SAN ANDREAS - Some people find the mind-altering effects of marijuana relaxing. But for many others, the euphoria caused by ingesting too much THC - the primary active compound - is unpleasant. Sometimes it triggers anxiety attacks.
Physicians say that is why even some patients dying of cancer who would benefit from marijuana's anti-nausea and appetite-stimulating properties resist using the drug.
Now those patients are finding new options, as the increasingly widespread testing of medical pot allows them to choose strains that contain less THC and more of another compound that has a calming effect.
The anxiety-provoking compound is tetrahydrocannabinol, popularly known as THC. It is also the compound that causes the euphoria that some marijuana users enjoy.
The sedating compound is cannabidiol, abbreviated as CBD.
The CBD, scientists report, not only offers pain relief and other benefits without the buzz, but also interacts with the THC to reduce its psychoactivity.
That means that products delivering both compounds together can deliver benefits such as the anti-nausea effect of THC while reducing the mind-altering effects that some patients find objectionable.
"That is why CBD-rich products are getting talked about," said chemist Samantha Miller, the owner of Pure Analytics in Santa Rosa. "They offer therapeutic benefits without intoxication."
Scientists say they've already found a number of beneficial uses for CBD.
"You can't get high off of the compound," said Sean McAllister, a scientist at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco who studies the anti-cancer properties of CBD and other compounds in medical marijuana.
Most medical research focuses on studying the effects of one chemical compound acting alone. That's been the model for research since the early part of the 20th Century.
Yet marijuana is a plant containing dozens of active compounds. And experts say it's likely most patients will continue to choose marijuana that blends both compounds because together they seem to be more effective.
There are dozens more compounds in marijuana, including terpenes and flavonoids, that also appear to have synergistic effects. Doctors and researchers say these secondary compounds may explain why studies find that patients eating or smoking marijuana in its plant form get more pain relief than do patients who are given a pill containing only THC.
"The testing coming out of UCSF and other countries is showing that those compounds have as much effect on its properties as the cannabinoids do," said Dr. Stacey Kerr, a physician in Santa Rosa who has recommended medical marijuana for cancer patients.
By Dana M. Nichols
Record Staff Writer
March 20, 2011