You’ve heard about them and have probably seen them for sale on the open market. Now let’s learn the facts, the truth and the basics of the cannabinoids CBD and THC. Cannabinoids are substances derived from the cannabis plant and include both the psychoactive and non-psychoactive compounds known as THC and CBD as well as compounds called terpenes. These terms can be confusing if you’re not familiar with them, but it’s important to understand the similarities and differences among these compounds and their effects. Here are some helpful definitions:
- THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive component in cannabis—also known as marijuana.
- CBD, also known as Cannabidiol, is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant and was labelled as having no public health risk or abuse potential by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017. CBD helps neutralize the effects of THC by counteracting THC’s psychoactive properties.
- Terpenes are volatile aroma compounds that are responsible for the flavor and aroma associated with marijuana. Myrcene, a primary terpene in cannabis, may have a synergistic effect with THC.
- Hemp is the fiber extracted from the stem of the cannabis plant.
From hemp to CBD: a 400-year journey
In the 1600s, hemp and hemp seeds were introduced to North America from China and became an important agricultural crop. Hemp was an important fiber source for rope, grain bags, wagon covers, and clothes. Hemp seed oil was important in the production of paints, ink, varnishes, and lamp oil. The rise of cotton and tobacco in the mid-1800s led to a decline in hemp production, and as hemp production diminished into the twentieth century, its THC content began to increase when it began to crossbreed with its southern Asian cousin. The psychoactive component of marijuana, THC, was not identified as such until the 1960s, at which point industrial hemp and high-THC varieties were indistinguishable.
Cannabinoids as pharmaceuticals
Cannabis has been shown to be effective for several ailments including pain, seizures, multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. As of June 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug containing CBD to reduce seizure occurrences in epilepsy. Shortly afterwards, the FDA approved pharmaceuticals containing CBD and less than 0.1% of THC. Other drugs containing synthetically derived active ingredients such as dronabinol and nabilone (which has a chemical structure like THC) are available to treat anorexia associated with weight loss among AIDS patients.
Hemp: the root of CBD and THC
Industrial hemp and marijuana are biologically related as different cultivars bred from the same species, Cannabis sativa. However, industrial hemp is grown for its fiber and seeds, whereas marijuana cultivars are grown for their high levels of THC.
The THC and CBD concentration varies from strain to strain, from plant to plant, and even within the same plant, where the flowering tops of the female plant contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids. Additionally, although CBD is present in both male and female plants, THC is found only in female Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants.
There are two species of cannabis, sativa and indica. Sativa cannabis plants have long flowering cycles with thinner leaves and can typically grow 12 to 25 feet tall. In contrast, Indica cannabis have short flowering cycles, distinctively wide leaves, and are smaller and shorter in stature, typically growing no taller than 6 feet. Hybrids between the two strain families do exist and can take on characteristics from both.
Like night and day: the effects of THC and CBD
Indica typically contains more CBD and less THC. It results in mind and body relaxation, has anti-nausea effects, increases appetite, and increases the release of dopamine. Indica is specifically recommended for nighttime use.
In contrast, sativa has typically less CBD and more THC, has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects, treats chronic pain, and increases serotonin levels which help regulate learning, mood, sleep, anxiety, and appetite. Sativa is a strain recommended for daytime use.
Although rare, it’s possible that the potency of THC can have adverse effects on some individuals. These effects can be reduced by smelling or chewing on peppercorn or using CBD to help counteract the effects of THC.
This blog post was written by Rhiannon Gonzales, MS Food Science (12/19), New Mexico State University