Study: MMJ Better With THC

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For some symptoms, Medical Marijuana with THC is better than CBD.

The cannabis plant has hundreds of “active ingredients,” but the two most prominent—and the only two most people have heard of—are THC and CBD.

Despite “medical marijuana” laws specifically allowing people to access cannabis products containing THC, over the past few years, one line of conventional wisdom goes something like this: THC is the molecule that gets you high; CBD is non-psychoactive and promotes healing.

Since federal law allows CBD but still bans more than a minute amount of THC, in some circles, the dichotomy has devolved further to some version of “THC is for fun; CBD is for medicine.” (Certain CBD companies take this too far and make all kinds of outrageous product claims, prompting warnings from the Food and Drug Administration.)

But as a recent study highlighted, this understanding is wrong. THC is also medicinal—and in fact, cannabis users seeking prompt, effective relief from nausea want more THC, and less CBD.

In what’s been described as “the largest study of its kind,” researchers at the University of New Mexico have been tracking via an app cannabis users’ habits: symptoms, cannabis product selections, and subsequent experience of relief (or not).

They found that cannabis users using the drug to soothe symptoms of nausea found relief in as quickly as five minutes—but they also found that users smoking joints of cannabis flower achieved more relief, and more quickly, than someone using a vaporizer or using edibles.

Most surprisingly, they also found that products with higher THC content were more effective than products high in CBD. In fact, users of cannabis products high in CBD achieved on average less symptom relief, according to research published in April in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology.

As Jacob Vigil, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico and a study co-author told the school’s news website, “perhaps our most surprising result was that THC, typically associated with recreational use, seemed to improve treatment among consumers of Cannabis flower, while our CBD, more commonly associated with medical use, actually seemed to be associated with less symptom relief.”

The study analyzed “2220 cannabis self-administration sessions” from 886 users seeking relief from nausea between June 6, 2016 and July 8, 2019. Users reported what products they were using, what symptoms they were trying to alleviate, and then tracked how the cannabis product affected their symptoms in real time.

Interestingly, they found that flower products labeled sativa or hybrid “outperformed” products labeled indica (itself a flawed taxonomy, but that’s a separate story). And “In sessions using flower, higher tetrahydrocannbinol and lower cannabidiol were generally associated with greater symptom relief (eg, within 5 min),” the study authors reported.

While welcome news to anyone extolling THC’s medical benefits—and a fine opportunity to refine our understanding of CBD—the study isn’t all good news, the authors cautioned. THC’s long-term effects on “high-risk populations,” including pregnant women and children, who may be compelled to use cannabis, creates “concerns,” as study coauthor Dr. Sarah Stith, an assistant professor of economics at the University of New Mexico and the lead study author, said in a release.

It also bears mentioning that nausea is just one symptom, and that there are others that CBD may be more effective in relieving than THC.

But at the least, findings like this should promote a fuller understanding of cannabis and its constituent parts. It should also encourage anyone hearing the “THC for partying, CBD for healing” line to put it where it belongs: in the trash bin.