Although marijuana is on the forefront of current scientific research — and good dollars are being pumped into them as well — the field seems only to produce an ever-increasing amount of controversy, dividing society’s opinion and inciting public confusion about the effectivity of marijuana as both medication and recreation.
One reason marijuana is very difficult to untangle is the complex mechanisms and processes behind its two major constituents — CBD and THC.
THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana that is associated with their ability to make users feel the characteristic “highs”.
The other compound is CBD, which stands for cannabidiol. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. That means that usage of CBD does not alter the state of the mind. The relationship between THC and CBD is like a furtive protagonist-antagonist dynamic.
Professor Val Curran of University College London frames it with this analogy.
“In a way, THC and CBD are a bit like yin and yang. The THC makes you stoned, but it can also make you anxious. It can also make you feel a bit psychotic, and it will seriously impair your memory.
The other side of the yin/yang is CBD, which has almost the opposite effects. CBD calms you down, it has anti-psychotic properties and it also offsets the effects on memory, so that on CBD-containing cannabis you’re less likely to forget what’s going on.”
At least that’s what the latest research on marijuana tells us. There is obviously still a lot to be discovered from cannabis, like the possibility of another compound being at play, or the unabated concerns regarding potential long-term adverse effects of CBD consumption.
And although there are different kinds of marijuana circulating on the streets, each with varying compositions of THC and CBD, the kind of CBD I’m talking about here is pure, extracted CBD oil. That’s unadulterated CBD oil, ideally with only trace amounts of THC.
It should be worth noting that both CBD and THC are cannabinoids, which generally refers to the naturally-occurring compounds found in cannabis. And it’s not just CBD and THC that run the show, there are actually more than eight classes of cannabinoids in weed.
But the body also produces its own set of cannabinoids — endocannabinoids — and they are regulated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Some of the best studied endocannabinoids include 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide).
As a result, our body naturally produces their own cannabinoid receptors. These compounds, which include CBD and THC, deliver their effects by attaching to specific receptors in the body.
CB1 cannabinoid receptors are the major endocannabinoid receptors in the body, and they are found abundantly in the brain. Quite naturally, the CB1 receptors in the brain deal with coordination, movement, pain, emotions, mood, thinking, appetite, memories, and other important functions.
CB2 are found in less quantities and they mostly reside in the human immune system. They regulate inflammation and pain.
Scientists traditionally believed that CBD attached solely to the CB2 receptors in the body. Recent research is however showing strong evidence that CBD in fact does not attach to either receptor. Instead they work by directing the body to use more of their own locally sourced endocannabinoids.
The evidence is equally convincing for its wide array of benefits. For one, CBD is shown to be able to reduce pain. This 2017 research illustrates the longstanding relationship between marijuana and pain in full. The pain-modifying effects of CBD is especially useful in the management of chronic pain such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Still confined to the brain, studies have shown that CBD is effective in managing anxiety and depression. One Brazilian study in 2018 gave 57 healthy males either an oral dose of CBD or placebo before a simulated public speaking test. The study found that those who received a 300mg dose of CBD showed a significant reduction in anxiety.
Another study showed that CBD had a powerful promoting effect towards smoking cessation. The study showed that smokers had suppressed their nicotine cravings, although it was the inhaled type of CBD that was used for this particular study.
There are still tons of other alleged benefits of consuming CBD, most of which are still a topic of debate in ongoing researches. Some suggest they have the ability to reduce acne, improve the symptoms of epilepsy, and even cause some tumours to regress.
It’s also worth noting that CBD products may come in different forms — some can be mixed into foods and drinks, and some may be sold in small bottles and taken with a pipette or a dropper. Others are available in capsules or as a thick paste to be massaged into the skin. Some products are available as sprays to be administered sublingually.
But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for CBD. The benefits do come with a set of potential risks, which makes consideration for usage all the more difficult. Other experts also bring up the fact most of the evidence touting the benefits of CBD are still scant and insufficient.
“It really is the Wild West,” says Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people.”
Although hemp-derived CBD products (with a THC content of <0.3%) are legal on the federal level (note: they are still illegal under some states), most of them are produced under very lenient regulations, resulting in widely varied qualities.
It is therefore imperative that one chooses their CBD products carefully before they start taking them. First, it’s always good practice to purchase your CBD through certified dispensaries. Try to look for manufacturers with third-party certifications to guarantee accurate dosing and quality.
Just like fruits and vegetables, it’s similarly wise to look for pure, organic CBD oil that’s made from U.S-grown cannabis. That’s because regulation dictates that cannabis grown in the U.S should not contain more than 0.3% THC.
If the term ‘full spectrum’ or ‘broad spectrum’ pops up, always opt for the more narrow one. The spectrum in these phrases refer to the percentage distribution of cannabinoids in the product, which includes CBD and THC. Generally, a broad spectrum CBD oil will contains less THC than the more inclusive full spectrum CBD.
Current evidence points at minimal short-term side effects, but it’s worth emphasising that the long-term physiological effects CBD still remain unknown and unproven, at least for the time being.
All things considered, CBD seems to be able to bring about effects that may be beneficial to a lot of people, especially for people who are experiencing chronic pain. It’s rare to see someone misuse CBD because of its lack of psychoactive effects, despite what its name may suggest.
When I first heard the term cannabidiol, I immediately raised a sceptic eyebrow, associating it with the more controversial effects of marijuana, i.e. the trance-inducing highs. Of course, I no longer think that now. If anything, the benefits seem quite promising.
Only time will tell if CBD conceals within itself an ominous veneer, but for the mean time, it seems like CBD may be worth the hit.