If you want to hear some honest-to-goodness, red-faced, Bible-thumping proselytizing, visit the next cannabis event you come across and tell someone you’ve never heard of CBD.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has become the darling of marijuana advocates and health gurus over the past five years or so. As one of the two main active ingredients in cannabis, CBD has made a name for itself as a miracle panacea, raising overall awareness of the cannabis plant as a medicine.
People absolutely love listing all the reported health benefits of this compound—and I’m no different. CBD is said to be beneficial to those suffering from PTSD, pain, psychosis, anxiety, tumor production, dermatological issues, neurodegeneration and on and on. Mind you: None of this has been proven irrefutably by peer-reviewed science. The closest you’ll get are some studies that found that CBD may be helpful in treating neuropsychiatric disorders and anxiety—in rodents, anyway. The rest of the “science” is cobbled together from shifty or unrepeatable studies, anecdotes and internet rumors. It could all be true, but there’s no real proof yet, since human trials have barely begun.
CBD does seem to have some scientific backing in one area, though. Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical used to treat seizures related to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet’s syndrome—two very specific and rare illnesses. The main active ingredient of Epidiolex is CBD.
But, as researchers from the University of New Mexico found, CBD might not even be as therapeutically effective as good old THC anyway.
In a recent UNM study, “The Association between Cannabis Product Characteristics and Symptom Relief,” published in the journal Scientific Reports, UNM researchers Sarah See Stith, assistant professor in the Department of Economics, and Jacob Miguel Vigil, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, found that THC displayed the “strongest correlation with therapeutic relief,” compared with CBD.
The study analyzed data sourced from the Releaf app, a database used by approximately 20,000 cannabis patients to track the effects of their marijuana use. It found that whole dried flower containing both THC and CBD was associated with greater symptom improvement than other cannabis products. The study analyzed symptom categories ranging from depression to seizure activity. On average, patients who smoked dried flower reported an immediate 3.5 point symptom improvement on a 10-point scale.
This raises the question of why CBD became such a star in the first place. After all, of the two primary cannabinoids, THC was clearly more famous until recent years. And all the medical benefits attributed to CBD that we listed earlier are also associated with THC.
I asked UNM Associate Professor Jacob Vigil—one of the study’s authors—why anyone would be shocked that THC is more therapeutic than CBD.
Vigil said: “While common sense and conventional wisdom would suggest that the anecdotal reports coming from patients for the last several decades documenting therapeutic relief have been the result of consumption of cannabis that has been hybridized for high THC content … the scientific and popular media has pushed what may be a false narrative in the inference that CBD is therapeutic and THC is harmful.”
It isn’t entirely clear why this notion has been promoted, but Vigil intimates that THC’s demonization has something to do with the long arm of Big Pharma. He says that, theoretically, THC is the only cannabinoid researchers are barred from studying and says that “when the general public is knowledgeable of the true medicinal value of the cannabis plant, the pharmaceutical industry will literally crash—and I personally think we’ll all be better off as a result.”
But I’d say there’s also a basic philosophical conflict at play as well. America is a fast-paced land of action and productivity, where merit is measured by dollar signs and lateral expansion. Note that our goal as people isn’t to become happy or integrated members of society—it’s to become productive members of society. Our culture reveres those who produce. And to be their most productive, a person needs to be running at full speed at every possible moment. Suddenly, the ubiquitousness of uppers and downers in our world makes much more sense. We wake up and smash our nerves with caffeine so we can push, push, push all day long, then guzzle alcohol to knock ourselves out. From this angle, methamphetamine and opioids are just improved fuel for the escalation of that same drive.
Is it any wonder that cannabis highs are demonized? A compound that makes people more introspective and aware of their impact on the world would just about ruin everything.