To better explore the world of medical marijuana it's important to first understand its therapeutic makeup. The cannabis, or marijuana, plant has a number of chemical compounds, 113 and counting, that are secreted by its flowers. These compounds, known as cannabinoids (pronounced kuh-NAB-in-oids), have shown to be powerfully effective on symptoms of chronic conditions and serious illnesses by binding to the body’s own endocannabinoid system.
The endocannibinoid system (ECS) is a group of built-in (endogenous) cannabinoid receptors located in the brain and throughout the nervous systems. The ECS is involved in a variety of physiological processes including pain sensation, appetite, memory and mood.
When introduced to the body, the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant bind like puzzle pieces with cannabinoids produced naturally in the human body. These endocannabinoids are simply fatty acids. The two cannabinoid receptors in the body that have been identified and are known as CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors are predominantly present in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands and organs. The CB2 receptors are predominantly found within the immune system and its associated structures. When bonding occurs between the two, the body begins to repair itself, starting at the cellular level.
The highest concentration of healthful cannabinoids can be found in the buds, stems and leaves of the female cannabis plant. Scientists have grouped these cannabinoids into several subclasses, two of which get a lot of attention: THC and CBD. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most commonly-known compound and is responsible for most of the euphoric properties of marijuana and cannabidiol, or CBD, refers to the non-euphoric agents that can reduce spasticity, attack cancer tumors, relieve pain and even protect nerves.
The balance of THC and CBD percentages can vary greatly in marijuana products -- not only within different strains of the plant itself, but also in the extracts made from the plants.
A lot of medical marijuana dispensaries are now stocking their shelves with CBD medicine, which have a higher ratio of cannabidiol to tetrahydrocannabinol. These CBD products have been gaining traction in recent years with endorsements from popular medical correspondents such as Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Families with autistic or epileptic children are also making headlines as they share their stories of the efficacy of cannabis treatments.
The flowers of the cannabis plant are often referred to as “buds" because it's the leaves of the female plant that are harvested at a specific time, cured and the flowers are trimmed down to just the buds before being provided as medicine. The collection of these buds, or “nugs", can range in size between plant and strain. It's this part of the plant that's used for medicating, often ground and put into a marijuana joint (a thin cylinder of finely cut cannabis rolled in paper for smoking), pipe or water pipe.
The flowers of the cannabis plant offered by medical marijuana dispensaries are split into two groups: Indica and Sativa. Most dispensaries also offer a third flower option, Hybrid, which is a strain that splices both the Indica and Sativa strains.
Dispensaries will sometimes have their flowers lab tested. This is done to not only verify that the plants are free of mold and dangerous pesticide/herbicides, but also to get an accurate reading of the THC & CBD levels in the flowers. Many dispensaries will display or list the THC/CBD percentages of their buds. Some strains are richer in THC, some richer in CBD. Being aware of the exact numbers, delivered by the lab report, allows patients to make a more educated decision when selecting their medication.
CBD-rich remedies are available in many forms including: flowers, edibles, concentrates, topicals, tinctures, extracts and capsules.
Flowers or buds with a high CBD/THC ratio are now more readily available in many medical marijuana dispensaries. Charlotte’s Web is a popular CBD-rich strain of cannabis that has been developed to specifically have low levels of THC.
Edibles are foods and drinks that contain cannabinoids. CBD has even been isolated for food products, which is wonderful news to those looking for ingestibles void of THC. Popular edibles include CBD gummies, brownies, infused waters and chocolate bars. It is important that new patients, when experimenting with edibles, begin with small, measurable doses to begin when trying any kind of "medible" for the first time.
For those patients looking for non-smokeable forms of CBD products, topicals and tinctures are extracts of the cannabis leaves and buds that have proven to be very safe and effective. Topicals generally refer to the oils, balms, ointments, creams, lotions, rubs and, believe it or not, lubes that have been infused with a cannabis extract. These medicines, containing both THC and CBD, are primarily intended to be applied to the surface of the skin. Often, they're used to alleviate symptoms of disorders like eczema, arthritis, psoriasis and migraines as well as relieve swelling and pain from simple bumps, bruises and aches.
CBD concentrates are available mostly as tinctures. These medicinal drops, usually alcohol or glycerin based, have been infused with cannabidiol. Unlike flowers and general concentrates, where the THC percentages far outweigh the CBD percentages, tinctures can be the opposite — they can be high in CBD percentages with near zero traces of THC. Cannabidiol is infused into simple solutions (i.e. hemp oil) and medicating with CBD tinctures usually involves an oral spray, applying it with a dropper sublingually (under the tongue) or adding the drops to a standard drink like coffee, tea, water or juice. It's this form of cannabis medicine that is most commonly used when treating a patient who is a minor or has a guardian/caregiver. Having next to no THC, these tinctures with high CBD percentages tend to produce no noticeable psychoactive effects -- instead greatly improving brain synapse activity, reducing tumor size and alleviating serious spastic conditions.
Vaporizers, in portable form like vape pens or standard home editions, are another smokeless alternative for consuming CBD medicine. These devices are used to vaporize the active compounds of cannabis plant material for inhalation. Growing in popularity, CBD vape additives are a form of concentrates available in cartridges that connect to vape pens. These are great for discreet travel and are the fastest growing trend in cannabis technology. Overall, vaporizing CBD is the preferred method due to its speed of induction and the lack of combustion, the carcinogen producing element of smoking.
Scientific studies show that CBD and THC work best in combination and potentiate each other's therapeutic effects. This synergy, is known as the entourage effect, has been used to explain why all of the chemical compounds in cannabis are important and most effective when working in tandem. This “whole plant” therapy is preferred over isolated compound pharmacological dosages because a synthetic version of the plant will only includes some, but not all, of the chemical compounds found naturally. Modern medicine is finding out, time and time again, that the compounds lost in the synthetic production of a natural medicine are often necessary for the medicine to be most effective. Commonly, the effect of a raw herb or plant used for medicinal purposes cannot be replicated or improved upon by synthetic means.
Epilepsy: The anticonvulsant and anti-seizure properties of cannabinoids are reducing seizure frequency for a lot of epilepsy patients while at the same time reducing their dependency on pharmaceuticals.
Autism: CBD is also proving to help those with autism disorders experience dramatic behavioral improvements, and potentially even full recovery from their symptoms.
“In essence, marijuana cannabinoids essentially restore synaptic communication by feeding an ailing body the cannabinoids it lacks, which are absolutely vital for proper cell function and communication.” (Natural News, E. Huff)
Cancer: Cannabinoids slow growth and/or cause death in certain types of cancer cells growing in laboratory dishes according to recent scientific studies. Other research also suggests certain cannabinoids may slow growth and reduce the spread of some forms of cancer. CBD cancer treatments are often a complementary medicine to doctor prescribed treatments.
Multiple Sclerosis: The combination of CBD and THC greatly improves brain synapse activity, alleviating serious spastic conditions while reducing neuropathic pain and muscle spasms.
It has been well documented that the ECS plays a major role in human health and diseases affecting the central nervous system. This helps reinforce the growing body of evidence that the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant hold incredible therapeutic potential for the treatment of psychiatric, neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory disorders. Although not to be an expected outcome, some cases of cannabis treatments have led to the curing of chronic illnesses.