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Marijuana is More Than Just THC

by Bruce Mirken

One thing that drives me crazy is the tendency of the media and others to refer to THC as “the active ingredient” in marijuana. While THC is indeed responsible for marijuana’s “high,” it is one of about 80 unique compounds, called cannabinoids, that are not seen in any other plant. Many of these have interesting, potentially significant, medical applications, and are not psychoactive.

Anyone who wants to learn about these other cannabinoids should check out this recent review published in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences.

The article devotes a lot of space to cannabidiol (CBD), the most studied of these compounds, noting that “CBD exerts several positive pharmacological effects that make it a highly attractive therapeutic entity in inflammation, diabetes, cancer and affective or neurodegenerative diseases.” Notably, CBD has antipsychotic actions, but fewer side effects than “typical antipsychotics.” Lots of other cannabinoids have potentially useful properties as well. For example, cannabichromene has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity, plus “modest” analgesic effect.

The article tends to be a bit dismissive of THC because of its psychoactivity, and focuses mainly on cannabinoids as individual chemicals rather than as components of an herbal medicine that has proven extraordinarily useful in its natural form (biases that are pretty much typical in the medical literature), but even with these limitations, it’s an important read.


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