Cannabis has come a long way—or rather, our understanding of it has.

Long stigmatized for its recreational consumption and psychoactive effects, deeper research into cannabis has shed new light on its many possible health benefits. A big reason for this breakthrough is a better understanding of the plant’s compounds, especially the two most common among them: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). But why should we care about the difference between the two?

It’s THC that gives the plant much of its stigma, as its psychoactive effects are responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis. CBD is different: it’s a non-psychoactive compound, which means it doesn’t produce a high. This distinction between these two compounds is part of what’s revolutionized the plant’s popularity in the health and wellness space.

CBD’s popularity has done a lot to dismantle the cultural stigma surrounding cannabis consumption and increase the desire to learn more about how cannabis affects the body—particularly regarding the endocannabinoid system.

“It’s a little bit similar to insulin,” says Chris Wagner, CEO of Emerald Health Therapeutics, a Health Canada Licensed Producer of medical cannabis. “There are insulin receptors on the cells in your body. When insulin comes up to a cell it flicks a switch or a gate open, and it allows sugar to get into the cell. The endocannabinoid system operates on the same idea.”

How people consume cannabis has changed as well. While consumers can still feel the effects of CBD by smoking the plant, CBD oils are an increasingly popular way to experience the potential benefits of cannabis without experiencing the psychoactive effects of THC. That in and of itself is a breakthrough when it comes to using CBD to treat minors.

While vaping CBD oils through a pen vaporizer will feel familiar to long-time smokers, it’s far from the only way to consume CBD. Oral CBD drops allow the cannabidiol to quickly and effectively enter the bloodstream. Gel capsules are increasingly popular as well and are one of the more discreet ways to consume cannabis. Even suppositories have increased in popularity, especially among consumers who swear by CBD’s digestive benefits.

There is still much work to be done, however—especially when it comes to the standardization and regulation of cannabis production.

“With dosage, accuracy [and] efficacy, none of the products are ever the same,” says Wagner. “It’s a huge deal, particularly if you don’t want a random experience.”

Wagner notes that after cannabis is legalized in Canada on October 17, consumers will no longer have to worry about purchasing a product from a legal vendor whose effects are untested—and that this knowledge of cannabis’ effects will have an immeasurable influence across the globe.

“Now we can do some real science, with some real purity,” says Wagner. “That’s super exciting.”

This article originally appeared in Toronto Life

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