by Faye Sakellaridis
The psychoactive compound in marijuana that gets you high is known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and has long been the plant's claim to fame. But the national conversation surrounding marijuana has seen a radical shift in recent years, and it's cannabidiol (CBD) that's the most talked about compound. The non-psychoactive compound is garnering significant attention for its medicinal properties, and is being used by doctors to treat chronic pain, anxiety, seizures, among many other ailments.
In this vibrant new field of study, there's more to learn every day. To learn about the current state of research, we spoke to Lex Pelger, one of New York City's most knowledgeable writers on the intersection of cannabis and health, about CBD and its medicinal and therapeutic effects.
We're hearing a lot of about cannabidiol of late. Is CBD the new miracle drug?
There is no such thing as miracle drugs. However, what CBD can do for the elderly has led it to be called a 'panacea for aging.' It lessens inflammation, protects the brain against the neurodegenerative diseases, and modulates the immune system. Also, it not only acts as a painkiller itself but enables other painkillers to work better, so you need less of them. But these are just the main brushstrokes.
The reason my book on the endocannabinoid system currently runs 135 chapters is because I've acquired enough evidence to show 100 different diseases where the data makes it clear that CBD is worth a try. Especially because it has almost nothing in the way of interactions with other drugs, and since it's not psychoactive, you don't have to worry about getting high or failing a drug test.
What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and how is it affected by CBD?
The endocannabinoid system has only been known since the CB1 receptor was discovered in 1988. But in those few decades, we learned a tremendous amount about why cannabis works on such a wide range of diseases. Our body produces its own cannabinoids similar to the way we produce our own endorphins, the body's natural form of morphine for pain killing.
However, the endocannabinoid system seems even more widespread because we have the CB1 receptors for cannabinoids spread across many of the highest parts of our brain -- thus accounting for the dizzyingly different number of ways that people get high -- and CB2 receptors on almost every organ of the body. These seem to coordinate the immune system and act as a homeostasis system for the body that brings balance.
Curiously, CBD barely interacts with either of these 2 most widely known receptors. But we do know that it affects up to 65 different biochemical targets at the cellular level. The complexity of these interactions help us to understand how one molecule can do so many different things to a diseased body and that if the body is already well-balanced, it does nothing but help it to stay that way.
The one thing to note about CBD-especially for elderly patients- is that while THC tends to put people to sleep, CBD tends to wake them up. It probably rivals a cup of tea for its strength of causing wakefulness but that could be important in some sensitive patients. It might be better when first exploring CBD, to try it in the morning first.
What are doctors prescribing CBD for most frequently?
The range of answers to this question never ceases to amaze me. I've been researching this for almost 4 years now and am still constantly being told new stories directly from patients. Just last week, a therapist friend and told me that one of her clients, almost debilitated by severe ADHD, had her life completely transformed by a vape pen with CBD.
Since lessening inflammation is one of the hallmarks of CBD, it's been found effective against the diseases of neurodegeneration (MS, ALS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's), the autoimmune disorders (Crohn's, lupus, arthritis, especially fibromyalgia), and virtually every type of pain modality in which it's been examined. It seems particularly effective against disorders of the brain, the guts, the skin, and the lungs. But more than anything else, it grows new bones.
That is why it's such an important medicine for almost any woman over 50. Not only is it an incredible medicine against all of the hormonal swings of the change, it absolutely grows new bones. All women suffer from osteoporosis -- it's only a matter of degree of the amount of bone lost.
Can you experience the therapeutic effects of CBD by smoking pot? What is the most efficacious way of taking CBD to experience its health benefits?
CBD by itself in an oil or tincture that can be put into a drink or under the tongue seems to be the most effective medical way to take it in, especially for the elderly or children. There are some strains of cannabis known to be high in CBD, but they are hard to come by east of the Mississippi. Cannabis can only produce so many cannabinoids and most modern pot has had its genetics pushed towards high levels of THC with almost no CBD to act as the anti-anxiety protectant. Even 1% CBD in the plant helps to modulate the high and keep away the anxious paranoid trips. Since THC and CBD seem to help each other work - along with an entourage effect of all the other cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant - one of the best ways to ingest might be a daily dose of CBD as your everyday vitamin, and then the recreational use of THC in whatever manner you prefer: smoked flower, vaped oil, tincture, edible or topical.
Lex Pelger will be presenting monthly at The Alchemist's Kitchen, answering your questions on cannabis and health and moderating panel discussions with fellow experts in the field. Check our events calendar for upcoming events.
For more in-depth information on CBD by Lex, check out his article "The Other Cannabinoids: CBD and CBDV."
To keep up to date on CBD research, head over to the amazing informational resource Project CBD.