January & February “Weed to the Wise”: Cannabis Basics and the Brain
Has anybody else had trouble ramping up for 2020?! This G4G PLAYBOOK (January/February) is taking a slightly different form due to slow news in January and some personal events (we moved into our new home!). In the first section, we will provide an up-to-date review of basic knowledge for our readers. This includes the current understanding of cannabinoids THC and CBD and a look at a new more potent form called THCP. Section two summarizes recent information about cannabis and the prevention of traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion injury (CTE), and stroke, as well as how this is being handled by sports leagues/agencies. And lastly, we will look at some curious notes of interest.
• What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?
Hemp contains CBD cannabinoids (and less than 0.3% THC) and is non-psychoactive (i.e., you can’t get “high”). It is legal and has industrial and environmental applications (e.g., textile production, as a substitute for plastics, medicinal use (CBD), neutralizing the radiation in soil, etc.).
Marijuana contains over 120 cannabinoids, including CBD* and THC.** When heated, cooked, or burned, THC cannabinoids become psychoactive and produce a “high.” Marijuana is illegal in many states, but also has proven healing properties. Hemp and marijuana can look almost identical, causing confusion for law enforcement.
*CBD is very popular, as it has a proven safety profile, extremely low toxicity, and ability to interact with multiple organ systems. It can affect appetite, metabolism, pain sensation, inflammation, thermoregulation, vision, mood, and memory.
**THCP has been in the headlines recently. Is this a super powerful new cannabinoid? Yes, as an isolate it is much stronger than THC, however there are minuscule amounts in the plant. With no research on it yet, it is hard to say if it is also a more powerful healing agent. It does illustrate just how little we actually know about this plant! Here are two interesting articles: Cannabis Business Times and The Jerusalem Post.
• Why are acid forms of CBD and THC (ending in A) becoming important?
We are learning that the natural acid forms of CBD and THC can have even more healing properties without being psychoactive (i.e. making tea from the flower or vaping flower at low temperatures). CBD acids (CBDA, CBDVA, CBCA, CBGVA, THCA, CBDA, CBGA, etc.) are ten times more potent than CBD and effective at treating seizures in mice.
• What is the difference between recreational use and medical cannabis use?
Recreational use involves the heating, cooking, or burning of THC (called decarboxylation) to become “high,” euphoric, or otherwise impaired. Recreational weed is typically smoked or vaped and very high THC strains of marijuana are now available that are six to eight times more powerful than those in the 1960s. For seniors, our greatest recreational risk is falling and accidentally overdosing on the THC in edibles (that can take up to two hours to take effect).
Medical cannabis use is geared toward helping seniors become less impaired by pain, seizures, depression, insomnia, or anxiety; have a greater sense of well-being; and become more active. Symptom relief can be accomplished by using very targeted micro-doses (0.5-2.0 mg per dose, when the average edible is 10 mg) of selected strains, several times a day and over a long period of time. This can decrease our symptoms and help us avoid unpleasant side effects. Long term here means it might take six years to substitute cannabis for opioids in addicts with chronic pain, or three months to notice a difference in Parkinson’s tremors. Cannabis is typically biphasic in dosing, meaning that sometimes the more minuscule the dose the greater the result/impact. If you find that what you are using isn’t working for you, try using less before you try using more.
• Why isn’t there much actual scientific research for the elder community?
My personal opinion is that recreational cannabis is where the big profits are but pragmatism says that medical will become legal first so focus on research rationales for investment and long-run growth. Basically, medical isn’t sexy and ‘old’ even less so. Also, research typically involves testing isolated cannabinoids on tissues in test tubes. It is then replicated on mice and lastly with humans. (If you are an animal rights activist, you may not be comfortable with this reality.)* Anecdotal experience is sometimes sufficient with elders (in the US) as we don’t have time to wait for legalization, funding, double-blind studies, and peer reviews. There is, however, more scientific research available outside the US.
*In central Russia, there is a statue at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics that commemorates the millions of brave rodents who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the advancement of mankind. Article on Atlas Obscura.
• What are terpenes?
Terpenes are the aromatic oils in the cannabis flower that are useful in healing. Examples are limonene, linalool, and α-Pinene. Limonene is found in citrus peels and used in cleaning products and is known for its mood-elevating and antibacterial properties. Linalool is found in lavender and provides anti-anxiety effects, while α-Pinene is produced in rosemary and can be invigorating and increase mental alertness. Terpenes are not well researched and are mostly destroyed in the extraction process. Leafly’s Guide to Cannabinoids and Terpenes can be found here.
• What does “full-spectrum” mean and what is the Entourage Effect?
Distillate: An isolated cannabinoid.
Broad Spectrum: Most of the natural cannabinoids and terpenes of the plant are present.
Full Spectrum: Everything that is present in the flower is in the product.
The Entourage Effect refers to the synergy of using the whole natural plant for healing (medical use). Using Mother Nature’s Rx is considered the best solution by some as there are many cannabinoids and many unknowns in the interactions with terpenes in the human body.
CANNABIS & TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY (TBI)
• WADA: Sometimes it is helpful to pay attention to peripheral news. For example, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recently approved the use of CBD for pain and inflammation for all athletes worldwide. (Not marijuana, but CBD.) The World Health Organization approved the use of CBD last year. Article on VENTS Magazine.
• MLB & NFL: Then came my awareness that in the US, Major League Baseball (MLB) has already approved the use of CBD while the National Football League (NFL) still does not have a cannabis policy. NFL players were fined a total of $4 million in 2018 for failed drug tests—no wonder they seem to be hesitating to change their policy! But players and owners are putting the NFL under significant pressure to change that. Article on Marijuana Moment.
• CBD “protection”: There is evidence that having CBD in your system at the time of a brain trauma (like concussion (CTE) damage in football or potentially strokes) can aid in minimizing the resulting inflammation, giving CBD a “protective” function. The following article is from 2018 and comprehensively explains the research and potential. I’ve not read anything, however, that would indicate cannabis can help reverse brain damage. Article on Project CBD.
CURIOSITIES & NOTES
• Weed Beer?: Current US laws prohibit the mixing of any cannabis product with alcoholic beverages. Weed Beer is a beverage that is designed to taste and be consumed like beer, but contains cannabinoids like CBD and/or THC instead of alcohol. In Colorado, the standard edible is 10 mg of THC. You might find 10 mg or 5 mg of THC isolate in a single can of Weed Beer.* The complexities of developing this product are quite fascinating and explained in the following article. (As there is a lack of federal oversight, production requirements vary by state and can be very challenging to meet.) Article on Benzinga.
*I’ve been told that cannabis molecules are “sticky” and tend to cling to the liner of any can or bottle, meaning that just because 10 mg went into the bottle doesn’t necessarily mean 10 mg will come out. I’ve not though seen any research on this.
On another note, an innovative pilot program in Colorado is exploring whether the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by the beer brewing process can be used to fuel the photosynthesis in cannabis growth, hence reducing the carbon footprint for both industries! Article on Leafly.
• THC and Dementia: This Discover Magazine article is still reporting good results!
• Amusing marijuana impact on sperm and fertility: Sperm swim slower, get distracted, and lose their target when under the influence. Marijuana doesn’t help with erectile dysfunction unless there is a strong placebo effect (loosening up your psychology).
• THC makes antibiotics (especially Erythromycin) more effective, but advise your surgeon if you use marijuana as you may require a higher dose of anesthesia.
• For nausea, the smallest dose can be the most effective (even putting a small bit of raw flower in your cheek can work).
• THC balm can be helpful with itching and psoriasis.