People have been medicating with cannabis plants for thousands of years. In fact, they are one humanities oldest cultivated plants. Despite this, it is only relatively recently that we have begun to understand the science behind the effects of cannabis. It turns out that cannabis has over 400 different constituents within the plant which all combine to give the multitude of effects that administering marijuana has.
The compounds that have the most effect are called cannabinoids and they work on a system within our bodies we call the endocannabinoid system. Despite there being so many different ingredients at work in cannabis, research has identified the main two cannabinoids – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Science suggests these are the two main active ingredients which give cannabis the majority of its effects and they are the two ingredients which occur in the largest volume too.
If you have looked into the effects of cannabis or how medical marijuana-based products can be helpful, you will no doubt have come across these two abbreviations a lot and may be confused about them. What do they do? What is the difference between the two? Is one bad for you and the other good? If you have wondered about any of this, then this article is here to help. We will look a little closer at how cannabis works on the body and spell out the differences you need to know about CBD and THC. Read on for more information….
How does cannabis work on the body?
Humans have used cannabis as medicine for at least six thousand years, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that research showed us why the plant has so many different effects within the body. What scientists discovered is that our body naturally produces a family of chemicals very similar to the active ingredients in cannabis. We call these naturally occurring chemicals endocannabinoids and the active ingredients in the cannabinoids in cannabis. Endocannabinoids play a key role in moderating many of our body’s processes, including immunity, inflammation, appetite and pain sensation. They circulate within our bloodstream and have their effect by binding to what we call our cannabinoid receptors.
So far, we have identified two cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are most commonly found within the brain and nerve endings in high concentrations. They are also found in smaller amounts within the kidneys, lungs and liver. CB2 receptors are found mainly on blood-forming cells and immune system cells. The cannabinoids in cannabis work in a very similar way to our naturally occurring endocannabinoids – they bind to our CB1 and CB2 receptors, causing them to activate or inactivate. It should be noted that cannabis does cause this to be done at much higher levels than what naturally occurs within the body.
The main two cannabinoids are known as THC and CBD. Each work upon the body in a different way, giving them different effects. Unique strains of cannabis, and even different harvests of the same strain, have their own individual combinations of cannabinoids, which may cause different effects. By researching the differences in effects, patients and doctors can select the best genetic makeup of cannabis to treat each individual’s unique symptoms. As well as THC and CBD, there are also many minor cannabinoids at work in cannabis. These are believed to also interact with your endocannabinoid system, creating an “entourage” effect that is stronger than using a synthetic preparation, which is why it is preferable to use cannabis plants for medical purposes as opposed to trying to recreate THC or CBD synthetically.
What is THC?
THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol. It is one of two main active ingredients in cannabis, along with CBD, and is the most common cannabinoid. It is the main ingredient responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive properties. When you ingest cannabis, THC enters the bloodstream where it travels to the brain. Here, it binds with your CB1 receptors. The result of this is a change in the amounts of different neurotransmitters released from the neurons, including the likes of norepinephrine and dopamine. This is what causes cannabis’ psychoactive effects, such as increased hunger and euphoria. It also causes analgesic pain relief.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for Cannabidiol and is the other main active ingredient in cannabis, along with THC. It is the second most common cannabinoid found in cannabis after THC. It works in a different way to THC in that it has little to no binding affinity with the CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD’s effects come from reducing the breakdown of the naturally produced endocannabinoids in the body. This indirectly increases their amount, which increases their activity at the receptors. CBD has been shown to work well as a treatment against a range of different disorders including inflammation, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, nausea, epilepsy, neuropathic pain and autoimmune diseases. It may also help with the reduction of blood sugar levels, seizures and in suppressing muscle spasms.
Interestingly, CBD also suppresses the effects of THC on the CB1 receptors, which mutes THC’s psychoactive effects when the two are ingested in tandem.
What are the differences between THC and CBD?
Hopefully, the differences are clear to see from the above sections. In short, the main differences are that THC gives cannabis its psychoactive effects by working on the CB1 receptor. CBD works on both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, has no psychoactive effects and has been shown to be an effective treatment against a number of different medical conditions. As THC is what gives cannabis users the “stoned” sensation, the legality of a cannabis product is determined by its THC levels. If the product contains less amounts of THC, it will be legal. The vast majority of CBD-based treatments are made using hemp cannabis, which has only very small levels of THC. This ensures they can be legal, but always check that the company has had their products’ THC levels tested by a reputable third-party laboratory. This ensures not only the legality but also the safety of the products.
The legal status of THC does not necessarily mean it is bad for you though. Research suggests THC could be a helpful treatment for a number of conditions because it appears to be a powerful painkiller, a muscle relaxant, antispasmodic and an antioxidant amongst other things. There is also evidence to suggest it could be effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. Further research is needed into this however, and it does seem that it would not be possible to get the positive benefits without the psychoactive, “stoned” side effects. If you are looking to avoid the “high” sensation from your medical cannabis, or cannabis is not legal within your area, you would be advised to look into CBD-based products.
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