Most cannabis users are familiar with the most popular cannabinoid of the cannabis plant – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has long been known to create that telltale high or ‘stoned’ feeling that recreational users seek. However, there are dozens of other cannabinoids in marijuana.
Out of the 85 active cannabinoids that can be found in the plant, recently one of them has the scientific community buzzing: cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, CBD does not give users the euphoric high that is so characteristic of cannabis use.
However, even if it does not provide that much-coveted feel-good-feeling that users typically enjoy, CBD has many other benefits and medical uses. One of the primary and truly breakthrough discoveries about CBD has been its effectiveness at curbing or eliminating epileptic seizures.
CBD is a structural isomer of THC. Both share the same chemical composition, yet their atomic arrangements are not an exact match. THC is considered a closed ring and CBD is an open ring. These slight differences have a dramatic effect on how the body welcomes THC versus CBD.
Understanding the CB1 Receptors
Many people wonder why one cannabinoid can create a high and the other cannot. Basically, it has to do with the body’s CB1 receptors that are located in the brain and central nervous system. CBD and THC both respond to the CB1 receptors in dramatically different ways. THC can bind exceedingly well with CB1 receptors. On the other hand, CBD does not bind good to CB1.
As THC enters the system, it starts to partially mimic a naturally produced neurotransmitter in the human body called anandamide. Anandamide instinctively stimulates appetite, increases motivation, reduces pain perception, controls some aspects of memory, and creates feelings of overall happiness/bliss. The CB1 receptor accepts anandamide and is instantly turned on when the two come into contact. THC’s ability to imitate anandamide helps it be readily accepted by CB1.
When the THC binds with the CB1 receptor, the two fit perfectly together. It is a convergence of an ideal fit and they quickly begin to work as partners – two halves of a whole. Upon joining, the THC immediately starts to react, which stimulates the CB1 receptor.
CBD lacks the ability to fit in any way with CB1. In fact, it is considered an antagonist to CB1. Interestingly, the CBD doesn’t just not get along and bind with CB1, but it also works against the THC’s ability to bind with the CB1. Depending on the levels of CBD and THC, increased levels of CBD can counteract the THC and help guarantee that the user experiences little or no psychoactive responses from the THC.
There is little doubt that CBD’s inability to provide a euphoric effect is disappointing to recreational users. Despite CBD’s inability to induce a psychoactive response, it is the very thing that appeals to an entirely new group of people who are ready to start reaping the medical benefits of cannabis without getting high.
Quite frankly, many people fear the high that marijuana is so well known for providing. This is especially true of parents with sick children who are considering trying cannabis as a medicinal component in their child’s health treatment plan. (See Sophie's Story for a good example.)
With certain strains of cannabis that are CBD dominate or medicinal concentrates that feature only CBD, they don’t have to worry about any psychoactive properties and this makes them much more open to using cannabis as a medicinal treatment option.
Paranoia and Anxiety
Paranoia and feelings of increased anxiety occur in many people who smoke certain strains of cannabis. It is believed that the THC promotes the response. However, CBD has a balancing effect that works to counteract the psychosis that can be caused by the THC. The anti-psychotic properties of CBD are currently being researched and hold promise for the treatment of individuals with schizophrenia.
Relaxation, Sleepiness, and Energy
THC is known to induce a feeling of relaxation and sleepiness. CBD appears to have an opposite effect and causes prolonged wakefulness. This explains why some strains of cannabis make the user sleepy and others increase alertness. Cannabis that contains higher levels of CBD counteract the THC and increase the user’s feelings of energy providing a get-up-and-go attitude.
Medical Benefits of Cannabis
The many possible uses for CBD still continue to astound researchers. Currently, it appears to treat Crohn’s Disease (as Coltyn Turner's story highlights), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), multiple sclerosis, and Dravet’s Syndrome. CBD’s anti-cancer, pain-relieving ability, and anti-seizure components all hold a great deal of hope to the medical research community.
THC and CBD Working Together as a Team
In 2004, the synthetic THC drug Marinol (generic name dronabinol) hit the pharmaceutical market for the treatment of nausea during chemotherapy. Although Marinol has been shown to be moderately successful at aiding the digestive tract and reducing nausea, it is still far from as effective as pure cannabis.
Marinol's inability to act the way cannabis did left researchers scratching their heads. However, it has been discovered that in many cases THC and CBD both need to be present to bestow the medicinal wonders of cannabis such as anti-nausea.
CBD is a powerful analgesic while THC works to stimulate the appetite and reduce nausea. Both CBD and THC have also been found to contain anti-tumor properties when used together.
Individuals seeking to ingest CBD tend to take it orally and not smoke the cannabis plant material. Tinctures are a popular cannabis concentrate form that allows the user to place a couple of drops of the oil beneath their tongue and reap the benefits of the CBD in their system. Industrial hemp also does not contain significant levels of THC and is also being researched as a possible avenue for gaining a CBD rich product without the unwanted high of the THC.
THC and CBD Levels
Overall, the majority of cannabis plants tend to boast exceedingly higher levels of THC than CBD. Many plants boast levels of around 20 per cent THC. On average, most types of cannabis have only four per cent or less CBD.
However, as the scientific community continues to discover the many uses for CBD, growers, and cultivars are sitting up and taking notice. Many are focusing on developing strains that feature very little THC but high levels of CBD to meet the needs of the medical community.
Strains High in CBD
Currently, the strains Charlotte’s Web and Sour Tsunami all contain high levels of CBD and very little THC. Ruderalis strains and Bediol feature about a six per cent level of THC and a 7.5 per cent level of CBD. Even though Ruderalis and Bediol are not THC free, the level of CBD works well to counteract the THC psychoactive effects.
Some researchers even think that in order achieve the full scope of health benefits from the cannabis plant’s cannabinoids, levels of THC and CBD both need to be present in varying levels. The two may work together within the body to one degree or another.
As new strains are developed and the wonders of the older indica and sativa plants are explored at greater levels, a new understanding of how the plant's many cannabinoids such as THC and CBD work together is being reached.
The wonders of natural cannabis truly seem limitless. The plant's complex system works together in perfect synchronization. It is exciting to see what the future research reveals about the amazing cannabis plant.