In this episode of The Hemp Community Podcast we introduce the cannabinoids; THC and CBD. We discuss the characteristics of the compounds and how they can be used in combination to support your health!
Episode 5 - The Cannabinoids: THC and CBD
Hi there and welcome to the Hemp Community Podcast, my name is Dan and in this week’s episode we’re going to be talking about two of my favourite things; CBD and THC.
A quick reminder that The Hemp Community is a social enterprise based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We operate a shop and website that sells CBD products, and we support people to use cannabis for their health. In particular we are interested in teaching people about the part of your body that responds to Cannabis; Namely the Endocannabinoid System.
In order to understand the effects that THC and CBD have on our body, we need to know a little about our own endocannabinoid system and how it works. To begin with, I’d like to introduce to the idea that the endocannabinoid system is not isolated in one part of your body, but in fact is found in every organ and tissue, working alongside other physiological systems. The endocannabinoid system is a chemical signalling network that tries to maintain balanced and harmonious function throughout your body; not too hot, not too cold, not too sleepy, not too awake, not too full, not too hungry and so on; The endocannabinoid system works around the clock to keep you happy and healthy. You may or may not have heard of them, but cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors are among the most common neurological hardware that humans have; the endocannabinoid system evolved over a billion years ago and is common to every animal that has a spine. As we will learn later in this episode, there are hundreds of compounds in the cannabinoid family, but most of your endogenous production is made up of just two; Anandamide and 2AG.
Anandamide translates as “the bliss molecule” and it acts like an “on” signal for your endocannabinoid system. Heightened levels of anandamide are associated with reduced sensation of pain, improved mood and elevated appetite. Basically, anandamide makes you happy, hungry and sleepy; perhaps those symptoms seem familiar. In your endocannabinoid system you have 2 types of cannabinoid receptors, labelled CB1 and CB2 and Anandamide is very attracted to the CB1 receptor. CB1 receptors are found mostly in the central nervous system (i.e. your brain) but are also found in other tissues such as the liver, gut, skin and reproductive organs, especially in women. Molecules of Anandamide bind to the CB1 receptor triggering whichever process the endocannabinoid system is regulating in that tissue. Anandamide is a very important chemical; it is found in every human brain, especially after exercise and it is even found in human milk which means that babies are getting a little bit high when they breast-feed.
The other human cannabinoid is 2AG, and where anandamide is attracted specifically to CB1, molecules of 2AG aren’t really attracted to any particular cannabinoid receptor. Instead, 2AG bounces back and forth between the CB1 and CB2 receptors, acting like a kind of “dimmer switch” allowing the endocannabinoid system to self-regulate. For reference, your body normally produces 200 times more 2AG than anandamide which tells us 2 things; first that anandamide is a powerful neurotransmitter and you don’t need a lot of it, secondly this 1:200 ratio means your endocannabinoid system likes 2AG in bountiful supply.
As you may have guessed, anandamide and 2AG are roughly analogous to THC and CBD. It may seem strange that a plant would produce chemicals that imitate human neurotransmitters and interact with the human nervous system, but is it really that unusual? Many psychoactive substances like caffeine, nicotine and opiates come from plants, and many medicines are based on compounds found in nature. All life forms adapt to survive, and the cannabis plant is no exception. Some plants produce vibrant flowers to attract pollinators, some flowers drip with sweet nectar and some bear mouth watering fruit to attract animals. Meanwhile, cannabis produces a bizarre accumulation of powerful aromatic compounds and neurotransmitters that help the recipient maintain a sense of calm and well-being, as well as providing a protective factor against future diseases and inflammation. Cannabinoids also help protect the plants’ seeds from the sun and are even part of the species defence against insects.
I like to imagine an ancient forest, millions of years ago when the first cannabis plant emerged; this weird, sticky, smelly flower that stood out amongst all the other herbs. Perhaps a passing goat, or even an early hominid followed their nose to this curious inflorescence and decided to eat it. The plant’s seeds will be spread in the dung of the animal, and in return the animal is loaded up with beneficial plant compounds that give it a cannabinoid advantage in the race for survival.
Now it may come as a surprise that the cannabis plant itself doesn’t directly produce THC and CBD. Our adventurous cannabis eater will have consumed cannabinoids THCa and CBDa; the letter A at the end tells us that these are the acid form cannabinoids, commonly referred to as Raw Cannabinoids. Curiously, raw cannabinoids are non-psychoactive, even THCa, although they are still very beneficial to our health. It is only after exposure to heat that THCa and CBDa will convert to THC and CBD which we will be more familiar with. Eating Raw cannabis is healthy, but not necessarily fun because it won’t get you high. The great leap forward for cannabinoids came when someone set fire to the plants and inhaled the fumes. Archaeologists the world over have identified all sorts of pipes and bongs used to consume cannabis in rituals or for medicine; in ancient Egypt cannabis flowers were spread on the coals of saunas much to the celebration of the people within.
