Cannabis is a beautifully complex plant that contains over 400 different chemical compounds, of which at least 80 are what is known as cannabinoids. The most well-known of these amongst both connoisseurs and those who are a little less clued up are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). But what exactly are cannabinoids and what do they do?
Simply put, cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant that interact with cannabinoid receptors in your body – primarily within your brain and your immune system – to produce certain physical and mental effects. These effects will vary based on various factors, including the potency of the plant and whether the cannabinoids are taken in isolated form (CBD or THC) or combined with other cannabinoids and chemicals, such as terpenes.
While both CBD and THC share an identical molecular structure, it is the difference in the arrangement of the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms that cause them to have different effects on the body.
- CBD was the second compound that was isolated in pure form in 1963. Cannabidiol doesn’t have any psychoactive effects (in other words, it does not get you “high”), however it has been very successful in the treatment of a whole range of medical conditions, including epilepsy and other seizure disorders, anxiety, chronic pain and autoimmune disorders. Its success at alleviating the symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases can be attributed to the fact that CBD can act as an immunosuppressant, effectively causing the body’s immune system to stop attacking healthy cells. CBD has also garnered considerable interest and praise amongst the medical fraternity for its neuroprotective, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and anti-inflammatory As a result of all these benefits, CBD is primarily used for medicinal purposes, whilst THC is more popular amongst recreational cannabis users.
- THC was first isolated a year after CBD by Yechiel Gaoni and Raphael Mechoulam and is the main active compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of the cannabis plant. The concentration of THC is usually higher in Sativa strains, while Indica strains generally have a higher cannabidiol (CBD) content. While THC shares many of the medicinal benefits of CBD, including alleviating pain, easing migraine and reducing anxiety, it’s most often prescribed to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, as it is excellent at reducing nausea and also assists with insomnia and a loss of appetite. Due to the immunosuppressant qualities it shares with CBD, its potential as a possible treatment for Covid-19 is also being investigated.
When taking CBD, THC or both, essentially these cannabinoids interact or bind with your body’s endocannabinoid system – more specifically it’s endocannabinoid receptors – to produce a certain effect. The ECS is a highly complex cell-signalling system in the body that is responsible for regulating various processes, including sleep, stress, mood, metabolism, memory, appetite and digestion. It was discovered back in the ‘90s by Prof. Mechoulam – the same guy who first isolated THC – earning him the title of “father of cannabis research”. The effect achieved will depend on the amount of CBD/THC you take, as well as whether you take them separately or together. For example, whilst THC is known for making a person “high”, CBD’s anti-psychoactive effect in turn helps to moderate the high, and can even reduce some of the negative side-effects of THC, such as anxiety. On the other hand, CBD on its own doesn’t bind as effectively to your body’s cannabinoid receptors, and therefore benefits from the addition of THC.
Whether you choose a strain that is higher in THC or CBD all depends on the effect you are after, as long as you understand the effect of both compounds and how they will work together to produce that effect.