Whole-Plant Vs. Pharmaceutical Cannabis: What You Need To Know
Published on April 14, 2016
The world of medicinal cannabis has opened up in the past few years, leading to more research and better understanding about the plant and it's benefits, so naturally, drug companies are jumping on board. Many marijuana patients and consumers are beginning to wonder if these refined or synthetic cannabis substitutes are as safe and effective as whole-plant treatments. Several states have passed 'CBD-only' laws that restrict marijuana use to only certain chemicals found in weed. These laws tend to encourage the belief that only certain parts of the cannabis plant are safe and medicinal, while other compounds, like THC, serve no purpose other than to produce a high. Sadly, many consumers believe these claims, despite evidence proving that whole-plant cannabis is more effective than it's pharmaceutical counterparts.
Western medicine has made an enormous profit during the last century by turning plant-based compounds into patented drugs that can be manufactured in a lab. Aspirin is naturally found in willow bark, menthol is a potent chemical from mint, and Quinine (a common malaria treatment) is derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree. Will cannabis become the next plant we break down and put into little orange bottles?
Several drug companies have already begun the process of creating Cannabinoid- based medicines. Both Marinol and Cesamet are weed-based drugs prescribed to treat nausea in cancer patients, but a recent survey found that most people prefer the effects of whole-plant cannabis over slow-acting pills. Epidiolex is a refined version of Cannabidiol (CBD) created by GW Pharmaceuticals. It is designed to treat severe epilepsy in children and young adults, and the company claims that it contains 98% pure CBD oil. Many parents have chosen to use high-CBD strains of marijuana to treat their kids instead, preferring a more holistic approach. Charlotte Figi is one of the children who has benefitted from treatment with whole-plant based CBD oil. In fact, the popular strain known as Charlotte's Web was named after her.
In truth, whole-plant marijuana is safer and more effective than it's pharmaceutical alternatives. Here's why: no single chemical or compound is responsible for the medicinal qualities of weed. Instead, the combination of several hundred different cannabinoids and terpenoids create a complex form of medicine only nature can provide.
Dr. Ethan Russo has researched various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenoids in the human body and calls this the 'entourage effect'. A review of his work was recently published in the British Journal of Pharmacology- "Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects." Although his research is intended to help pharmaceutical companies develop more effective drugs, it reveals many subtle benefits of preserving the entire cannabis plant.
Marijuana contains a lot more than well-known compounds like THC and CBD. Dozens of other cannabinoids are also present in small amounts, and even miniscule traces of terpenoids and resins have an effect on the qualities of this delicate, but powerful, plant. Myrcene is one terpene that helps beneficial chemicals penetrate the blood-brain barrier, while other terpenes like limonene, linalool and pinene each produce unique changes in the body. For example, limonene and linalool combined with CBG have potential for treating MRSA, while pinene counteracts the cognitive effects of THC to keep patients alert and energized.
Cannabis provides many medicinal benefits- it's anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antibacterial, and anti-carcinogenic. In it's whole-plant form, it is already being used to treat cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, anxiety, multiple sclerosis and more. Do we really need to change it? What benefits will we gain from refining it or creating synthetic imitations? None. In fact, doing so may cause more harm than good.
Instead of looking to pharmaceutical companies to create the perfect pill, we should be looking to growers to create unique strains with all the powerful benefits of nature. Unlike drug companies, cannabis patients understand that marijuana has unique effects- each individual will react differently to the delicate mix of cannabinoids and terpenes. If you're a medical marijuana patient, consider looking into the strains you use. If one variety isn't right for you, there may be another that's perfect for your condition. If you want to learn more about terpenes and their effect on your cannabis experience, check out this article on the most common terpenes and their benefits.