Medical marijuana has been a breakthrough treatment option for a great number of patients seeking the relief it provides for health conditions that range from arthritis and migraines to seizures and even cancer. The whys behind the relief cannabis provides to some patients can be harder to understand. That said, one key reason medical cannabis could be a great alternative treatment has to do with the amount of cannabidiol (CBD) that’s contained in the particular type of medical marijuana strain that a health-care provider recommends.
The two main components in marijuana are CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While THC is the substance responsible for the way marijuana can impact a patient psychologically—such as creating heightened or enhanced feelings of euphoria), it’s CBD that can bind to certain receptors in the body to reduce the sensation of pain in patients, or even alleviate other common symptoms such as nausea and spasms. This is often why practitioners prefer high-CBD strains of cannabis. The mood and well-being that THC provides may be desirable, but CBD can induce a sense of calm as well as reduce inflammation among other things while avoiding some of the psychoactive effects of THC.
Researchers have come to recognize the important role cannabinoids may play in the treatment of symptoms related to life-threatening diseases like cancer. The National Cancer Institute notes that "commercially available cannabinoids … are approved drugs for the treatment of cancer-related side effects." While federal law has remained unchanged, a growing number of states have enacted legislation in a nod to the usefulness of cannabis in a complete medical regimen. Beyond it’s positive effects on cancer side effects, CBD is now being explored as a treatment to hit cancer head on.
The impact of CBD illustrates why practitioners and patients prefer high-CBD strains of medical marijuana. All medical marijuana isn’t created equal, and that makes it important to explore available strains in order to find the right match for the illness and the symptoms being addressed.
One particularly potent strain, called Charlotte's Web, is named for a child it most notably helped by alleviating her long struggle with seizures. In addition to a high concentration—20%—of CBD, Charlotte's Web, which is derived from hemp, has a very low concentration of THC—at less than 0.3%.
Another high-concentration strain of medical marijuana is called Harlequin. This cannabis strain has been found to be effective in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depression and inflammation.
Depending on how it’s distilled, Harlequin can contain between 8–16% CBD, running only a tad lower than Charlotte's Web. However, it has a 5:2 ratio of CBD to THC, which means that this cannabis strain mutes the potential psychoactivity of THC that patients often seek to minimize.
Patients and practitioners can also consider Avidekel, a strain of marijuana developed in Israel and reported by researchers at Hebrew University to treat people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.
In fact, Hebrew University researcher Ruth Gallily says that Avidekel, which contains less than 16% CBD, has remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. Because so many illnesses are exacerbated by inflammation, this particular marijuana strain can have very broad applicability for all types of diseases or conditions that involve inflammation and swelling.
Sour Tsunami, another strain of medical cannabis that’s got high concentrations of CBD, was one of the initial types of marijuana bred specifically for CBD versus THC. Naturopathic doctors, like Dr. Jake Felice, have seen Sour Tsunami make a world of difference in patients battling irritable bowel syndrome. As a hybrid of two other strains—Sour Diesel and NYC Diesel—Sour Tsunami's concentration of CBD is around 11% with THC measuring slightly lower.
In addition to these four high-CBD strains of marijuana, numerous others are available to consumers in markets where cannabis has been legalized for use. They include Cannatonic, Trident, Remedy, Zen and many more. These cannabis strains all feature a different ratio of THC to CBD. Depending on the ailment, some patients benefit from either a higher or lower concentration of THC in combination with CBD.
While CBD interacts with pain receptors, a particular patient's condition may also benefit from the psychotropic effects of THC, which is typically an even more effective painkiller. This can be particularly true in later-stage diseases or diseases that are highly complicated in nature.
Ratios of THC to CBD as well as specific concentrations of these compounds in medical marijuana should be discussed carefully with a patient's medical provider. Only after careful evaluation—and some trial and error—can a patient find the right type of cannabis to provide the healing or relief they need.
Photo credit: Rusty Blazenhoff