This article is sponsored by Firefly, a San Francisco-based technology company that specializes in the research, design, and manufacturing of vaporizer hardware.
Is CBD the magic cannabis molecule, or a misleading fad? There’s certainly a major trend toward CBD-only products on the cannabis market, and a push in some states leery of medical marijuana to legalize only one or two cannabinoids. Yet many are fighting back against this approach. That’s because there’s an interactive synergy between cannabis compounds, known as the entourage effect, and many benefits attributed broadly to cannabis can only be unlocked through “whole plant medicine” – that is, with THC, CBD, terpenes, and other cannabinoids working together in sync.
Whole plant medicine has been widely debated as many states consider limited legalization of cannabinoids like CBD, and the idea that the entourage effect is integral to using cannabis as medicine is increasingly accepted. In fact, some products are being designed specifically to maximize the value of whole plant medicine for the consumer. Take Firefly’s vaporizer technology, which sets out to capture all the myriad benefits of the entourage effect through dynamic convection technology. “[Firefly 2 was] truly designed around the plant…in order to deliver all the cannabinoids and terpenes in the most efficient way,” says Rachel Dugas of Firefly. Yet given the complexities of these chemical interactions, it’s still hard to pin down how exactly this maximizes the benefits of cannabis.
What the Experts Say About CBD’s Effects and Benefits
To shed some light on the subject, we assembled a panel of five experts in different areas of the cannabis space to weigh in:
- Jessica Peters (founder, Moxie Meds);
- Constance Finley (founder and CEO, Constance Therapeutics);
- Mary Lynn Mathre RN, MSN (president and co-founder, Patients Out of Time);
- Eloise Theisen RN, MSN (director, American Cannabis Nurses Association);
- Perry Solomon, MD (chief medical officer, HelloMD).
Here’s what they had to say.
What effects does CBD have on its own?
Mary Lynn Mathre: “Many – anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, anti-seizure, neuroprotective, bone stimulant, anti-spasmodic, and more.”
Jessica Peters: “Anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, anti-proliferative, analgesic, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), neuroprotective, anti-psychotic, anti-emetic (anti-nausea) … I can technically answer what are the properties of CBD, but these properties might not pop out if THC is not present. A potential new research category that I’ve seen evidence of anecdotally are addiction-fighting properties … CBD seems to reroute those neural pathways.”
Constance Finley: “Studies have shown CBD to have a positive effect on inflammation, pain, anxiety, psychosis and spasms, but it should be noted that most of these applications are not treated with just CBD alone and in fact do require some level of THC, whose role as a phytotherapeutic compound has already been established vis-à-vis many of the same conditions. CBD acts on different receptors than THC in the body.”
Perry Solomon: “It’s been found that CBD alone can cause a feeling of calm, relaxation. CBD’s other medicinal effects stem from completely separate pathways, such as the cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), mu and delta opioid receptors. Taken on its own, CBD has sedative, antioxidant, anti-anxiety, and antidepressant effects on the brain, but does not create any overtly psychoactive high like THC. It’s also been shown to have change gene expression and remove beta amyloid plaque, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s, from brain cells.”
How are these effects augmented or altered by other compounds?
Peters: “Pretty significantly. CBD being cannabis-based is what’s most crucial for these properties to exist. The range of the volume of THC in relation to CBD will feature different properties. An equal amount of THC to CBD [for example] is often the best pain reliever. Many terpenes have relationships [and] the fact that those relationships exist is becoming clearer and clearer.”
Eloise Theisen: “CBD and THC seem to work better together. They lessen each other’s side effects.”
Solomon: “THC seems to potentiate all the effects of CBD and conversely, CBD affects THC. Dr. Ethan Russo further supports this theory by demonstrating that non-cannabinoid plant components such as terpenes serve as inhibitors to THC’s intoxicating effects, thereby increasing THC’s therapeutic index. This ‘phytocannabinoid-terpenoid synergy,’ as Russo calls it, increases the potential of cannabis-based medicinal extracts to treat pain, inflammation, fungal and bacterial infections, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, and even cancer … Terpenes act on receptors and neurotransmitters; they are prone to combine with or dissolve in lipids or fats; they act as serotonin uptake inhibitors (similar to antidepressants like Prozac); they enhance norepinephrine activity (similar to tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil); they increase dopamine activity; and they augment GABA (the “downer” neurotransmitter that counters glutamate, the “upper”). However, more specific research is needed.”
Mathre: “CBD has value, but its value can be enhanced with the whole plant and we can develop more individualized medicine (specific ratios depending upon the person and the need).”
How much more effective would you say whole-plant medicine is than CBD-only?
Peters: “Radically. Not even close. It’s as though you’re working with different substances.”
Solomon: “I think that any whole plant medicine is more effective then any CBD-only product.”
Theisen: “Whole plant medicine is the only way to go.”
Mathre: “Safer and more effective, and tolerance will develop more slowly (if at all).”
Finley: “In almost all cases…I would say whole-plant therapeutics are 100% more effective than CBD-only.”
Thoughts on those who exclude THC or other cannabis components from the realm of medicinal cannabis?
Finley: “I believe everyone should have access to all types of treatment options that could potentially benefit them, and people need to be aware that not all cannabis is created equal. CBD from hemp does not have the medicinal properties that CBD from cannabis possesses, and is frankly an inferior product.”
Mathre: “We have lawyers and politicians practicing medicine without a license – they don’t know what they are talking about. Clearly there may be some patients who need little to no THC, but the vast majority will benefit from it. Patients should have all of the options open to them and research needs to continue to help determine how to best individualize cannabis medicine.”
Peters: “It’s so extraordinarily problematic that it feels criminal to me… The wall of bureaucracy is pushing up against the wall of science.”
What is the best way to consume cannabis to access its complete entourage of effects?
Finley: “Delivery methods vary greatly in terms of their efficiency and their effects. I heard a colleague say that smoking a joint for therapeutic effect is akin to opening your mouth in the rain to get a drink of water … Our preferred methods [are] buccal ingestion or sublingual ingestion, vaping from a vaporizer or vape pen whose hardware is safe to use with cannabis extracts, and topical for additional localized impact.”
Peters: “Certainly vaporizing flowers is one of the easiest options. I would [also] say tinctures … especially full plant and alcohol-extracted (with organic ethanol).”
Theisen: “Vaporization or tinctures of whole plants. Any sort of extraction method that isn’t going to deplete it.”
How Vaporizer Technology Can Maximize the Entourage Effect
In the vaporizer world, dynamic convection is the process by which vapes can capture a complete range of active ingredients and flavors in cannabis flowers and full-plant concentrates. This maximizes efficiency and optimizes the benefits of the entourage effect for the consumer. As vaporizer technology continues to advance in this direction, it will become easier and easier for patients to explore the benefits of whole plant medicine for themselves, and hone in on the cannabis strains best suited to their needs.