While the general public may not know what a cannabinoid is, most have heard of the 2 most famous cannabinoids: CBD and THC.
CBD has exploded in popularity in the past few years. In fact, it has been nearly impossible to go online without seeing some reference to CBD. The internet is full of ads. Friends are posting about their experiences with CBD on social media outlets (possibly to get people to purchase the product via their distributor for a commission) and the news is discussing the legality of the product.
THC, on the other hand, hasn’t gained popularity as an individual cannabinoid, but as part of the “legalize marijuana” movement that has swept North America. Every year the news is full of stories regarding a state considering decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana for either personal or medicinal consumption.
For over 70 years, government propaganda has vilified the source of these 2 cannabinoids: cannabis. But the truth about these products is getting out. People are realizing that cannabis isn’t the insanity invoking substance that movies such as the 1930s cult classic propaganda films Reefer Madness or Assassin of Youth portray it to be.
Hemp and Marijuana
In order to understand the relationship between CBD and THC, it’s important to understand the relationship between hemp and marijuana.
To begin, there are 3 major species of cannabis. These are Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis. If one were to look at the 7 major levels of scientific classification of these 3 types of plant, it can be seen that the top 6 levels are identical:
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Magnoliophyta
- Class: Magnoliopsida
- Order: Rosales
- Family: Cannabaceae
- Genus: Cannabis
The difference is in the last level of classification called the species. The species for each are:
- Indica – C. Indica
- Sativa – C. Sativa
- Ruderalis – C. Ruderalis
The reason this is important to understand is that each species has its own traits and characteristics. Among these is the content of each cannabinoid. Hemp and cannabis both contain all 113 cannabinoids, but the concentration of each one can vary wildly.
But which species correlate to hemp and marijuana? In general, the species are commonly known as:
- Indica – marijuana
- Sativa – hemp
- Ruderalis – Russian hemp
The average CBD and THC content of each species is:
|Cannabis Sativa||Cannabis Indica||Cannabis Ruderalis|
|THC Content||Less than 0.3%||Up to 35%||Less than 0.1%|
|CBD Content||15% to 20%||5% to 10%||Up to 25%|
So, as you can see, hemp plants have more CBD than that of marijuana plants. But that’s not all hemp is known for. While marijuana is primarily used for recreational and medical purposes, hemp plants are far more versatile. Hemp (specifically Sativa) can be used in a number of ways including:
- Animal food
- Fiber reinforced plastic
- Nail Polish
- Soil detoxifier
In fact, over 50,000 products can be made from hemp, making it, arguably, the most versatile crop on the planet.
The Basics About THC
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of the 113 known cannabinoids contained within cannabis plants. A cannabinoid is a naturally-occurring, biologically active, chemical compound found in the cannabis plant.
THC is the primary cannabinoid for the euphoric, intoxicating feelings that occur when consuming marijuana.
Many will use the term “psychoactive” when referring to THC. And it is definitely psychoactive, buy psychoactive doesn’t necessarily mean intoxicating. Psychoactive simply means affecting the mind. An aspirin could affect the mind when it takes away a headache. So THC is psychoactive and intoxicating.
As with all cannabinoids, THC binds to receptors concentrated in the brain and central nervous system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Along with the intoxicating effects, the ECS processes the other benefits of THC such the ability to reduce anxiety and to help create feelings of hunger (which is essential to people with conditions such as cancer).
In addition, THC has been found to help with:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neuropathic and chronic pain
- Sleep apnea
The issues with THC is that it is illegal in many countries, including the US (despite states where marijuana is legal either recreationally or medicinally, federal law still lists it as illegal).
The Basics About CBD
CBD, or cannabinol, is also one of the 113 cannabinoids that exist in the cannabis plant. In fact, CBD and THC have the exact same number of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in their makeup. The compounds have no other atoms. But they’re arranged differently in the compound. This arrangement causes the cannabinoids to behave differently when introduced to the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The terms agonist and antagonist are used in both biology and chemistry to describe chemical reactions. An antagonist is a type of receptor or drug that blocks or dampens a biological response by binding to and blocking a receptor. An agonist is a chemical that binds to a receptor and activates the receptor to produce a biological response. Thus an agonist causes an action and an antagonist blocks the action.
CBD is considered an agonist. This was proven in a 2015 study that found “Cannabidiol behaved as a non‐competitive negative allosteric modulator of CB1 receptors. Allosteric modulation, in conjunction with effects not mediated by CB1 receptors, may explain the in vivo effects of cannabidiol.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4621983/)
THC is an antagonist, binding to the ECS receptors.
