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Hemp, Marijuana, CBD, and THC: What They Are and When to Use Them

calm focus joy Jan 21, 2019

 By Tim Culbert, MD

Hemp, Marijuana, CBD, and THC... what's the difference? Can any of them help with anxiety? Depression? Do they make you high? Learn the basics below so that you can decide if any are right for you.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Hemp, Marijuana, CBD, and THC

Cannabis is thought to be one of the oldest domesticated crops. Throughout history, humans have grown different varieties of cannabis for industrial and medical uses. These sturdy plants were grown by early civilizations to make a variety of foods, oils, and textiles. These plants were bred with other plants with the same characteristics, leading to the type of cannabis we now know as hemp.

Other varieties of the cannabis plant were identified as psychoactive (causing euphoria or the “high” experience) and were bred selectively for medical, recreational, and religious purposes. This led to unique varieties of cannabis that now known as marijuana.

While hemp and marijuana are both varieties of cannabis sativa, one of the three main subtypes of the cannabis plant, they're different in several ways. Marijuana can contain up to 30% THC (tetrahydrocannibol), the substance in marijuana that contributes to euphoria and altered states. Hemp only contains less than 0.3% (per dry weight), which means hemp can’t get you high. However, hemp contains more of another therapeutic oil commonly known as CBD (cannabidiol).

You can find hemp in a variety of products including dietary supplements, skin products, clothing, and accessories. Unlike marijuana, hemp is easy to grow. It doesn’t need pesticides to thrive and it can grow in a variety of climates. The seeds are edible and you can even use hemp as an organic construction material. It’s a good renewable resource. 

Marijuana is far more finnicky. High-quality marijuana is often specially bred from different strains and requires more care, typically being grown in climate-controlled indoor environments. Rather than selecting for strong fibers like the hemp plants, marijuana strains are optimized over generations to produce THC-containing chemicals on the plant's buds. 

CBD vs THC: Which is Good for What?

CBD and THC both interact with the body's cannabinoid receptors and they have the same chemical formula, just with the atoms in a different arrangement. This slight difference causes THC to create a psychoactive effect, while CBD does not. So, when you ingest CBD for medical purposes, you will more likely experience a relief of your unwanted discomfort, with little or no noticeable effect on your cognitive abilities.

CBD may be helpful for the treatment of:

THC works, in part, by mimicking the effects of chemicals in our body called anandamide and 2-AG. These neurotransmitters are produced naturally by the human body and help to modulate sleeping and eating habits, the perception of pain, and countless other bodily functions.

The effects of THC may include:

  • Relaxation
  • Altered senses of sight, smell, and hearing
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Decreased nausea
  • Pain modulation
  • Control of seizure activity
  • Reduced aggression

So, Which is Better, CBD or THC?

Researchers are exploring the application of these chemicals to help consumers get out of the weeds (lol, you’ve noticed all the puns above too, right?!). See below for a short summary on which chemical wins.

Pain. CBD and THC may be good for different kinds of pain symptoms. CBD may be better for managing inflammation related and neuropathic pain, whereas THC may be better for individuals with muscle spasticity and cramp related pain. When it comes to pain, there may be a combination of THC and CBD that could be ideal with somewhat complementary benefits.

Attention/ADHD. There is no compelling evidence available to suggest that THC or CBD oil is helpful for decreasing or eliminating the core symptoms of ADHD such as inattention, impulse control, or hyperactivity as these symptoms are considered to reflect deficits in overall executive functioning. Marijuana may just make these symptoms worse and chronic marijuana use can impair cognitive functions on many levels (from basic body control to high level cognitive).

CBD oil may have a role to play in ADHD though. It can be helpful for managing mental health related symptoms commonly seen to additionally occur in individuals with ADHD including:

  • Deficits in emotional regulation that manifest as mood swings, anger, or agitation.
  • Anxiety, including trouble with transitions and social anxiety.
  • Trouble with sleep.
  • Mood difficulties including rejection sensitivity dysphoria.

So, if you’re interested in CBD for ADHD, it may be worth a conversation with your doctor. Typical does range between 15-30 Mg daily, check with your doc for the right amount.


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