Whether you’re starting to get into using cannabis products or are a little more experienced, the huge number of different chemical constituents can be confusing to sort through. This guide takes a look at two of the main compounds found in cannabis (CBD and THC) as well as why you might choose different ratios of them for separate purposes.
What are CBD and THC?
Cannabis is a complex plant, with over 560 compounds identified as of 2020. They are broadly classified into cannabinoids, which are a group of at least 125 different fat-based compounds only detected naturally in cannabis—as well as flavonoids and terpenoids (terpenes), which affect aromas and are found in many different plants.
The two most abundant cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The compounds are made up of the same type and number of atoms but are arranged differently, causing divergent effects. The most notable of these is psychoactivity, which describes the “high” sensation. THC has a strong psychoactive effect, while CBD has none.
Studies have suggested that THC and CBD share some properties, including pain reduction and anti-nausea effects. CBD has also been explored as an anti-inflammatory substance and may provide relief from some symptoms of depression and anxiety. THC is primarily known for its psychoactive effects, which can produce feelings of euphoria and intoxication, as well as irritability and paranoia in some people.
How do they work?
When you ingest cannabinoids like CBD or THC, they interact with a complex network of cell signals known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It is involved in a range of important functions, such as motor control, sleep, memory, and appetite. This system is active in everyone regardless of whether they use cannabis or not, as the ECS responds to the endocannabinoids naturally produced by the body in addition to exocannabinoids, such as those found in cannabis.
The system has two types of receptors where cannabinoids can attach. CBR1s are mainly found in the brain, while CBR2s are mainly found on immune system cells and body tissues. THC can bind to both of these receptors very strongly, which can initiate mood or consciousness changes and affect memory processing. In particular, the binding to CBR1s causes THC’s characteristic “high” by directly interacting with neural cells.
In contrast, CBD doesn’t act directly on CHR1 or CHR2, but it can block THC and other cannabinoids from accessing CHR1 receptors. As a result, CBD consumers don’t get high, but they can still experience relief from pain, inflammation, and nausea linked to CBD’s obstruction.
What happens when CBD and THC are present in different amounts?
The different amounts of CBD and THC relative to each other are described as a CBD:THC ratio. As an example, a 1:1 ratio indicates equal amounts of CBD and THC in a strain or product, while a 10:1 ratio has 10 times more CBD in it than THC.
Because CBD and THC interact with each other as well as the ECS, different effects can be produced when they are used in different amounts. Using the previous examples, a 1:1 product may cause intoxicating effects as well as pain or nausea relief. However, the high CBD concentration in a 10:1 product is able to block a lot of the THC from accessing the CHR1 receptors. As a result, a 10:1 product can create similar anti-pain/nausea outcomes without the psychological effect of the 1:1 ratio, which can be undesirable in certain situations.
Another aspect to consider is the entourage effect, which contends that the active components of cannabis act together to create the body’s response to it. As mentioned before, CBD blocks THC from interacting with the ECS, which can reduce occasional side effects of THC consumption such as increased anxiety and hunger. The combination of terpenes, flavonoids, and CBD has also been linked to greater anti-inflammatory and pain reduction than CBD alone, further supporting the entourage theory.
How does this affect extract type?
When looking at the CBD:THC ratio, a product may also have details about the extract or strain type. This includes the concentration in percentages of THC and CBD, as well as any other active components if they make up more than 5% of the cannabinol content.
Full-spectrum products contain all of the naturally occurring active compounds of cannabis, including THC and CBD. The products discussed here fall into this category, as the concentrations of the chemicals can vary based on the strains they are derived from.
Broad-spectrum products are similar in that they include a wide range of active elements, but they specifically do not contain THC. CBD isolate restricts this even further as it only contains CBD. As neither of these categories should contain THC, they do not have to show a CBD:THC ratio.
Which ratio should I choose?
The right ratio for you is all about what you want to use it for, as well as your individual profile. A number of factors can affect this, from weight, gender, and body composition all the way to when and what you last ate. If you’re unused to cannabis products, a good rule of thumb is to start with a higher CBD ratio, as there are fewer side effects associated with these products. After that, it’s a simple matter of adjusting the ratio and the dose until you find the right combination for you.
Before choosing a product, it’s important to double-check the listing order of CBD:THC. Although it’s more common to use CBD:THC, some cannabis product creators will list it as THC:CBD, which could cause some unexpected results if you were after the opposite ratio!
It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor before using new products, particularly if you’re taking other medications. These may interact with CBD and/or THC, which can cause unwanted and serious side effects.
An overview of common ratios
In essence, this comes down to what you aim to use the product for and what other effects you want to experience. If the psychoactivity of a product is a selection factor for you, a general guideline is that any ratio greater than 10:1 will not produce significant intoxicating or euphoric effects (i.e., it won’t get you “high”).
0:1 – THC isolate
A THC-only product focuses on the psychoactive effect that occurs from consuming THC. It’s often used by people suffering from chronic pain or nausea, as the intoxicating feeling can complement relief from these unpleasant symptoms. THC isolates are not recommended for use with insomnia or anxiety-type symptoms, as these can be made worse in some people.
1:0 – CBD isolate
There are many CBD isolate products available on the market and for good reason. They can provide relief from pain, nausea, inflammation, and anxiety symptoms without the “high” of THC, which is not always desirable or practical to experience. As an isolate, it doesn’t take advantage of the entourage effect, which may mean that it isn’t as effective for some people as a product with a small amount of THC might be.
1:1 – Balanced
With equal amounts of CBD and THC, this is one of the most popular ratios. Unless you’re particularly against either THC or CBD, a 1:1 ratio at a low dose can be a good starting point to see how you react to aspects of each. In most people, this ratio will provide a moderate psychoactive effect with a reduction in THC’s potential negative side effects and is commonly used for decreasing pain and reducing anxiety or depression symptoms.
2:1 – 5:1 – Medium CBD, Low THC
A decreasing amount of THC ensures that the psychoactive effect becomes steadily milder, but its presence still allows the advantages that can come from multiple cannabinoids. Products using this ratio can be useful for a wide range of conditions, including nausea, anxiety, appetite improvement, pain, and insomnia.
10:1 – 20+:1 – High CBD, Low THC
At this ratio, you’re very unlikely to experience a high, but the small amount of THC is useful for encouraging the entourage effect. Products at this ratio are typically used for mild pain, anxiety, and insomnia relief. One of the primary benefits of this ratio is that the absence of intoxication makes it much easier to carry out high-level functions such as working and driving. However, it’s important to try it for the first time when you don’t have to carry out those tasks to see how you personally react.
The bottom line
The choice of CBD:THC ratio all comes down to what you want to use the products for. If you’re aiming for help with anxiety, nausea, or inflammation and aren’t keen on THC’s intoxicating effects, a high CBD strain would be the way to go.
However, if psychoactivity is what you’re going for, there are plenty of high THC products available. There’s also a wide range of balanced products if you’re after a combination of effects. It’s all up to you!
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