I’ll be honest: The first time I heard about CBD flower, I turned up my nose.
Toddling around the Orlando Hemp Fest on a humid weekday morning, a friend and I came across a booth displaying giant jars of what looked like wispy, dark buds of fresh cannabis flower. Confused at how the shop owner had managed to display her entire store stash in a public park (an illegal act in Florida), she informed me that none of what she sold contained THC—it was, as it turned out, hemp flower.
“Why would anyone smoke that?” I asked as we walked away, wincing at the thought. Admittedly, I was a bit of a weed snob. As a Colorado cannabis industry veteran of ten years and a recent transplant to the very young, emerging, and highly-regulated market of a brand-new state, I was still wriggling into my Florida pants, and they didn’t fit very well.
On one leg, CBD was my friend. I’d learned her virtues during the arduous process of managing chronic pain and inflammation from the connective tissue disorder that brought me to Florida in the first place.
On the other, my previous experience as a patient and cannabis educator taught me that when we smoke cannabis flower, about 80% of the beneficial cannabinoids (chemical compounds of the cannabis plant) are burned off. Inhaled cannabis is, however, the route of administration that provides the fastest relief. Because of this, I had always used CBD in topical, capsule, sublingual, and edible forms, opting for smoked flower only when I needed a burst of THC fast enough to stop breakthrough pain.
In my mind, cannabis flower was for feeling good: It provided euphoric, relaxing, pain-reducing effects when I needed it quickly. CBD was good for accumulative, baseline relief. CBD was my multi-vitamin; THC was my analgesic. For this reason, smoking CBD flower seemed not only silly, but a good way to watch hard-earned cash that could have been spent on a delicious, high-THC strain go up in smoke. In my mind, I may as well have put my hemp fiber tote bag into my pipe and smoked it. Yuck.
It wasn’t until I took my first Florida industry job and met a knowledgeable student of Florida Gulf State University’s Cannabis Career Program that my perspectives changed.
Marijuana Vs. Hemp
Let’s dive into a little cannabis 101.
Folks become confused when differentiating marijuana from hemp, and with good reason: They are both the same plant. Literally. Both plants have the same Genus and are the same species. Both plants are Cannabis. The only difference between the two resides in the quality of the resin they produce, which is where the beneficial therapeutic compounds are housed.
Simply-put, the government has drawn a line down the middle of the cannabis plant. To the right, we have any plant that produces levels of THC greater that .03 percent. These plants are considered “marijuana.” On the left, we have any plant that produces levels of THC .03 percent or less. These plants are considered “hemp.” But both are cannabis.
Marijuana produces a high-quality resin rich in cannabinoids and terpenes, making it easier to produce a high-quality extraction. Hemp, on the other hand, produces a low-quality resin and requires more plants to produce the same amount and quality of extracted material.
Still with me? Here’s some more fun Florida-specific facts:
In the Sunshine State, products made from cannabis must be sold from a licensed MMTC (or dispensary) and patients must obtain a medical cannabis card and recommendation from a qualifying physician in order to purchase them. But products made from hemp are allowed to be sold at any corner store with little oversight from the state (in 2020, however, more regulations are being set in place).
It’s important to note that the hemp industry in the US is largely unregulated, which is why we commonly see CBD shops and companies popping up like trichomes on a cola. Because of this, it is extremely important for patients to research the companies where they purchase hemp-derived CBD to make sure the product is legitimate.
Quality Vs. Quantity
Now here’s where it gets tricky.
Like instruments in an orchestra, cannabinoids work synergistically, or together, to provide optimal relief. An oboe, clarinet, violin, and snare drum sound great on their own, but played together, make music even more beautiful and effective than they could produce by themselves.
Cannabinoids work the same way. CBD alone is a brilliant pain-reliever, but adding just a touch of THC—even in a ratio that prevents the onset of euphoric affects—makes CBD work even better. In other words, a tincture with a ratio of 20:1 of CBD:THC is oftentimes more effective than one made with CBD alone.
For this reason, I prefer to buy my CBD products from a dispensary. I know what I’m getting, I know the product has been tested for quality, and I can be sure it contains all of the trace compounds necessary to give me the effects I need. However, if I’m going to buy a hemp-derived CBD product, I use common sense: I do research on the company selling it, I buy it from a storefront that looks and feels legitimate (i.e., avoiding gas station displays or Instagram pyramid schemes), and I remain mindful of price. Quality isn’t cheap, but it also needn’t break the bank. As with most things in life, balance and good judgement should be at the core of any philosophy when it comes to buying CBD. If something seems too good to be true (or, alternately, if it feels wrong in the pit of your stomach), it probably is.
“It’s perfect for my morning anxiety,” my coworker explained, holding up a dram of ACDC flower and studying the label. “See this? The THC percentage is so low you don’t feel high – but you do feel calm, balanced, and focused.” Intrigued, I purchased an eighth after my shift and tucked it in the cupboard behind my usual strains for a rainy day.
My views on CBD were born of many hours of my own research, many years of working with patients, and a host of trial and error with products of all kinds. But for some reason, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of CBD flower.
That is, until I tried it.
One damp, cloudy morning, I woke up to the familiar stab of deep hip pain. But this time, instead of reaching for my Indica, I reached for that dusty dram of ACDC.
Low and behold, my coworker was right: Almost immediately, my muscles relaxed, the pain dissipated, and my anxiety dwindled. A sense of focused calm washed over me, and the couch no longer seemed appealing. I washed my face, tidied the house, and was even able to enjoy a morning workout—something I couldn’t always achieve when smoking higher THC strains, which left me a tad too high to confidently operate a stair climber. I couldn’t believe I’d second-guessed this incredible medicine.
Now, I keep CBD flower in the house at all times. It’s a magnificent choice for daytime pain relief when I need to work, but also need to be focused. It’s an excellent tool to keep in my back pocket (sometimes literally) for when a strain is too strong for me and needs to be tempered by something gentler. And it’s great for social gatherings, when I want to feel good, but also want to communicate with a clear head.
The lesson? When it comes to the multitude of cannabis strains and products available, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve smoked it. You never know when an unfamiliar strain might become your new best friend.