THC or CBD?

Cannabis is proving to be a popular alternative for people looking for relief, whether it be from chronic pain, nausea, chronic illness, or anxiety and depression disorders.  With so many forms of medical cannabis to choose from, (flower, edibles, topical rubs and lotions, oils, etc.), it can be overwhelming…

Cannabis is proving to be a popular alternative for people looking for relief, whether it be from chronic pain, nausea, chronic illness, or anxiety and depression disorders.  With so many forms of medical cannabis to choose from, (flower, edibles, topical rubs and lotions, oils, etc.), it can be overwhelming for a new patient to choose which product will bring the most relief.  Knowing a few of the basics of the cannabis plant, and how it works in the human body, can assist in determining if a patient needs products heavier in CBD, THC, or a balanced mix.

Cannabis contains numerous compounds called cannabinoids.  Certain cannabinoids found in the hemp and cannabis plants interact with the built-in cannabinoid receptors (CB-1 and CB-2) located throughout the brain and the body.  These two receptors are the primary types of receptors found in our body’s endocannabinoid system.  The endocannabinoid system is extremely important in maintaining human health and regulating homeostasis.  The two cannabinoids that currently get the most focus are THC and CBD.THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive component, or “the high”, of cannabis.  It is also the most abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant.  THC is the cannabinoid that gets linked to most of cannabis’ negative effects, such as short term memory loss, impaired coordination, delayed reaction times, and paranoia.  However, THC provides quite a few pharmacological benefits.  THC can be used to increase appetite, cause euphoric feelings, relieve pain and nausea symptoms, and reduce muscle spasms.   THC binds directly to the body’s cannabinoid receptors, like a key fitting in a lock.  Cannabinoid receptors are located all over the brain and body, so the effects of their activation depend on the receptors’ location.  For example, if the receptors that are in the hypothalamus are activated, the patient may experience increased hunger.  Such an outcome may greatly benefit someone going through chemotherapy, but completely unwanted in someone trying to lose weight.  The patient who does not need to increase their appetite may want to pick a product with a lower concentration of THC, and a higher concentration of another cannabinoid, such as CBD.

CBD (cannabidiol) is the most abundant cannabinoid in the hemp plant, and second most abundant in the cannabis plant.  CBD does not produce any psychoactive effects – it will not get you high.   CBD acts more like a “skeleton key” when fitting into the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, in that CBD does not fit into either type of receptor perfectly. Instead, it stimulates activity in both receptors without binding to them. This “flexibility” allows CBD to assist the body in similar ways as THC, like providing pain and nausea relief, but CBD can also do more on its own.  In addition to being an effective pain reliever, CBD can stimulate many non-cannabinoid receptor systems, including the body’s opioid and dopamine receptors.  Because it can stimulate these systems, many patients are finding CBD to be effective in curbing opiate withdrawal symptoms.  CBD’s ability to affect the body’s serotonin system may also explain why it has shown results in alleviating anxiety disorders.  The antipsychotic properties of CBD can even counteract the negative effects of THC, like paranoia and nervousness.  CBD-only, or CBD-dominant products are often considered the better option medically, since patients can get relief in so many areas without the high.

Although CBD provides more therapeutically than THC, research shows that cannabinoids are most effective when working together.  For instance, studies have found that CBD may reduce the rate at which certain breast cancer cells grow, but it is even more effective when working simultaneously with THC.  CBD is also a strong anti-oxidant, and the potency only increases when combined with THC.  For maximum health benefits, patients are beginning to lean more towards products that have more even CBD to THC ratios.

Understanding a few key differences between CBD and THC can make it easier to pinpoint what will best benefit individual ailments.  A good rule of thumb when beginning any journey with medical cannabis:  Begin with the basics.  Most patients will need to start out with high CBD/low THC products.  This helps to ensure that the patient is getting mostly therapeutic effects from the medication, and not the unwanted psychotropic effects.  If adding THC into an already existing CBD regiment, start with a small amount.  The dosage can always be increased as needed, or as the body becomes more tolerant.

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