Hemp is a plant from Central Asia that is grown in many parts of the world today. It is one of the most pharmacologically active plants with hundreds of different active chemicals. Hemp has been utilized for thousands of years for a variety of medical conditions. The hemp plant produces a resin containing compounds called cannabinoids. The cannabinoid THC is psychoactive which means that it can act on the brain and change mood or consciousness. Other cannabinoids, such as CBD, have been shown to have therapeutic effects across many types of medical conditions including epilepsy, cancer, muscle spasms, diabetes and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Medicinal hemp refers to the use of hemp and its cannabinoids to treat disease or improve symptoms. Medicinal hemp has been utilized for thousands of years for a variety of medical conditions. Medicinal hemp offers an improved safety and tolerability profile compared to other widely used drugs. The hemp plant contains around 500 active compounds, but the most abundant, and best studied, are collectively known as cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are active chemicals in the hemp plant that cause drug-like effects throughout the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. They are also known as phytocannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the major cannabinoids of hemp. An important active cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which may relieve pain and lower inflammation without causing the “high” of delta-9-THC. Cannabinoids may be useful in treating the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, as well as other diseases. Some of the possible positive effects of cannabinoids include:
- Anti-inflammatory activity
- Blocking cancer cell growth
- Preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors
- Antiviral activity
- Relieving muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
CBD is the abbreviated acronym for Cannabidiol. It is one of hundreds of cannabinoids found in hemp. CBD is a non-psychoactive component of hemp, which means that it doesn’t get you high but can be used to help with all kinds of medical problems. Research into the CBD compounds in hemp has in turn discovered that the human body has what is called an endocannabinoid network, which modulates mood, appetite, pain and memory. CBDs work by activating or blocking these neurochemical receptors in the body and brain to help deal with chronic pain, stress and nausea, even going so far as to stop seizures and potentially fight cancer.
- CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, which is known for changing the effects of consumed THC.
- CBD increases the happy, euphoric and cerebral effects of THC while decreasing paranoia, anxiety and nervousness.
- Medicinally, CBD has been shown to relieve anxiety, pain, muscle spasms, inflammation and convulsions. So it is great for patients with MS, fibromyalgia and epilepsy.
- CBD has demonstrable neuro-protective and neurogenic effects, and its anti-cancer properties are currently being investigated at several academic research centers in the United States and elsewhere.
Terpenes and Terpenoids
Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules that evaporate easily and readily announce themselves to the nose. Terpenes have been found to be the essential building blocks of complex plant hormones and molecules, pigments, sterols and cannabinoids in hemp. Various researchers have emphasized the pharmacological importance of terpenes, or terpenoids, which form the basis of aromatherapy, a popular holistic healing modality.
Science has identified and characterized the molecular structure of around 20,000 terpenes, which makes it the largest category of plant chemicals. These aromatic compounds are found in the essential oils of plants and flowers. Of the 20,000 identified terpenes, there have been more than 120 discovered in hemp. Only a few of them appear in high concentrations, but some have been found to have a number of benefits, including enhancing some of the desirable effects of cannabinoids and reducing some of the negative effects. Terpenes are referred to as terpenoids when they are broken down by the presence of oxygen (e.g., drying and curing of flowers). Terpenoids and cannabinoids both increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and kill respiratory pathogens, including MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that in recent years has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.
The Entourage Effect
Scientific evidence suggests that natural medical products incorporating a wide range of natural compounds found within the plant have a greater efficacy in treating many conditions than single, isolated compounds. Many of these compounds interact synergistically to create what scientists refer to as an “entourage effect” that magnifies the therapeutic benefits of the plant’s individual components—so that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts. Research has shown that single chemicals, such as cannabidiol (CBD), have a more limited effect in the treatment of certain medical conditions when used alone. When CBD is used in association with terpenes and other cannabinoids, the response is significantly improved in certain medical conditions.
The Foundation of Medicinal Hemp
Two broad categories of CBD-rich hemp strains have emerged since the serendipitous rediscovery of whole plant CBD by Northern California growers in late 2009. There are a handful of CBD-dominant strains with little THC. Tested several times by various analytical labs, the initial CBD-rich strains ranged from 8 to 10% CBD. A few more strains with a similar CBD-dominant phenotype would soon be identified and cloned for distribution. These CBD-dominant strains (with names like Cannatonic, ACDC, Charlotte’s Web, and Valentine X) are being grown largely to harvest cannabidiol for making oil extracts.
