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Does CBD Need THC to Work?

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Does CBD Need THC to Work?

If you are just starting your educational journey into CBD products and their uses, this may be one of the many questions you are considering. With so many different cannabinoids (more than 100 have been discovered, so far!), how do you determine which one(s) to try?

Sure, CBD may seem like a good place to begin, because it is currently winning the cannabinoid popularity contest…but is it really effective on its own?

Before we can get to those questions, we must establish baseline knowledge about cannabis and where these cannabinoids originate. There are so many different names for cannabis, it is easy to get confused.

Different Names. Different Effects. Different Regulations.

Grass. Hemp. Weed. Marijuana. Pot. Ganja. Mary Jane. Green. Cannabis. Herb. In modern culture, these names are often used interchangeably to reference the same thing. However, there are real differences. Some of these are official nomenclature for the plant, some are slang terms, others are names for preparations of the plant. 

Cannabis is one of approximately 170 genus of flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family. Within the Cannabis genus, there are three primary species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. They each look a bit different, having leaves that are more or less full; and each have unique cultivating requirements. The important thing to note is that CBD is typically extracted from Cannabis Sativa.

While cannabis is the overarching name for the entire plant genus, marijuana and hemp are terms that were created to classify different types of cannabis. There are both hemp plants that are Cannabis sativa and marijuana plants that are Cannabis sativa. The difference between the two is largely in the THC concentrations.  THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the “high” sensation.

does cbd need thc

By legal definition in the United States, the distinction between hemp and marijuana is whether the cannabis crop has more or less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.  The limit in the U.S. to be qualified as legal hemp is 0.3% in accordance with the framework set forth in the 2018 Farm Bill.  In most of Europe, the limit is even lower at 0.2%.  Because the concentration of THC  in legal hemp is so low, it does have the same ability to create a high or state of euphoria as marijuana.

By contrast, marijuana refers to varieties of cannabis that contain more than 0.3 percent of THC. In fact, marijuana can contain up to 30 percent THC. Because of the higher THC levels, marijuana will deliver a high and all the accompanying psychotropic effects.  Conversely, because the concentration of THC in legal hemp is so low, it does not have the same ability to create the “high” or state of euphoria as marijuana.

While hemp and marijuana differ in their THC levels, both can produce CBD. And here is the headline: CBD is the same regardless of what plant it comes from…but CBD oils made from legal hemp contain much less THC than oils made from marijuana.

For this reason, cannabis and cannabis products are regulated differently depending on whether they are derived from hemp or marijuana. Hemp and hemp-derived products with THC levels below 0.3% are not considered controlled substances, while marijuana is. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has compiled comprehensive responses to common concerns regarding this distinction.

So what does CBD do and what does THC do? Read on.

Why Use CBD or THC?

Let’s ignore the psychotropic properties of THC -- and non-psychotropic properties of CBD -- for a moment and focus solely on the perceived health and wellness properties of each. Both have different benefits and side effects.

In numerous reviewed clinical studies, CBD has been found to support the body systems that cause or control inflammation, nausea, seizures, migraines and various mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. While there are many potential health benefits, some of CBD’s possible side effects include nausea, fatigue and irritability.

THC has been used to support systems that cause or control health challenges such as glaucoma, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, muscle spasms, pain and low appetite. Its relaxing effect may be helpful in many of these situations. Yet its use also results in side effects, including altered senses, altered sense of time, difficulty thinking or problem solving, memory problems and mood changes.  In larger doses, THC can cause more serious mental effects, including confusion, hallucinations and paranoia.

How Much THC Is in CBD Oil?

Well, that depends.  Products labeled as CBD oil could  be one of the following:

  • Raw CBD Oil: pure CBD distillate that contains only CBD and no other compounds.
  • CBD Hemp Oil: CBD oil extracted from hemp, which, as legally defined earlier, has less than 0.3% THC.
  • Full Spectrum Extract: CBD oil extracted from hemp that contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids, including THC. However, once again, it can only be sold legally in the U.S. if it contains less than 0.3% THC content; unless it is being sold in states which have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use.

If you want to avoid using CBD products with THC, read the labels on the products you are thinking of purchasing; and real all information relating to dosages and methods of extraction.  

CBD and Healing Through the Entourage Effect

Although CBD on its own may offer great medicinal and therapeutic potential, its effectiveness has more recently been thought to be increased when combined with other cannabis compounds. This is known as the “entourage effect.”

Did you catch that? Some people think that CBD is most effective for some ailments when it is surrounded by friends. That’s right. CBD might be most effective when it rolls with an entourage. To be at its best, CBD needs a crew. A posse. A squad.

So even though you may want the potential healing benefits of CBD without the high of THC, you actually don’t always want pure CBD.

CBD products that are made from the entire cannabis plant will have all the other properties, including other cannabinoids (not just THC but others like CBN or CBG), terpenes, and flavonoids. Each of these other components has its own unique health benefits and are thought by some medical experts to increase the overall health benefits when combined with CBD.

The bottom line here is that if you’re finding your CBD isn’t as effective as you’d like, you might want to avoid products marketed as either pure CBD or CBD isolate. Instead, opt for products marketed as either full spectrum, broad spectrum, or whole plant.

does cbd need thc

To help ensure you fully understand what compounds are included in a CBD’s product, look for (or ask about) the Certificate of Analysis, or COA. This is a document that shows the results of tests run by a third-party lab. The COAwill attest to the ingredients in a CBD product, allowing you to check the amounts of CBD, THC and other cannabinoids, as well as whether there are any harmful chemicals or pesticides detectable in the product.

If you are unsure how your body might react to other cannabinoids, the COA will help you to select a product with extremely low amounts of other cannabinoids. In that case, you may want to select a CBD isolate that is sourced from hemp plants.

Can CBD Be Effective Without THC?

While the entourage effect might be a good option for you to consider trying, CBD and THC are separate compounds with their own properties, and they can be used successfully in isolation.

While many believe there is increased benefit from the entourage effect, and specifically when you add THC to CBD oil, neither of these cannabinoids needs the other to be active. The health benefits of each mentioned above hold true when the cannabinoid is used alone and may be enhanced with additional benefits, if combined.

It is important to note that there are many reasons why someone may want or need to avoid using THC. If it is important that you remain highly alert and engaged after dosing, products with high THC concentration may not be the best option. Also, you should avoid THC if you suffer from a serious health condition, such as paranoia or panic attacks,  conditions that THC may exacerbate. In this case, always consult with your doctor first before introducing THC into your health and wellness regimen.

While full spectrum CBD products contain small amounts of THC, you also have options if you’re looking strictly for THC-free CBD.  All types of CBD products may have potentially beneficial effects; but one particular benefit of broad-spectrum CBD which contains a wide range cannabinoids and terpenes, but with the THC content entirely removed; and CBD isolate which is the purest form of CBD extracted from the plant and devoid of all other ingredients, including THC.

When choosing THC-free CBD oils, always try and follow these rules:

  • The product is made by a company that provides proof of third-party testing by an ISO 17025-compliant lab;
  • Is extracted from U.S.-grown hemp;
  • Contains no more than 0.3% THC, according to the COA; and
  • Is free of heavy metals, molds, pesticides and other impurities, according to the COA.

Research on the potential health benefits of CBD oil is ongoing and gaining greater momentum in the medical and scientific research communities, so new therapeutic uses for this natural supplement are sure to be discovered. 

With approximately 33% Americans estimated to have used CBD in 2020 – up from 14% in the prior year, interest and confidence in the merit of high quality CBD products – with or without THC – appears to be escalating.   



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