There are many names and many formats of thecannabis sativa L. plant. In some forms, it is used recreationally, for the euphoria, change in perception and stoned feeling it creates. In other forms, it is used medicinally to treat a wide variety of diseases and illnesses. In other forms still, it is used to create industrial products, like cloth, oils, and even biofuel. How can the same species of plant have so many different variations of experiences and applications?
The main reason is that each strain of cannabis contains a widely variable mix of cannabinoids, and each cannabinoid carries a different characteristic. This makes cannabis one of the most useful plants in the world because not only can it provide material solutions for industry, but it can also provide nutritional support and most importantly powerful medicines.
The differences between cannabinoids are why some strains cause a high, while others cause nothing at all. This difference is actually only caused by one cannabinoid, in particular, TetraHydroCannabinol, otherwise known as THC. As many people already know, this is the most well-known out of all the cannabinoids. It is so famous, in fact, that many people still remain unaware that there are any other kinds of cannabis available, strains which contain other cannabinoids and which do not cause any psychoactive effects at all.
These other strains typically contain higher levels of a cannabinoid called cannabidiol, or CBD. Cannabidiol remained relatively unknown, at least in terms of its health benefits, until very recently, but it has since exploded onto the medical marijuana market.
Still, it’s interesting to consider that different strains of exactly the same plant can cause completely different experiences. Why is THC psychoactive, while CBD is not? It comes down to the cellular level and the way each of the different cannabinoids interacts with our endocannabinoid system.
The reason why any cannabinoid (THC, CBD or others), has any effect at all is that they interact with different endocannabinoid receptors in the human body. In terms of CBD and THC, this is mainly the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain and the central nervous system.
The CB2 receptors tend to be concentrated within the immune system and many important organs. The research is still filling in some blanks when it comes to each specific interaction, but scientists are in agreement about the basic ways that THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system as well as with each other.
It’s essential to understand that some cannabinoids lock directly with the cannabinoid receptors within the body. A good example is a way that THC locks with the CB1 receptor, like a key fitting into a lock. Other cannabinoids tend to stimulate, influence or trigger activation of the CB1 and CB2 receptors without physically locking with them. This is the way that CB2 is antagonized by CBD but not directly connected to it.
Because THC and CBD both stimulate the CB1 receptor differently, they trigger different psychological responses. If you remember, the CB1 receptors are primarily in the brain and are responsible for appetite, a feeling of euphoria and memory. It has been found in animal studies that the THC molecule mimics the neurotransmitter called anandamide, which is also known as the bliss molecule. This neurotransmitter stimulates appetite and a general feeling of ease and contentment. It’s responsible for memory production, pain perception, and motivation. Therefore, when THC locks with the CB1 receptor, it replicates these various stimuli.
On the other side of the picture, CBD doesn’t directly interact with CB1 in the same manner. In fact, it actually antagonizes it or suppresses the activity of this receptor. This means that while THC will increase appetite, CBD can actually mute it. Another example is when THC and CBD are taken together, CBD will limit the strength and length of the high because it essentially kicks out the THC from the CB1 receptor.
In the real world, the greater the percentage of CBD in comparison to THC, the lesser of a powerful high will be experienced. For example, even if there is only 6 percent CBD compared to 24 percent THC, this will have enough of an effect to dampen the psychoactivity.
The difference in psychoactivity between CBD and THC has caused a dramatic shift in the mainstream scientific, medical and political communities. Cannabis has always been demonized because it causes a high, however, if the same plant can be ingested without causing a mind-altering experience, can it still be justified as being an illicit drug? This has opened up the debate on medical marijuana in many communities, with the pendulum now moving towards legalization in certain states and countries around the world. It also has allowed for CBD heavy strains to be legal by default because they contain such limited amounts of THC.