The 44,000-square-foot building hulks across from a police station in an industrial part of Denver, along a gritty stretch of converted warehouses that’s come to be known as the Green Mile. There’s nothing to indicate the nature of the enterprise. The door buzzes open, and I’m met by the chief horticulturist of Mindful, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world. A druidlike 38-year-old with keen blue eyes, Phillip Hague wears fatigues, hiking boots, and the incredulous grin of someone who—through a confluence of events he never imagined possible—has found his exact life’s calling.
“THC products are more for the psychoactive effect, which may not be for everyone,” the Steamboat Springs, Colorado, resident says. “CBD use is for more health-minded people.” Collins says CBD products “are a big part of my daily routine,” and credits them with boosting his energy levels, speeding his recovery from long trail runs, and improving his sleep.
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No, hemp oil is not the same as cannabis oil. All-natural hemp oil is obtained by cold pressing of hemp seeds whereas cannabis oil is obtained by separating the resins from cannabis flowers. Their uses and chemical composition are quite different. Cannabis oil is much higher in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, which has certain effects, whereas hemp oil tends to be higher in CBD (cannabidiol) levels.
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Numerous diseases — such as anorexia, emesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity and metabolic syndrome-related disorders — are being treated or have the potential to be treated by cannabis oils and other cannabinoid compounds. Although studies are limited due to strict government guidelines, a growing number of pediatric patients are also seeking symptom relief with cannabis or cannabinoid treatment.
He blinks thoughtfully, then turns to his computer. “However, let me show you something.” On his screen flash two MRIs of a rat’s brain. The animal has a large mass lodged in the right hemisphere, caused by human brain tumor cells Guzmán’s researchers injected. He zooms in. The mass bulges hideously. The rat, I think, is a goner. “This particular animal was treated with THC for one week,” Guzmán continues. “And this is what happened afterward.” The two images that now fill his screen are normal. The mass has not only shrunk—it’s disappeared. “As you can see, no tumor at all.”
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So Mechoulam called the Israeli national police and scored five kilos of confiscated Lebanese hashish. He and his research group isolated—and in some cases also synthesized—an array of substances, which he injected separately into rhesus monkeys. Only one had any observable effect. “Normally the rhesus monkey is quite an aggressive individual,” he says. But when injected with this compound, the monkeys became emphatically calm. “Sedated, I would say,” he recalls with a chuckle.
CBD oil is made by mixing the extracted CBD or cannabidiol from the cannabis or marijuana plant (Cannabis Sativa) with coconut or hemp seed oil. CBD oil possesses cannabidiol; while THC is psychoactive, CBD is not, thereby helping relieve pain, treating anxiety and depression, fighting cancer, reducing anxiety. It also improves the quality of sleep, boosts appetite, and optimizes digestion.
A sketchy outline of the cannabis genome already exists, but it’s highly fragmented, scattered into about 60,000 pieces. Kane’s ambitious goal, which will take many years to achieve, is to assemble those fragments in the right order. “The analogy I use is, we have 60,000 pages of what promises to be an excellent book, but they’re strewn all over the floor,” he says. “We have no idea yet how those pages fit together to make a good story.”
Until 2017, products containing cannabidiol that are marketed for medical purposes were classed as medicines by the UK regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and could not be marketed without regulatory approval for the medical claims. CBD oil with THC content not exceeding 0.2% was legalized throughout the UK in 2017. Cannabis oil, however, remained illegal to possess, buy and sell.
CBD is shorthand for cannabidiol, one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis. CBD products are said to deliver their many claimed benefits by boosting the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a system that “is a unique signaling pathway that controls the function of a variety of systems throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system,” says Nicholas DiPatrizio, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. (More on the endocannabinoid system later.)
“CBD oil has a lifting and relaxing effect on mood with none of the adverse psychoactive effects associated with marijuana,” says Healthspan medical director Dr Sarah Brewer. “It acts via the body’s own endocannabinoid system to promote feelings of wellbeing. It’s a great choice if you’re finding it difficult to relax, as it’s not habit-forming”, she adds, noting that the oil is “particularly helpful for reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation and restful sleep.”
Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a nearly 500-page report on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. A committee of 16 experts from a variety of scientific and medical fields analyzed the available evidence — more than 10,000 scientific abstracts in all. Because so few studies examine the effects of CBD on its own, the panel did not issue any findings about CBD specifically, but it did reach some conclusions about cannabis and cannabinoids more generally. The researchers determined that there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” supporting the use of cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain in adults, multiple sclerosis-related spasticity (a kind of stiffness and muscle spasms), and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. The committee also found “moderate” evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids can reduce sleep disturbances in people with obstructive sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis, as well as “limited” evidence that these substances can improve symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, increase appetite and stem weight loss in people with HIV/AIDs, and improve symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.
Preliminary research indicates that cannabidiol may reduce adverse effects of THC, particularly those causing intoxication and sedation, but only at high doses. Safety studies of cannabidiol showed it is well-tolerated, but may cause tiredness, diarrhea, or changes in appetite as common adverse effects. Epidiolex documentation lists sleepiness, insomnia and poor quality sleep, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and fatigue.
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Based on history cannabis is believed to have originated from Central Asia. Cannabis is one of the oldest plant medicines known to man. It is difficult to trace the beginnings of cannabis use use by humans because it was cultivated and consumed long before the appearance of writing. According to archeological discoveries, cannabis has been known in China since the Neolithic period, around 4000 BC.
Specific city and county laws have been enacted to regulate how citizens and tourists may possess and consume marijuana. Penalties exist for driving while under the influence of marijuana. Someone driving under the influence of marijuana is considered impaired in both Colorado and Washington when five nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood or more of active THC is detected.
In 23 states and the District of Columbia cannabis is legal for some medical uses, and a majority of Americans favor legalization for recreational use. Other countries are rethinking their relationship to pot too. Uruguay has voted to legalize it. Portugal has decriminalized it. Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands have medical marijuana programs, and in recent years numerous countries have liberalized possession laws.
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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