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CBD vs. Medical Marijuana: Weeding Through the Confusion

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 9:08 AM

Medical marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) products are gaining popularity, as patients find them effective in managing a wide range of conditions. But there also is confusion and misinformation about how and when to use these plant-based therapeutics.

NorthShore Integrative Medicine Director Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, former chair of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board for the Illinois Department of Public Health, answers questions about the benefits and safety concerns of medical marijuana and CBD.  

CBD vs Medical Marijuana

Q: What’s the difference between medical marijuana and CBD products?
A: The Cannabis sativa plant that is harvested for marijuana contains both Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). The THC compound is responsible for the psychoactivity or the sensation of feeling “high” and affects everyone differently. Patients must receive doctor certification to get a medical marijuana license to purchase products from a registered Illinois dispensary. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t contain THC, and a wide range of CBD products can be purchased over-the-counter—including oils, lotions and candies.

Q: What are some common reasons people try medical marijuana or CBD?
A: Medical cannabis has been beneficial for patients with cancer, helping to treat pain from cancer and offset the side effects from chemotherapy. It can help stimulate appetite, reduce discomfort and promote sleep/relaxation. I also see many patients with fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and seizures who have experienced the benefits of medical cannabis. For those new to medical cannabis, it’s important to start with a very low amount and slowly increase the dose as individual reactions vary greatly.

There’s anecdotal evidence that CBD products can help reduce pain and promote relaxation. But these products are not regulated and can be purchased at a number of retail locations. I caution my patients to buy CBD from a respected source that stands behind the quality of the products, like NorthShore’s Wellness Shoppe at Park Center in Glenview.

Q: Are they any cautions for patients considering medical marijuana?
A: There’s a growing body of research supporting the use of medical cannabis for an increasing number of conditions, particularly chronic pain. But keep in mind that cannabis is just one tool in the toolbox. Patients should look at all factors that may affect their condition—from a healthy diet, movement and exercise to stress reduction. I also counsel patients not to drive using cannabis, as THC can impair driving.