THC, CBD and the entourage

Paul Danish/Sue France

There are thousands of brands of beer, wine and distilled spirits out there, but they all have the same active ingredient: alcohol.

But with marijuana, it may not have to be that way.

The other day, I was reading some old interviews with Professor Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who is sometimes described as the father of marijuana research. And with good reason. In 1964 Mechoulam isolated and elucidated the chemical structure of Delta9–tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The year before, he did the same with Cannabidiol (CBD), the ingredient in marijuana with the most medicinal uses currently.

Mechoulam also found that the THC and CBD molecules bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. He reasoned there had to be a naturally occurring marijuana-like compound in the brain (an endocannabinoid), which was why the brain had the receptors, and in 1992 he found it. He named it Anandamide, which means supreme joy in Sanskrit. He also found cannabinoid receptors existed not just in the brain but in a number of other organs as well.

In other words, when it comes to the pharmacology of cannabis, Mechoulam is the senior guru.

Which is why some conclusions he shared with the Israeli start-up business website NoCamels in 2013 caught my eye. He told the interviewer that he had found that “most of the marijuana sold illegally in the U.S. actually contains no CBD, or very low amounts of it.”

He also told the interviewer that he had long been stressing the importance of CBD, which modulates the effects of THC. Among other things, “CBD attenuates the memory-impairing effects produced by THC,” he said.

What was true about illegal marijuana in 2013 is equally true about legal recreational marijuana today. Most of the strains sold in recreational dispensaries have little or no CBD content. Just guessing here, but I suspect those strains that do have a significant CBD content to go along with the THC seem to be marketed to consumers like me who want a medical marijuana strain sometimes, but don’t have a medical card.

In 2012, I read a newspaper interview with Mechoulam in which he said that since he began his initial work, dozens of additional cannabinoids have been found in marijuana (Wikipedia says there are now 85 known ones) and that various combinations of them may have “an entourage effect” on people.

A cannabis entourage may also include turpines, compounds that give pot its distinctive smell and seem to account for the different highs of Sativa and Indica. (Indica has more turpines.)

After I read the part about CBD attenuating the memory-impairing effects, I got out a couple of strains I had around that had both THC and CBD in roughly equal proportions. I’d been smoking them before bedtime to keep some mild arthritis and psoriasis I have from flaring up. Now I tried them as the first smoke of the day. They gave me a nice high but with a lot less loss of alertness than you sometimes get from today’s kick-ass, all-THC strains. The high reminded me of some of the seedy pot we used to get in the ’70s before sinsemillas with the CBD bred out of them became all the rage.

What all this suggests is that, unlike alcohol, marijuana strains can be developed with combinations of active ingredients that have different physical and psychological effects.

Mechoulam is interested in the medical potential of different entourages. But it strikes me that there may be a business opportunity here on the recreational side as well. Wine connoisseurs comprise a multi-billion dollar market for a product that comes in tens of thousands of variations but with a single active ingredient. With pot, there could be tens of millions of possible variations based on combinations of dozens of canabinoids and turpines.

Viva le entourage.

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