Many countries have decriminalised cannabis use, and a couple recently legalised it at the national level, there is still an open-ended discussion on the benefits of cannabis use.
One of the most common denominators in arguments against legalisation is that marijuana is a powerful psychosis-inducing drug. While a body of evidence supports this theory when linked to the long term use of potent cannabis, the details are little more nuanced than attributing the blame to the plant as a whole.
Cannabis features over 100 cannabis-specific compounds, known as cannabinoids. Of which two are the most established and well researched, THC and CBD.
Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, is a psychotropic compound found in cannabis and is what makes users of traditional marijuana feel ‘high’.
THC does this by stimulating a release of dopamine in the brain when consumed, inducing euphoria aka the high. The compound attaches itself to receptors found primarily in the brain which influence memory, pleasure, coordination and more.
Side effects of too much THC can include paranoia, anxiety, and a lack of motor movement.
CBD is non-psychotropic, it doesn’t induce a ‘high’ nor impair cognitive function.
CBD is found in small quantities in street cannabis, and the compound is frequently non detectable (i.e. not enough to warrant being picked up by technology screening cannabis). However, a sub species of cannabis, hemp is naturally rich in CBD and low in THC, which is where CBD oil is extracted from.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published a pre-review report in 2017, which outlined the current and potential clinical uses of CBD. A large body of evidence now supports the use of CBD in the treatment for at least some forms of epilepsy including Dravet syndrome. Epidiolex, a CBD based and FDA approved medicine for Dravet syndrome went on sale in late 2018.
According to the WHO, CBD also has potential for use as a treatment for multiple issues including anxiety, depression, chronic pain and inflammation.
We have wrote a legnthly blog post specifically about what research suggests are the benefits of CBD, you can find it here.
Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a neuro network consisting of receptors all across the body. Although there are many ECS receptors, two are the most documented and well established, CB1 and CB2. When cannabis is consumed, THC passes through the blood-brain barrier (excluding edibles which are processed by the liver) binding to the CB1 cannabinoid receptor like a lock and key.
CB1: Activated by THC and binds directly to the receptor, causing a psychoactive high. They are concentrated in the central nervous system and the brain.
CB2: Not directly activated by cannabinol (CBD) and it does not bind directly to the receptor but a recent study suggest CBD increases the production of anandamide signalling, a major (endo) cannabinoid produced by the human body. CB2 receptors are concentrated in white blood cells, the spleen and tonsils.
Global cannabis prohibition across the last 40 years has led to those higher the black market food chain developing cannabis strains with double-digit THC levels. Historically, street weed averaged 2% THC in the 1960s, whereas today in Colorado in centres between 17% – 27% THC.
Closer to home, in the UK, we are seeing a simillar pattern, and dealers are providing consumers more bang for their buck today than 20 years ago. A 2018 study by the University of Bath indicated THC levels have more than doubled to 17% in street weed, known as skunk, across the last 11 years.
The majority of the public today only know cannabis as high THC skunk. In unregulated markets, it’s clear the weed on the streets today is optimised for THC percentages, and high demand means there is a competitive supply chain behind the smoke.
However, when you ask someone over sixty what weed was like in their day, they usually tell you it was less intense, and we are now realising this is because of the THC content, along with higher CBD. As research continues and information begins to flows downstream, consumers are starting to understand, and there is more to cannabis than just THC.
Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nature & Bloom and its staff. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention for any disease. Nature & Bloom products have not been evaluated by the MHRA.