picture. Terpenes are like molecular cousins to cannabinoids and serve the primary role of delivering a wide variety of alluring aromas to cannabis flowers, but also offer a wide range of medicinal benefits as well.
In addition to aroma, terpenes deliver sometimes great medicinal value. They have been found to fight cancer and act as an analgesic (pain killer). Like amino acids, terpenes are powerful building blocks within the plant’s physiology that aid in the production of vitamins, hormones, pigments, resins, and — yes, that most prized part of the herb — cannabinoids. Cannabis plants release more terpenes when temperatures are higher (one reason they emit strong odors during the peak of harvest season).
More than 200 terpenes are available in the cannabis plant, while more than 20,000 exist in nature. They are produced in the small resin glands that appear primarily on the surface of the flowers and sugar leaves of cannabis plants called trichomes. It is estimated that there are nearly 1000 strains of cannabis that have been bred. Each of these features a distinct and unique mix of terpenes, something called a terpene profile.
Cannabis and cannabis products — such as concentrates — sold in legal and regulated states often feature a label providing a laboratory analysis that lists the exact percentages of cannabinoids and terpenes. Often, lab techs, budtenders, and pot nerds will discuss particular strains or extracts of cannabis in terms of their terpene profiles and how the overall efficacy of one profile (an individual of a particular strain) compares with other samples or methods of extracting concentrates.
Major terpenes include myrcene, pinene, and limonene. Myrcene, which conveys earthy and clove-like odors, determines whether a particular strain is indica or sativa by its percentage within the plant (further illustrating the important role played by terpenes). Pinene, a terpene also found in evergreens, has been found to increase mental focus and energy and acts as a bronchodilator — making it helpful for asthma sufferers. Limonene, as its name implies, provides an aroma of citrus and is found not only in cannabis, but also oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes. It has been revealed to alleviate depression and aid in digestion.
Terpenes are very volatile, delicate molecules that are easily destroyed by heat and oxidation. Popular cannabis concentrates, like BHO and CO2 oil, are mostly void of terpenes. One new extraction method called live resin preserves the terpene profile of cannabis plants. This process involves cryogenically freezing plants immediately after harvest and then using a laboratory extraction process (backyard brewers need not apply) to remove and isolate a more accurate representation of a particular plant’s mix of cannabinoids and terpenes.
What is Linalool?
Linalool, one of the minor terpenes found in cannabis, conveys a floral aroma, sometimes with a hint of spice. More than 200 species of plants produce linalool, including a variety of mints and herbs. More important, linalool serves many roles in relieving a number of symptoms, including pain, depression, seizures, inflammation (similar to limonene), and even insomnia (because it acts as a sedative). Its tranquilizing effects are helpful for those suffering with many types of psychosis.
- Analgesic: Linalool is helpful for conditions like multiple sclerosis, dystonia, arthritis, post-operative pain, and chronic pain from any source because it is a pain killer. Combined with cannabinoids of the same efficacy, linalool can be a reinforcing agent in a patient’s struggle to manage pain, especially if they are trying to avoid or reduce use of opiates such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin.
- Antidepressant: More than 20 million people in the United States alone suffer from sometimes debilitating depression. This common psychological ailment can negatively affect one’s career, personal relationships, and even physical health. Linalool, when combined with cannabinoids like THC that are also effective in helping alleviate depression, helps form an overall strategy for using cannabis to treat these types of disorders.
- Anti-Convulsant: Just as chemotherapy is used to treat conditions other than cancer, seizures afflict those with conditions other than epilepsy, such as traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, and hydrocephalus. Most seizures feature a duration of between 30 seconds and two minutes. Typically, they do not cause lasting harm, although they seizures often very taxing, painful, or exhausting for sufferers. Seizures that last longer than five minutes are considered life threatening.
- Anti-Inflammatory: Those suffering from inflammation-based diseases, such as Crohn’s, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, asthma, fibromyalgia, dermatitis, IBS, lupus, and Parkinson’s, among many others, gain benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of linalool (as well as a variety of anti-inflammatory cannabinoids).
- Sedative and Sleep Aid: It is estimated that 10-30 percent of people suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives, with 10 percent reported to experience chronic and severe sleep deprivation. Cannabinoids like CBN, when combined with terpenes such as linalool, help patients get the sleep they require to maintain homeostasis (balance) and health. Adequate sleep is critical for patients to most effectively fight their condition or disease.
Ancient cultures have used terpenes like linalool, available in a variety of aromatic herbs like cannabis, for millennia to treat a wide variety of conditions. 21st century research has confirmed the beliefs of these ancient civilizations, revealing strong medical efficacy for a variety of conditions.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Phytomedicine revealed that linalool is a major anti-inflammatory agent, potentially helping with a variety of inflammation-related ailments, such as cancer, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. The same research team, in a 2003 study, found linalool to also be a pain killer. These researchers again, in 2006, conducted another linalool study that further collected and examined data from animal models. This study reinforced the fact that linalool is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
2008 research published in the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal supported the sedative qualities of linalool. The study estimated that 19 million Americans suffer from anxiety-related ailments, with 16 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 54 being patients of one or more anxiety conditions, which sometimes lead to substance abuse and mood disorders.
This study revealed linalool to be a powerful sedative that delivers real efficacy to those who suffer anxiety disorders and one of their most common side effects, insomnia. Concluded the study:
“Our data…suggested that linalool modulates the central nervous system by producing unconsciousness and degradation of motor movements.”
A 2010 study involving mice that employed three different sub-types of linalool found it to be an effective anticonvulsant, meaning it shows significant promise for those who suffer seizures, such as patients of epilepsy and brain tumors. Reported the study:
“Linalool…[was] effective in preventing tonic convulsions induced by transcorneal electroshock in the animals.”
More Research Needed
As with all areas of cannabis science, terpenes like linalool are in desperate need of well funded, robust research in the form of human trials. Until cannabis is dropped from Schedule I and real studies are permitted by reputable research institutions and laboratories, medical professionals and patients must play a guessing game in terms of the types and dosages of terpenes like linalool that are most appropriate for particular conditions.