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Managing the Many Effects of Cannabis

Cannabis can stop working or have the opposite effect for some users.

I’ve had clients who actually feel like their symptoms and pain increase while other people find that cannabis decreases pain. Anxiety is another one. In fact, the number one reason why people use medicinal cannabis is because they feel it helps their anxiety. And the number one reason why people stop smoking marijuana is because they feel it increases their anxiety.

We call this the biphasic or paradoxical effects of cannabis, which means some people who use cannabis can feel tired while others feel stimulated. They can have both one effect and the opposite effect, and it’s not uncommon.

There are other drugs that do this too. A common one is something like Ritalin, which is used to calm hyperactive children. But it’s also used by college students to stay up all night because it gives them energy. That is a paradoxical or biphasic effect.

So, why might this be happening? All humans and all animals with a spine have an endocannabinoid system. It’s inside the body and has nothing to do with the cannabis plant. It’s a cell feedback system. The compounds from the cannabis plant coincidentally enter our cells and trigger responses, just like our own endogenous cannabinoids.

It’s important to remember that unlike many pharmaceuticals that trigger certain aspects of our bodies, the endocannabinoid system is vast. It’s the largest cell communication system, so it’s all over our body and everyone’s is unique.

Little Differences Matter a Lot

Classic example, some people smoke pot once and they feel great. It’s clearly something that takes all their symptoms away. Some people smoke it and they just feel horrible. The endocannabinoid system has a very unique and different response to the drug.

Each cannabis plant contains dozens of cannabinoids. Some are active, some are inactive. We know about THC and CBD. These are the main ones. We also have CBN, THCV, THCA, and CBDA. There are many cannabinoids that we’re starting to learn about, but we don’t really know what the vast majority of them do. They’re in trace amounts, so when combined they make up what’s called the entourage effect.

This entourage of cannabinoids from the plant go into our body and have different effects. They can have different effects depending on where they enter the body or how they enter the body.

You can take a strain of cannabis that might be sedative into your body and have a very calm response to it. However, you could also smoke that same strain and because smoking is a rapid infusion of cannabinoids into your head you might feel anxious, paranoid, or stimulated. Same strain, different methods of ingesting, and different response.

I’ve also seen the same exact strain grown in two different soil locations. Their genetics are identical, but when the plant is grown there are hundreds of decisions that go into it. The type of fertilizer, temperature, humidity, harvest time, and cure time. These plants grown in two different environments can have biphasic effects – one can be quite anxiety-provoking, the other can be calming.

I’ve witnessed growers who grow different types, and although they’re growing the same way they might have different effects. It’s just important to remember that there are hundreds of variables that go into cannabis and how we consume it.

Consider This Example

I like to use this analogy when we’re talking about THC and CBD.

THC is like calling the fire department. Some people have a panic attack, a migraine, or chronic pain and they take THC into their system – they call the fire department. The THC comes sirens blaring, very loud, very powerful in the body. We can very obviously feel THC.

CBD is more like a therapist. You call your therapist, they give you a talk, and it can be a positive or neutral experience. CBD can be sort of subtle that way.

But this contributes to the biphasic or paradoxical effects, because imagine what happens if you call the fire department every time you have an issue. What’s going to happen? Sirens blaring, giant red fire truck in your yard, people with boots clomping through your house breaking windows and hosing down the place.

Maybe they put the fire out, but after a while you say, “Whoa, no more fire department.” Even though the THC is taking pain away, a lot of people feel that over time a THC strain or certain method of ingestion becomes more intense, more stimulating, and does not have the effect that they want.

Managing the Many Effects of CannabisThis is what I call the self-regulating properties of cannabis. In our society and neighborhoods, we don’t want the firemen called for every single thing. And we don’t want to put THC into our bodies for every single ailment. That’s how humans end up treating it like a pharmaceutical, and it’s not. It is something that is designed to regulate the system and too much THC or too much of the same ingestion method can create an imbalance. It tells the body, “Look, no more.”

You must learn how to listen to that in your body. It requires some intuition or an expert like myself to guide you through what went awry in your cannabis use.

CBD can have similar issues although it’s subtler. Like the analogy earlier, your therapist isn’t going to hose down the fire in your house. Sometimes you work with a therapist for years and eventually find that you don’t need them anymore. CBD feels similar. Sometimes people like it, it works for them, and then after a while the CBD tells the body, “Look, you need to regulate on your own. If you take more of me into your body you’re just going to feel anxious and fatigued.”

Context and Attitude

I’ve seen clients who are really sensitive to medication. Sometimes they get a reversal of symptoms or increased symptoms. Their pain, anxiety, or sleep issues are exacerbated by THC, CBD, or a combination of the two. It’s important to understand when something’s biphasic and a lot of this has to do with our consciousness.

Cannabis alters consciousness. It alters our whole body chemistry, and when our consciousness is altered and the way we perceive the world is altered it makes us vulnerable to different perceptions. Cannabis has a very specific effect because we have so many stereotypes of it in our culture.

For example, I’ll get a client who comes to me for guidance. She might be in her 70s, maybe she smoked pot in college and had a really bad experience with it. If she is going to introduce medical cannabis to her system – and it might help her for arthritis, or sleep, or something like that – we also have to acknowledge that the context she puts cannabis into is anxiety-provoking. She is worried about it. She is scared that she might get too high. She is scared that something might happen. That context can have a biphasic response in the drug.

Even if the cannabis is meant to be sedative, calming, and pain-relieving, if she gets too much of it or if her attitude is not guided properly then she can have a negative response. That’s why I talk about this in my book.

I recommend working with an expert. Look up a cannabis consultant or a budtender you really trust because these biphasic and paradoxical effects of cannabis will never go away. You cannot put cannabis in a perfect little white pill and think it’s going to have a perfect response, just like you can’t with pharmaceuticals. There’s a study that shows that opiates can increase pain over time, so cannabis isn’t alone in having a biphasic or paradoxical effect. It happens with many medications, but it’s good to have an expert. That’s what I do.

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