When summarizing the basic components of cannabis, conventional knowledge suggests CBD is the portion of the cannabis plant that promotes healing, and THC is what gets you high. That myth is busted fairly quickly, however, when you consider that medicinal THC-containing marijuana is available and widely popular for a reason. A research study, which was the largest of its kind to date, found that in some cases, cannabis-based medicines that contain THC are better than pure CBD.
Findings of the Study
A study from researchers with the University of Mexico found that in certain situations, people are better off using cannabis products that contain THC rather than isolated CBD. That’s especially evident in patients who take the products for nausea. That nausea could be stoked by anything from motion sickness, emotional turmoil, gastrointestinal issues, pregnancy, or even chemotherapy; it turns out, THC is the thing to turn to for nausea of any kind.
The study is called The Effectiveness of Common Cannabis Products for Treatment of Nausea. It used an app called Releaf to track 886 people’s 2220 self-reported sessions taking cannabis with details on symptom intensity and real-time changes after taking the product.
“The findings suggest that the vast majority of patients self-selecting into cannabis use for treatment of nausea likely experience relief within a relative short duration of time, but the level of antiemetic effect varies with the characteristics of the cannabis products consumed in vivo,” the researchers concluded.
After a single hour from when they consumed cannabis, 96.4% of respondents said they felt some form of relief, starting after 5 minutes from taking the product and increasing over time.
“Products labeled as Cannabis indica underperformed those labeled as Cannabis sativa or hybrid; and joints were associated with greater symptom relief than pipes or vaporizers,” the study results state.
The most interesting component of the respondents’ answers, however, was that people smoking marijuana flower with higher tetrahydrocannabinol and lower cannabidiol experienced greater relief from their nausea.
An associate professor with UNM’s psychology department, Jacob Vigil, co-authored the study. He told the school’s newspaper he was extremely surprised by those findings.
“The mechanisms behind cannabis’ ability to rapidly reduce feelings of nausea are not fully clear, but like involve the plant’s ability to activate CB1 receptor responses to other stimuli in the central nervous system, such as the insular cortex, which is involved in interoception, conscious awareness of internal bodily states, and an example of a brain region that is naturally modulated in part by endocannabinoids that naturally develop in the human body. Therefore, it is unsurprising that phytocannabinoids that develop in the Cannabis plant are also effective at stimulating similar brain regions,” explained Vigil.
Cannabis isn’t in the clear
Although the study confirmed THC has positive effects on people taking the product to alleviate symptoms of nausea, it did not study other symptomatic impacts. For instance, the other co-author of the study, UNM economics assistant professor Sarah Lee Stith points out that although pregnant women often experience nausea, cannabis may not be safe for them to take. The study doesn’t look into that.
“And the long-term effects of cannabis and its effects on development are a significant gap in the existing literature on the medical use of cannabis in general,” added Dr. Xiaoxue Li, who’s with UNM’s economics department.
Side Effects of THC
THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol. It’s one of 540 chemical substances within the cannabis plant, of which over 100 are cannabinoids. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that affects people’s mental and physical state after ingesting or smoking it – the feeling people refer to as a “high.” The chemical affects the release of neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals that relay messages between cells about certain functions and feelings, such as pain, stress, and sleep. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health admits cannabinoids such as THC may have a medical use:
“Drugs containing cannabinoids may be helpful in treating certain rare forms of epilepsy, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, and loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. In addition, some evidence suggests modest benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms.”
THC in the form of medical marijuana is used to treat a vast array of conditions. 36 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have all legalized marijuana for medicinal use. 17 states plus the District of Columbia, plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have legal recreational cannabis.
Researchers are studying the benefits of THC for conditions like Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and other conditions that cause seizures, glaucoma, PTSD and other mental health conditions, multiple sclerosis, and more. It’s used to treat individual symptoms like appetite loss and nausea, as well as chronic pain and tight/stiff muscles caused by Multiple Sclerosis. However, some people want to access the benefits of THC without feeling “high.” That’s what drives many people to try out CBD instead.
Side Effects of CBD
Cannabidiol is another chemical component of the cannabis plant. It can be extracted from either hemp or marijuana, both of which are cannabis sativa plants and impact the neurotransmitters in your brain. It has the same molecular structure as THC, with 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, those atoms are arranged in different ways, which is why they impact your body differently.
CBD products are made by extracting cannabidiol from the flowers of either the hemp or marijuana plant, then diluting it with a carrier oil like coconut or grapeseed oil. The CBD product may be full-spectrum, meaning it contains other terpenes and cannabinoids from the cannabis plant; broad-spectrum, which has several of the cannabis plant compounds but is completely free of THC; or isolate, which contains no other compounds.
Many consumers flock to CBD to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and help with depression; treat neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis; assist the heart and circulatory system; lower high blood pressure; alleviate the symptoms of drug addiction; reduce psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia and other psychotic symptoms; and even reduce acne.
So why choose THC over CBD? It turns out they treat different things with different levels of effectiveness.