You may remember from last week’s episode that there are many types of cannabis, some of which are high in THC, some are high in CBD and some plants produce a balance of the two. For the most part this is an effect of the genetic profile of the plant, but there are growing techniques that can be used to amplify target cannabinoid expression. In this podcast we’re just going to talk about the cannabinoids in broad terms, and hopefully in future episodes we can dig a little deeper into the science of these fascinating compounds.
Let’s start with THC, and why not? It is after all the most exciting cannabinoid, the most hyped and the most profitable. THC is short for Tetra-Hydra-Cannabinol and it is the chief psychoactive component in cannabis. When most people think about the effects of cannabis, either medical or recreational, they are thinking about THC. THC has a distinct and undeniable effect on the brain, triggering the release of dopamine across multiple sites; of particular interest are THC’s effects on pain, mood, appetite, memory and sleep. How THC behaves depends on who is consuming it and how; everybody has a different reaction to cannabis and not all people enjoy the experience of THC. The method of ingestion makes a big difference to the effect that the user experiences; inhaled THC is active within minutes, peaks after 15-20 minutes with blood levels reducing over the next hour or so. Conversely, THC consumed orally in the form of an infused food product or capsule can take up to an hour to become active, with effects lasting up to 12 hours. When we eat THC, our livers tweak the compound a little, and so the experience of inhalation and oral ingestion are very different. The golden rule for anyone who is cannabis naïve is to start low and go slow; its always possible to add a little more THC later, but once its in there you just have to ride it out.
For any cannabis users who access their products through the illicit market, the vast majority of your experience will be with THC products, in fact it is safe to say that almost no black market cannabis has an appreciable CBD content. Most of the cannabis that street level users have access to is approximately 20% THC, although this can vary and THC % is only one of the metrics that we use to rate the effects of cannabis. Surveys of legal cannabis dispensaries in the US have shown that most cannabis flower sold is approximately 20% in concentration which seems to represent a natura limit of THC production for the species. There are a handful of breeders who claim to have 25% or even 30% strains, but in some cases the test results have been exaggerated or falsified so I generally take these claims with a pinch of salt.
THC is responsible for the giggly, euphoric effects of cannabis, but not everyone shares that experience. It is normal for people to find THC an uncomfortable experience, especially inexperienced users who have had too much. Products containing THC are not recommended for people with a personal or family history of psychosis, and if you find that consuming THC makes you feel paranoid or anxious, then please consider reducing your intake. There are a lot of references to THC consumption in pop-culture, and unfortunately there is a sub-culture within the broader cannabis community that encourages over-indulgence as a form of bravado. As with any drug, there are consequences associated with excessive consumption, and over-using THC in the long-term can increase risk of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Sometimes its ok to pass on grass.
At the hemp community we aren’t able to sell THC products, at least not yet. The UK’s cannabis legislation is such that a prescription from a doctor is needed to access THC. The majority of cannabis patients in the UK access their meds through a private prescription, and the kinds of products they receive are similar to what we would expect in a US dispensary or dutch coffeeshop, albeit dressed up in clinical packaging. Many patients use high THC flowers, and have access to a range of oils with different concentrations of THC. Which product would work for you is best discussed with a medical professional, but it is important to know that you have choices and it is normal for your preferences to shift with time.
So now that we’ve touched on the notorious THC, it’s time to introduce her quiet little sister, CBD. Short for cannabidiol, CBD is the legal cannabinoid; non-psychoactive and associated with a wide range of health benefits, CBD products are used by millions of people in the UK without evidence of abuse or harm. It may seem sudden that all of these CBD businesses have appeared, but the industry as the UK consumer sees it is really at the tail end of a much longer process.
For a start, CBD is nothing new; it has been produced on the cannabis plant for as long as THC has. The person who discovered THC and CBD is an Israeli scientist called Raphael Mechoulem. In the early years of cannabinoid research, it was clear which compound was most interesting; THC is fast acting and generally enjoyable, it is the obvious cannabinoid and it works so well that governments the world over wage war on their own people over it. CBD on the other hand, did not receive much attention to begin with, because it didn’t seem to exert any effect, and so for many years CBD was left on proverbial shelf while THC basked in the limelight.
For reference, the discovery of THC and CBD was 1969, but the discovery of the endocannabinoid system didn’t come until the early 1990’s. There is some research into the effects of CBD therafter, but it wasn’t until about 2011 that CBD started getting serious attention from the press or the broader cannabis community outside of a handful of academics. The tipping point was a little girl called Charlotte Figi who had severe epilepsy, the kind that didn’t respond to pharmaceutical intervention. Charlotte’s parents started trying cannabis oils for her, and eventually found a strain that was high in CBD and low in THC. Nicknamed “Hippy’s disappointment” this particular strain was non-psychoactive but gave Charlotte back her childhood. For many people interested in cannabis, this was a watershed moment where it became obvious that you don’t have to get high to get healthy.
