It’s becoming increasingly clear to both the scientific community and the public at large that the therapeutic potential of cannabis goes well beyond its reputation as an illicit street drug. But what does the everyday user really know about the active chemical compounds that produce that distinct mellow feeling?
Well, while most of you are likely familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), you may have heard rumblings about this wonderful little compound called CBD (cannabidiol), the other major active ingredient in cannabis. While THC produces the actual high users know and love, CBD is mainly defined by its effective medical properties, making it increasingly attractive to researchers around the globe. In fact, just recently, a team of Australian neuroscientists found that the compound may even protect against adverse side effects of THC—a little more on that study below.
Now, the ins and outs of cannabis research can get a little tricky, so we’re rounding up the benefits and breakthroughs related to CBD in terms we can all understand.
Let’s get one thing straight
Unlike THC, CBD on its own does not get you high. Cannabis strains that are CBD dominant have far fewer psychoactive effects than their high-THC counterparts, while CBD-only products—oils, tinctures and other extracts—produce no psychoactive effects at all. If you’d like to learn more about about how THC gets you high, you can read about it here.
THC isn’t as harmless as you think
We all want to believe that, at the end of the day, using cannabis is completely consequence-free—but that just isn’t the case. Many studies have shown that regular consumption of THC can lead to a number of negative effects on the brain, specifically in the hippocampus. These changes aren’t only chemical: over time, cannabis use can physically alter the structure of your hippocampus. Mainly, it can make it smaller. This is alarming for a few reasons: the hippocampus is responsible for regulating anxiety and stress and plays an important role in certain cognitive functions, including memory and spatial navigation. A decrease in its size could lead to a decline in cognitive functionality and a loss of resilience to both stress and anxiety. So what can we do about it?
CBD to the rescue
The clinical testing headed by the aforementioned Australian neuroscientists indeed suggests that CBD might be able to protect against, and even reverse, some of the adverse effects THC can have on the brain. In this particular study published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabidiol Research, 18 participants, all of whom were regular cannabis users, were given 200 mg CBD capsules daily for a period of 10 weeks. Participants were assessed by structural MRI before and after the study to observe any change in the overall size of their hippocampus. The study’s conclusion: there was a remarkable increase in many areas of that region of the brain—especially among heavy users. What’s more, participants weren’t even asked to alter their regular cannabis use over the course of the study. This research could also mean there’s a future in using CBD to treat patients with conditions and diseases related to a degenerating or impaired hippocampal lobe. You can read the full study here.
The future of CBD research
While the future of CBD use is still uncertain, preliminary evidence points to an outstanding potential for a laundry list of medical applications. Other research suggests it could be a major player in treating cancer, opioid addiction, multiple sclerosis, depression and more. Some even believe it can be used to balance and phase out negative reactions to a THC high by eliminating feelings of paranoia and anxiety. One thing’s for certain: keep your eyes peeled for more research that deals with the other side of getting high.