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What compounds make marijuana medicine? CBD Demystified

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well known component of marijuana. It is the component responsible for marijuana causing euphoria ( “getting people high”) and also many therapeutic benefits. For years interest in THC greatly overshadowed interest in the many other components of marijuana. However, in recent years Cannabidiol (CBD) has become a major focus of medical research around epilepsy, particularly for the treatment of Dravet syndrome.

Dozens of media reports have shown marijuana-based oils with high amounts of CBD greatly reducing the occurrence of seizures in children suffering through the worst possible seizure disorders. CBD is very similar chemically to THC, but in practice the impact is different. While CBD does interact with the brain, it doesn’t cause euphoria like THC does. In fact it is even believed that CBD lessens the euphoric “high” that THC causes.  CBD, THC and the other components of marijuana work together through the “entourage effect.”

While science has not yet shown the exact role or mechanism for all these various compounds, evidence is mounting that these compounds work better together than in isolation: That is the “entourage effect.”  Take the case of Marinol, which is pure, synthetic THC. When the drug became available in the mid-1980s, scientists thought it would have the same effect as the whole cannabis plant. But it soon became clear that most patients preferred using the whole plant to taking Marinol.  Researchers began to realize that other components, such as CBD, might have a larger role than previously realized.- Dr. Sanjay Gupta “Medical marijuana and ‘the entourage effect’

So promising is the potential of CBD dominant marijuana products to treat otherwise intractable epilepsy cases that 16 states have passed laws that legalize use of CBD dominant marijuana.

States with CBD Medical Marijuana laws

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Wyoming. (CBD dominant marijuana can be purchased in states with comprehensive medical marijuana programs although sometimes patients have difficulty finding appropriate strains.)

Lack of CBD access has led to several documented cases of medical refugees moving to Colorado for access to CBD dominant marijuana. These refugees and their powerful stories have been cited as a major factor in the passage of legislation. While well intended CBD medical marijuana laws are usually highly restrictive and fail to create legal avenues for people to buy CBD dominant marijuana. Typical features of CBD medical marijuana laws include:

  • Overly restrictive condition lists.
  • Lack of legal access.
  • Simply removing CBD from state controlled substance laws.
  • Allow or fund scientific research.
  • Allows only extracts.  No whole plant marijuana. 

In May of 2015 the FDA stated that products that contain CBD can’t be sold as nutritional supplements, although many products claiming to have CBD continue to be sold on the internet as the summer of 2015.  CBD dominant products are accessible via medical marijuana programs at the state-level where those laws allow for cultivation and distribution.