Although cannabis contains more than 70 different cannabinoids, most of the medical benefits of the plant are attributed to the two most prevalent cannabinoids; THC and CBD. The chemical makeup of CBD and THC are similar to the body’s own endocannabinoids, which allows them to interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors to alter the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Despite their similarities, CBD and THC have distinct differences that influence how they interact with the endocannabinoid system and subsequently the natural effects they elicit. CBD is legally available in the United States, but it must be derived from imported high-CBD, low-THC hemp. CBD itself is not listed under the Controlled Substances Act, so it is legal in all 50 states, provided the CBD is not extracted from cannabis.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, often shortened to "THC,” is the cannabinoid most often associated with medical marijuana. THC elicits the psychotropic (“high”) effect in users. The therapeutic potential of THC is significant and expansive. The compound can act as an anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, appetite stimulant and sleep aid, among other benefits.
Most individuals find the "high" from THC to be very enjoyable in moderation, but others find the feeling to be slightly unpleasant. With that said, medical marijuana still offers significant medical benefits to people who want to avoid the "high" feeling. After all, THC is just one of many cannabinoids. Evidence suggests that use of the cannabinoid CBD can elicit many of the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana without having the euphoric or dysphoric effects.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as “CBD,” is the major non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, and it has been found to offer a wide range of medicinal benefits as an anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, antiemetic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic agent. It also has the potential to provide neuroprotective, immunomodulatory, and anti-tumor effects. Other benefits of CBD include pain and inflammation relief, antipsychotic effects, reduction of anxiety, aid to fight cancer growth, relieving nausea, treating seizures and other neurological disorders, lowering the incidence of diabetes, and promoting cardiovascular health.
What is the entourage effect?
Sometimes called the "ensemble effect," the entourage effect takes THC, CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes into account when getting high. The buzzword basically means that the therapeutic benefits of weed are greater when you consume products made of multiple compounds from the whole plant, instead of just THC.
The phrase was popularized by a 2011 study that looked into how interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes can be used to treat various medical disorders. Think of it like a cocktail: It's going to be a much more fulfilling experience, if you include all of the extra ingredients instead of just drinking just liquor.
The Bottom Line
CBD has been studied for its potential role in easing symptoms of many common health issues, including anxiety, depression, acne and heart disease. Research on the potential health benefits of CBD is ongoing, so new therapeutic uses for this natural remedy are sure to be discovered. Though there is much to be learned about the efficacy and safety of CBD, results from recent studies suggest that CBD may provide a safe, powerful natural treatment for many health issues.
Written by Lady Nwadike, MS Georgetown University