They may both have medicinal potential, but don’t get them mixed up.
Once cannabis became recognized and even recommended as a medical remedy for certain ailments, it opened up the world of weed to a whole new group of people. As a result, people who may benefit from the possible therapeutic effects of cannabis-derived products are suddenly trying to learn the lingo.
Two cannabis terms that are commonly confused are CBD and medical marijuana. As CBD became more popular within the last decade (or even just the last few years), many people wondered if it was just another type of medical marijuana. However, these two items are quite different: They are made differently, used differently, and cause different effects.
Medical marijuana is the same as recreational marijuana—just used for medical purposes. It comes from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It’s traditionally smoked, but it can also be eaten (via “edibles”) or inhaled through pens, bowls, or bongs.
Medical marijuana, like recreational marijuana, contains a high ratio of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is one of over 100 active compounds (called a cannabinoids) found in cannabis. Cannabinoids interact with receptors in the body to alter the normal neurotransmission and cause effects on the body. (Not sure what these terms mean? Check out this guide to cannabis lingo.)
THC is famous because it creates the most well-known effects of cannabis, including a euphoric “high,” impaired memory, loss of coordination, slower speech, and altered sense of time. But notably, THC also creates medicinal effects, such as reducing nausea and chronic pain.
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is actually another type of cannabinoid from the cannabis plant. It interacts with different receptors than THC does, so it causes different effects. For example, CBD doesn’t cause a high.
Usually, cannabis strains used to make recreational and medical marijuana contain low amounts of CBD. To get CBD products, you must start with a strain of cannabis with a higher amount of CBD, and then extract the CBD compound from the stalks, leaves, and buds of the plant.
Because CBD products are a concentration of the CBD cannabinoid, they contain little to no THC. This is what makes CBD products so different than medical marijuana: The former does not have the psychoactive effects caused by THC. CBD still has medicinal potential, however. So far, researchers believe CBD may be able to reduce pain, inflammation, and anxiety, according to the National Cancer Institute.
CBD products may be a useful alternative for people who want to avoid the psychoactive effects of medical marijuana. For example, the FDA recently approved the first CBD-based medication as a treatment for a type of epilepsy that affects children.
You can take CBD orally using CBD oil, or you can get CBD in the form of waxes, capsules, gummies, or topical creams.
In summary, medical marijuana contains *all* the compounds associated with cannabis (mostly THC and a little CBD), but CBD oil and creams are *only* CBD.
Cannabis and cannabinoids (PDQR) - patient version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on March 26, 2019 at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/cannabis-pdq?redirect=true.)
NIH research on marijuana and cannabinoids. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018. (Accessed on March 26, 2019 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/marijuana/nih-research-marijuana-cannabinoids.)
What is medical marijuana? Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018. (Accessed on March 26, 2019 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.)