Highest CBD Strains
CBD stands out because it offers many medicinal benefits of the plant without any of the usual mind-altering effects. Recent studies have suggested that on its own CBD can lower anxiety, help control seizures and even reduce the size of some cancerous tumors. By using strains that are high in CBD and low in THC, people living with illness are able to unlock the therapeutic benefits of hemp without having the experience of being ‘high’. Because of this, breeders are now working on creating varieties of high-CBD medicinal hemp to offer to patients.
The Endocannabinoid System
One of the largest receptor systems in the human body is the endocannabinoid system. Additionally, the body naturally produces two cannabinoids called endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are synthesized and released as needed by the body and do not appear to be stored for long-term use. Their levels naturally increase in the body in response to nerve injury and associated pain. Endocannabinoids regulate many of the body’s normal physiologic functions, including mood, anxiety, appetite, reward, stress, pain, metabolic function, and immune function. Cannabinoids also regulate communication between cells, especially in the immune and nervous systems. Thus, the endocannabinoid system is a potential target for the treatment of a wide range of different medical conditions. The endocannabinoid system, with its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, serves as a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that explains how the unique nature of medicinal hemp and a dose-dependent, disease-specific, individually-tailored approach to medicinal hemp therapeutics is possible.
How CBD Works
The human body produces endocannabinoids, i.e., internal cannabinoids. These endocannabinoids attach to the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, nervous system, and other parts of the body to modulate their regulatory effects. When phytocannabinoids (phyto = plant-derived) from the medicinal hemp plant are introduced to the body, they interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and cause a wide range of effects – many of which are helpful in treating diseases and their symptoms. Although CBD has little binding affinity for either of the two cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), CBD activates several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. CBD also acts through various receptor-independent channels — for example, by delaying the “reuptake” of endogenous neurotransmitters (such as anandamide and adenosine) and by enhancing or inhibiting the binding action of certain G-coupled protein receptors. Science is just starting to discover how these complex interactions between phytocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system work, and how to target specific medical conditions with specific hemp-derived treatments.
Medicinal Hemp Treatment
Initial evidence shows that medicinal hemp demonstrates positive effects in treating a variety of different medical conditions. When alternative treatment options for a patient are not satisfactory, a physician may order medicinal hemp to treat or alleviate symptoms of cancer or a physical medical condition that chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms. Cannabidiol has a wide range of medicinal applications.
Medicinal Hemp Therapies
Medicinal hemp remedies are available in many forms and can be utilized in various ways. The most appropriate delivery system for therapeutic hemp is one that provides an optimal dose for a desired duration with few unwanted side effects.
Vaporizing with a vape pen or another device offers the same immediate benefits of smoking. But since a vaporizer heats the hemp flower or oil without burning it, the active ingredients are inhaled as a vapor and no smoke is involved. This makes it a healthier alternative to smoking.
Tinctures are herbal remedies in which the active ingredients of hemp are dissolved in alcohol or another solvent. Their effect, duration and dosing are similar to that of edibles.
Sublingual sprays are made from cannabis extracts that may be mixed with another substance like coconut oil. The hemp concentrate is sprayed under the tongue and quickly absorbed through the oral mucosa. Sublingual sprays are a good option for consistent, discreet, and timely dosing.
Edibles are foods or snacks cooked with hemp-infused oil, butter or ghee. The slow onset and longer duration make edibles well suited for treating chronic conditions that require a steady dose of medicine throughout the day. Edibles may not be appropriate for someone suffering from nausea, vomiting or lack of appetite.
Capsules & Gel Caps
Hemp oil can also be taken in a capsule or gel cap like a vitamin or supplement. The effect, duration and dosing are similar to that of edibles.
Raw hemp juice made with a blender will contain CBDA, THCA, and the other non-psychoactive cannabinoids since it’s also not heated. It is difficult to gauge a precise dose using this method of administration, but the health benefits are potentially significant.
Topicals & Salves
Hemp tinctures and oil can also be infused in a balm, lotion or ointment and applied directly to the skin. Patients report that hemp topicals can be effective for pain, inflammation, infections, and skin conditions. Because they are applied externally, topicals and salves are not inebriating.
Hemp Oil Extracts
Hemp oil extracts can be taken orally, sublingually or applied topically. Concentrated hemp oil extracts can also be utilized as an ingredient for vaporizing or cooking.
Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding medicinal hemp, its therapeutic use, and whether it is right for you. Steepriver offers information and resources as an informative guide, and this information should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your doctor or pharmacist can provide.