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Understanding the confusing world of CBD and THC ratios

The world of CBD-rich marijuana products is getting bigger.

This post is part of our High-tech High series, which explores weed innovations, and our cultural relationship with cannabis, as legalization in several U.S. states, Canada, and Uruguay moves the market further out of the shadows.

There’s a flurry of new numbers on marijuana product labels, and the ratios can feel like a confusing math problem.

But there’s a method to the madness — one based more on anecdotes than broadly recognized scientific research.

A variety of vape oils, tinctures, salves, and edibles with numbers like 18:1, 4:1, and 1:1 — noting the amount of CBD to THC — have been showing up at dispensaries in recent years in both medical and recreational states. THC will make you high, while its sister compound CBD generally won’t — and has therapeutic potential. Most marijuana strains have around 18 percent THC with less than 1 percent CBD (with THC sometimes being pushed beyond 20 percent).

The cannabis companies behind the trend aren’t chucking THC; they’re just flipping the ratios. For decades, growers have focused on breeding weed with increased amounts of THC. That’s still the case to a large degree, but a sliver of the market sees big things for CBD-rich marijuana products.

“They kept getting bred to go higher and higher in THC, so most strains have very low CBD,” said Dennis Hunter, cofounder of Cannacraft, a Santa Rosa cannabis producer with a line of CBD-rich products under the brand name Care by Design. “Now they’re starting to breed those to be higher and higher in CBD.”

Care by Design, and other companies like Pure Ratios in San Diego, use previous customers’ experiences to guide new users toward their preferred ratio.

But with scant evidence-backed scientific research regarding the impact of each ratio, consumers resort to trial and error to see what works for them.

A 1:1 CBD to THC vape pen.

Image: Care by Design

An 18:1 CBD to THC vape pen.

Image: Care by Design

CBD-rich products are marketed toward those seeking relief from anxiety, arthritis, seizures, stress, inflammation, and overall wellness, not necessarily a high. They’re also being used to ease those once spooked off by a bad marijuana experience back in. Baby boomers are Care by Design’s biggest growing customer base.

There are plenty of anecdotes from customers reporting life-changing relief with unregulated CBD-rich products, but it’s still a gamble and you’re the guinea pig. And these products aren’t cheap. Care by Design’s cartridges are $50 and its droppers are $40. Pure Ratios’ droppers are around $30. CBD oil made from hemp, which has less than 0.3 percent THC, from Bloom Farms, for example, ranges from $60 to $90.

Cinnamon Bidwell, a neurobiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Cognitive Science, cautions not to get swept up in the testimonials promoted by cannabis manufacturers.

“The marketing and the consumer lure is far ahead of what the research can really support,” said Bidwell. That seems to be the case for marijuana in general since its classification as a so-called Schedule 1 drug — which means the federal government believes it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — makes it difficult to study. Bidwell’s lab, which is in a state that has legalized recreational marijuana, is conducting a 5-year study comparing the cannabinoids subjects ingest to what shows up in their bloodstreams in relation to clinical outcomes.

What’s more, all the ratios can be hard to understand. Care by Design offers five (18:1, 8:1, 4:1, 2:1, and 1:1), while Pure Ratios cut down to three (18:1, 4:1, and 1:1) because customers were confused by the variety, said CEO Chad Conner.

Image: Bob Al-Greene / Mashable

Here’s a rule of thumb: The higher the CBD, the less of a high you’ll get from the THC, both because there’s less of it and CBD generally combats THC’s psychoactive effects, depending on the amount of THC you’ve consumed, according to cannabis researchers and producers.

When you’re deciding which ratio is right for you, it’ll take some experimenting. Both Hunter and Conner suggest starting with a high-level of CBD and working your way down to a more balanced product. You’ll have to play around with the amount, too, but take it slow.

Care by Design sells a sampler pack to help in the guessing game. The ends of the spectrum, 18:1 or 1:1, are its best sellers; either consumers don’t want to feel psychoactive effects or they do, it seems.

The trial and error, Bidwell said, is what happens when cannabis products rush into the market before there’s sufficient research.

There is, however, a prescription 1:1 CBD to THC mouth spray called Sativex made in the UK and available in several countries including Spain, Germany, Canada, and Brazil that’s meant to treat spasms in MS patients. It’s undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved cannabis-derived drug in the states, is high in CBD with trace amounts of THC (not enough to have any pharmacological effect). It’s used to treat seizures.

“We’re starting to understand what CBD does, but even that is very minimal. And in terms of these different ratios, there’s an idea or a hypothesis that there’s something there in terms of THC facilitating CBD’s action in a different way, if not more in different amounts. But in terms of the science being able to contribute to that in any kind of clear way, we’re not there yet,” Bidwell said.

