With the rise of both legal medical marijuana and legal recreational marijuana nationwide, use of THC and CBD therapies is more popular than ever. While there are still stigmas associated with marijuana ingestion, the changing legal landscape has allowed for a shift in perspective surrounding marijuana-based products.
For those using marijuana, or who are considering marijuana products to address medical conditions like chronic pain or anxiety, there are many options to consider. However, before making a decision, it’s important to understand the differences between THC and non-THC products.
What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a popular drug derived from the dried leaves of the cannabis plant. It is known for its psychoactive effects, which are primarily linked to the chemical compounds found within cannabis plants known as cannabinoids. Approximately 65 cannabinoids occur naturally in marijuana, but can be present in varying quantities, providing a unique experience for users from one plant to the next.
CBD and THC are both cannabinoids found in high concentrations in marijuana. They have roughly the same chemical structure – 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms – but offer significantly different effects.
What Is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, is the primary cause for the euphoric “high” that comes with smoking or consuming marijuana. For those who use drugs recreationally, THC is the main draw of marijuana. When consumed, THC binds to cannabinoid 1 receptors in the brain and central nervous system, which increases levels of dopamine norepinephrine, and serotonin levels.
As grow operations develop, particularly in areas in which use is legal for those of age, new strains are emerging that are particularly high or particularly low in THC in order to provide a pleasurable experience based on personal preference.
What Is CBD?
CBD, or, more formally, cannabidiol, is another key component in marijuana. While CBD works in conjunction with THC in a standard marijuana plant, CBD is most commonly extracted from the hemp plant, which contains less than .3% THC.
CBD binds loosely, if at all, to cannabinoid 1 receptors within the nervous system. For this reason, using CBD products, like oils and edibles, does not result in the intoxicating side effects for which marijuana is best known. CBD products are growing rapidly in popularity and are widely available in states that do not permit legal marijuana usage.
Medical Uses of THC and CBD
The advantages of marijuana are well-known in medical circles, a fact that has played a key role in the legalization of medical marijuana. Currently, 33 states and Washington, DC allow for the use of marijuana for legitimate medical concerns with a doctor’s prescription.
THC can be prescribed for numerous different conditions, including:
- Muscle tremors and seizures
- ADD and ADHD
- Multiple sclerosis
Medical marijuana is very popular among chronic pain patients as well as those undergoing chemotherapy. For those with cancer, marijuana can minimize the pain of chemo, restore appetite, and tame nausea.
CBD can also be helpful in minimizing the symptoms of these conditions and is also frequently used for:
- Headaches and migraines
- Mental disorders
- Sleep disorders
For those who are seeking the medical benefits of cannabinoids, differentiating between advantages of THC and CBD – as well as the physical effects that can come with use – is often of the utmost importance.
For some people, particularly those living with a chronic illness or going through cancer treatments, the intoxicating effects of THC may be unpleasant. In these cases, medical marijuana strains that have THC but in lower than normal quantities may be preferred. Average strains of marijuana contain around 12% THC, but some medical growers have worked to create alternatives that still contain THC but at levels less likely to cause a high. Some states are beginning to move forward with legislation surrounding these low-THC options, believing them to be a safer, more tolerable option for patients.
Due to the medical benefits of both of these cannabinoids, those seeking results are encouraged to consider alternatives that contain both CBD and THC, if legal. However, in areas where marijuana is not legal for medical or recreational use, or in situations in which obtaining a prescription isn’t possible, standalone CBD products can still offer valuable benefits.
The Growing Presence of Cannabinoids
As medical marijuana research continues, medical professional and legislative communities are standing behind the abilities of THC and CBD in addressing legitimate medical concerns. Research is ongoing in relation to CBD’s opportunities in advancing cancer treatments, while highly respected medical resources continue to encourage patients to speak to their healthcare providers about using marijuana as an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical therapies. Pain management and oncology are on the forefront of research; pain management doctors in particular see compelling alternatives to standard pain medication in the wake of the ongoing opioid epidemic.
In 2018, the FDA approved the first ever medication containing CBD: Epidiolex, a medication containing cannabidiol, for use in epilepsy patients. Further, the FDA has been clear on its commitment to determining a sound, scientific-based approach to the use of CBD as a medical treatment. If clinical trials continue and appear promising, this could open the door to medical marijuana as a nationally-accepted alternative and the widespread use of CBD without a prescription.
Despite decades of legal pushback, marijuana legislation, both recreational and medical, is taking a turn for the better. With evidence of the documented results related to cannabinoids like THC and CBD, the future appears bright indeed for those who are interested in a natural, plant-based approach to medicine.