CBD has been found to help with many different conditions including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Bipolar disorder
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Huntington’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Tourette’s syndrome
While CBD and THC can have beneficial effects on the same conditions, the way they work in the ECS is different and some may benefit from both.
The Legality of CBD and THC
For all intents and purposes, in the United States products containing THC are illegal under federal law. This includes medical purposes. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
States that have “legalized” marijuana simply have put in place directives for the state to go by when finding a person with marijuana. So a person that has marijuana in a state that has legalized it, won’t be arrested, prosecuted, or fined under state law. However, they still can be arrested and prosecuted under federal law, however, a federal agency would need to perform the arrest.
The issue of arrest in a state where marijuana is legal under state law has occurred many times. In Colorado, for instance, many visitors to National Parks are arrested for marijuana possession as is it federal property and the state has no jurisdiction. Another example is at airports in these states. The “screening area” where passengers are checked for weapons and other contraband is controlled by the federal agency the Department of Homeland Security. If a DHS employee finds marijuana on a passenger, they’re subject to arrest.
CBD legality, on the other hand, is murkier than CBD. The federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill allowing for the commercial growing, transportation, and production of hemp products containing less than 0.3% THC. While this removed federal restrictions, it didn’t remove state restrictions that in some cases have been in place since the 1930s. In addition, it didn’t address the scheduling of CBD by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA approved 1 drug that contained CDB in the falloff 2018, making that specific drug a Schedule V substance. CBD technically remains on the Controlled Substances List as a Schedule I, although this is expected to change by the end of 2019. For the time being, the FDA hasn’t tried to prosecute any CBD retailers for selling products.
States and other jurisdictions have a patchwork of laws regarding CBD and THC products. The chart below highlights the status of marijuana laws for both recreational and medicinal purposes. States that have legalized marijuana have, by extension, legalized CBD.
|Recreational Use||Medical Use|
|Alabama||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Arizona||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Arkansas||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Connecticut||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Delaware||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|District of Columbia||Legal||Legal||Legal|
|Florida||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Georgia||Illegal; Decriminalized in the cities of Atlanta, Clarkston, Forest Park, Savannah, South Fulton, Statesboro, and unincorporated Fulton County||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Hawaii||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Illinois||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Indiana||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Iowa||Illegal||Cannabis oil less than 3% THC is legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Kansas||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Kentucky||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Louisiana||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Maryland||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Minnesota||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Mississippi||Decriminalized||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Missouri||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Montana||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Nebraska||Decriminalized (first offense only)||Illegal||Illegal|
|New Hampshire||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|New Jersey||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|New Mexico||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|New York||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|North Carolina||Decriminalized||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|North Dakota||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Legal||Legal||Legal|
|Ohio||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Oklahoma||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Pennsylvania||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Puerto Rico||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Rhode Island||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|South Carolina||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Tennessee||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Texas||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|U. S. Virgin Islands||Decriminalized||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Utah||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Virginia||Illegal||Cannabis oil less than 5% THC is legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|West Virginia||Illegal||Legal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Wisconsin||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
|Wyoming||Illegal||Illegal||Subject to Restrictions|
The chart has many states and jurisdictions that show CBD as “Subject to Restrictions” these restrictions vary from state to state, but usually involve the requirement of a prescription or limit a physician to prescribing CBD for certain conditions such as epilepsy (as in the case with Texas).
Many states have lax enforcement of the CBD laws as the 2018 Farm Bill has put states with hemp restrictions on the books in a state of limbo. Several state legislatures have taken this up in their 2019 sessions and may have resolution or clarifications regarding CBD soon. However, as with any lawmaking process, it may take some time.
When looking at both THC and CBD, many wonder which is better for their overall health. And that’s a tough question to answer. Cannabis as a plant has been used in food and medicine for nearly 6,000 years. So anyone that has consumed cannabis or cannabis seeds in whole form get the benefits of both THC and CBD no matter how much or little of each is contained in the plant.
Many look to CBD as a better alternative because it lacks any intoxicating effects. This allows them to function normally while performing everyday tasks. In addition, CBD comes in many forms that are commercially available including tinctures, food, drink, soaps, lotions, and vapes. While THC can come in these forms as well, they’re not widely available across the country.
When considering that the ECS process all cannabinoids, in the grand design of things, our bodies must need all 113 cannabinoids to maintain our overall health, so restricting ourselves to one may not be ideal. While consuming too much of anything may not be the greatest solution, some THC and CBD in moderation may be the key to good health.