During our patient seminars, one of the questions we are asked the most frequently is, “How do I choose between cannabis therapy using activated or non-activated cannabinoids?” As many patients are coming to understand, cannabinoids, some of the active ingredients in cannabis including THC and CBD, can exist in different forms depending on whether or not they have been heated and for how long they have been heated. The experience of the patient is very different depending on which form, acidic vs. activated, the cannabinoids are in when consumed.
In the growing plant the two major cannabinoids exist almost entirely in the acid form and are known as THCA and CBDA or “THC-acid” and “CBD-acid”. When these acidic cannabinoids are heated, a chemical reaction takes place called “decarboxylation”, also known as “activation”. As a result of heating the cannabinoids change form to become THC and CBD. This heating that causes activation can be the result of smoking, vaporizing or heating a mixture of butter and cannabis, for example. Complete activation in edibles reliably occurs if the cannabis infusion has been heated to 212° F for 90 minutes. Heating less than this or at a lower temperature may result in partial activation.
When working with THC-dominant cannabis the difference between THC-acid and activated THC is very important for the user. THC-acid is non-psychoactive. Consuming THC-acid will not results in feelings of being “high”. This is very different from the effects of activated THC which is consumed when cannabis is smoked, vaporized or has been heated under certain conditions before ingestion.
Patient reports of the onset and duration of therapeutic benefits also varies between the two types of cannabinoids, acidic vs. activated. Activated THC contributes to feelings of psychoactivity or intoxication in most patients. In the last few years the idea of juicing raw cannabis or consuming cannabis tinctures and water-extracted hash, prepared without heating, has caught on in many circles. For many patients, especially older patients, they are looking for a cannabis therapy option that doesn’t have a significant amount of psychoactivity, or feelings of being high, associated with use. Patients reporting on results of daily THC-acid and CBD-acid therapy generally note that their symptoms were alleviated with a few days to a couple of weeks of beginning daily ingestion of acidic cannabinoids. Many of the patients who have anecdotally reported successful results with this therapeutic approach suffer from chronic conditions such as ALS, autism, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis as well as patients suffering from neuropathy, either induced by a condition such as HIV or from the use of certain drugs. It is noted by patients that upon ceasing THCA or CBDA therapy, symptoms returned quickly in most cases.
Not as much is known about the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoid acids due to their newness in the consciousness of patient use. Anecdotal feedback is mounting and has evolved a view that acidic cannabinoid therapy seems to have an overall balancing effect to the endocannabinoid system and may have a positive benefit for many conditions including inflammation and spasticity.
The extended timeframe to achieve therapeutic benefit with acidic cannabinoid therapy is very different from the immediate onset or relief many feel from use of activated cannabinoids either through smoking, vaporizing or ingesting. Activated THC therapy is used by patients to treat pain, nausea, appetite loss, depression, insomnia and more. Activated CBD therapy has also been established as an effective treatment for chronic pain due to spasticity, convulsions and inflammation as well as providing relief from feelings of anxiety.
For many patients suffering from acute pain or an episode of pain that requires immediate treatment, activated cannabinoid therapy can bring quick relief in the moment. In the case of activated THC therapy, feelings of psychoactivity or intoxication accompany consumption. This is not the case with activated CBD. CBD whether in the acidic or activated form is non-psychoactive and does not result in feelings of intoxication. It should be noted, however, that in most cases CBD is accompanied by low to moderate levels of THC. The consumption of CBD and THC together may result in some feelings of psychoactivity due to the THC present. Many patients report that the total psychoactivity experienced from THC when combined with CBD, is less than when if THC was consumed by itself in the same amount.
With a greater understanding of the therapeutic attributes of acidic versus activated cannabinoids, patients have a broader spectrum of therapy options to suit the needs of their condition and preferences. Many patients are turning to a combined therapeutic approach to enjoy the benefits of both acidic and activated cannabinoid therapy.
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