If you’re a medical cannabis patient, think of CBD as your designated driver

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Physicians working deep in the heart of medical cannabis territory have known for some time that CBD counters the side effects of THC, but they weren’t quite sure how – until now.

A study published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience says that yes, “Cannabidiol (CBD) counteracts the psychotropic side-effects of THC,” and that it does so by damping down a THC signalling pathway in the brain that’s responsible for the euphoria and, sometimes, the paranoia, dissociative thoughts, impaired memory, and even psychotic episodes associated with the high. 

One of the researchers, Steven Laviolette, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, told ABC News that this matters because there are many people who use cannabis for medical reasons who want to avoid those side effects: “People using it for pain relief, anxiety, multiple sclerosis or glaucoma are not looking to get high,” he said. “If you want to avoid the negative effects, you may want to use strains that have a high CBD content.”

This was exactly the point made last year by medical cannabis expert Caroline MacCallum, MD, who’s on the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Writing in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, she said that a patient’s lifestyle has to be taken into account when prescribing medical cannabis and that CBD’s sobering effect has an important role to play:

It is important to include evaluation of social and occupational history during a medical cannabis consultation. This may include determining if a patient works outside the home, has a safety sensitive occupation, drives a motor vehicle, engages in childcare, etc. A reasonable and conservative cannabis regimen for this patient population would be CBD-predominant preparations during working hours, and THC-predominant ones after work or before sleeping.

Dr. MacCallum’s paper graphed the increased level of safe THC dosages when combined with CBD, versus the lower safety profile when taking THC alone. (Nabixomols = Sativex, a medication prescribed for pain relief in people suffering from multiple sclerosis.)

The takeaway is this: It’s not that CBD replaces THC, it’s that if CBD is used in conjunction with it a patient can remain on necessary high THC dosages – a cancer patient with chronic pain, say – and function normally, i.e. without being slayed by THC’s psychotropic side.

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