Elliot Altman, biology director of the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, disagrees with that assessment when it comes to CBD’s therapeutic benefits. His lab at Middle Tennessee State University studies CBD and hemp. Marijuana isn’t legal in Tennessee, but hemp is. Most CBD products are made from hemp extract, while the ratio products tend to include a variety of cannabis strains to get the right proportion.

It’s clear to Altman, who does not study THC, that CBD provides relief for those with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, but if you’re looking for pain relief, that’s going to come from THC. Altman’s lab works with private groups looking to sell CBD from hemp as a nutritional supplement.

“THC is for pain, and CBD is for when your immune system is compromised,” Altman said. His take on these emerging products is pretty simple: “If what you’re really after is CBD, but you’re in a marijuana state, take a little THC to take the edge off, don’t take excessive THC.”

What do CBD to THC ratios mean and what can they really do?

Benefits of different CBD:THC ratios in Medical Cannabis Strains

While visiting a medical cannabis dispensary, you might have noticed that different kinds of cannabis products are organized by Indica or Sativa content profile, and THC:CBD content.

However, either you ignore to ask or have no knowledge regarding these THC:CBD ratios.

Medical Cannabis is such an amazing plant where cannabinoids and terpenes work synergistically, and this collectively makes them full-spectrum extracts.

While THC has euphoric effects, CBD and terpenes are known for their non-psychoactive effects. Hence, the impact of a particular cannabis strain can vary dramatically depending upon the ratio of these two active cannabinoids.

Therefore, while purchasing medical cannabis in Orange County instead of just focussing on the dosage of cannabis, one should also have correct information about a variety of CBD:THC ratios.

Through this article, we will learn about the difference between these two cannabinoids and how their different ratios can help manage different conditions effectively.

CBD vs. THC

Marijuana contains over 100 types of active chemical compounds called cannabinoids.

Out of these cannabinoids, CBD and THC have been studied the most for their interaction with our body’s endocannabinoid system receptors.

They both possess different medicinal properties as well as effects on our body. This difference lies in the way they interact with the receptors in our body.

While THC binds CB1 receptor favorably, CBD acts as an antagonist to these receptors, sometimes partially blocking these CB1 receptors, thereby reducing euphoric effects of the THC molecule.

Properties of Cannabinoids:

THC is known for its euphoria while acting as an anti-inflammatory, anti-emetic, and an analgesic.

However, CBD shares some of these properties and is also known for its anti-seizure, anti-anxiety and antipsychotic properties.

Some studies even have reported that CBD is thought to enhance anti-cancer and pain reducing properties of cannabis.

Therefore, it is highly possible, depending on your particular condition, you will respond in a certain way to different CBD:THC ratios present in medical cannabis strains.

CBD:THC ratios and their benefits:

CBD:THC 0:1

This is a THC dominant strain where a person will experience intense psychoactive effects.

Medical Cannabis strains with such ratios are known for uplifting moods, thus making a person happy.

These strains can help induce appetite, reduce inflammation with relaxing effects.

Examples- Gorilla Glue by Zamnesia with THC content of about 25%, and Girl Scout Cookies is loaded with around 22% of THC.

CBD:THC 1:2

This type of strain produces a calming sensation with reduced cases of anxiety.

Therefore, these strains can significantly reduce the euphoric effects of THC along with managing a number of conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, stress, insomnia, migraines, and muscle spasms.

Examples- Blue Widow, OG Kush.

CBD:THC 1:1

Research supports that strains with this kind of chemical makeup can be helpful in managing a number of chronic disorders.

This is because such strains can be used by any patient without bothering about the euphoric effects of THC.

Medical conditions and their associated symptoms which can be managed using this CBD:THC ratio are insomnia, fibromyalgia, autism, chronic pain, spasticity, reduced appetite, and skin diseases.

Examples- Cannatonic, Sweet Tooth Auto, Critical Mass CBD.

CBD:THC 2:1 or 3:1

This particular ratio is ideal for many patients who wish to avoid the euphoric effects of THC.

It is suitable to combat autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal issues like Crohn’s and colitis, arthritis, and psoriasis.

This type of medical cannabis strains are known for their calming effects.

Examples-Kama Kush CBD, CBD Critical Cure, and Cheese Autoflowering.

CBD:THC 1:0

Although this ratio is very rare in reality.

However, certain strains which are close to this ratio are CBD Therapy with 10% CBD and just 0.5% THC, Candida (CD-1) with 20% CBD and only 1% THC.

This data will help you understand which medical cannabis strain will be helpful for your particular medical condition.

However, it is advised usually to start with a small dose of CBD rich ratio and then gradually add the THC content to get maximum therapeutic benefits.

In order to use this amazing plant for your health condition, I recommend one must always consult a medical cannabis specialist in Orange County , rather than indulging in any self-medication procedures.

Do share your personal experiences of particular medical marijuana strains and help us learn more about this amazing plant.

Medical Cannabis strains can help manage a number of medical conditions. However, results can vary dramatically depending on their CBD:THC ratios. Here’s How?