Header image by Julia Teichmann via https://hinterlandco.com.au/
CBD is oft-touted as something akin to a miracle drug; from neurological disorders to anxiety and insomnia, CBD oil reportedly offers relief from a variety of ailments. Medical marijuana advocates also make similar claims for cannabis use in general, that the THC and other cannabinoids present in cannabis can help with nausea, pain suppression, autoimmune disorders and many more maladies.
One of the benefits CBD offers over THC is it’s ability to offer health benefits without the sensation of “getting high” that THC consumption will cause. But does CBD really work without THC? And if so, is it reaching its peak efficiency without it’s commonly-paired cannabinoid cousin? We’ll explore these questions and more in today’s article.
What is CBD?
CBD (aka “cannabidiol”) is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. When we think of a cannabis plant, we typically think of it in a psychoactive light – Smoke weed, get high.
CBD & Industrial Hemp
But some strains of cannabis, typically called “hemp”, contain concentrations of THC so low they have no appreciable effect on the human body; in fact, to be legally grown within the United States, industrial hemp must contain only trace amounts of THC – less than 0.3%, as per FDA guidelines.
Though CBD is found in most cannabis plants, these industrial hemp plants are the main source for creating CBD oil & other related products; by using plants already low in THC content less work is needed by the manufacturers to remove any residual psychoactive components (if desired)
Our Endocannabinoid System
Both THC and CBD act as “antagonizers” for our body’s own natural cannabinoid receptors – Known as “CB1” and “CB2” receptors, respectively – though their methods in doing so differ greatly.
Whether smoked of passing through the digestive system (IE: eaten), THC directly binds to the CB1 receptors located in our brain, essentially forcing our bodies to produce excess amounts of chemicals that lead to the sensation of being high.
Cannabidiol does not bind to any of our cannabinoid receptors, instead modifying their ability to receive other forms of cannabinoids and acting on other cellular receptors throughout the body; these interactions typically focus on more physically-felt effects, leading CBD to be used as an inflammation reducer and muscle relaxer.
Will CBD Work On It’s Own?
According to a wide array of scientific and medical studies, the answer is yes, CBD works on its own. CBD oil has been shown to have promising results in treating a number of medical disorders, and CBD has been approved in one anti-seizure medicine by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Even without the psychoactive presence of THC, CBD oil will still trigger bodily responses like serotonin release, giving it powerful effects on a wide variety of both physical and mental ailments.
As CBD acts on a variety of biological functions without the mood-lifting, euphoric (IE: stoned) qualities of THC, this has led some to view CBD as “the medical” part of weed and THC as “the recreational” side. But this sentiment denies the roles that both CBD and THC play when used in concert with each other (not to mention the medicinal qualities of THC itself), and is a notion best discarded
Does THC Have Medical Benefits On It’s Own?
Absolutely. THC has long been used for it’s medicinal and psychoactive properties both, and to deny it’s psychoactive component as non-medical is to overlook a large portion of it’s usefulness.
Though THC is often seen as “the high causer” part of cannabis (and rightfully so), that doesn’t make the act of being high without it’s own medicinal benefits. As THC binds to the CB1 receptors in our endocannabinoid system and causes alterations to our neurotransmitters we experience a variety of effects: Elevated moods, stimulated appetites, decreased anxiety, and so on.
For those suffering from clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues, usage of THC can help lead to a more stable, relaxed mental state. What’s more is that it takes relatively little THC to stimulate these responses – Though taking a fat rip off the bong is almost always a fun time even just a small puff off the vape can be of tremendous help to those struggling with their mental health.
Additionally, this state of altered mind can help the body ignore pain and other forms of discomfort, offering relief to those with chronic pain or inflammation issues. The act of “being high” doesn’t have to mean partying and zoning out to some Netflix – For some, it’s a day-to-day relief from serious medical needs.
What Happens When You Use CBD and THC Together?
CBD and THC are products of the same plant (along with a variety of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and the like), meaning that using them together makes a natural sort of sense. Indeed, when you smoke most cannabis plants (at least ones not labeled as hemp) you’re most likely getting a dose of cannabidiol that is pharmacologically relevant – even if that strain of cannabis has been bred primarily for it’s THC content, not for CBD.
There are definite cross-over traits between CBD and THC’s individual medical properties; muscle relaxation, inflammation reduction, and many others. Since CBD and THC both activate these effects in very different ways their effect is essentially multiplied when taken together, in a process typically referred to as “the entourage effect”.
Cannabinoids & The Entourage Effect
As said above THC primarily effects CB1 receptors located in the brain while CBD primarily antagonizes receptors located throughout the body, giving them a dual-acting power that enhances the benefits of both substances and seemingly makes them work better together.