In the decade that has elapsed since Charlotte’s transformative encounter with CBD, the compound has become one of the most popular supplements in the world. CBD is also an important ingredient in a number of medical cannabis preparations, and in my humble opinion there is no reason not to include CBD in your diet, especially if you are already a cannabis user. Although many stoners baulk at the idea of non-psychoactive cannabis, I think there is a lot to be said for CBD and what it can offer even the most experienced endocannabinoid system.
First of all, CBD works slowly; it is a subtle compound that isn’t immediately obvious even for experienced users. I think it is better to think of CBD as being part of a process and not just a product. You’ll remember a few minutes ago I discussed the human cannabinoids Anandamide and 2AG, and how your body produces 200 times more 2AG than anandamide. It is that large pool of cannabinoids that we are topping up with CBD, so don’t worry if you don’t notice it straight away!
Most people who are new to CBD start to notice a difference about 2-3 weeks into the process, and normally what they notice is sleep. Not necessarily sleeping longer, but sleeping better. CBD users often report an elevated mood and reduction in stress. The longer people continue to use CBD the more they notice; your body is an active participant in the process and as you gai experience you will learn what works best for you. Of course there are some people who experience the effects of CBD quicker than others, but I think it is worthwhile drawing a distinction between the acute effects of a single dose and the cumulative effects of a CBD dosing routine. The former is what the salesman offers, the latter is a gift from the plant.
There are many functions of the endocannabinoid system that can be facilitated by CBD although they can also be difficult to interpret or articulate. For example, people who use CBD tend to use fewer other drugs, including daunting pharmaceutical opioids and even THC. This is in part because of CBD’s gradual pain relieving and anti-stress properties, but also because your liver works better with CBD in it, and so you become more efficient at processing other substances. You get more from the other drugs you take, by merit of taking CBD.
One of my favourite ways to describe the action of CBD is to reference a study from the Netherlands where a group of elderly people in a retirement community were given CBD over a 6 week period to study how the cannabinoid supplement effected sleep. The results, unsurprisingly, indicated that CBD promoted better quality sleep, but an unexpected side-effect was that participants in the study who started off under-weight put weight on, and at the same time participants who were over weight actually lost some weight. When we take CBD, our body has an all-important resource that it can use to restore balance and adjust other physiological functions towards the optimum; homeostasis.
Most CBD products in the UK are full-spectrum, and this means they contain CBD as well as a trace amount of THC and other minor cannabinoids. These other minor compounds can include the raw cannabinoids we touched on earlier, CBDa and THCa, but there are many more including Cannabichromene (CBC) Cannabidavarin (CBDv) and cannabigerol (CBG). All of these plant products can be bought and sold legally because they are non-psychoactive, and they all have promising characteristics that make them popular among researchers and the guys who write CBD blogs. Each of the cannabinoids I’ve just listed also have acidic raw forms which vary slightly in their effects. According to Wikipedia, there are at least 113 cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant.
In recent years it has become more common to read about cannabinoid ratios rather than just percentages. Some cannabis plants are mostly THC, but have a trace amount of CBD, or visa versa. Some of the most pleasant effects of cannabis are experienced when the ratio between the two phytocannabinoids is balanced, for example a 1:1 strain that has equal amounts of THC and CBD. Contrary to what some people claim, CBD is not the opposite of THC, they don’t compete against one another or cancel one another out, they collaborate. CBD works better with a little THC and THC works better with a little CBD. They are simultaneously made for one another, and made for you.
Cannabis users who combine THC and CBD are frequently astounded at the superior quality of the experience; they often report feeling the same high, but without the lethargy or jagged edge of creeping paranoia. As a I mentioned earlier, there are many cannabis users who reduce their use of THC after starting to use CBD. I think that it is a personal choice; everyone’s body is different and what works for others won’t necessarily work for you. If you find that using THC works for you and improves your quality of life then that’s fine by me. I would of course suggest that if you do use THC, please consider introducing CBD into your routine to mitigate the risks associated with cannabis use. Make no mistake that cannabis is generally a safe drug for the vast majority of people who use it, but there are risks involved and they are almost all linked to THC.
If you claim to love this plant, then why not use all she has to offer? The plant makes both THC and CBD, and your body has utility for both. You stand to gain so much from a simple addition to your diet. In our experience at the Hemp community, we have never once heard a cannabis user complain about CBD negatively effecting their experience of THC, in fact it’s more common that CBD augments their appreciation of cannabis.
To summarise; THC and CBD are both made by cannabis, and both are associated with positive health and well-being experiences. The majority of cannabis laws are written with the control of THC in mind, but I look forward to a world where cannabis policy is welcoming of all the products of this incredible plant. There is so much more to say on the subject of THC and CBD, and in future episodes we will definitely delve deeper into the dank science of cannabinoids.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in using CBD, you can order from our range of oils, vapes, edibles and more at our website hempcommunity.scot or if you’d like to get in touch just head over to the contact page.
Until next time, Take Care.
Thanks for listening to the Hemp Community podcast, on next week’s episode we will be discuss cannabis in pop-culture.