Ever wondered what it really means to get high?
Or what happens to your body once you consume cannabis? Or your brain?
Whether you’re a newbie to the vast universe of cannabis or a seasoned vet, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what your consuming.
What better place to start than CBD and THC, the two most common and sought-after chemicals found in cannabis.
So, let’s take a look at the inner workings of this magical plant.
Inside each of us is something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is a biological network that runs throughout animal bodies and brains, consisting of chemical receptors called CB-1 and CB-2 receptors.
The endocannabinoid system is highly concentrated in areas of the brain that regulate mood, appetite, concentration, coordination, and pain sensation.
In order to understand how THC and CBD work, it’s important to know about this system and the compounds that affect it, called cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that bind with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, causing altered sensations and effects in the areas mentioned above (mood, appetite, concentration, etc.) There are more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, the two most common and recognized ones being THC and CBD.
Despite the misleading name, cannabinoid receptors do not just respond to chemicals found in cannabis. They are located throughout the brain on neurons and are activated by chemical compounds called neurotransmitters (which allow neurons to communicate with each other).
Anandamide is a much more common cannabinoid that affects CB-1 receptors. The word Anandamide has Sanskrit origins that translate to “inner bliss”, which could not be more on point.
Once released by the body (it’s responsible for the “runner's high” you feel after a jog) or eagerly consumed (it’s also found in chocolate), anandamide binds to CB-1 cannabinoid receptors and alters your mood, appetite, and focus, among other effects. It’s usually the type of cannabinoid that affects your system.
CBD and THC are the two main cannabinoids we’ll focus on, both found in the cannabis plant. The two compounds are nearly identical in chemical makeup, but affect the endocannabinoid system differently, causing unique outcomes and sensations.
Let’s examine them a little closer.
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a cannabinoid that affects receptors of the endocannabinoid system. It’s the major biologically active substance in the cannabis plant.
The structure of THC is so similar to that of anandamide (mentioned above), that it fits perfectly into the same CB-1 cannabinoid receptors and disrupts/ alters the firing of neurons in the brain, causing psychoactive symptoms like an altered sense of time, appetite, and motor coordination. THC is responsible for the feeling of being “stoned”. Products high in THC will noticeably alter your current state.
It’s a mystery why exactly the cannabis plant produces THC at all. Plants only exert precious energy to create molecules that help them survive (self defense, energy absorption, etc), so it’s thought that THC must benefit the plant somehow.
There are a few fascinating theories as to why.
One theory touches on the fact that THC absorbs radiation, which may help protect the plant, as they often grow at higher elevations. This way, THC would absorb radiation from the sun so that it couldn’t harm the plant itself.
THC also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, which might help defend the plant against biological invaders.
One of the most interesting theories though, is that THC is an act of self defense against animals. Predators who eat the cannabis plant would feel adverse effects, like a lack of coordination and focus, and loss of memory. In theory, the animal would get distracted, stop eating the plant, and wander away, forgetting where it happened upon it.
Talk about an intense defense mechanism. Just picture those wobbly, red-eyed deer!
Cannabidiol (CBD) is THC’s non-psychoactive cannabinoid buddy. Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t fit into the same CB-1 endocannabinoid receptors responsible for mood, memory, concentration and coordination.
CBD is a slightly different shape, and actually binds to other cannabinoid receptors involved with pain, anxiety, and inflammation.
It helps to sooth the bodies system without curating a psychoactive response from the brain.
In other words, you get the bodily experience without the high.
CBD and THC Together
Unless they have been specifically separated, perhaps to be vaped or taken as pills, THC and CBD are both present in all strains of cannabis, in varying ratios.
Research shows that this is due to CBD’s biochemical shape, it can bind to empty CB-1 receptors and turn them “off”, making it impossible for THC to bind to them: this is called allosteric inhibition.
This binding of CBD affects the number of THC compounds able to bind to receptors, which changes how high you will feel as a result.
For example, when you vaporize cannabis with 0.2% CBD and 22% THC, what happens?
You’ll feel high! This is because there’s little interference from the CBD. If you vaporize cannabis with 10% CBD and 22% THC, what happens?
You’ll feel much less high, as the higher levels of CBD will inhibit THC from binding properly.
When purchasing cannabis products, ensure you examine the ratios of CBD to THC to ensure you get exactly the experience you’re looking for.