As cannabis industry is growing vastly, you might have heard about THC and CBD. Among hundreds of cannabinoids (chemical compounds found in cannabis plant) THC and CBD are the most familiar and widespread ones.
Most people know that THC will make you high whereas CBD won’t. But this is the small part of the whole story.
Cannabinoids found in cannabis plant interact with our bodies in sophisticated and unique ways.
If you dig deeper into the science behind these two cannabinoids, it will become apparent that, there is more to learn about THC and CBD rather what we already know about the effects of them.
Among the many intoxicating substances on earth, cannabis is the safest one. We still clearly don’t know the mechanism, how cannabis creates intoxication in our body when compared with other drugs. However, we know the following about cannabis:
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main intoxicating element in the cannabis, which was first described in 1940s. Israeli scientist Rafael Mechoulam synthesized this molecule in 1965 and our understanding of THC improved ever since.
We have CB1 receptors throughout our body and THC acts as an activator or agonist of these CB1 receptors. But if people with blocked CB1 receptors are given cannabis (by a different drug, called an antagonist), it won’t make them high. So now we know that, in order to produce intoxication by THC, CB1 receptors in our brain play a crucial role.
It is known from brain imaging studies, during THC intoxication process, blood flow to the prefrontal cortex region of the brain increases. This prefrontal cortex region is responsible for attention, decision making and other executive functions, like motor skills. Any of these functions can be affected by THC intoxication to varying degrees depending on each person’s’ response to THC intoxication.
Cannabis intoxication also plays a vital role in our brain’s rewards circuitry, which caters our memory process and emotional wellbeing. Activity in this region of brain creates sensation of happiness and regulates emotion that ultimately controls our behavior. It is the very same trigger that drives us to as ask a potential mate out on another date or to revisit that greasy burger place for a meal (high in calorie).
Use of cannabis make us feel good as it activates the brain’s reward system and it is likelihood that one will give it a further try. Cannabis’ ability to create euphoric effects come from THCs’ ability to bind with the CB1 receptors in our brain’s reward system.
THC is not the only compound found in Cannabis plant that has a direct impact on the functions of our brain. The second most important cannabinoids found in Cannabis plant is Cannabidiol or CBD. CBD is called not-psychoactive which is somewhat misleading is judges with the definition of psychoactive elements. Any substances that has direct effects on brain function can be regarded as psychoactive element. CBD has got very powerful anti-anxiety and anti-seizure properties and it is certain that it interacts with the receptors of our brain.
Although CBD is psychoactive, it is not intoxicating. When it comes to activating CB1 receptor CBD is not as good as THC and this property makes it non-intoxicating. Evidence suggests that in presence of THC, CBD interferes with the activity of CB1 receptor. Users actually feel a nuanced subjective high and have less chance of experiencing paranoia when THC and CBD work together with the CB1 receptor. It is due to the fact that, CBD inhibits CB1 receptor while THC activates it. The effects is balanced by the presence of two cannabinoids.
When other cannabinoid and terpene molecules are consumed alongside CBD and THC, things get even more interesting. We are in the very beginning stage of understanding the isolated effects of cannabinoids’ (i.e.: CBN, CBC, CBG) ability to bind to targets in the brain. They could potentially prolong, interfere with, enhance or in some other ways modify the effects of THC. It is possible that, some most well known effects (i.e.: couch lock) of cannabis, may have very little to do with THC itself.
Cannabis plant is complex and we have little available research on its effects and interactions with human body. We are in the beginning stage of learning – how the many compounds in cannabis work together with our body and change the way we feel.