More funding than ever is flowing to cannabis research, so scientists, doctors and patients can better understand how the long-vilified plant might benefit (or harm) those who use it. Thanks to legalization efforts across the country — and around the world — more people are interested in trying weed products to help manage their various ailments, from cancer and chronic pain to insomnia and PTSD.

Within cannabis, there are two compounds that are studied above all the others: CBD and THC. The latter has been demonized for its psychoactive effects, and the former has recently received acclaim for its potential in improving health. Yet, if you want to use CBD for its medical benefits and what to avoid THC altogether, do you still need to apply for a medical marijuana card? How to CBD and THC differ within the legal system, and how can patients make the most of these compounds to bolster their health?

What CBD Does

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the second most plentiful cannabinoid, or compound unique to cannabis plants. Though it was the first cannabinoid to be discovered, way back in the 1940s, researchers still aren’t completely certain what CBD does once it enters the bloodstream. After the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s — a system within the human body that performs myriad critical functions, most importantly maintaining homeostasis — most scientists believed that CBD binds to ECS receptors in muscles. However, more recently that has been shown to be untrue; instead, it seems that CBD influences the ECS to produce more of its own compounds, called endocannabinoids, which can help the body to heal and facilitate wellbeing.

Many of the effects of CBD are recognized through anecdotal evidence, though some are confirmed by research. Perhaps one of the most promising effects of CBD is the compound’s application in helping those with seizure disorders reduce the frequency and intensity of their episodes. Research has demonstrated that CBD is so useful at seizure management that there is an FDA-approved medication that relies on CBD as its active ingredient.

Several animal studies have indicated that CBD might be useful in reducing inflammation and pain as well as quelling anxiety and panic. There are also some good signs that CBD might facilitate better sleep or help manage addiction by mitigating cravings. Ultimately, more research and human trials are needed to confirm these effects.

How to Get CBD

CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not get users high or impair their mental or motor functions. As a result, CBD use and sales are not prosecuted the same as other marijuana products; CBD is fully legal under federal law, as long as CBD products contain less than .3 percent of THC.

Still, most states have regulations governing some aspect of CBD sales, such as age minimums for buyers or requirements for where CBD can be cultivated or sold. For example, in most states, the sale of pre-made CBD edibles and beverages is prohibited. Only in Idaho, Iowa and South Dakota are all forms of CBD banned — though that might well change in the coming years, particularly in South Dakota.

Though you should check the CBD laws in your state, you can likely find CBD products in grocery stores and drugstores. However, dispensaries often harbor the best-quality CBD goods, especially in states like Arkansas where only medical marijuana has been legalized. You will need to obtain a medical marijuana license to gain access to medical dispensaries, but in states where recreational weed is legal — and if you are of legal age — you might not need to bother with obtaining a weed card, unless you want to use medical-grade CBD products to treat a serious health condition.

THC, in Contrast

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. Unlike CBD, THC does bind to receptors within the ECS, particularly those within the nervous and digestive systems. Though THC does have some medical applications — especially in the management of nausea and the stimulation of appetite, which are important for those with anorexia or wasting disease as well as those enduring chemotherapy — THC’s psychoactive effects make the compound much more difficult to manage. THC overdoses are possible; though they are not deadly or physically damaging, they can be profoundly uncomfortable and confusing for those who experience them.

Because THC has more specific health applications and is psychoactive, access to the compound is heavily regulated. It is illegal at the federal level, and in most states only allow access to THC to those with certain qualifying health conditions. Even in states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized, THC products are only available in licensed dispensaries. Whenever you want to use a compound from marijuana to treat a health condition, you should talk to your doctor. Both THC and CBD have medical applications, but they might also interfere with ongoing treatments or medications. Your doctor will be able to provide more information about how cannabis might benefit you, and they can help you jumpstart the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card.

[Written By External Partner]

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