Your grandmother might be doing it. So might your next door neighbour, your boss, or a conservative friend.
Smoking medical marijuana, that is.
Or maybe they’re thinking about using it for a chronic health condition but are afraid to. What if medical marijuana gets you high? After all, getting high on a substance that was once strictly illegal is not on everyone’s bucket list.
Let’s look into it. Does medical marijuana get you high? The answer is no – and yes. It depends on the medical marijuana compound and strain.
What is medical marijuana?
To understand whether medical marijuana can get you high, you need to understand what’s in marijuana.
Both recreational and medical strains of marijuana (also known as cannabis or marihuana) come from the cannabis plant. After they’re dried, the leaves can be smoked or ingested. Marijuana contains over 70 cannabinoids, or chemical compounds,1 each of which has different effects on the body.
The two main cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Marijuana growers typically grow plants that have a concentration of one or the other cannabinoid.
THC causes the mind-altering or psychoactive effects that recreational users seek. It creates a feeling of euphoria, stimulates the appetite, and enhances the senses. It can also impair driving2 and cognition,3 distort one’s sense of time,4 and have other negative effects.
In contrast, you cannot get high from CBD,5, 6 which is the main cannabinoid in medical marijuana. CBD is used to treat numerous conditions and diseases. Evidence suggests that it’s effective in the treatment of pain,7 epilepsy,8schizophrenia,9 and many more conditions. As medical marijuana, it’s used in oils, skin patches, and gels in addition to being smoked. CBD is considered safer than THC.10
Medical marijuana comes from plants grown organically for their CBD content. However, they also contain some THC. THC is not just a recreational substance, though. Some THC has been found to have therapeutic uses as well.11 Moreover, a combination of THC and CBD is sometimes more effective than CBD alone, such as in a 2009 study of patients with advanced cancer pain.12
Confused yet? It’s simpler than it sounds.
Medical marijuana that won’t get you high
You don’t have to know all the science about how marijuana affects people. When you want medical benefits from marijuana without getting high, know this difference between THC and CBD. THC can get you high. CBD can’t.
Some people who use medical marijuana want only the CBD content. If you’ll be using medical marijuana while you’re at work, for example, you probably don’t want to get high from it. Also, since THC affects driving ability,13 you should avoid using it for at least several hours before driving. CBD provides medical benefits without any psychoactive effects.
Other people, however, want to feel a euphoric high to help them relax while medical marijuana eases their symptoms. Perhaps you’re looking for an energy boost from THC to help you get moving. You want medical marijuana that contains enough THC to affect you while also getting the health benefits of CBD.
Hundreds of strains of cannabis are now available. Most are a variation of two distinct strains, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, or are a hybrid of these strains. With so many strains available, it’s difficult to make statements that apply to all of them.
Here are the key points about Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa:
- Both may have high levels of THC. Although one study14 found a higher proportion of THC to CBD in Cannabis indica plants, some Cannabis indica plants have more CBD than THC.
- Cannabis indica can reduce stress and anxiety. It can help you relax and sleep. It’s been proven to help with pain management, non-migraine headaches, seizures, glaucoma, and insomnia.15
- Cannabis sativa can increase energy levels and feelings of euphoria.15 It can also relieve or reduce headaches, migraines, depression, and nausea.
- Hybrids can have a higher concentration of either CBD or THC.
- CBD modifies the effects of THC.16
If you want medical marijuana that will provide health benefits without getting you high, look for a higher concentration of CBD than THC.
In addition to CBD and THC, another cannabinoid — Cannabinol (CBN) — has been getting some attention lately. Among other benefits, it has anti-inflammatory,17 anti-bacterial,18 and pain relief19 properties. It’s also believed to help you sleep and to stimulate your appetite.20
CBN is a product of THC. Unlike THC, though, CBN has very little psychoactive effect, possibly none unless combined with other cannabis compounds.
More research is needed into the medical benefits of marijuana and the differences between psychoactive and non-psychoactive marijuana compounds. However, the current research already indicates that yes, you can use medical marijuana without getting high.
And yes, it can get you high too, depending on the compounds and strains. Use medical marijuana that is primarily not psychoactive, such as CBD or CBN, and you won’t get high.