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CBD and THC are the most understood cannabinoids natural to cannabis. However, it is the cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC or D9) that is foundationally responsible for creating our long and rich history with cannabis, the parent plant of both hemp and marijuana. D9 interacts with cell receptors throughout the body to effect pain, appetite, digestion, emotions and thought processes (1). Despite the documented efficacy of D9 to address a variety of ailments, the potential for associated anxiety and paranoia can be limiting for those eager for health rewards. There is an alternative…hemp-derived delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (D8) is proven effective without the heavy high.

What is D8 & how does it differ from D9?

While both D8 and D9 can exert psychotropic effects – altering mood, thoughts, behavior, and perception – the D8 experience could offer a lighter high with less chance for some unwanted effects associated with D9. Although loved and revered by many, D9 can impair the consumers perception of time, vigilance and memory with possible disconnected thoughts, panic, perception changes or delusions (2).

D8 is a cannabinoid found naturally in hemp at low concentrations and a close relative to the better-known D9. While these cannabinoids are structurally similar, slight variations in composition result in differing effects exerted over body and mind. D9 is described to have a higher affinity for CB1 receptors present throughout our central nervous system. With a higher receptor binding affinity, D9 holds a higher potency with greater intoxicating effects. In contrast, D8 binds less readily to CB1 receptors resulting in a more gentle and manageable experience that is best described as the calm and collected alternative. Research supports these anecdotal claims with the finding that D8 exhibits a lower psychotropic potency compared to its close cousin D9, without compromising potential health rewards (3).

For many, D8 provides a calm and creative energy paired with an uplifting heady experience.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explain that through receptor binding and activation, D8 exerts wide ranging therapeutic benefit - providing relief from vomiting, nausea, anxiety, and pain to offering neuroprotective and appetite-stimulating benefits (3). Let us take a closer look.

Management of Nausea & Vomiting

A group of researchers from Western University of Health Sciences in California have been working to decipher the mechanism behind nausea and vomiting for patients undergoing radiation and/or chemotherapy treatment. As proponents for cannabinoid-based medicine, Dr. Darmani and his team were the first to describe how the plant-based compounds, D9 and D8 activate CB1 receptors to stop or prevent nausea and vomiting. They found that the vomit response is triggered by a series of messages relayed back-and-forth between nerves and cells in the brainstem and the gut (4). For this patient population, intercepting these messages and controlling the unbearable cycle of nausea and vomiting is essential to prevent dehydration, electrolyte loss and malnutrition (5). In an animal study investigating the efficacy of plant-based cannabinoids in the management of nausea and vomiting with radiation therapy, researchers were surprised to learn that D8 was more effective at preventing nausea and vomiting than D9, even though D8 binds less readily to CB1 receptors (6).

Medical scientists from Israel conducted a study to determine how well D8 would prevent vomiting when co-administered with chemotherapy agents. The study participants included eight children receiving treatment for cancer. In the original study design, the intention was to compare the anti-vomiting effects of the standard prescribed medication metoclopramide with those of D8. The results were nothing short of remarkable. D8 provided a complete block of vomiting, while five out of eight children experienced vomiting with the standard prescribed metoclopramide medication. For ethical reasons, the scientists changed the study design and for the remainder of the study period – a total of 480 treatments – all eight children received the D8 oil. The results? In the words of the medical doctors, “vomiting was completely prevented” suggesting that D8 could be “an excellent pediatric antiemetic with nonsignificant side effects” (7).

Appetite Stimulant

The effect of cannabis to increase appetite was documented in India as far back as 300AD when cannabis was recommended to reverse appetite loss. However, only recently did we learn that the physiological basis for these effects is rooted in the endocannabinoid system. Research shows that through receptor activation, plant-based cannabinoids can help to support our innate endocannabinoid system and enhance our body’s signaling capabilities. Researchers from Israel sought to determine the effect of D8 on food consumption following weight loss. Their preclinical research determined that low doses of D8 increased appetite and activity levels, while improving cognitive function – all without side effects (8). If appetite stimulation is not your goal, eat a healthy balanced meal when taking D8 to avoid cravings.

Management of Pain & Inflammation

Due to the inherent risks and potential for ineffective pain management through conventional means, people are looking to find alternative treatment options. A preclinical animal study out of Canada found that D8 reduced sensitivity to pain and provided anti-inflammatory effects when applied topically to the injured corneal surface of the eye (9). These findings indicate that D8 activates cannabinoid receptors to help balance pain and inflammation. With a lack of research specific to D8, we can look to broader cannabis studies to surmise the pain-relieving benefits that D8 could offer. Cannabinoids have been found to block pain in every laboratory pain model study reviewed. With acute pain, cannabinoids are “highly effective against thermal, mechanical, and chemical pain, and are comparable to opioids in potency and efficacy”. In chronic pain models, cannabinoids control both inflammatory and neuropathic pain (10).

Why combine D8 with full spectrum CBD?

It all begins with the plant. Phytocannabinoids – plant-based cannabinoids natural to hemp – interact with cell receptors throughout the body. Research suggests that full spectrum oil containing a mix of cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), THC, cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG), together with natural hemp terpenes provides wide-ranging therapeutic benefit mediated through the endocannabinoid system. To better understand how the many compounds derived from hemp work within the body, we must first explore the body system that they interact with.

The endocannabinoid system is described as “one of the most important physiological systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health” (11).

You may ask, why am I only hearing about this body system now? The discovery of the endocannabinoid system has been recently achieved (approximately 30 years past), representing a short period of scientific awareness. The endocannabinoid system works as a body-wide cell signaling system comprised of three main components, (1) cannabis-like chemicals called endocannabinoids, (2) cannabinoid receptors found on cells throughout the body and, (3) the enzymes that form and break down endocannabinoids. Scientists believe that many of us live with a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency – described as a loss of “endocannabinoid tone” and function. In this case, the endocannabinoid system is not working optimally and a loss of balance results (12). Fortunately, the compounds within hemp could offer some help.

Let us delve a little deeper to understand how hemp-derived cannabinoids interact with our body to effect positive change. At the cellular level, cannabinoids interact with cell receptors in different ways, producing different effects.

D9 acts primarily through activation of CB1 receptors densely expressed throughout the central nervous system, leading to therapeutic benefits that come with psychoactive effects. D8 is more loosely affiliated to CB1 receptors, producing similar yet varied results. Conversely, CBD will not produce an intoxicating psychoactive effect when interacting with CB1 receptors. It exerts the opposite effect. When taken together, CBD acts to prevent THC-associated anxiety (13). CBD holds a low affinity for the active binding site at CB1 receptors. How then does it work to regulate THC effects? Findings suggest that CBD binds to a secondary site at the CB1 receptor, distinct from the active THC-binding site. From there, CBD works to reduce the binding potential of THC, thereby reducing potency and mitigating negative effects (14). Researchers have surmised that another reason CBD can blunt the negative effects of THC is due to CBD’s documented anti-anxiety and antipsychotic actions. Another study found THC offers the greatest potential to reduce depression when used in combination with CBD (15).