Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two types of cannabinoids found naturally in the resin of the marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa. Both of these substances interact with the cannabinoid receptors found in the human body, but the types of effects brought about by these compounds couldn’t be more different. For this reason, CBD is more often used as a medical treatment than THC.
What is THC?
THC is the main psychoactive component of the marijuana plant. In other words, THC is the primary agent responsible for creating the “high” feeling associated with marijuana use. This compound works by imitating the effects of anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced naturally by the human body to help modulate sleeping and eating habits, as well as the perception of pain.
The effects of THC include (1):
- Altered senses of sight, smell, and hearing
- Reduced aggression
What are the medical applications of THC?
Research studies have indicated that this cannabinoid may be able to help treat:
- Side effects of chemotherapy – Reduce nausea and vomiting while increasing appetite (2)
- Multiple sclerosis – Improve spasticity and bladder function while reducing painful spasms and central pain (1)
- Glaucoma – Reduce pressure inside the eye (1)
- AIDS – Alleviate symptoms by stimulating appetite and eating (1)
- Spinal injury – Lessen tremors (1)
What is CBD?
CBD has the same chemical formula as THC, but the atoms are arranged differently. This slight variance causes THC to create a psychoactive effect while CBD lacks such an influence.
CBD accounts for up to 40 percent of cannabis extract (3). Its plentiful nature, coupled with its failure to produce a “high” effect, make it a strong candidate for medical applications.
The effects of CBD include (3):
- Reduction of psychotic symptoms
- Relief from convulsions and nausea
- Decreased anxiety
- Decreased inflammation
What are the medical applications of CBD?
Research indicates that CBD may be useful in treating (3):
- Schizophrenia – Reduce psychotic symptoms
- Social anxiety disorder – Lower anxiety
- Depression – Reduce depressive symptoms
- Side effects of cancer treatment – Decrease pain and nausea while stimulating appetite
Why is CBD used more than THC for medical treatments?
THC is classified as an illegal drug with considerable immediate and long-term cognitive side effects, including impaired thinking and reasoning, reduced ability to plan and organize, altered decision-making, and reduced control over impulses. In addition, chronic use of THC is associated with significant abnormalities in the heart and brain (1).
CBD lacks the harmful cognitive effects of THC. In fact, CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, both in plant form and when administered from extract (4). Cannabis plants containing small amounts of CBD and high levels of THC result in a stronger “stoned” feeling, while plants with more CBD and less THC create a weaker “buzz.” Given the increasing popularity of medical marijuana, breeders are currently creating strains with higher CBD to THC ratios to minimize the psychoactive side effects.
Overall, the lower health risks of CBD, combined with its efficacy, make it a better candidate for medical applications than THC.
- (1) Tetrahydrocannabinol. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrahydrocannabinol.
- (2) Questions and Answers about Cannabis. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/patient/page2.
- (3) Cannabidiol. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabidiol.
- (4) Cannabinoid. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabinoid.