Whether you’re reading the news, you’re a patient trying to understand the products available to you or just trying to understand what’s going on chemically with cannabis, THC and CBD are buzz-acronyms that come up quite frequently. What those acronyms stand for is relatively straightforward, but what they mean and how they interact with the human body is a bit more complex. Let’s break down a bit of the mystery behind the two most famous of cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
First, it’s important to touch on what exactly cannabinoids are: they’re compounds found in the cannabis plant that interact with the receptors in our cells and moderate neurotransmitter release in our brains. The human body is outfitted with neurotransmitters that specifically absorb cannabinoids, which is a network that is known as the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system includes compounds known as endocannabinoids, which the body produces independently. The endocannabinoid system is involved with how cells communicate with one another and therefore moderates a variety of functions within the body. Cannabinoids found in cannabis – there are over 100 that are currently known, many of which aren’t fully understood – interact with that system, causing the variety of reactions and benefits within the human body that are attributed to the plant.
This interaction can cause a variety of effects; the high that people feel when they consume cannabis, as well as relief for pain, nausea, anxiety, lack of appetite, inflammation, and a variety of other benefits that are still being discovered. If you’re interested in learning more about cannabinoids, here’s a great guide. As far as cannabinoids go, THC and CBD, or tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, are the most well known. Let’s dive into some of the ways these two compounds interact with the body, often in vastly different ways.
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THC is commonly referenced as what “causes the high”, while CBD is best known for health benefits. When consumed solo or in higher levels than THC, CBD does not have the psychoactive effect of THC. This is something that a variety of people find attractive in CBD: all the health benefits without the impairment of a high. Pure- or high-CBD treatments have been favored for children, who are using cannabis for a variety of ailments for this reason, but it can also be beneficial to people who require the health benefits and either want or need them without the high.
While cannabis use has often been associated with paranoia or anxiety, the culprit is actually higher concentrations of THC. Though it’s less of an issue in lower concentrations, this is still a very real issue for many people who already experience anxiety.
CBD, on the other hand, relieves anxiety. Studies show that CBD can help relieve the anxious effects of THC and even have anti-anxiety effects when used solo. CBD is also believed to act as an antipsychotic, it can help relieve the “too high” feeling THC can give and CBD is even being tested as an antipsychotic for people with schizophrenia.
When it comes to sleep, THC is believed to be primarily responsible for the sleepy benefits some find in cannabis. On this front, THC can be a relief for people who suffer from insomnia and sleep apnea, or for those who have issues sleeping due to pain.
On the other hand, some studies suggest that CBD causes wakefulness and a higher alertness. In other words, CBD can help one be more wakeful and alert when you need to be while also providing a variety of other health benefits – this makes it ideal for regular consumption during the day, when you need to be alert and would also benefit from the healing properties of the compound.
The stereotype of people using cannabis and “getting the munchies” is around for a reason, and it’s because THC can stimulate appetite and even the enjoyment of eating. This can have a variety of benefits for people who may have difficulty eating due to various ailments or even the treatments utilized, such as chemotherapy.
Both THC and CBD can help alleviate pain, with THC also being known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Both have been used to alleviate chronic pain. THC is believed to directly relieve pain and inflammation via the nervous system as an analgesic, moderating how our body perceives and transmits pain via the nervous system. CBD on the other hand is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory compound, helping relieve pain and inflammation.
CBD in particular has been indicated as an antioxidant that can combat neurodegenerative diseases. CBD also has potential as a neuroprotectant that could protect neurons in the brain. Research is still being undertaken, but this is why some researchers are particularly interested in CBD for preventing or treating neurological disorders and diseases.
Sources of THC and CBD
THC can only come from cannabis plants of the Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis species, while CBD can be derived from these plants as well as industrial hemp plants, which only has the tiniest traces of THC and therefore not psychoactive.
Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol are the most common of compounds found in cannabis and researchers are still trying to understand the various ways they interact with the body as well as the multitude of health benefits they can provide. This isn’t even scratching on the hundreds of other compounds found in the plant, many of which are still mysteries. Only time and research will be able to tell us just how many benefits these compounds can have for health and wellness.