Whether you're a cannabis aficionado or a newcomer, chances are you've heard of the two most well-known and active cannabinoids, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
While both have become almost equally popular, the two cannabinoids affect the brain in an almost opposing manner.
Federal law and decades of demonization by the War on Drugs have portrayed THC as nothing more than the intoxicating compound. It’s found in the plant’s trichomes, the thick resinous oil coating the buds. THC is the only compound found in cannabis that’s illegal, in turn making all other cannabinoids nearly impossible to access.
A shift in most Americans’ attitudes toward cannabis as a legitimate treatment for countless medical conditions ultimately paved the way for medical and recreational legalization in many states. But, it wasn’t just a sudden change of heart by millions that served as the catalyst for widespread medical cannabis legalization in the states.
It was a viral video of a three-year-old girl writhing on the floor of her home, suffering from one of her hundreds of grand mal seizures per day. Charlotte Figi had a rare difficult-to-treat childhood seizure disorder called Dravett’s Syndrome. Her story eventually led to a universal change in cannabis opposition and a strain in her namesake, Charlotte’s Web, when it was shown that a cannabis strain high in CBD reduced her seizures to almost zero,
CBD is a component of the cannabis plant as well as hemp, though far less potent. It has a range of therapeutic uses so vast, scientists are continually finding more and more potential in what is one of the most absolutely remarkable compounds of modern times.
Unlike THC, one of the most important aspects of CBD is that it is non-psychoactive, meaning all of its benefits can be explored without getting high.
CBD is the second-most abundant constituent of the cannabis plant, typically representing 40% of its extracts. It interacts with the body through your endocannabinoid system, or ECS – a complex signaling network found in all mammals. It binds to the system’s CB2 receptors and has been found to be an especially effective treatment for seizure disorders, anxiety, chronic pain and mood disorders without any psychoactive effects. Recent studies have also demonstrated its antioxidative properties.
As for its non-medical effects, high-CBD and CBD-dominant cannabis strains are known for their calming properties without the negative impacts sometimes experienced with a THC high, making it ideal for sleep and relaxation.
This brings us to cannabis’s most well-known cannabinoid, THC. One of the most active compounds found in cannabis, its levels determine the potency of a cannabis strain or product. The TLDR: THC is responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive effects, described by most as the feeling of being high.
However, beyond the buzz, THC is as equally beneficial as CBD in its therapeutic and medical use. THC is a direct agonist of the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors, found primarily in the brain and the central nervous system. This union is where the euphoric feelings originate.
This can lead to many experiencing feelings of elation, relaxation, energy, or laughter. But, because everyone’s ability to tolerate THC is different, some also experience negative effects of feeling “too high”, which can include memory impairment, paranoia, dry mouth, and couch-lock. Remember the adage: start low, go slow.
Aside from the high, THC also lends powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Several studies conducted over the last decade have shown that when THC is isolated, it has the ability to kill cancer cells in the human body without harming the body’s good cells.
And, according to the Cannabis Health Index, “THC may protect the heart from damage and may mitigate damage from heart attack. Recent discoveries have isolated several mechanisms by which THC demonstrates heart-protective abilities. While these latest insights are still in their beginning stages, it is likely that the way we will treat acute and chronic heart disease in the future will change as a result."
Research into the seemingly boundless recreational, therapeutic, and medical uses for CBD and THC are still in their infant stages. As scientists unlock new uses for these safe and naturally occurring compounds, the inevitability for medical breakthroughs create hope for many who have had minimal success with traditional pharmaceutical treatments.