With an ever growing number of physicians turning to cannabinoids as an alternative and holistic form of relief for ailments such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression, chronic pain and general pain management, weight control, cancer treatment related symptoms and many others, CBD and THC have been brought to the forefront of public attention. Although both are derived from the cannabis family of plants, different strains yield different quantities of each compound. CBD and THC are slightly different in composition (one Molecule) as well, giving each very different effects on our body.

Cannabidiol, or CBD was the first cannabinoid to be discovered. In 1940, Dr. Roger Adams and a team of researchers from the University of Illinois were able to extract a dark green oil from cannabis plants. The team was not able to identify the chemical structure of CBD and it took researchers until 1963 to break down its composition. One year later, in 1964, Raphael Mechoulam discovered and identified tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Research has focused mainly on THC, since its discovery.

The two main plants that are currently being used to produce THC and CBD are the marijuana and the industrial hemp plant, respectively. The marijuana plant has many different strains but the main purpose of strain development is to increase the amount of THC the plant will render. Most current strains of the marijuana plant contain between 15 and 40% THC. In contrast, the industrial hemp plant is bred to be very high in CBD with a THC level often below .03%. Industrial hemp is also harvested for its fibres, which are used for many purposes such as clothing and paper. The main difference in the actual compounds, is that THC is a psychoactive cannabinoids , causing many different psychological and physiological effects including euphoria , hallucinations and anxiety. CBD is not a psychoactive cannabinoid and does not cause psychoactive reactions in the brain but is able to hinder THC’s ability to produce psychotropic reactions.

To look at CBD vs. THC the role and interaction of each compound within the Endocannabinoid System must be understood. Because CBD and THC are produced in plants, they are classified as phytocannabinoids. Inside the body, specifically in the Endocannabinoid System, exist two endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids are an integral part of the Endocannabinoid System, as they bind to cannabinoid receptors and essentially send signals back and forth between the receptor ends. CB1 receptors are concentrated in the central nervou system their highest density in the brain, moderating things like mood, motor function, memory and pain perception. They are found in other locations throughout the body and play a role in digestion, hormone production, cardiovascular health and pregnancy. When CBD is introduced to the system, it is able to bond to anandamide and 2-AG and actually penetrate the surface of the receptor itself. It’s main goal is to increase or decrease the rate of neurotransmission to bring the receptor back to a state of homeostasis by calming overactive receptors and exciting non responsive ones. CBD works in conjunction with CB2 receptors in much the same way. CB2 receptors are located mainly in the immune system helping the body maintain balance in systems that control asthma, arthritis, digestive issues, autoimmune disorders and inflammatory bowel disease. This is a short list, as CB2 receptors are active in many other processes. The goal of CBD in these receptors is similar to its role in the brain and central nervous system, leveling out the activity of overactive receptors.

THC has medicinal effects throughout the body but interacts its the CB1 and CB2 receptors differently than CBD. Both CBD and THC are able to bind to the CB2 receptors but CBD only attaches to the neurotransmitters anandamide and 2AG and uses them as a vehicle to penetrate the receptor, while THC is able to bind directly to the surface of the receptor itself. In some cases, THC activates pathways in the central nervous system, essentially stopping pain signals from getting to the brain. In this interaction, THC is not moderating the pathway but simply turning it on. In FDA trials conducted in 2013, individuals experiencing neuropathic pain where given 1.29% doses of THC. Those trial members given THC instead of placebo, reported a 30% reduction in pain intensity, on average. CBD and THC have used by Cancer patients for years and it’s effectiveness is bolstered by the release of the FDA approved drug Marinol, in the early 80’s. Marinol is a synthetic, however and does not provide the entourage effect that comes from the inclusion of other compounds found in whole plant marijuana. There are other cannabinoids that have shown the ability to fight cancer cells but THC is the most effective. Through a process called apoptosis, THC sends signals to the cancer tumour that force it to essentially destroy itself. THC is also impedes a tumours ability to form blood vessels of its own and doesn’t allow the cancer cells to leave the tumour and move throughout the body. This is one area where THC excels above all other cannabinoids. CBD and THC have both been shown to ease nausea and increase appetite in cancer patients during treatment.

CBD and THC have both been used to, reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity, reduce the risk of cancer, reduce cholesterol, protect against and help heal skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, improve brain health, complications due to multiple sclerosis, relief from inflammation as well as many other physiological disorders and ailments. On a psychological level they have both shown improvement for those suffering from mood disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. 

As cannabis becomes legal throughout the globe, there will be a greater understanding of the interaction between cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System. The list provided is only a small cross section of diseases and ailments that have been studied, to date. CBD vs. THC is a confusing topic the answer depends more on the ailment the suffer is trying to treat and their tolerance of THC’s  psychotropic effects. When taken together, CBD’s ability to suppress THC’s psychotropic effects allows the suffer to see benefit from each of the compounds unique characteristics.

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