By Spencer Brooks
As the medical cannabis industry continues to grow, more and more patients are starting to wonder about which cannabis products best suit their needs.
Cannabis contains a wide variety of beneficial compounds, but the two most common ones are:
- THC, which is responsible for cannabis’ intoxicating effect, as well as several positive health effects
- CBD, or cannabidiol, which is non-intoxicating and has a different (though sometimes overlapping) set of health benefits
These days, it’s easy to find both THC and CBD. Cannabis strains are often bred to contain high amounts of one or the other, and many extracts, oils, and other cannabis products also contain only THC or CBD. As a patient, you may wonder which one is best for you.
According to the latest research, it might be a good idea to take both. Studies suggest that THC and CBD work together, enhancing each others’ benefits and preventing side effects of taking either one on its own.
This article will cover the benefits of taking THC and CBD together, the best THC:CBD ratio, and why you may want to add both compounds to your daily routine.
How THC and CBD work
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids -- special compounds found in cannabis.
Cannabinoids aren’t unique to cannabis plants, though. Your own body makes them, and your brain has a whole network of cannabinoid receptors that only respond to cannabinoids. The cannabinoids you make influence your sleep quality, stress levels, appetite, pain, anxiety, mood, euphoria, immune system function, and inflammation[*].
THC and CBD are almost identical to your body’s own cannabinoids. They’re similar enough that they can interact with cannabinoid receptors in your brain, influencing your sleep, stress, pain, and more.
The difference between THC and CBD
While THC and CBD are similar in structure, they affect you in very different ways.
One of the most important differences is that CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning it won’t get you high. It still has potent effects on your wellbeing, though. Studies show that CBD may be able to assist with pain[*,*], inflammation[*], anxiety[*], sleep[*], brain function[*], and epilepsy[*].
THC, on the other hand, is intoxicating. It’s the molecule in cannabis that gives you a euphoric high, though it does far more than that as well. THC may be able to assist with pain[*], inflammation[*], headaches[*,*], muscle spasms[*,*], digestive distress (including symptoms of IBS[*] and symptoms of Crohn’s disease[*]), and nausea[*].
Typically, patients choose either THC or CBD, depending on their symptoms. But in recent years, a growing body of research has begun to show that THC and CBD may work best when you combine them.
The Entourage Effect: THC and CBD are better together
In 1999, researchers discovered that cannabis has an “Entourage Effect.” When you combine different compounds in cannabis -- most notably THC and CBD, but also terpenes and other cannabinoids -- you may end up with bonus benefits that you don’t get with isolated compounds on their own[*].
On top of that, CBD and THC may modify each other and can sometimes cancel out unwanted side effects, meaning you’re left with more positives of cannabis and fewer downsides.
Here are a few examples of how you can benefit from the Entourage Effect:
- Pain relief. A 1:1 extract of THC:CBD has been approved by the Canadian government (and is currently seeking FDA approval) for pain relief, and research shows that the combination relieves pain better than either THC or CBD alone does[*]. In other research, cancer patients who took THC:CBD extract saw a 30% reduction in pain, while THC on its own did nothing[*].
- Paranoia. THC on its own can cause paranoia and racing thoughts, especially at higher doses. CBD seems to protect you from that paranoia. Healthy adults who took THC and CBD together were significantly less paranoid than people who took THC alone[*].
- Memory. The paranoia study showed another interesting result: the people who took THC and CBD had almost no decrease in short-term memory, while the people who took THC on its own had significant memory impairment[*].
- Tolerance. CBD turns down the intensity of THC, possibly by blocking the cannabinoid receptor that THC activates in your brain. If you take large doses of THC for symptom relief, adding CBD may keep you from getting too high, so you can function better throughout the day[*,*].
- Appetite. THC on its own can increase both hunger and food cravings, as well as the reward you get from food (colloquially called the “munchies”). That’s great for some patients, like those with cancer who struggle to eat. But if you’re taking THC for something like stress, the heightened desire to snack can make you gain weight or eat unhealthy food. Adding in CBD may prevent the increased appetite you sometimes get with pure THC[*].
The Entourage Effect is especially helpful if you take THC for its medical benefits but the high keeps you from functioning at your best. Adding in some CBD may protect against the downsides of pure THC, and may decrease your high overall, leaving you more clear-headed throughout the day.
What’s the best THC:CBD ratio?
If you’ve been using a pure THC product, you may want to try switching to one that has both THC and CBD. While plenty of people are fine with THC alone, CBD could help you feel even better. The same is true of pure CBD products: adding a little THC may offer you extra symptom relief.
It’s hard to say exactly what ratio of THC:CBD is best. A lot of it will depend on your symptoms and your unique biology.
A good place to start is a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio. From there, you can adjust based on how you feel. For example, if you get a little too high to function with a 1:1 ratio, you can increase the CBD. If you aren’t getting quite enough nausea relief, you may want to lean toward more THC.
Everyone’s different, and ultimately, what matters is how you feel. Try a few different ratios of THC:CBD and see which one works best for you.
Most stores carry THC:CBD mixes in different ratios, but if you can’t find what you want, you can always take pure CBD, then smoke or vape normal, high-quality cannabis.
And as always, start slow with cannabis. Build your way up until you find a dose and ratio of THC:CBD that work for you.