i. The ECS
Cannabis and hemp consumption for therapeutic purposes have been a mainstay throughout human history. Interactions with cannabis and hemp abound in records dating back to ancient China and Egypt, even getting mentions in early American history. We do seem to have a somewhat synergistic relationship with this plant, and that remarkable bond is actually, in fact, burrowed into our very biology. This is thanks to the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, which cannabinoids like THC and CBD utilize to impart effects.
Even though it is believed all animals have one, the ECS is still not fully understood by science, but is largely considered a stabilizer that achieves homeostasis throughout the body. Its job is to maintain equilibrium amongst different physiological functions, such as motor skills, sleep, memory, mood and appetite.
Both THC and CBD internally access the ECS to move through us, attaching to CB1 and CB2 receptors that proliferate through our brain and body. These receptors are intended for the endocannabinoids our bodies naturally produce, but are incidentally an ideal fit for phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD. The act of a cannabinoid binding to a receptor serves as a signal indicating that a change or sensation is occurring.
Despite employing the same receptors, a key difference between THC and CBD at a chemical level is how they interact with them. CBD is a cannabinoid that while similar to and occurring alongside THC, has pronounced differences in potential effects. The most important difference to know is that CBD will not get you high.
ii. CBD: An Overview
It’s not surprising if you feel you’ve been misled by CBD advertising. Even non-consumers of cannabis have encountered CBD in some form, at a variety of vendors ranging from dispensaries, online stores, even gas stations. It has been touted as a miracle elixir with unending benefits by some, which means it’s also been denounced as new-age snake oil by others. Truthfully, CBD is neither.
Billed as the second-most prominent cannabinoid, CBD, or cannabidiol, is non psychoactive; unlike THC, it doesn’t produce an intoxicating high. Although you may spot the occasional 1:1 or even higher ratioed cannabis strains, CBD tends to accumulate in higher numbers in hemp flower. Adversely, THC is also found in hemp flower; what differentiates the two is the volume of either cannabinoid. To legally qualify as hemp flower, it can only contain a totality of .3% THC or less.
As with cannabis, CBD products are not regulated by the FDA. However, any dispensary product in Massachusetts must undergo and pass stringent state-lab testing before they can be released on shelves. So if you see CBD being sold at your dispensary, you can trust that it is actually cannabidiol, and it is safe.
As well as being non intoxicating, CBD’s potential benefits include reduction of inflammation, chronic pain, and may help with anxiety or sleep problems. It potentially has antioxidative, analgesic, anticonvulsant and other therapeutic properties, many of which are still being studied and learned about. CBD is also considered a good way to counter or diminish undesirable effects from THC consumption. A lot of CBD’s benefits are inherent in its chemical makeup, but some of it has to do with how the cannabinoid behaves when interacting with the ECS.
iii. THC, CBD and the ECS
When THC binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors, it is acting as a partial agonist. At a chemical level, THC is activating a response within the ECS, from wherever the receptor is located. The psychoactive properties of THC are thought to also be recognized in this process when those receptors are in the brain. On the other hand, CBD actually acts as an antagonist when it binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors. It dims the effects the consumer is experiencing from an already activated response.
The ECS was only first discovered in the early 1990s – incidentally during a study on THC – and there is still a lot left to learn. Ongoing research suggests that an overactive or underactive endocannabinoid system may cause or contribute to certain physical and psychological conditions. The potential therapeutic benefits of different phytocannabinoids, like CBD and THC, may help relieve some of these conditions. It’s why having trusted budtenders who can guide your decision-making process is so important; they can help determine where you should start on your cannabis journey and how you should progress.