As the science of medical cannabis develops, we’re discovering more and more that breeding cannabis for different levels of medicinal compounds—known as cannabinoids—makes the medicine better for treating specific ailments. Growers and testers are hard at work tailoring their strains to be maximally effective for treating cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and more. But what are the cannabinoids they’re looking at, and what do they do? Let’s explore that question.
Scientists have identified 483 different chemical compounds in cannabis. For the vast majority of these, the medicinal effect is not yet known. Most research focuses on just a few of these compounds and their effect on the brain.
What it does: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most well known of cannabinoids; it’s the one that gets you “high.” It is created when the plant matter is dried and heated as a result of smoking, cooking, or extracting. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and the immune system, resulting in relaxation, reduced pain, and increased appetite.
What it treats: THC is helpful for treating many, many ailments. Studies have shown that it has medicinal benefits for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s, anxiety, arthritis, chemotherapy side effects, Crohn’s Disease, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, HIV-related peripheral neuropathy, Huntington’s Disease, incontinence, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, pruritus, sleep apnea, and Tourette Syndrome, among others. THC has even been shown to kill cancerous tumors!
What it does: Prior to drying, the chemical that becomes THC is known as THCA (tetrahydrocannibinolic acid). In its fresh form, THCA is non-psychoactive. A growing number of patients and caregivers, led by Dr. William Courtney of Mendocino County, are learning the benefits of juicing raw, fresh cannabis. Dr. Courtney believes THCA has medicinal properties that are lost when the plant is dried, and it can be metabolized in much larger doses than THC, making it potentially more effective.
What it treats: THCA appears to help with chronic immune-system disorders. Dr. Courtney’s wife, Kristen Peskuski, found juicing cannabis to be the only effective treatment for her chronic Lupus. She had been on over forty medications and suffered terrible side effects before she discovered THCA. Read more about juicing cannabis here.
What it does: CBD (cannabidiol) is the other major medicinal compound identified so far, and interest in its effects is growing. It is non-psychoactive.
What it treats: CBD is used to help with acne, ADD, anxiety, arthritis, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, Dravet syndrome, epilepsy, glaucoma, Huntington’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s, and schizophrenia, just to name a few. CBD has also been shown to kill cancer cells.
What it does: CBN (cannabinol) is created when THC is exposed to light and oxygen. It’s known to have some mild psychoactive effects, and it appears to increase the effects of THC.
What it treats: It may make users dizzy or groggy, and is not usually sought-after for medicinal purposes. If you don’t want an intense body high, keep your cannabis in an airtight container and put it in a dark spot.
We look forward to reporting on new research about other chemicals that have medicinal properties as they are discovered. As always, we want to reiterate that these chemicals are most effective when combined. Whole-plant treatment gives patients benefits that have yet to be identified and isolated, and by separating chemicals, you could be losing important medical benefits. By all means, try strains with varying levels of these compounds to see how they affect your particular ailments, but make sure you’re using the whole plant.