There's no doubt that you have been seeing and hearing more about CBD and THC in the news, on social media and from family and friends. State regulations on CBD and THC have been loosening in past years which has allowed a whole new industry to come to market. Whether you are curious about trying CBD or THC or have already tried it, do you really know the difference? Is one better than the other? Do they both help reduce pain, alleviate anxiety or improve sleep? Continue reading to learn more about how CBD and THC are different.
The Nuance of Cannabinoids
Cannabis has two main compounds that are called the major cannabinoids, these are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is psychoactive and illegal to sell without a dispensary/mmtc (medical marijuana treatment Center) license at levels above 0.3% by weight. CBD is non psychoactive, and you can pick it up at a convenience store. So, what is the difference between these two molecules?
THC has been used for a long time before modern medicine to treat ailments from coughs to pain relief. When THC became illegal in the early 20th Century here in the US, the entire cannabis scene stopped except for black-market sales. It would not be until the 50s and 70s when science put cannabis under the proverbial microscope to see "what it does". We are excluding the weird government tests with DHCP as a synthetic pacification drug to be used over hostile forces which was supposedly many orders of magnitude stronger than THC.
The research pointed to the chemical structures of both CBD and THC as well as animal models of emulated diseases including pain response to psychological response. Many findings were beneficial but of course, there are always drawbacks.
What is THC?
The history of THC is long and vast, spanning thousands of years and even has mention of some form of it being used positively in many holy literatures. THC is a psychoactive compound that many people find as a pleasurable experience, it has been observed to relax individuals, increase blood flow through vasodilation (the dilatation of blood vessels) which would decrease blood pressure and eventually cause a reaction in the body to get that blood flow back up by increasing heartrate. That cascade of events is what many people focus on as the main driver of the physiological effects of THC in the body.
These effects are achieved through the modulation of G-coupled protein receptors in the body, there are two we know of that respond to cannabinoids like THC which are CB1R and CB2R. These receptors are localized in certain areas of the body but are mottled across the body. Many receptors are also found in the brain, the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and the basal ganglia are major centers of activity. Many physiologists out there will recognize that the hippocampus deals with short-term memory formation and may be a reason as to why THC has the effect of letting the user forget. The hypothalamus allows THC to increase appetite in some studies and the basal ganglia is the direct portal to the brain that allows the depolarization events to cause an influx of the THC molecules.
Scientists today are still trying to understand the medical benefits of THC including why it gets people high. But thankfully we do not observe the usual actors in pain relief when we look at cannabis. Opioids are what we currently use to aid in pain relief aside from acetaminophen and acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). Opioids will act on opioid receptors and unfortunately, they can depress systems like muscles and that includes the diaphragm muscle that controls breathing. THC has not been observed to labor breathing. It has been observed to increase paranoia in some individuals but thankfully no life-threatening factors have been identified solely from the use of THC up to this point.
What is CBD?
The other major cannabinoid. A lot of the time, nature will cure what it causes like the aloe plant being spiky and irritable on the outside but providing an antiseptic solution on the inside. CBD is an agonist for THC in many ways including observations for the paranoia that some individuals experience.
There are many camps of psychologists and psychiatrists that think anxiety and depression are due to the lack of serotonin or the “feel good” neurotransmitter and thus drugs like alprazolam (Xanax) or bupropion HCL (Wellbutrin) are there to potentially increase those levels. There are also psychologists that believe in CPT or cognitive behavioral therapy which the going would be to help the individual cope with debilitating anxiety and potentially depression. What scientists do know is that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (controlling the fight or flight response as well as the rest and digest response) all communicate with the brain. It goes like this:
- A sensory input is picked up by the body like a touch
- A mechanoreceptor (for touch) which is the sensor will communicate that response to the PNS or peripheral nervous system
- This signal will then travel to the CNS or central nervous system for an action to be decided upon.
- The response is sent back through the PNS and potentially balance is achieved, and you feel the touch.
Unfortunately for many individuals, sensory inputs can be triggered at any time or with such intensity that it can become debilitating. We can call these panic attacks or a panic disorder which stems from acute or chronic anxiety. Anxiety is an important response our bodies create to deal with hard external factors usually in a quick fashion. This response was used in the past when ancient humans (or humans today) are confronted by large predatory animals and we would run or hide. This holdover now exists in society today and many of us have these mental health issues that can’t be easily resolved. What exists on the market today would be benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as drugs that help many people.
However, conventional drugs can either lead to deleterious side effects for many individuals or just flat out do not work. Therefore, a psychiatrist typically works with you months on end to find something that may work and in many cases they do. Sometimes there are individuals that do not want to take those drugs and potentially prefer a more natural approach and turn to alternative-medicines like CBD. This is where the cannabis research changes from THC as CBD has been observed in nature to decrease anxiety levels through the amygdala and the DISI/DISE reaction which stands for depolarization induced suppression of inhibition or depolarization induced suppression of excitation which has everything to do with how our nervous systems works.
Is CBD or THC right for you?
There is no one size fits all answer for this. Both CBD and THC have many health benefits including pain relief, better sleep and reduced anxiety or other mental health issues. The main questions you need to consider include:
- Is THC and/or CBD legal in the state where I live? Choose the one you have access to.
- Do I need a medical marijuana license to purchase it legally in my home state? This may deter people from THC and in this case CBD is a great option.
- Do I need to pass a drug test for work or other reason? If yes, go with CBD.
- Do I need to take it during the day while working or performing other activities? If yes, CBD is probably a better bet as THC's psychoactive properties can make it harder to perform normal every day tasks if you are not used to it.
Now that you understand the difference between THC and CBD you might be ready to try some CBD products. CBD comes in many forms; oil drops that are absorbed under your tongue, gummies which are flavorful and easy to eat on the go as needed, topical creams are great for muscle and back pain, gel caps are easy to take and tasteless and now coffee, if you already drink coffee in the morning then this would be an easy substitution to get your dose of CBD! Decide which is best for you by testing out a few different types and let us know what works best for you.