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Medical cannabis and hemp advocates absolutely love to tout the medicinal benefits of using CBD, but evidence continues to mount that THC is just as therapeutic a cannabinoid. In some cases, it’s even better at treating symptoms. Stigmas of THC and cannabis intoxication seem to have gotten in the way of progress for years, but with acceptance of the drug becoming more commonplace, researchers are now beginning to look more closely at the health effects of the maligned cannabinoid.
Darling of the Mainstream
The reason for CBD’s successful coup as the chosen molecule of the serious cannabis user is simple: It doesn’t get you high. In our busy, caffeine-fueled, nine-to-five Western lives, intoxication of all kinds is frowned upon. If an advocate wants to be recognized as serious about the medical efficacy of cannabis, then they have to turn their backs on THC and fully embrace CBD.
And doing so is easy enough. CBD is an incredibly potent medicine. Proponents say it fights inflammation, reduces anxiety, counters pain, improves heart health and hosts many more benefits. But THC might be even better at treating some of these symptoms as well as others.
Don’t misunderstand. The two cannabinoids are not identical, and both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Clinically speaking, CBD has been used to treat seizures. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration even approved the first cannabinoid-derived pharmaceutical, Epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. Meanwhile, THC has shown promise as a treatment of ocular pressure in clinical trials.
But there are some vital areas of overlap. Both compounds are believed to treat chronic inflammation, nausea, anxiety and pain control.
CBD is “Non-Psychoactive” Right?
One misunderstanding should be noted here before we move on. Conventional wisdom says that CBD counteracts the effects of THC, but a 2019 Australian study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience found the opposite. The researchers administered five different doses: A placebo, THC alone, high-CBD alone, THC and low-CBD and THC and high-CBD. The results were surprising. For those who took the high-cbd alone dose (400mg) researchers observed signs of intoxication and participants reported feelings of depersonalization, derealization and altered internal and external perceptions. This is far from the “non-psychoactive” nature of CBD that has been reported in the past.
Participants dosed with the low-CBD and THC variant (8mg and 4mg respectively) had a subjective sense of intoxication that was higher than when they used THC alone. This means that counter to accepted orthodoxy, CBD appears to enhance THC rather than counteract it. This effect was found to be stronger for infrequent users.
This should make most readers stop and reconsider most if not all of the things they’ve heard about CBD and THC up to this point in their lives. The non-psychoactive nature of CBD has been its most highlighted effect (or non-effect, rather), and yet it appears that the whole paradigm was completely wrong. This could effect how people use the compound going forward—especially for those who believed that giving it to children and pets is only OK if it doesn’t have psychoactive effects. It also brings all of the traditionally accepted “facts” about these cannabinoids into question. If this fundamental aspect of our understanding was faulty, what other things did we get wrong?
When is THC Better?
Despite what you may have heard, there are plenty of areas where THC has been shown to be more therapeutic than CBD. A recent study from the University of New Mexico published last month in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology examined whether cannabis was effective at reducing nausea.
“Humans have been using the cannabis plant to remedy myriad gastrointestinal and abdominal health problems for millennia, and it remains one of the most effective medications for treating nausea where so many conventional synthetic pharmaceutical concoctions continue to fall short,” says associate professor at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study Jacob M. Vigil. “This is not to mention the seemingly endless list of adverse and sometimes lethal side-effects that can result from misuse of prescription and over the counter medications.”
Vigil and his colleagues analyzed data provided from 2,220 self-administered cannabis sessions involving 886 users reported through the Releaf App. They discovered that using cannabis improves symptoms of nausea by nearly four points on a 10-point scale.
“While cannabis’ fast-acting effectiveness at curbing the sensation of nausea may be common knowledge to regular cannabis users,” Vigil pointed out, “it is important that the remainder of the population and general health providers are provided scientific proof of such … That is why we conducted this study, so that the average person has further scientific information that they can rely on for making the best possible medical decisions for themselves and their families.”
Relief of nausea was most noticeable for participants who used flower and concentrates, particularly with strains labeled as either sativa or hybrid. Joints outperformed every other consumption option. But most notably, strains with higher THC had a higher association with the relief of symptoms than those with higher CBD.
Professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder Angela D. Bryan told reporters “To the extent that we have good data, it’s unlikely that either THC or CBD on its own is going to be particularly effective for pain. It probably needs to be a combination of the two.”
Many medical cannabis advocates have spoken at length about the entourage effect—the belief that when all of the plant’s cannabinoids are used in unison, a synergistic effect makes the therapeutic results much more powerful. Those that subscribe to this theory say that isolating THC, CBD or any other cannabinoids will lessen their therapeutic effect, and it seems like the Australian study mentioned earlier might bear that out.
So the answer to the question, “Which Cannabinoid is Better?” seems to be “neither.” And it looks like using one without the other could be a waste of bothWhich is Better: THC or CBD?