Cannabis: The problem with defining products around THC content

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Psychoactive effects are a daily experience to most. No matter how you take your coffee, know that it includes a dose of psychoactivity. Morning caffeine jitters and post “coffee highs” are such symptomatic effects. Chocolate lovers will have also experienced psychoactive effects, such as improved mood, stress reduction, and focus.

Psychotropic effects, by contrast, are what people stereotypically identify with the “high” of cannabis. There might be mood and mind-altering effects, which change behaviour, thoughts, perception and mental and motor activity. Many of the laws around cannabis, both in the UK and elsewhere, cling on to this distinction between psychoactive and psychotropic compounds as an easy way to distinguish between “benefical” and “harmful” substances.

But the synergy of THC and CBD, and other cannabinoids like THCV, CBN, CBG and delta-8 THC, are under investigation by scientists to explore how multiple compounds enhance the potential effect of the plant. This characterizes a theory called “the entourage effect” that suggests that the synergy of various molecules found in cannabis, when combined, maximizes the potential efficacy of a whole plant compound, rather than isolated extracts.

This has been researched in the context of anxiety and mood disorders, migraines, pain and headaches, cancer, inflammation and Crohn’s disease. Historically there have been restrictions to conduct cannabis research, so these studies provide a useful foundation for the ongoing investigation.

Cannabis is a complex plant. Humans are complex, diverse beings. Cannabis legalization in the UK — and many other countries — has aimed to simplify the plant, and its derived products, but the commercialization of this has created two clumsy and unhelpful categories. Ultimately, this is detrimental to the longevity of patient access, scientific research and public knowledge about cannabis-based products and other plant medicines.

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