Have you ever wondered what THC and CBD are?
For those who don’t know, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are potent chemical compounds produced in the trichomes on cannabis flowers. Trichomes are the small mushroom looking structures that sparkle like crystals in the light. Cannabis with a high concentration of THC or CBD is prized over just about anything else.
The states that allow cannabis sales require licensed retailers to prominently display the THC, CBD and possibly several other three letter words for everything with cannabis in it. People are always talking about how potent cannabis has become compared to times past and equating it with the THC and CBD content. This all points to THC and CBD being important, but why?
To start, cannabinoids are a group of compounds that our bodies and plants produce naturally. There are over 85 different cannabinoids identified so far with more just waiting to be catalogued. They are called cannabinoids because when Raphael Mechoulam first identified them back in 1964, they were in the cannabis plants the Israeli doctor was studying.
Science has shown that our own bodies produce and process cannabinoids in immune and nerve cells. Humans are not unique in this ability to process cannabinoids either. The systems needed can be found in many mammals including dogs and cats.
Some animals simply can’t process THC and CBD. Insects like bees and ladybugs don’t have the right systems to be affected by the cannabinoids produced in cannabis. So even if insects or reptiles get covered in cannabinoids, it can’t get them high.
Science is discovering that the connection humans have to cannabis goes down to the molecular level. Continued research into the structure of THC and CBD has revealed that they are structural isomers. Essentially, they have the same basic parts but get arranged in a different way.
How do THC and CBD Work?
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are able to bond with a special network or system of receptors in our cells. This system is present in most mammals, that is why cats and dogs will respond to cannabis in similar ways as you and I.
The specific receptors responsible for how weed makes us feel are called the CB1 and CB2 receptors. They were named after the different cannabinoids they are specialized to work with. I agree it’s not a very interesting name but being as simple as possible makes for easier science.
This system is called the endo-cannabinoid system. Endo for inside and cannabinoid for the type of chemical they work with. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD activate the receptors by mimicking the neurotransmitters our bodies naturally produce called anandamides. Our bodies can’t tell the difference and accept the imposters without question. Yet each cannabinoid has a unique effect.
- CB1 receptors respond to THC and are responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. They are present in most of the brain and play a role in vital functions like; memory, mood, sleep, appetite and pain sensation. Cancer, insomnia, PSTD, MS, and many more disorders respond positively to CB1 stimulation.
- CB2 receptors respond to CBD and are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis. They are found in immune cells and help reduce inflammation. Since inflammation is an immune response that is believed to be a factor in many diseases and conditions, controlling it can have life altering effects for people.
How are THC and CBD different?
THC is psychoactive, meaning it affects consciousness. Things like irritability, hunger and pain are all tied to brain function. THC reduces activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain where memories are formed/stored). It also inhibits the amygdale, the part where the fight or flight instinct is stored/triggered.
If enough THC is added to the hippocampus, it can lead to a build-up of anxiety. Feelings of paranoia often accompany this negative reaction as the brain tries to deal with the elevated levels of cannabinoids. While no deaths have ever been recorded from weed alone, consuming cannabis does lead to reduced activity in certain parts of the brain.
While reducing brain activity is normally a bad thing, trauma and chemical imbalances can lead to hyperactivity in these brain areas. Conditions like PTSD and anxiety are examples where THC is one of the best treatments available. In fact, the VA recently made strides toward incorporating treatments into the framework of our military.
CBD is a totally different beast. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t affect consciousness directly. Yet it has been shown to have many beneficial properties. Things like swelling, decreased blood flow and seizures are all treatable by CBD.
Besides calming muscle spasms, CBD is able to counteract the psychoactive elements of THC. They have a balancing duality and because of their chemical similarities, it only takes a little acid to transition from THC to CBD and back again. Several companies have successfully synthesized cannabinoids already but it appears that the best effects come from natural plant sources.
How do we use THC and CBD?
Given that our bodies are hard-wired to benefit from cannabinoids, how do we get more? The oldest and most reliable way is to smoke some of the cannabinoid-rich trichomes that cover the cannabis flower. Vaporizing, eating and creating topical creams are also common ways to consume cannabinoids.
Modern extraction techniques exist that can produce almost 100% pure THC from raw plant matter. While this is the most potent/efficient way to consume THC, most commercial products range from 60-80%. Part of the reason lower percentage extracts are more common is the high cost of extremely pure THC or CBD comparatively.
Most people today consume cannabis in the form of food or concentrate to treat a malady or illness. Research has shown THC from smoking weed to be a neural-protector and helps slow/prevent Alzheimer’s. Cannabis can also provide relief to people suffering from neural conditions like Parkinson’s and Cerebral palsy. Patients often find more relief from their tremors, seizures and chronic pain than through other treatments.
Cannabinoids also play a part in the success of traditional cancer treatments like chemo therapy by stimulating appetite, relieving depression and reducing pain. While these benefits may seem minor, the increase in quality of life to these patients is measurable. Over time, the body will adapt to elevated cannabinoid levels so monitoring dosing is important.
Higher concentrations of THC and CBD are often needed for treatment of life threatening illness than can be found in raw cannabis. Over the centuries, this problem has been solved by refining the raw flower into concentrates. Products like BHO, PHO, RSO and CO2 extracts are excellent sources of concentrated THC to modern consumers.
Thanks for reading.