Of the 85 cannabinoids present in the resin of the marijuana plant, the two most abundant are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Since these substances come from the same plant and have the same chemical formula, it would be easy to assume that they have the same effect on the body. In reality, they produce very different effects on the user. Scientists continue to study their potential medical and therapeutic applications.
THC and CBD activate CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. THC more strongly activates CB1 receptors (most abundant in the brain) and causes psychoactive symptoms such as slowed reaction times, impaired memory and judgment, anxiety, and the euphoric “high” that can become addictive. In one 2012 study, subjects who were given THC versus CBD had more psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions) when faced with everyday situations versus abnormal ones. On the other hand, those given CBD experienced increased response times to abnormal situations, which could indicate CBD works with the natural instinct to recognize and react to potential danger.
Besides the key difference in psycho-activity, THC and CBD also affect the user differently in other ways that influence the medical applications they’re used for, or could be used for in the future.
THC Effects & Potential Applications
In spite of THC’s psychotic effects, it has useful medical applications. THC imitates some of the positive effects of a natural neurotransmitter known as anandamide which helps the body regulate sleep, appetite and pain perception. Because it causes the user to feel physically relaxed, tired and hungry, it may counteract the side effects of insomnia and loss of appetite caused by chemotherapy treatments and AIDS symptoms. Additional uses being studied for THC include treatment of glaucoma, spinal injuries, and MS. It has also being investigated for nerve regeneration, which could lead to even more applications.