In the much publicised case of Billy Caldwell, there is much mention of two of the best known constituent elements of the cannabis plant, Tetrahydrocannabinoil (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). But what are they and how do they differ?
What are they?
THC and CBD are two of at least 113 chemical compounds (referred to as cannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant.
How do they differ?
The major difference people point to is the fact that THC – which is the most common cannabinoid element found in the plant – is psychoactive and CBD is not. The term ‘psychoactive’ is used to describe a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the brain and central nervous system where it alters the function of the brain, resulting in temporary changes to perception, mood, consciousness and behaviour.
It is, of course, those effects of THC – and principally altered sensation and relaxation – that lead to the recreational use of cannabis. THC does this by imitating the effects of Anandamide, a naturally produced neurotransmitter, which affects our sleeping and eating habits (hence cannabis use results in hunger, commonly referred to as “the munchies”).
THC and CBD interact with the CB1 receptors in the brain in different ways from one another. THC binds well whilst CBD doesn’t bind as effectively. As a result of that good bond, THC is able to activate and directly stimulate the body.
Good and bad
The fact that THC is psychoactive has led to it being perceived in many quarters as the ‘bad’ cannabinoid and CBD as the ‘good’ one, but it’s not as straightforward as that.
Despite its ‘bad’ reputation, it has been found that in many people the properties of THC can help treat conditions as diverse as multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and the nausea/vomiting caused as a side effect of chemotherapy.
On the other hand, CBD appears to work on signalling systems within the brain and has protective and anti-inflammatory properties. It is used to treat pain and inflammation, to reduce anxiety and paranoia, acts as an antipsychotic and can boost energy levels. Interestingly, it can also reduce the psychoactive effect of THC. It has been found that the properties of CBD can help people with epilepsy and intestinal problems.
As in the case of Billy Caldwell, CBD is most usually consumed medicinally in the form of a highly concentrated oil which is often extracted from industrial hemp grown specifically for CBD production as opposed to marijuana plants.
Whilst CBD doesn’t have the same amount of cognitive affects as THC, there is a school of thought, supported by some studies, suggesting that these compounds can and do work better together to create far more versatile, therapeutic benefits. It’s known as the ‘whole-plant effect’; bringing isolated elements together can create different and potentially more beneficial reactions on the body.
This is not really that surprising. In 2009, a research paper examined the benefits of using whole traditional herbal medicines over their individual constituent elements. In relation to cannabis, it is reported that these ‘combined’ benefits include the ability to:
- affect multiple targets within the body;
- improve the absorption of active ingredients;
- overcome bacterial defence mechanisms; and
- minimise adverse effects.