Editor's note: Wm. Willard Greene is very busy with marijuana harvest season, so his protégé, Mary Romano, fills in this week.
As the shadowy opposition to marijuana legislation began to take form, most couldn't have imagined anything more than a tired army of old conservatives wagging their fingers at unrestricted hedonism.
But instead of pantyhose and gold crosses, it turns out the ranks of the opposers are in lab coats. Vice magazine's Lee Fang discovered that "many of the researchers who have advocated against legalizing pot have also been on the payroll of leading pharmaceutical firms with products that could be easily replaced by using marijuana. When these individuals have been quoted in the media, their drug-industry ties have not been revealed."
Why is Big Pharma scared of weed? To understand, you first have to broaden your understanding of cannabis. The pharm companies' dreaded cannabinoid isn't THC—the intoxicant that makes you like Phish—but another, less-understood compound called cannabidiol, or CBD.
If you've been high, you know THC, which is what prohibition-era pot growers have mostly focused on upping in their plants. Its main effects are euphoria, eventual paranoia and Funyuns. But CBD, one of 80 other known cannabinoids, has no psychotropic effects and seems to work solely as a painkiller.
Already, we have some high-CBD strains. Maybe you've seen news coverage of Charlotte Figi, a seizure-prone grade-school girl. She consumes a high-CBD, low-THC concentrate twice a day to control her seizures and function more normally. Several Portland medical marijuana dispensaries carry one or two strains with high CBD content—typically at about 10 percent CBD with 1 percent THC.
Those strains aren't very attractive to the average patient. Ever since Deadheads began searching for the "trippiest" high, smokers have sought out strains with the highest possible THC content for the most mind-altering capacities. We haven't yet seen strains with high percentages of both because growers only understand enough to focus on cultivating one cannabinoid at a time.
To better understand the differences, I procured one high-THC strain—OG Kush, a sativa-dominant blend of Chemdawg and Hindu Kush—and a high-CBD strain named for its creator, TJ, to get a feel for the distinctions.
My particular batch of OG Kush tested at 29.6 percent THC and .1 percent CBD. The buds had a delicious, sweet flavor and floral scent. After a few hits, a wave of energizing sensation washes through the head, leaving a complacent cloud of worry-free wonder. A walk to Fred Meyer becomes a meditative trip in the wild. There's a creative burst that feels more satisfying to express, like you're accessing ideas that wouldn't have otherwise come to light. You may come to these epiphanies slack-jawed and squinty-eyed, like a masseuse with cashmere gloves is soothing your brain.
In contrast, TJ's CBD, an original strain, had only 1.1 percent THC and 13 percent CBD, nearly the highest CBD percentage available at this point. To the untrained eye, these flowers are just as pretty as any other indoor nug, with frosty leaves and flirty orange tendrils. The scent and flavor are subtle, without the noticeable skunk associated with most strains. There's no surge of energy, but it did clear my head like a cup of coffee. There's a slight burn behind the eyes that reminds you that you indeed smoked some weed, but there's none of the haze that typically washes over the brain. The physical relief isn't miraculous, but it's more effective than ibuprofen. Instead of silly ideas popping into your mind, there's a sense of calm—an optimistic sensation that abates minor annoyances.
Being a high-tolerance smoker, I tried a mixed bowl of OG Kush and TJ's CBD. The calm focus of CBD complements the buzzy energy from the OG Kush, so that functionality isn't impaired. The CBD has sort of a canceling effect on the psychoactive effects of OG Kush; the head high retained a sense of clarity, and I didn't get the munchies or sink into the couch.
The difference between the recreational high of THC and the medicinal properties of CBD, let alone other cannabinoids not yet discovered and cultivated, means that in the not-too-distant future strains could be fine-tuned to specific medical or recreational needs, adjusting the levels of each cannabinoid for desired effects—possibly to the point of accurately replicating popular prescriptions like Vicodin, Xanax or Ritalin.
That is, if the guys in lab coats don't
dissuade voters. The fact remains that we have only begun to understand
the potential of this unique plant. Big Pharma has a lot to lose, and
it's only the first round.