The Cannabis Plant
I’s often dismissed as untested by medical professionals, but cannabis has been used for medicinal, spiritual, and commercial purposes for over 12,000 years. It is an extremely versatile plant. The fibrous stalks can be made into paper, textiles, and building materials. The seeds can be eaten raw (one of my favorite sprinkled on salad) or pressed into an edible oil. Cannabis flowers, or “buds,” and the small leaves surrounding the flowers can be consumed as medicine.
Most people are first introduced to cannabis in the dried form, but it can also be extracted into a variety of forms. Science and innovation continues to bring new products to market including patches, creams, capsules, inhalers, and foods. Cannabis grows in a variety of strains, each with different concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytochemicals. Strain profiles and variance in growing environments lead to different therapeutic effects from plant to plant. This allows patients to tailor their medical cannabis regimen to their specific needs.
The Endocannabinoid System
All humans have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for regulating homeostasis, or equilibrium, in the body. It keeps us feeling “normal” and influences things like memory, mood, appetite, energy, metabolism, immune function, pain, sleep, and the stress response. Cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, interact with the receptors of the ECS. They help to tell the body to turn up or down various processes in order to return to a state of normal functioning. This is how cannabis is so effective for such a wide array of symptoms and conditions.
Research suggests that many forms of chronic illness may be in part due to an under functioning endocannabinoid system, known as endocannabinoid deficiency. It’s thought that adding cannabinoids into the body via medical cannabis allows the ECS to recalibrate and returns the body to a state of homeostasis.
The primary active compounds in cannabis are called cannabinoids. When consumed, these cannabinoids, coupled with terpenes and other phytochemicals, provide therapeutic benefits and alleviate symptoms of chronic illness. While there are multiple cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, medications sold in Florida dispensaries will be classified and labeled by the two major cannabinoids - THC and CBD.
The most widely known cannabinoid is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). It is the cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric psychoactive effect or “high”. It also has anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relief), neuroprotective, anti-microbial, anti-tumor, and anti-oxidant properties. It is often used to reduce intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma, reduce spasticity and muscle tension, increase mood, promote sleep, and stimulate appetite.
THC is widely considered non-toxic, but it needs to be used with caution. In high doses, and in the absence of other cannabinoids like CBD, THC can cause an increase in anxiety, sedation, paranoia, heartbeat, and short term memory loss. High doses of THC over time can also lead to an increased tolerance, requiring patients to use more and more medication to reach the same effects. Abstaining for a few days to a week will reduce the tolerance and allow you to use lower amounts of medication more effectively.
CBD provides many of the same medicinal benefits of THC, but is non-intoxicating making products high in CBD a good choice for beginners, elderly, or those wishing to avoid psychoactive effects. CBD is often used to relieve inflammation, pain, convulsions, anxiety, and nausea. It is also showing promise as an antidepressant, mood stabilizer, and antipsychotic. CBD is the main cannabinoid in low-THC strains. It often has a cumulative effect - meaning it may take a few weeks of consistent dosing to notice full benefits. This is especially true for inflammatory pain and conditions.
CBD is a great option for patients needing a clear headed day time experience. When taken in amount greater than THC it will diminish the psychoactive effect of the THC. It can also be used to counteract any potential negative side effects of THC including paranoia, anxiety, increased heart rate, and memory impairment.
Other Cannabinoids, Terpenes, & Flavonoids
The cannabis plant consists hundreds of phytochemicals that all work together in a synergistic effort known as the “entourage effect” to provide maximum medicinal benefit. Varied concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes influences the experienced effects of a cannabis medication. Having a basic understanding of the therapeutic potential of these other plant compounds can really make a difference in a patient’s experience. For example, strains high in the cannabinoid CBN are prized for their ability to induce sleep and fight insomnia while strains high in Delta 8 THC are known for alleviating GI distress.
If you are new to cannabis you head might be spinning as this can all be overwhelming. Focus on understanding and using CBD and THC first, but don’t be afraid to dive in and learn more about the full therapeutic potential of cannabis as medicine.