Cannabis is full of medicinally active phytonutrients – over 400 of them – including flavonoids, terpenoids, and cannabinoids. In the cannabinoid category alone, there are over 100 different cannabinoids, each with specific actions on the body. Two of them are the well-known tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Knowing the differences between THC and CBD in cannabis can help you determine which strain might be your best bet to accomplish what you want for your health. All strains vary in their levels of THC and CBD and thus can affect you differently.
The Similarities of THC and CBD
Interestingly, THC and CBD share the exact same chemical formula. The difference is in how the atoms are arranged in the substances. The THC structure has a closed chemical ring structure whereas the ring is open in CBD.
Both of them are not activated in the body unless they are heated. This means that smoking the plant will deliver active ingredients to the brain within the first 3 to 10 minutes whereas eating it takes a few hours. The active ingredients become active once they are delivered to the brain.
Both THC and CBD impact the endocannabinoid (EC) system in the body in different ways. This system is the body’s chemical communication system. It works similar to how hormones have to fit into a certain receptor site in the body made specifically for that hormone. Once the cannabinoid is locked in place, the effects on the body begin happening.
THC – Known as the Bad Guy Cannabinoid
THC’s claim to fame for most of the public has been that it causes a mental high. Yet many people don’t understand that whatever part of the CB1 receptors of the brain THC attaches to determines the effects of it on the body.
For example, the sense of euphoria occurs if the brain’s nucleus accumbens receptors are activated. If the basal ganglia cannabinoid receptors are activated, then you’ll experience a slowing down of your response time (You will drive slower, talk slower, etc.).
If the neocortex receptors are activated, you’ll have a difficult time making decisions from the high concentration of THC delivered by the cannabis plant. If the hypothalamus receptors are activated, appetite is affected and you’ll get the munchies while experiencing taste bud delight with any food that enters your mouth.
Activate the receptors in the amygdala and the hippocampus and you can expect paranoid thoughts to occur, and short-term memory issues to show up, respectively.
How THC Works
Research scientists have already determined THC’s mechanism of action. Once cells are exposed to this cannabinoid, they increase dopamine levels. This then starts affecting cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The nervous system responds by making you feel mellow while simultaneously enhancing your senses. You feel several emotions simultaneously in conjunction with relief of pain in your body. You’re starting to get mentally high.
However, too much THC can change the flood of positive emotions into negative ones, followed by vomiting, nausea, hallucinations, and even delusions and psychosis.
Nevertheless, cannabis plants with higher levels of THC are preferred for some patients experiencing certain conditions:
- those experiencing the side effects of chemotherapy
- people suffering from glaucoma
- multiple sclerosis sufferers
On the other hand, plants with higher levels of THC would not be a choice for these types of people:
- those who already have an elevated heart rate, as THC increases the heart rate anywhere from 20 to 100%
- those who already have high blood pressure
- those with heart arrhythmias or other types of heart disease
- those already suffering from psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations or delusions
- those with neuropathic pain
Cannabis preparations such as hash oil may be up to 30% THC so it’s always a good idea to get a complete chemical analysis of what the THC content is. Plus the fact that some people tend to be a lot more sensitive to even small amounts of THC may play into the picture of which strain or preparation is best for you. Cannabis preparations that are made from the plant hemp are always naturally low in THC, and high in CBD.
CBD – Becoming the Big Winner on the Medical Scene
CBD is unlike THC in that it doesn’t directly activate or suppress CB1 receptors in any part of the body. But here’s the twist: it actually suppresses THC that is activating the CB1 receptor. You could think of it as a mediator or a suppressor of side effects that may be occurring from THC.
If THC is causing anxiety, CBD will lessen the anxiety. If THC is causing short-term memory loss, CBD is restoring the memory. If you are smoking a high THC strain and feel both high and paranoid, the CBD will lessen the high and eliminate the paranoia.
Research on CBD Shows Blood Pressure Lowering Effects
Although CBD won’t affect digestion, your appetite, your movement, heart rate, blood pressure or body temperature according to some experts, a study in 2017 in the United Kingdom proved that 600 mg CBD lowered blood pressure by 5-6 mm Hg before and after stress and increased heart rate.
Even though this reduction isn’t enough to lower one’s use of blood pressure medications, it could be the start of returning the blood pressure to normal, especially when used with other natural healing means.
CBD is used medically and non-medically for the following situations:
- Epilepsy, especially intractable epilepsy
- Infections (bacterial)
- Reduced pain in the body from adverse drug effects after a human papillomavirus vaccine (along with significant benefits in vitality, social functioning, and physical health)
- Movement disorders
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
Let this article be a good source of information for you when you are initially choosing a cannabis strain.
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Jadoon, K.A., Tan, G.D., and O’Sullivan, S.E. A single dose of cannabidiol reduces blood pressure in healthy volunteers in a randomized crossover study. JCI Insight 2017 Jun 15;2(12).
Palmieri, B., Laurino, C., and Vadala, M. Short-term efficacy of CBD-enriched hemp oil in girls with dysautonomic syndrome after human papillomavirus vaccination. Isr Med Assoc J 2017 Feb;19(2):79-84.
Medical Uses of Cannabis and THC. https://www.cannabis-med.org/english/patients-use.htm Accessed online Dec. 3, 2017.