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The Straight Dope: Marijuana's Miracle Compound Contains Weed's Medical Benefits Without the High

Tired of the euphoria, anxiety and crash from being stoned? Nonpsychoactive cannabidiol supplies health benefits without the typical effects of THC.

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“There are many anecdotal reports on the usefulness of the whole marijuana plant,” says McAllister. “Preclinical evidence backs them up.” 

Unfortunately nobody has yet offered funding to McAllister for whole plant cannabis research. “There is a history among pharmaceutical companies not to get into plant extracts because they are so hard to patent,” he says. 

Sativex is the only clinically tested, standardized, whole-plant cannabis extract currently available on the world market. Manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals in a secret location somewhere in the English countryside, it is approved for use in Britain, France and Canada, though not in the United States. Sativex contains a one-to-one ratio of CBD to THC, radically different than currently popular strains with their skyrocketing THC content and negligible CBD. The company’s website has interactive videos that illustrate the difference between treating illness using synthetic drugs (side effects) and cannabinoids (few side effects). 


A growing number of medicinal marijuana users are gravitating toward these new CBD-rich strains, and some dispensaries are catching on. In the pot-friendly community of Sebastopol-- where a yearly “harvest” festival hosts revelers in full hemp regalia, sparkin’ spliffs and jammin’ to digeridoo-- the local dispensary, Peace and Medicine, offers educational literature explaining the benefits of CBD.

“We have thousands of active members,” says Peace and Medicine’s general manager Johnny Nolan. “They live normal lives, with jobs and families. Before, they had to put up with THC when they needed the benefits of the medicine. With CBD they have more options.”

Patient consultant Royce Park, who in typical dispensary-speak talks of “patients” who “medicate” using “flowers,” certainly knows his science. Park regularly attends conferences and keeps up with the latest studies to help patients choose cannabis strains for their individual needs. Park himself prefers to medicate with CBD-rich cannabis, finding it “very functional.”

Cannabidiol users contacted through a medical cannabis support group report a markedly different experience than what is typically associated with weed.  “Relaxed, yet focused and alert,” says one user. Another describes smoking CBD as “marijuana with a seat belt.” One person reports, “CBD gives me a perfect balance: a nice body high where the stress and aches get smoothed out, while leaving my mind calm and present.” 

“For me,” says a CBD-rich cannabis grower, “the biggest advantage to CBD is its ability to relieve anxiety. For someone with an active mind and a difficult personal history, anxiety is always present. When I use CBD, relaxation sets up a base camp, guarded by a sentinel who allows no trouble or fear to get close. CBD makes room for good things to happen.” 

Research into CBD-rich cannabis continues. Martin Lee recently attended a conference in Germany where scientists presented new information documenting CBD’s ability to stop the proliferation of colon cancer cells, and to limit traumatic brain injury caused by strokes. “Using cannabis in any form can have positive health benefits, regardless of the user’s intention,” says Lee. “CBD-rich pot is especially powerful.” Along with Fred Gardener, Lee cofounded Project CBD, “a non-profit educational service dedicated to promoting and publicizing research into the medicinal potential of cannabidiol (CBD).” 

Yet CBD-high weed is still difficult to source, even in California, where new cannabis strains are developed as often as wine varietals. With the recent closure of so many dispensaries, those left standing struggle to keep a steady CBD supply. Peace and Medicine’s Park admits the dispensary can’t obtain enough of it to satisfy demand, as cultivators have yet to catch on to this less psychotropic pot. While CBD continues to show immense promise in the lab, cannabis remains firmly entombed in the federal government’s airless mausoleum of Schedule I controlled substances, while speed and meth are granted the lesser classification of Schedule II, and alcohol, in seeming disregard of the number of crimes and deaths associated with its use, is hardly controlled at all.

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