The cannabis plant produces many different chemicals, but the two most commonly associated with it are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). For a long time, products from the cannabis plant have been illegal in the USA due to pressures from tobacco companies, paper companies, and fears that it would cause severe harm. This trend has recently been reversing at the state level, though the federal level continues to be against most of these uses. The changes in laws at state levels have spawned new research into the cannabis plant and its various compounds.
CBD versus THC
Though CBD and THC come from the same plant, they have vastly different effects on the brain and body. THC is the psychoactive agent in marijuana. It acts on endogenous cannabinoid receptors in the body to cause retrograde transmission of chemicals, leaving users sedated. THC can reduce anxiety at lower doses or increase it at higher doses, and it is also able to reduce aggression, reduce motor coordination, and reduce cognitive functions. Physiologically, THC is a vasodilation agent that reduces blood pressure and produces blood-shot eyes. Heavy users of THC may experience drug induced psychotic episodes and moderate withdrawal symptoms, but there are no recorded overdoses.
CBD is not a psychoactive ingredient, so it will not cause the changes in cognition and coordination that are associated with THC use. Similarly, CBD does not directly act on the body’s cannabinoid receptors but takes a more indirect pathway. CBD modulates various neurotransmitter levels, but its main effect seems to come from its ability to bind to fatty acid binding protein. When it binds to this, the body’s natural cannabinoids are unable to bind, which stops them from being broken down. With the increase in endogenous cannabinoids, the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects of CBD become active. Despite it seeming to be a safe drug, CBD’s association with marijuana has led many to be quite skeptical of it.
CBD Uses and Safety
Importantly, one must keep in mind that the study of and use of CBD for medical purposes is a relatively recent change in the field due to CBD being closely associated with the illicit THC. Medical professionals and researchers still do not know what CBD can be useful for, what dosages are effective, and what risks may be associated with the drug. With the current changes occurring in society and law, it is becoming much easier to assess the safety and uses of CBD as a medication. Many people strongly believe that it will revolutionize how pain and other disorders are treated.
As stated, CBD has relatively efficacious analgesic effects, which makes it an excellent alternative for people who cannot take pain relievers like opioids or NSAIDs. CBD has also been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in human subjects, again being a potential treatment for those unable to use more traditional medications. Studies have also found that CBD can reduce cancer-related symptoms and issues with acne. Epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other neurodegenerative diseases appear to respond well to CBD treatments, implying that CBD may help neurons remain healthy and functional. CBD can be helpful in reducing blood pressure and improving general heart health. Beyond these effects, CBD may also have antipsychotic, anti-craving, and anti-cancer effects. However, this research is still in its infancy.
Using laws to determine the safety of CBD is a mistake because its status varies by the state. The federal government still places CBD in the same class as THC, though this also depends on which strain of cannabis the product comes from and is not often enforced. Additionally, many of these laws are also driven by misinterpretation of current research and a general misunderstanding of the differences between CBD and THC. On top of this, laws against CBD are also supported by companies that would be threatened by products derived from the marijuana plants. These laws are driven by bias and misunderstanding, making them ineffective in understanding the safety of CBD.
In studies that have attempted to understand the safety of CBD, a few adverse effects have been found that range from moderate to severe. The most common side effects of CBD use are irritation, fatigue, and nausea. For most people, these are bearable symptoms. On the more severe side, CBD can interact with other drugs to dangerously increase their concentration in the blood. Through the same mechanism as grapefruit juice, CBD inhibits the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down many drugs. This can cause dangerous or even life-threatening effects. People who depend on medications like blood thinners or antidepressants should carefully consider whether they should use CBD or not.
Currently, CBD is most often marketed as a dietary supplement rather than a medication, which means it is not often regulated by the FDA. Using such a supplement means that one can never be truly certain that CBD is the sole ingredient. The labels on these supplements tend to be inaccurate and may contain a variety of unknown ingredients with varying degrees of safety. This does not apply directly to CBD, but it is the most common way to obtain it – meaning that this must be considered in determining the safety of CBD. Finally, research has yet to determine what a therapeutic dose of CBD may be or if it will have a lethal dose, though this seems unlikely.
CBD, according to current research, appears to be an effective treatment for a variety of physical and psychiatric disorders. Despite this, CBD is not a miracle, cure-all drug. It will not cause cancer to disappear or eliminate schizophrenia, as some CBD manufacturers have claimed. These claims have led to some government intervention, but manufacturers who do not make outlandish claims are still unregulated by the FDA and other government agencies, making them potentially dangerous suppliers of CBD. People considering CBD should strongly consider the source before making a purchase. Finally, CBD use should not begin before discussing it with a doctor to make sure that it will not cause harmful drug interactions.