Cannabinoids: THC and CBD
When the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu composed the Tao Te Ching, one of the foundational texts of Taoism, he wrote the now famous line, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Where the cannabis plant is concerned, that first step is always a single seed: Every cannabis cultivar’s journey begins in a tiny craft that whisks its genetic identity through time, space, and soil into the light of existence.
Where the cannabis experience is concerned THC was previously assumed to be the singular “seed” of the plant’s famous effects. That misconception informed the approach taken by most cultivators, instilling in them (and by extension, most cannabis consumers) a myopic focus on “potency” gauged by THC concentration: As far as the general public was concerned, more THC meant “stronger” cannabis. As is generally the case, the truth is a bit less tidy but far more interesting.
Because cannabinoids are behind the desirable impacts of cannabis consumption, they are also the key target of extraction, the suite of physical and chemical processes used to separate those active ingredients from the inert plant matter and create concentrates.
This is the cannabinoid every cannabis consumer has heard of; for decades it was perceived as a solo act — the psychoactive compound of cannabis.
In 1964 Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an organic chemist from Israel, first synthesized the delta-9 THC molecule. Pharmacologists released synthesized THC under the brand-name Marinol® in the early 1980s, but the majority of existing cannabis patients say it doesn’t provide the same analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects when compared to whole cannabis medicine. Numerous early patient trials comparing synthetic THC and natural cannabis medicine confirmed this patient preference, including one from the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy, conducted to gauge their comparative efficacy as a remedy for vomiting or nausea from chemotherapy. The study found a 23% higher “success rate” for chemo patients who smoked natural cannabis versus those who ingested synthetic THC capsules. (1)
A similar early patient trial conducted at the University of New Mexico (2) found an even more dramatic difference in efficacy, deeming inhalation “far superior” to ingestion — over 90% of patients using inhaled cannabis experienced improvement in their condition, versus just under 60% who improved using oral ingestion.
These same general findings are echoed by other early studies from New York, California, and elsewhere, with more recent research into cannabis use patterns showing a continued preference for natural cannabis by patients with access to both natural and synthetic treatment options. (3)
Additionally, synthetic THC afflicts many users with pronounced side effects not experienced with natural cannabis medicine. Clinical data (4) point to a synergistic relationship between cannabinoids other than THC, as well as the input of terpenes on the entourage effect. Cannabis researchers have found that, not only do terpenes, flavonoids, and other non-THC cannabinoids seem to boost anti-inflammatory effects, stimulate cortical activity, and augment blood flow to the brain, they also “may reduce THC-induced anxiety, cholinergic deficits, and immunosuppression.” (5)
While more double-blind studies and clinical research still needs to be done to further verify the scientific validity of the entourage effect, there is a deep catalog of established science on the matter, much of it pointing to real benefits from the combination of multiple cannabinoids and terpenes.
While there’s no doubt that THC no longer enjoys solitary celebrity status, it’s still a star player in the cannabis experience. If anything, high levels of THC are expected in buds or concentrates sold today, so it isn’t as if consumers have lost their “taste” for THC, they’ve simply expanded their palate to include other offerings.
For a more detailed rundown of how to maximize the THC content of your buds, refer to my book Marijuana Harvest: Maximizing Quality and Yield in Your Cannabis Garden. The main trick is to select potent strains with high resin output and time your harvest based on the appearance of the resin glands — clear or milky, not yellow or amber, which indicates a late harvest and (usually) an undesirable concentration of cannabinol or CBN.
CBD was isolated in the early 1930s, but its structure was not discovered until 1963. Dr. Mechoulam actually synthesized CBD a year before his work with THC. In fact, he isolated THC from CBD isolate. But despite that, CBD is still the new kid on the block when it comes to popular cannabis medicine. Once a little known member of THC’s entourage, CBD now commands a massive presence, inspiring CBD only decriminalization bills, as well as a booming retail industry of CBD-only products.
