Though cannabis itself is still illegal according the U.S. federal government and many state government, researchers have discovered many health benefits of the chemicals inside of cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two main components of the cannabis plant. Inside our bodies, they respond to the receptors in our endocannabinoid system. That’s right, we have a system that’s dedicated to dealing with cannabinoids. Our body makes controllable amounts of cannabinoids called endocannabinoids that help regulate bodily functions and maintain balance. This balance is called homeostasis.
THC and CBD are called phytocannabinoids because they’re produced by plants. THC is the primary ingredient in marijuana and has psychoactive qualities. THC is the reason you feel “high” when you smoke marijuana. Despite its psychoactive qualities, it has positive effects too. CBD is the other primary ingredient in marijuana and the main ingredient in hemp. CBD doesn’t have the psychoactive qualities of THC, making it the ideal candidate for medical studies.
Let’s take a look at the latest research into these two major cannabinoids.
THC and CBD in Medicine
Benefits and Side Effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
THC is one of 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but it’s easily the most well known of them. The reason for THC being a household name is mainly its unique psychoactive qualities. Some people love THC’s mind-altering qualities, while others prefer not to experience them. In some particular strains or in high doses, these psychoactive effects can manifest in hallucinations such as the ones you might experience from taking psychedelic drugs.
Despite its psychoactive qualities, THC can assist with:
- Chronic pain
- Loss of appetite
These benefits come from the effects of THC, which include muscle relaxation, digestion, and analgesic (pain relieving) effects when combined with CBD.
THC has a unique relationship with CBD called the entourage effect, when one drug needs the assistance of another drug to create certain physical effects. In this case, THC’s health benefits are reliant on CBD to combat THC’s psychoactive effects, which can produce anxiety in many people. In a search for relief of mental disorders, you can’t expect to take a strain of cannabis with a high amount of THC and receive relief from depression or anxiety.
Side Effects of THC
THC’s major side effect is its psychoactive qualities. Despite some people appreciating these qualities, they can escalate to cause paranoia and increase anxiety. If the user already suffers from a mood disorder, these effects can be magnified. THC can also lead to dizziness, headaches, and nausea. While these effects will go away as the overall effect of being “high” fades, it’s rather unpleasant all the same. However, if one particular strain causes these side effects, it’s possible to switch to a strain that doesn’t. Any marijuana user has experienced dry mouth (cotton mouth), red eyes, or dry/itchy eyes after consuming the drug. These side effects are caused by the THC. While these side effects are annoying, they’re easily manageable.
Benefits and Side Effects of Cannabidiol (CBD)
Cannabidiol is another major chemical found both in the cannabis plant and also in the hemp plant. It has many positive benefits and lacks the psychoactive qualities of THC. It also acts more indirectly on the endocannabinoid system but more directly in the immune system.
Cannabidiol has been proven an effective treatment for the following diseases and disorders:
- Anxiety. Cannabidiol has anti-anxiety effects and can be used to treat many different forms of anxiety with little to no side effects or addictive qualities. Cannabidiol can be used to treat panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety, and generalized depression, just to name a few. PTSD is commonly listed as a protected disorder, considered adequate to get medical cannabis in many states.
- Chemotherapy. Cannabidiol has many promising benefits as a complement to cancer treatment, mostly to combat chemotherapy side effects. Studies aren’t solid on the extent of the benefits CBD has to offer, but researchers can agree on some. CBD can counter the nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and offer relief from neuropathic pain. Recent studies have shown CBD to reduce and potentially reverse the growth of certain cancer cells, as well.
- Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative autoimmune disorder. It attacks the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord of the sufferer. This results in the body sending immune cells to fight neurons. CBD can treat every symptom of multiple sclerosis. Cannabidiol is an anti-inflammatory, meaning it counters the inflammatory proteins the brain releases. Cannabidiol also can ease the pain because of its analgesic effects. It can ease the uncontrollable muscle twitching that can be associated with multiple sclerosis. Last, CBD can help with depression, insomnia, digestion, and can protect the eye from vision impairment.
- Asthma. Asthma is marked by inflammation of the airways. It’s an atopic disease that causes an immediate allergic reaction and causes difficulties in breathing, wheezing, and coughing. In some people, asthma is a minor health issue and in some people it can be so severe that it affects daily life. CBD has been proven to reduce the inflammation that asthma patients experience.
Side Effects of CBD
Cannabidiol has very few side effects when compared to many pharmaceutical drugs and OTC drugs on the market; it has also been proven to be safe in high doses as well as for long-term use. The major reported side effects of cannabidiol are dry mouth, drowsiness, low blood pressure, and lightheadedness.
Using Cannabinoids Medically
A person with one or more of the symptoms relieved by cannabinoids can be confused as to how to safely supplement their diet with cannabinoids without “smoking weed” or breaking the law. The good news for these patients is that individuals in most states can buy oil extracts of CBD, sold as CBD Hemp Oil, which can be taken under the tongue or added to food. Those in states where cannabis is legal have more options, such as THC or whole plant concentrates, oils, and edibles.