How to Decide Between a Hemp Extract With THC, or One Without
It seems as if cannabis, a plant regarded as a universal healer as far back as ancient Egypt, was made to order for our challenging 21st century. Cannabis has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. The phytochemical treasure trove in the cannabis plant has been called a medicine chest of unparalleled versatility, a global homeostatic regulator. And surely homeostasis—balance—is what we all need most in an age where technological advances race ahead neck in neck with melting ice caps, scorching wildfires, and growing political unrest. No wonder hemp extracts are so popular today.
In 2018, when a new farm bill was signed into law, the status of hemp changed. The bill designated hemp as an agricultural crop and suddenly hemp farming was legal nationwide. Hemp, with its healing cannabinoids, could now be cultivated, consumed, and sold commercially. Under the new farm bill, in fact, hemp can legally contain up to 0.3 percent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the well-known psychoactive molecule). And though 0.3 percent is a surpassingly tiny amount of THC, not enough to be psychoactive, nonetheless a full spectrum hemp extract may sometimes have an advantage, since THC potentiates the activity of our own innate cannabinoid receptors.
To understand the difference between a full-spectrum hemp extract with a soupcon of THC, and a broad spectrum hemp extract without any THC, we first need to take a look at the cannabis plant itself, and how its innumerable phytocannabinoids interact with our own innate receptors.
The Amazing Treasure Trove in the Cannabis Plant
Though over 20,000 medicinal plants have been cataloged by the World Health Organization, few offer the diverse healing molecules in the flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves of the hemp plant, Cannabis. But CBD is only one of over a hundred naturally occurring compounds and molecules in the cannabis plant.  There are numerous other highly bioavailable, non-psychogenic, active cannabinoids, such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabidivarin (CBDV). Together, they create what is known as the “entourage effect”, a term first coined in 1998, by Israeli biochemist and cannabis pioneer Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.
Due to the entourage effect, the full range of cannabinoids in a hemp extract is thought to be potentially more therapeutic than a single isolate. A 2014 study, for instance, showed that an isolate of cannabidiol (CBD) has a bell-shaped dose-response curve, with response falling off after a certain point of increased doses. In contrast, a full-spectrum extract has a linear dose-response curve, with response rising steadily as dosage increases.
“Cannabis is inherently polypharmaceutical,” University of Vermont osteopath John McPartland, notes, “and synergy arises from interactions between its multiple components.” It is the synergies that are thought to be so helpful in addressing pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, addiction, metabolism, cardiovascular function and numerous conditions from epilepsy to bacterial infections.
A Quick Look at Our Own, Ancient Endocannabinoid System
Our unique endocannabinoid system (ECS) features two main receptors—CB1, first discovered in 1990, and CB2, found in 1993. These receptors are found in thousands of species. CB1 is abundant in our brain and central nervous system while CB2 is richly distributed throughout our immune system. Together, these receptors populate our GI tract, reproductive tract, immune system, arteries, heart, lungs, endocrine glands and more. Our built-in ECS is critical for regulation throughout the body, modulating everything from appetite to pain, mood, memory, cognition, immune function, sleep, inflammation, anxiety, depression and more.
One might wonder how the cannabis plant evolved to be so perfectly attuned to our bodies. There is almost a mystical resonance between the plant and humans. In fact, cannabinoids—whether they are the ones our bodies make, or the ones found in cannabis—work on far more than our ECS. They also help regulate an astonishing range of other receptors—such as opioid, GABA, adenosine, glycine and serotonin receptors.,, THC, cannabidiol and numerous other phytocannabinoids have the remarkable ability to shift activity of more than 1000 human genes, increasing our cellular antioxidant defenses as well as decreasing many pro-inflammatory molecules.
A Primer on THC and CBD
The cannabis plant contains an impressive range of phytocannabinoids, but two are particularly famous: THC and CBD. They each work in different ways, and have distinct, unique effects. Both activate multiple targets within the cell instead of just one.
THC is the vaunted psychoactive cannabinoid, the one traditionally thought to be responsible for the ‘high’ from marijuana. Beyond its ability to induce a feeling of intoxication, THC in higher doses can be a muscle relaxant, an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic, and can lead to short-term memory loss.