Although CBD is often referred to in popular media and marketing materials as “non-psychoactive,” this is a bit of a misnomer. While it’s true that CBD is more or less non-intoxicating and will not get you “high” in the same way THC does, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and has some pronounced pharmacological impacts on anxiety, addiction and other mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and depression.
There is significant scientific rationale for mixing CBD and THC together to produce increased pleasurable effects: A study that co-administered the two cannabinoids found that “CBD also changed the symptoms in such a way that the subjects receiving the mixtures showed less anxiety and panic but reported more pleasurable effects.”
CBD for Anxiety
One unique study discussed the effects of CBD on social anxiety in people and the underlying neural processes associated with it. Patients were either given an oral dose of CBD or a placebo. The study focused illustrated that CBD indeed reduced social anxiety.
As cannabis becomes legalized in more states, additional studies will bolster the existing research showing that CBD can remove the anxiety, physical response, and fear of illnesses like PTSD.
CBD for Sleep
CBD has powerful anxiolytic effects that improves sleep biomarkers (including onset) helping sleep patterns reset. According to a Brazilian case study, the administration of CBD was associated with significantly decreased anxiety and increased mental sedation. So, if anxiety and stress is the cause of sleeping issues, CBD can help break that cycle, allowing for more natural sleep patterns.
Another study suggests that CBD attaches to the endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 within the body which work in tandem to maintain homeostasis. It found that arthritis sufferers have a higher concentration of C2 receptors in their joints, and when CBD interacted with those receptors, promoting analgesia in the affected area.
CBD also allows those who wake up in the middle of the night to stay asleep. One study showed that CBD can improve complex sleep-related behaviors associated with rapid eye movement (REM). Another found that CBD’s anxiolytic effects were responsible for blocking REM sleep suppression typical of PTSD symptoms.
Five to ten milligrams of CBD per day is a good starting dose. If your main problem is anxiety or pain, take a CBD tincture sublingually or through a gel capsule, one or two hours before bed. For those who wake up in the middle of the night, use a vaporizer when it occurs for instant effects to help you fall back asleep. If you feel this dosage is not enough, gradually increase it by 5-10 milligram increments until the desired effect is achieved.
Thanks to the research on CBD, many people are benefitting from this wonderful non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Just remember, there is no universal method of using CBD, it all de- pends on what results you are trying to achieve.
Benefits of CBD Isolate
Interest in CBD is growing because of its incredible health benefits. Its anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and anti-anxiety properties are just a sampling of the attributes researchers have unearthed, and manufacturers have tapped into. Patients suffering from diseases as varied as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis have reported experiencing re- lief after consuming CBD.
CBD also doesn’t have any intoxicating effects. A pure CBD isolate will affect your body, but your mind will remain clear. The “high” feeling that THC creates is highly sought after by many consumers, but others are mainly interested in the other potential health benefits. In fact, CBD has been shown to counterbalance the intoxicating effects of THC. Isolating specific cannabinoids has become a huge part of the cannabis industry.
Currently, interest is primarily focused on THC and CBD, but that is evolving as legalization sweeps the country and research dollars pour into the industry.
1. Board of Pharmacy, State of Tennessee. 1983. Annual Report: Evaluation of Marijuana and Tetrahydrocannabinol in Treatment of Nausea and/or Vomiting Associated with Cancer Therapy Unresponsive to Conventional Anti-Emetic Therapy: Efficacy and Toxicity. p. 5.
2. Behavioral Health Services Division. 1983. The Lynn Pierson Therapeutic Research Program: A Report on Progress to Date. Health and Environment Department: New Mexico. p. 4.
3. D. Prentiss et al. 2004. Patterns of marijuana use among patients with HIV/AIDS followed in a public health care setting. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 35: 38–45.
4. E. Williamson. 2001. Synergy and other interactions in phytomedicines. Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology 8: 401–409.
5. J. McPartland and E. Russo. 2002. Cannabis and cannabis extracts: greater than the sum of their parts. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics. p. 103.