At Noho’s Finest, a medical marijuana dispensary in the Los Angeles area, Damaris Diaz checks the scent and stickiness of her products. Crossbreeding has yielded powerful new hybrid strains that are much higher in psychoactive THC than those in decades past—a source of concern for health officials, who cite evidence that the prolonged smoking of high-THC varieties can adversely affect the developing brain.
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Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally-occurring constituent of industrial hemp (cannabis sativa) plants. It is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis and is being scientifically investigated for numerous reasons. Most people have heard of a cannabinoid called THC, which is the ingredient in cannabis that gets users high. Unlike THC, CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and does not cause a high.
Dan Frey, a physical therapist in Portland, Maine, says that his patients report the most success using CBD to treat long-term trouble spots rather than acute injury sites. Frey, who doesn’t prescribe medication or supplements, says his conversations about CBD are initiated by patients. Many also tell Frey they find it helps with pain management, especially when used in conjunction with other treatments such as massage and a targeted strengthening and mobility program.
Donald Abrams was a member of the committee that reviewed the evidence that went into producing the report, and he said that the studies they reviewed overwhelmingly used pharmaceutically available preparations that contain THC, including dronabinol, nabilone and the whole-plant extract spray nabiximols, which contains equal parts CBD and THC. It’s impossible to know whether the benefits of cannabis can also be obtained from CBD alone, Abrams said, because CBD is just one of 400 chemicals present in the plant. So far, CBD in isolation has been studied in only a handful of randomized, placebo-controlled trials (considered the gold standard of evidence in medical research), and the evidence remains sparse.
By now nearly everyone has heard that cannabis can play a palliative role for cancer sufferers, especially in alleviating some of the nasty side effects of chemotherapy. There’s no question that pot can stave off nausea, improve appetite, and help with pain and sleep. But could it cure cancer? Troll the Internet and you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands, of such claims. A gullible Googler could easily believe we’re on the brink of a miracle cure.
Typically, pharmaceutical companies making cannabis-based medicines have sought to isolate individual compounds from the plant. But Mechoulam strongly suspects that in some cases those chemicals would work much better in concert with other compounds found in marijuana. He calls this the entourage effect, and it’s just one of the many cannabis mysteries that he says require further study.
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