As marijuana is becoming decriminalized and legalized in more states and countries, the use of CBD and THC is becoming exceedingly more common and widely accepted. CBD oils and creams are popping up everywhere now but many people don’t know the difference between marijuana, hemp, THC, CBD, and a thousand other terms used when discussing this growing industry.
One of the most important things to understand when it comes to cannabis and its various components is the difference between THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). To some people they may seem like the same thing but the difference between them is incredibly significant.
What Is a Cannabinoid?
The first thing you need to know to better understand CBD and THC is that they are 2 of the 113 phytocannabinoids found in cannabis. Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that affect CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Endocannabinoids are produced naturally in the body while phytocannabinoids are plant based. Synthetic cannabinoids are artificially manufactured forms of these chemical compounds.
What Are CB1 and CB2 Receptors?
The CB1 and CB2 receptors are involved in a wide range of physiological functions including memory, mood, and pain sensation. CB1 receptors are found most densely in areas of the brain and nervous system and can thus play a big part in affecting mood, anxiety, and perception of pain. They are responsible for creating feelings of intoxication when they bind with THC. These receptors are found elsewhere in the body, such as in the immune, gastrointestinal, and reproductive systems, but in lower amounts.
CB2 receptors are found more prominently in areas of the immune and gastrointestinal systems with lower amounts found in areas of the nervous system. These receptors play a large role in reducing inflammation, which can have a significant effect on a countless ailments, especially Crohn’s Disease and IBS. CB2 receptors also can play a part in managing pain and regulating appetite.
How Do THC and CBD Affect Cannabinoid Receptors?
The THC and CBD chemical formulas are identical, C21H30O2, yet their chemical structures are slightly different. This variation in structure causes them to react uniquely to the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The shape of the THC molecule allows it to bind directly to the CB1 receptors, sending signals to the brain which are responsible for creating the feelings of being high. CBD does not bind with these receptors but can actually prevent them from binding with the THC molecules, negating the psychoactive effects of the THC.
CBD molecules can indirectly affect CB1 and CB2 receptors, as well as other receptors in the body, to inhibit or stimulate the production of various enzymes. For example, CBD can inhibit the FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) enzyme, which breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide. This chemical bonds with the CB1 receptors in the same manner as THC, therefore higher levels of anandamide will beneficially affect mood, depression, and anxiety using our body’s own neurotransmitters.
What Are the Effects of THC?
When naturally produced endocannabinoids, such as anandamide, bind with CB1 receptors in the brain they can produce euphoric effects. THC behaves much in the same way because it can bind with the CB1 receptors, indirectly increasing dopamine levels in the brain, and simulating these intoxicating feelings.
THC can also increase appetite and reduce nausea, which can be very helpful when used in conjunction with chemotherapy treatments. It can reduce the perception of pain and can provide feelings of relaxation, however it does create the psychotropic feelings of being high which can be a drawback for those looking to receive only the medicinal effects. Side effects of THC could include memory loss, anxiety, and paranoia which can all be reduced when used in combination with CBD.
What Are the Effects of CBD?
CBD doesn’t bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors but instead affects them indirectly. It can counteract some of the negative effects of THC by blocking it from binding with the CB1 receptors and decreasing the psychoactive side effects.
While THC can increase appetite, CBD can potentially have the opposite effect, decreasing appetite and possibly helping with weight loss. It can act in numerous ways to fight inflammation within many areas of the body. It can also help with depression, nausea, anxiety, and a number of sleep related conditions.
CBD works through various molecular pathways in the body and has been credited with providing many therapeutic benefits. While research is still ongoing, it appears to play a role in a wide range of conditions including Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, diabetes, and cancer treatments.
How Do CBD and THC Affect Each Other?
CBD can affect how the body processes THC, so when taking these substances in varying levels, different results can be achieved. They can both play a role in sleep, appetite, mood, and pain sensations. Depending on what symptoms or ailments you’re attempting to treat you’ll need to choose the specific ratio that is most suited to your needs.
Cannabis or oils with a greater THC to CBD ratio will produce a more intoxicatingly high feeling which could make these strains more appealing to recreational users. This combination may also be more effective for chemo patients who are looking to aggressively treat pain and nausea.
Oils with low levels of THC and high levels of CBD will have little to no mind altering effects and will provide purely medicinal and therapeutic results. CBD can be purchased as a CBD isolate or as a full spectrum CBD oil. Full spectrum CBD oils will contain CBD along with a variety of the other cannabinoids and terpenes found in the cannabis plant which can act together to enhance the therapeutic benefits of CBD.
Cannabis strains with a somewhat equal ratio of THC and CBD can create a calming feeling with lower levels of anxiety, euphoria, or paranoia. Because CBD can counteract the psychoactive properties of THC, the medicinal benefits of THC can be experienced with less intoxicating side effects. The blend of these two chemicals together, along with the other cannabinoids and terpenes present in cannabis, are said to create an “entourage effect”.
What Is the Entourage Effect?
The entourage effect is said to be the interactive relationship between the many different cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis. When all components of the cannabis plant are working together, it is suggested that they can modulate each other in a way to provide the maximum benefits from cannabis. While this concept is frequently discussed, it is still theoretical and lacks extensive research.
Choosing a CBD Oil
If you’re looking strictly for the medicinal effects of CBD without any psychoactive side effects and want no or very little THC in your system, a CBD isolate or a hemp extract CBD oil will be your best bet. A cannabis oil with a blend of both THC and CBD will have the amounts of each listed on the label and this combination can be beneficial in many circumstances. Products with a higher THC to CBD ratio will come with the intoxicating effects commonly associated with marijuana, which may be useful in some situations such as pain management.
Knowing the difference between THC and CBD, how they work with your endocannabinoid system, and how they can affect one another will give you a better idea of knowing what the right combination of cannabinoids is for you. Everyone’s symptoms, needs, and tolerance levels are unique so it’s a good idea to start with low amounts and adjust your doses as you go. If you’re unsure about what’s right for you, it may be helpful to discuss the use of CBD oils with your doctor.