– Guest post by William Horton
What makes Cannabis Psychoactive?
Cannabis is a genus in the plant family. It is often divided into three main groups, often erroneously referred to as separate species: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Cannabis has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. In addition to naturally occurring varieties, it has been selectively bred for various purposes including medicinal, recreational, and for use in textiles.
Within each variety of cannabis, one can find a collection of compounds known as cannabinoids. In the early 1960’s, Raphael Mechoulam was the first to isolate and describe the two most prevalent of these compounds: THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol).
THC is the cannabinoid that has psychoactive effects. It readily binds to neuroreceptors in the brain and peripheral nervous systems commonly known as CB1. These receptors then signal the body to produce specific enzymes that produce a “high” that can vary from person to person. The effect can include feelings of euphoria, altered sensory perception, changes in the experience of time, body sensations, and even less desirable feelings such as agitation, paranoia, and emotional and physical discomfort in some users.
The mind altering effects of THC seem to be modulated by the presence of other cannabinoids, even when found in very small amounts. For example, CBD is thought to depress the psychoactive properties of THC to some extent. It is thought that CBD both prevents THC from binding to the CB1 receptors, as well as interfering with the absorption of some of the enzymes produced by CB1 stimulation, such as anandamide.
Cannabis Strains: Selective Breeding and Genetics
Modern day selective breeding, and in some cases, higher level genetic manipulation have produced a wide variety of specialty strains of cannabis. These strains are largely driven by the market demands of three main classes of users: recreational marijuana users, medicinal cannabis patients, and CBD users (usually looking for the medicinal benefits of cannabis without the mind altering effects).
For recreational marijuana users, there is a strong drive to produce varieties of cannabis with ever higher concentrations of THC, although the presence of other cannabinoids and compounds known as flavonoids are also considered to develop novel tastes and smells to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Medicinal strains of cannabis tend to be aimed at producing specific balances of THC and CBD and, in some cases, other cannabinoids such as CBC (Cannabichromene) and CBG (Cannabigerol). Scientific research on these compounds remains in the nascent stage. However, now that large pharmaceutical companies are beginning to realize the healing potential of specific formulations of cannabinoids, we can expect that area of research to continue to bloom.
Hemp: A Non-Psychoactive Strain of Cannabis
Hemp is a special strain from the Sativa variety of cannabis that has a long history in the United States. It grows extremely quickly, even in poor soil, and was prized for its use in making textiles such as rope and fabrics as early as the colonial period. What is less well known, but also a matter of historical fact is that hemp was also considered to have medicinal properties for a wide range of ailments.
In 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act put significant restrictions on who could grow and distribute products made from hemp along with a prohibitive tax. Although hemp was a well-established and lucrative industry, this legislation effectively killed it. Subsequent laws in the 1970’s with the establishment of the so-called “War on Drugs” further entrenched hemp in legal limbo due to its association with other strains of cannabis used recreationally.
Recent legislation has once again legalized the production of hemp in the United States. However, conflicting guidelines from federal regulatory agencies such as the DEA and FDA continue to throw some legal shade on the industry.
“Industrial Hemp” is defined by U.S. law to contain less than .3% THC. However, hemp is a fairly loose term that is commonly used to describe varieties of Cannabis with very low levels of the compound THC.
Specialty Strains of High CBD Hemp
Many people do not want to experience the mind-altering effects of THC. With the discovery of the various health benefits associated with the non-psychoactive compound Cannabidiol (CBD), some hemp producers have begun selective breeding and genetic programs aimed at boosting the levels of CBD in specialty hemp strains aimed at the CBD Oil health supplement market.
While technically still hemp because of their low THC content, these cultivars can produce whole plant hemp extracts with high concentrations of CBD and a full complimentary profile of other cannabinoids found in the plant.
Full Spectrum or “Whole Plant” Extracts
The chemical compound of CBD can be chemically isolated. This makes it possible to produce pure CBD isolate from even low-grade industrial hemp. However, many people report that CBD taken in this isolated form lacks some of the benefits experienced from taking CBD in a “full spectrum” or “whole plant extract” form.
This phenomenon is also supported by scientific research. The so-called “Entourage Effect” was coined in 1998 by Israeli researchers S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam. In this landmark paper, the researchers argue that the various compounds found in Cannabis interact in complex ways with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Even when found in trace amounts, one cannabinoid helps to regulate the effects of the others.
In short, the healing properties of whole plant extracts may indeed be superior to those experienced through CBD alone. As the legal prohibition on hemp continues to fall into history, research into this very special plant family is finally getting the attention it deserves. Expect to learn more about the specific mechanisms of the various cannabinoids found in the cannabis family of plants in the coming decade. And, expect some hemp growers to continue to develop specialty cultivars to meet market demands for whole plant extracts with specific cannabinoid profiles in mind.
Will Whole Plant Hemp Extract Get Me High?
This is a question many people that are interested in experiencing the Entourage Effect of whole plant extracts want to be answered. The short answer is no. The trace amounts of THC found in most strains of hemp developed for use in CBD oil is not enough to cause psychoactive effects for most people.
However, some people are extraordinarily sensitive to the presence of THC, which is found in trace amounts in most strains of hemp. In other rare cases, some people seem to have an allergic reaction to THC. Symptoms can include those similar to pollen allergies such as a runny nose, congestion, nausea or vomiting. In other cases, symptoms of THC allergy can present as skin irritation or rash. It should be emphasized that THC allergies are quite rare.
On the other hand, it is not fair to say that full spectrum CBD oil has no mood-altering qualities. Many people take CBD oil specifically to experience the relaxing and calming effect it has on their mood. Others find that higher doses of CBD- usually above 50mg have a somewhat psychoactive effect. It’s not the same sensation as a THC “high” as it is felt less in the brain where there are fewer CB2 (CBD) receptors, but nevertheless it produces some activation in the body and nervous system. That is why it is suggested that those new to CBD should start at a low dose, perhaps 2-5mg, then bumping a little at a time over the course of a week or more, to find the balance that works to address symptoms without unwanted side effects. Ezra has a regular strength CBD for new and sensitive users, and now also has an extra strength full spectrum CBD oil for those needing higher doses.