It’s fair to say that the UK & Ireland have embraced CBD. Sales soared over lockdown, Boots and Tesco now sell CBD products and the evidence that CBD can help with a range of ailments is mounting. The hype is real.
A recent market sizing survey revealed that sales of CBD products for 2021 will be valued at £690m, more than double that of 2019. The UK now spends more on cannabis extracts than on vitamin B and C supplements combined.
What about THC?
THC is the more infamous phytocannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant. CBD and THC are isomers - they share the same chemical formula but have different structures and pharmacological properties. Unlike CBD, THC has had a more turbulent journey over the years.
Why does THC get a bad rep?
Firstly, it’s illegal. In the UK, high-THC cannabis flower remains a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession can land you up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. For some people, that’s enough for THC to be enemy number one.
The case for THC hasn’t been helped by the media either. Since the 1930s, prohibitionists and the press have made sensationalist claims about the effects of cannabis in an effort to frighten and deter consumers.
Harry Anslinger was an early proponent of The War on Drugs who zealously advocated for and pursued harsh drug penalties. He served as the first commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics and is notorious for collecting stories of cannabis causing crime and violence while ignoring any evidence that ran contrary to his argument.
Not only did Anslinger feed scare stories to the press, but he also instigated anti-cannabis propaganda films like Reefer Madness. He had a significant role to play in the demonising of cannabis and his campaign was so successful, that cannabis has enjoyed a bad reputation for the best part of 100 years.
Fast forward to modern day and the media’s distaste for cannabis still pervades, particularly when it comes to THC – which we now know is responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis.
Due to years of prohibition, THC potency in cannabis has been rising steadily since the 1970s meaning that consumers have little to choose from but high-THC flower, known in the UK media as 'skunk'.
Just as alcohol prohibition led to potent moonshine, cannabis prohibition has resulted in one option for buyers – highly potent skunk.
Regular heavy use of high-THC cannabis can certainly cause problems for some people, particularly in adolescents and unfortunately, these issues have been the focus of THC’s story to date.
But it’s not the whole story.
THC has medicinal properties in its own right and we know, for example, that it has painkilling properties, anti-inflammatory properties and properties that protect the nervous system from damage. It can act as an antioxidant, which is also a mechanism of protection of the nervous system. It is also a muscle relaxant, hence its use in the proprietary product, Sativex, which is licenced for muscle relaxation in multiple sclerosis.
Thankfully, more research than ever before is underway and we are beginning to appreciate the range of medical benefits THC can offer. However, even with the research available, some doctors remain cautious of THC when it comes to prescribing cannabis as a medicine.
Like CBD, low amounts of THC can also be incredibly beneficial for wellness purposes. THC is biphasic in nature meaning low and high doses can produce opposite effects. For example, anxiety relief is one of the more common reasons for cannabis consumption. Low amounts of THC can help to reduce anxiety, but high doses can have the opposite effect, inducing anxiety or paranoia.
THC also modulates memory and cognition in a biphasic manner. Low doses of THC may improve memory or cognition in older people with neurological impairment while high doses of THC can impair memory, particularly in young people.
While cannabis remains illegal in the UK, consumers have no say in the THC content of their bud. Whereas in legal cannabis markets like Canada, cannabis products are regulated and tested, allowing consumers to make informed decisions on what strength of THC or CBD they’d like to purchase.
Focusing only on the negative effects associated with regular high-THC consumption leads to a very one-sided story and we miss out on the big picture. With a bit of knowledge and caution, we can begin to embrace THC just like CBD.
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