Where do THC and Lawrence of Arabia meet? You’ll find out in a minute. This post is going to outline the pain distraction effects of the marijuana plant’s active compounds, specifically THC.
First, a little background on the state of medical marijuana and the current zeitgeist around CBDs.
Charlotte’s Web, a homegrown variety of marijuana documented in Sanjay Gupta’s CNN series, is a CBD-heavy strain that has found successful medical application for people suffering seizures. You could argue that Charlotte’s Web is now just as ingrained in the national consciousness as Maui Wauie. CBD, or Cannabidiol, is famous for its anti inflammatory effects and relatively low psychotropic impact. Strains heavy in CBDs, like Charlotte’s Web, are the go-to variety for treating children. It’s seen as unacceptable that children should experience any psychotropic effects from the drugs they consume. I’m not going to belabor that point here, even though it’s a little ridiculous considering some of the garbage shoved down kids throats, like sugar and caffeine.
Thus the discussion about medical marijuana thus has taken a turn toward “How do we get the CBD without the THC?” For instance, Florida is currently struggling with licensing facilities to grow cannabis strains low in THC:
Under a marijuana law passed last spring, nurseries that have been in business for at least 30 continuous years in Florida and cultivate at least 400,000 plants are eligible to be one of five “vertically-integrated” entities that will grow, process and distribute strains of cannabis that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, for patients who suffer from severe spasms or cancer.
Bills allowing high CBD low THC strains even made it to the federal level:
A bill being introduced Monday in the U.S. House of Representatives could be Cox’s ticket home. The three-page bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act — the federal law that criminalizes marijuana — to exempt plants with an extremely low percentage of THC, the chemical that makes users high.
This is a major win for parents of children suffering from Dravet Syndrome, and I’m glad that they are finally getting help.
But the sidelining of any strain with more than a moderate level of THC is short sighted. THC contains very powerful properties that have already been identified. The particular medicinal property I’d like to talk about today is fascinating to me, and perhaps I can make it interesting for you as well.
Two years ago, a group of Oxford researchers found that THC’s anecdotal painkilling effect was not exactly a result of nerve-dulling or anti inflammation. Some background before I go into that exact effect. Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs, include drugs like ibuprofen, which inhibits the production of hormone-like lipids in tissues that control inflammation. Tylenol, an over-the-counter drug that can cause catastrophic liver damage if misused, works almost the same way, but acts more comprehensively: rather than blocking the same hormone-like lipid as the NSAIDs, it actually blocks formation of any of that class of lipids… they think. Actually, the research is still out on how Tylenol works. Finally, opiates completely dull the nervous system to any sensation of pain by binding to opiate receptors in the gut. This powerful affect comes with a well-known cost: unbelievable levels of addiction.
Instead, the researchers at Oxford found that the psychoactive compound in marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol, works at an emotional level.
What does that even mean?
Well the researchers had some subjects pop some THC pills and rubbed down all their subjects with capsaicin cream. If you’ve ever handled whole chilis, you know exactly what that compound is, especially if you happened to touch your eyes, nose, lips, or genitals.
So after rubbing everyone down with the bothersome substance, they threw some questions at them. Here’s what the researchers found:
When the researchers asked each person to report both the intensity and the unpleasantness of the pain—in other words, how much it physically burned and how much this level of burning bothered them—they came to the surprising finding. “We found that with THC, on average people didn’t report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less,” Lee said.
They then rubbed the subjects with more cream and stuck them in an MRI. I sincerely hope they paid these people for their trouble. Perhaps they gave them some THC pills to go.
Changes in brain activity due to THC involved areas such as the anterior mid-cingulate cortex, believed to be involved in the emotional aspects of pain, rather than other areas implicated in the direct physical perception of it.
I went looking for a picture of the anterior mid-cingulate cortex, and found this slide on a website about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. IBS is, incidentally, widely considered to be treatable using marijuana.
What’s the takeaway here?
The sample size was small, and more research is needed to come to definitive conclusions. However, I found the idea that THC acts medically on your emotions, particularly when it comes to pain, to be very powerful.
In 1962, Peter O’Toole played TE Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a classic. There’s a memorable scene where Lawrence puts out a match flame using his fingers. His buddy tries the same, and then bitches and moans.
It damn well hurts!
Lawrence replies, with a dose of sanctimony: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
“Not minding that it hurts” may be what sick people all over the world need right now. Pain is rarely entirely killed without recovery. Some conditions are chronic. In a beautiful world full of interesting things to do and see, shouldn’t we be helping people to ignore the pain they live with, rather than fail to try and quash that pain entirely?
I’m hoping that, as research progresses, we can find some novel applications for THC, because it’s clear that the body has a place for it in the spectrum of medicine. It would be a very grave mistake to legalize CBD-heavy strains just because we’re too cowardly to do the research to gain an understanding of THC’s effect on the body.