The Great Big, Very Good Guide to Cannabis
Topicals & Tinctures
Ever wonder why cannabis has approximately a million names? That’s because it’s been cultivated in different cultures all over the world. Cannabis is Latin. Marijuana? That term comes from Mexico. And ganja comes from the Hindi ganjha.
The first known writing on psychoactive cannabis dates back to ancient China. Though cannabis has at times been considered a tool of shamanism and spirituality, it’s also been outlawed by religions across the world. A lot of them. In 600 BCE in China, Taoism rejected intoxicants, including cannabis. In the 1300s, Sunni Muslims clashed with Sufi Muslims over cannabis fields in Egypt. And a century later, the Catholic Pope declared cannabis satanic.
With a backstory like this, it’s no wonder information on cannabis is hard to come by. But what did this little plant do to become so contentious?
Cannabis is a plant. (Great—with us so far?)
Some plants produce a thick, sticky substance called resin. Resins are made of various organic compounds and are thought to help plants fend off hungry insects, animals, and diseases. Some resins you may have heard of: amber, myrrh, and cannabis oil.
The resin secreted by cannabis is loaded with interesting compounds. Some are psychoactive (which means they make you feel high). Others are called terpenes, which are responsible for all sorts of familiar plant smells (think of the pine tree smell from pinene or the citrusy smell from limonene). Hemp is a type of cannabis with negligibly few psychoactive cannabinoids. And “hemp seed oil”? It has basically zero cannabinoids of any kind, psychoactive or not (which is why we don’t use it in our products).
The two most famous cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, better known as THC and CBD. And no, you can’t get high from eating raw cannabis leaves. Until you heat the cannabis, most of those THC molecules are actually THCA, a slightly different cannabinoid that doesn’t have a psychoactive effect.
So, now we know plants have tons of bits and bobs—terpenes (aromatic compounds), flavonoids (metabolites), essential oils, and, in the case of cannabis, cannabinoids. But how do these bits and bobs interact with our bodies?
Humans (and all other vertebrates) are full of receptors that help regulate functions like pain, appetite, and memory. These receptors kick into action when they detect cannabinoid molecules. When you expose your receptors to cannabis, it amplifies the work your endocannabinoid system is already doing. “Endo,” for those of you studying linguistics at home, is a root word that means “inside.” So an “endocannabinoid system” is a cannabinoid-regulating system inside your body.
For a while, scientists thought we only had endocannabinoid receptors in our brains and nerves. More recent research proves that we actually have receptors just about everywhere.
Topicals & Tinctures
When cannabinoids reach our receptors, what happens?
If you’re a human, you have a “blood-brain barrier,” which prevents certain substances from moving between your blood and (you guessed it) your brain. But the blood-brain barrier lets cannabinoid molecules through, which means that if you get cannabinoids in your bloodstream, they will dance along to your brain. How do you get cannabinoids in your bloodstream? Inhale them, eat them, drink them—basically, get them inside your body. When you take a High Desert Pure tincture, the cannabinoids will cross your blood-brain barrier; if the tincture contains THC, you’ll feel high.
Topicals are different. They’re applied to the epidermis, which is a fancy word for your outer layer of skin. The epidermis is covered in endocannabinoid receptors. When a topical product comes into contact with your skin, it affects these receptors the same way an ingested or inhaled bit of cannabis affects the receptors in your brain. Unlike ingested or inhaled cannabis, though, a topical product doesn’t reach your bloodstream, so it never reaches the cannabinoid receptors in your brain. That’s why you won’t get a psychoactive high from topicals, even when those topicals contain THC.
With the Controlled Substances Act, which was signed by President Nixon in 1970, cannabis was designated as a drug with no potential medical uses. John Ehrlichman, counsel to Nixon, later claimed there was a political and racial agenda behind this designation:
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war (in Vietnam) or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
As more states legalize cannabis, it’s important to keep a few key facts in mind. One: The war on drugs harmed (and continues to harm) Black people disproportionately more than white people. Black people are still 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis offenses in the US than white people. Two: The rhetoric around cannabis has led many Americans to fear that cannabis is highly dangerous, despite the fact that there are no reports of fatal cannabis overdoses in the epidemiological research consulted by the World Health Organization. Three: Roadblocks on research are slowly, finally disappearing, making this both an exciting era to study cannabis and a bit of a Wild West, where folks will chase trends and say anything they think they can get away with. That’s why we aim to make the nitty-gritty of cannabis as transparent and honest as possible.
The science of cannabis is infused with curiosity and possibility. We encourage you to experiment along with us. Every individual reacts differently to cannabis products, and we’re legally not able to claim any specific benefits of our products (like, “X product will cure Y ailment,” even if, in our experience, it does). So pick out a few High Desert Pure products and give them a whirl! Try them for a few days. Share them with your friends and see what they think.
Thanks for being scientists with us.