Though scientific research is still being done on exactly how the THC and CBD combination interacts with our endocannabinoid system to give their maximum efficiency, the link between enhanced effects when using both THC and CBD has been the subject of several promising research papers, including a 2010 study from the San Francisco based California Pacific Medical Center, which showed a direct boost to tumor-fighting properties from a combination of THC and CBD than either substance taken separately.
Interestingly, taking CBD oil alongside THC has great effects on THC’s psychoactive nature as well. A 2012 research paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed lab tests that found CBD had a calming effect on the sensation of paranoia that can accompany THC usage, and other studies have shown evidence that one of the side effects of CBD can even help “overwrite” some of the primary effects of THC, essentially working to help sober someone up quickly if desired
Is CBD Legal?
Mostly, yes. Within the United States, CBD is federally legal – This means that, as far as the United States government is concerned, they don’t care about your CBD possession or consumption. This was long a point of contention with the US government until the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, essentially legalizing the industrial hemp plant as a crop and allowing CBD to be harvested and sold on it’s own (provided it stays beneath the aforementioned 0.3% THC limitation provided by the FDA).
Despite the Farm Bill this does not mean, though, that individual states have all legalized CBD use, and even those that have legalized it’s use & sale may have specific restrictions on the forms it can take.
As of this article’s publication date, three states have laws banning CBD products: Idaho, Iowa and South Dakota. In these states any possession or use of CBD is entirely against state law, and may lead to criminal charges.
And while legal in all other states to some degree, many states have restrictions against the sale of food & beverage products containing CBD; even states where marijuana is otherwise legal such as California and Colorado have restrictions against selling CBD-infused food items or baked goods. Of special mention is Vermont, who specifically bar the combination of CBD with dairy and meat products, and have their own unique rules regarding cannabis & maple syrup.
Can You Buy CBD and THC Together?
If you live in an area where THC is legal for medical or recreational consumption, then yes. If you don’t, though, expect CBD oil without THC to be all that’s available.
Though CBD can come in a number of forms, from oils to topicals to the aforementioned FDA approved seizure medication, there are generally only three “types” of CBD product:
CBD Isolate: This is a highly purified form of CBD that contains, well, isolated, pure CBD, with nothing else from the cannabis plant; this includes terpenes and other cannabinoids. If you’re looking for CBD oil without THC or any other substances, CBD isolate is what you want.
Broad Spectrum CBD: Not as heavily processed as isolate, “broad spectrum” CBD products usually contain the terpenes and other cannabinoids found within the cannabis flower… but this is also CBD oil without THC. The THC from the plant is carefully filtered out of the end product, leaving behind the more legal cannabinoids.
Full Spectrum CBD: “Full Spectrum” offerings are similar to the above but without the THC filtered away, giving the full range of compounds available in the whole plant. Such products usually have a very low dose of THC included, particularly compared to other cannabis concentrates, but do leave some in, allowing the full spectrum concentrates to gain the full benefit of the cannabis plant’s natural compounds.
Though the work involved to make these concentrates can be extensive (and also go a long way to explaining why CBD oil can be so expensive), without the ability to strip away THC molecules from the end result (as in the case of CBD isolate) many CBD products would only be allowed for sale in states where marijuana has been legalized in some fashion.
Though each can be used on it’s own to effective ends, the evidence points toward CBD and THC working best in concert with one another, helping to maximize the benefits received from each. Unfortunately, as the prohibition against marijuana rages on and there are those still trapped within draconian systems with outdated prejudices, the need for CBD without THC is still high. And though CBD does work better with THC’s presence, that doesn’t mean that taking CBD oil on it’s own will have no effect at all, and can be a truly life-saving medicine for those who cannot take THC for various reasons (such as drug tests).
Though we are learning more and more every day scientific research on the subject of CBD/THC interaction still has a long way to go, and currently one of the best ways to find what helps you the most is through personal analysis. Thankfully, with what we know about CBD and THC alike, it’s experimentation that’s unlikely to have any detrimental effects – Unless devouring a box of cookies and binge watching cartoons sounds detrimental to you.
However, the key word to that statement is “unlikely”. As with any medical supplement, make sure to check with your physician before adding either CBD or THC into your daily routine – Though the benefits of CBD oil can be numerous there are potential side effects and other medical interactions to be aware of that could be dangerous. Just be careful, do your research and always check with your doctor first.
We hope we’ve done our part in explaining why these two compounds work well together, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a legalized area we encourage you to experiment with both, finding the proper ratios and dosage amounts that work best for you. Happy smoking!
(Please remember, none of the above statements are intended to diagnose, treat, or otherwise identify any medical condition. Always speak with your personal physician before adding any sort of supplement into your medication.)