But THC has a deeper, more important role. THC is an agonist—meaning that it stimulates activity at both our CB1 and CB2 receptors. This means that a little THC can upregulate CB receptors and is thought to render cannabidiol more effective. THC can reduce inflammation by activating CB2.
Cannabidiol or CBD binds to our own innate endocannabinoid receptors as well. CBD calms anxious feelings, modulates the activity of THC and helps dampen its psychoactive effect, is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulator. With more than 65 cellular targets, CBD may provide a full-body “molecular” message, easing tension and inflammation. Most important, CBD increases the amount of our “bliss molecule,” one of the natural endocannabinoids we produce, called anandamide.
CBD seems to be everywhere these days—in gummy bears, bath bombs, snacks, drinks, and innumerable oils and tinctures. The global CBD hemp oil market is projected to grow from $950 million in 2017 to $2.5 billion by 2026. According to the AARP website, CBD has become a popular treatment for pain and arthritis among baby boomers. At the same time, millennials are incredibly enthused about hemp extracts as well, and one British study of Eos Scientific has commissioned research across a sample of more than 2000 adults found that 50% of millennials preferred CBD oil over prescriptions for mental health. As Yasmin Hurd, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai in New York, told the New York Times magazine: “The brain is about a symphony, and [CBD] can bring the entire symphony into harmony.”
Choosing Between Full Spectrum Hemp Extract with THC, and Broad Spectrum Hemp Extract Without THC
All the cannabinoids in hemp extract add to the elegant entourage effect, potentiating benefits while modulating potential adverse effects A full spectrum extract, by retaining the legally allowed trace amount of THC, may fully activate cannabinoid receptors and increase effectiveness. This very small but biologically meaningful amount is fully compliant with the most recent 2018 farm bill.
For those who prefer a completely THC-free, broad spectrum extract, one can still receive the full benefits of a myriad of highly bioavailable, non-psychogenic, active phytocannabinoids, which includes CBD, as well as the suite of phytocannabinoids naturally present in hemp. In fact, potency can be enhanced by adding dietary terpenes.
Terpenes are aromatic molecules that are responsible for marijuana’s distinctive odor, as well as that of many other essential oils. The terpenoids already present in cannabis include limonene, myrcene, a-pinene, linalool, caryophyllene oxide, nerolidol and phytol—and most predominantly, beta-caryophyllene. One can enhance the potency of a THC-free hemp extract by adding the proven dietary cannabinoid, beta-carophyllene. It is a ‘terpene’ molecule found in essential oils of black pepper, oregano, cannabis, and even in green, leafy vegetables. It is the only terpene known to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor, and in fact, has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and a full agonist of the CB2 receptor, enhancing its activity.
NanoEmulsified Hemp Extract Offers Rapid Intake and Instant Relief
Whether you choose a full spectrum or a broad spectrum hemp extract, a nanoemulsion will offer rapid uptake and impressive absorption. Our cells have a natural affinity for such vesicles, as we manufacture our own nanoemulsions, or micelles, in order to store, transport, and digest products from the cell. These vesicles can easily fuse with the cell membrane.
Where hemp extracts are concerned, nanoemulsions are far superior. One study compared a 5mg dose of nanoemulsified hemp extract to a 10mg dose of pharmaceutical synthetic cannabidiol (CBD), and the nanoemulsified Hemp Oil showed a 5.5-fold increased bioavailability. Another ten-person pilot study compared the uptake of 12 mg of nanoemulsified hemp extract NanoEmulsified Colorado hemp oil to 12 mg of non-liposomal hemp extract. The uptake of cannabidiol into the blood after taking a nanoemulsion was nearly six-fold higher, was measurable in the blood within several minutes, and peaked at 50 minutes. In contrast, it took 50 minutes for a non-liposomal hemp oil to begin to achieve measurable, but far less significant, levels.
For both full spectrum and broad spectrum hemp extracts, the key is the entourage effect, where minor cannabinoids contributing to a dramatically enhanced response. If you’re looking for balance, look no further than the many bioactive molecules in cannabis.
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