Do you need THC for CBD to work?
The Cannabis Plant
The cannabis plant is complex, with over a hundred cannabinoids and terpenes that all have different applications. To those that are outside of the cannabis and hemp industry, the two most well known are THC and CBD. THC, short for Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, produces the well-known users’ “high.” On the other hand, CBD is short for cannabidiol, where users do not experience the psychoactive effect, and more than 60% of CBD users are taking it for anxiety. However, there has been much discussion about whether or not you need THC for CBD to work?
The Endocannabinoid System
To explore this question, we need to begin with a quick science lesson on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). According to Phytecs, Professor Raphael Mechoulam discovered the ECS and THC interaction in 1964. Mechoulam found ECS in almost all organs as chemical compounds that affect psychological processes and function throughout the body. Mechoulams’ research demonstrated both how our bodies naturally produce cannabinoids and how THC interacts with the ECS.
In summary, the ECS is composed of cannabinoids that are naturally made by our bodies. Regulatory enzymes diligently break down endocannabinoids and react to the two primary receptors: CB1 and CB2. The “CB1 receptors, primarily found in the brain, are detected in almost all organs.” The “CB2 receptors are mostly found outside the brain.” These receptors respond to cannabinoids, whether from our bodies or cannabis. For further scientific explanation and to explore a full ECS stimulation throughout the body, click here.
THC and CBD Independent Behavioral Effects on the ECS
Independently, THC and CBD have different behavioral effects on the ECS. According to a research article in New Zealand, THC chemically binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, CBD occurs “through non-cannabinoid receptor mechanisms.” However, if there is a high concentration of CBD, some researchers believe it may “behave as an inverse agonist at CB2 and an antagonist of CB1.” In other words, CBD doesn’t bind directly to cannabinoid receptors, but it can cause an opposite biological response to CB2 and block THC’s effect on CB1 receptors.
The Entourage Effect
The term “Entourage Effect” explains how organic compounds in the cannabis plant work effectively together rather than isolated. The most prominent example is the interaction of CBD’s interaction with THC in the ECS. The jury is still out as researchers and analysts explore both sides of the argument. However, the main barrier to this research’s development is the limitations of researching THC, a Schedule I substance.
To the argument that it works, Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology reports that THC alone does produce psychological effects as THC activates the CB1, but CBD alone does not. However, when combined, CBD blocks the receptors, creating fewer THC availability to start, thus reducing THC’s psychoactive effects. One lab research on rats represented this THC-CBD combination having a more significant impact than used separately, especially in pain management. In detail, “CBD proved to be a critical factor in the ability of nabiximols oromucosal extract in successfully treating intractable cancer pain patients unresponsive to opioids (30% reduction in pain from baseline), as a high-THC extract devoid of CBD failed to distinguish from placebo.”
However, to the contrary, there have been studies that provide evidence of CB1 and CB2 not explaining the encouraging effect. The Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology reported that “compelling clinical data is lacking to support the notion of an entourage effect as a reliable phenomenon that is predictive of beneficial outcomes.” If CBD alone isn’t working for you, it’s important to note that some users could merely not be using enough of the product or purchasing it from a reputable source. Finally, why the user is using CBD has been a significant anecdotal difference in whether the product works without THC. If someone is primarily using CBD for inflammation, an isolated product most likely will work just fine; however, full-spectrum CBD may work as a better alternative for pain management.
So, Do You Need THC for CBD to work?
In the end, current research suggests that CBD may be able to block the psychoactive effects of THC but to answer the question, we could only find anecdotal reports and limited lab results on animals. Even though there are research reports that do look promising, in the end, there lacks overwhelming evidence to conclude that you need THC for CBD to work properly. More conducted research, especially when considering the different intentions of CBD applications users may seek, would be beneficial in targeting specific benefits to the THC-CBD combination.