A New Marijuana Plant Without the High? It Could Be Good Medicine

The new medical marijuana plant, developed by Israeli researchers, holds promise for treating conditions like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease — without causing the munchies.

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The Internet is buzzing about a new breed of marijuana that apparently causes no buzz of its own. Israeli researchers have bred cannabis plants that look, smell and taste like ordinary marijuana — but lack THC, the active ingredient responsible for the spacy, giddy and sometimes hallucinatory part of pot’s high.

What’s the point of weed that doesn’t get you high, you ask? The new product could potentially fight conditions ranging from schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s disease.

The new marijuana isn’t just low-THC ditch weed or hemp by a different name. Tzahi Klein of the Israeli company Tikkun Olam and his colleagues have created a strain of pot that lacks THC but is abundant in cannabidiol (CBD), typically the second most common active compound in cannabis.

“It has the same scent, shape and taste as the original plant — it’s all the same — but the numbing sensation that users are accustomed to has disappeared,” Klein told the Israeli paper Maariv. He said that many patients in his studies felt “tricked” because they thought they’d been given a placebo when they smoked it.

(MORE: Marijuana Compound Treats Schizophrenia with Few Side Effects: Clinical Trial)

But while CBD doesn’t lead to the “munchies,” hallucinations or other effects commonly felt by marijuana users, it’s far from inert. As I reported last week, a preliminary trial of CBD for the treatment of people with schizophrenia found that it was as effective as a standard antipsychotic drug — with none of the movement disorders, mood issues or weight gain linked to that class of medications.

CBD also seems to protect brain cells from damage, so much so that it is currently being studied as a way to stop the progression of the movement disorder Huntington’s disease, which is caused by degeneration of nerve cells in certain parts of the brain. CBD’s neuroprotective property has also been shown to fight Alzheimer’s disease progression in animal models — though human research has yet to be done — and to reduce seizures.

Further, the compound has anxiety-reducing effects, which may be responsible for making some types of marijuana seem mellower than others. Shorn of THC, marijuana containing CBD might be useful as an anti-anxiety medication or antidepressant. And because it doesn’t produce a noticeable high or impairment, it wouldn’t carry the risks associated with current anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax.

(MORE: What’s in Your Marijuana? Some Pot Doesn’t Rot Your Memory)

All of this means that the new plant could have huge potential — if its development isn’t stymied by the fact that its ingredients can’t be patented (that means less profit for drug companies) or by the politics of the drug war. Two big ifs.

Here’s hoping that this type of medical marijuana is made available to researchers for further study and then to countries and states where it is legal for compassionate access. Patenting and political roadblocks mean it may be a long time before a synthetic version of CBD hits the market, but many questions about its safety and efficacy could be answered far more quickly.

Until now, it hasn’t been possible to get CBD from smoking marijuana without the simultaneous and possibly counterproductive exposure to THC. The new plant could change that — and perhaps shift the medical marijuana debate as well. While THC will remain essential for some medical marijuana patients — to increase appetite, for example — the non-impairing version of marijuana with CBD could help many others, without inducing the pleasure-producing properties that cause so much unending controversy.

MORE: Marijuana Derivative May Offer Hope in Cocaine Addiction

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer for TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

17 comments
crdavis54
crdavis54

I suffer from constant, almost daily nausea and recently while on a trip to a state where medical marijuana is legal, I took several puffs (and yes I did inhale) of this medical marijuana specially being grown to treat seizures.  Within minutes, my nausea was totally gone!  Yet I did not feel "high" at all.  I felt calm and had zero nausea.  The effects lasted almost all day, for at least 8 hours.  IT was amazing, and I wish I had this particular marijuana on hand for when the nausea comes on me.  I wish it was legal in all states.  And I wish it was available to my adult child who has suffered from schizophrenia for almost 20 years.  It does not get you high, nor is there any side affects what so ever.  I felt calm, nausea free and physically well, better than I had felt in a year.

carolynw
carolynw

Does anyone know where can I purchase high CBD marijuana?

MichaelWickler
MichaelWickler

I don't know why anyone would want to remove pleasure producing properties. Who's to say THC and CBD shouldn't work together? I trust in the design of the plant, and believe all its interrelations need study before we divide and conquer its chemical makeup.

chictyler
chictyler

If you remove the THC you remove the medicinal benefit, and you make it cause cancer rather than cure it. THC is the active chemical that prevents and slows cancer, alzheimer's, etc. Not cellulose.

BradHuckabay
BradHuckabay

"if its development isn’t stymied by the fact that its ingredients can’t be patented (that means less profit for drug companies) or by the politics of the drug war."

When we will stop this nonsense? The fact that we can't choose for ourselves is the real crime. 


JohnW.Getts
JohnW.Getts

Thank you for writing this article, I have first hand knowledge that marijuana high in cbd's acts as an anti-anxiety drug.  I suffer from both anxiety and depression and I use a strain superrich in cbd's (Harlequin) to control both.  The Harlequin completely eliminates all anxiety and lessens the depression enough for me to get through the day in as close to a normal manner as is humanly possible.  I'd recommend it for any one who suffers from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.  Remember, all drugs have side effects, only with herbs, unlike pharmaceuticals, it is almost always good.  :)

MuzzyLu
MuzzyLu

Marijuana works very well for pain management. Unless someone has tried cannabis for pain, they should not venture the opinion that it doesn't work for medical purposes.  Pain management with cannabis requires the right dosage. Using marijuana edibles is the right way to maintain pain reduction. This book has great recipes for edible marijuana that are easy, small and cheap to make: MARIJUANA - Guide to Buying, Growing, Harvesting, and Making Medical Marijuana Oil and Delicious Candies to Treat Pain and Ailments by Mary Bendis, Second Edition. Only 2.99. Learn to make marijuana oil, delicious Cannabis Chocolates, and tasty Dragon Teeth Mints. goo.gl/iYjPn goo.gl/Jfs61 

BigRedBrent
BigRedBrent

I really need to get some of this stuff. I know some people with schizophrenia that may find this stuff very helpful.

ZavierMcFall-Maycock
ZavierMcFall-Maycock

@MichaelWickler I agree with this, especially when you have products that were only THC or synthetic THC, and those people were going crazy, only overdoses on a Marijuana product we've had were Marinol.  So like many others who aren't ignorant about the plant, I believe the chemicals have a synergistic quality. 

andrewernewein
andrewernewein

@chictyler WOW! I love it when people that have no idea what they're talking about make comments. Thanks for the laugh! do some research next time you want to try to sound smart though, ok? 

crdavis54
crdavis54

@chictyler Israel has been researching this since the 1970"s, probably longer than you have been on this planet.  They have been using this particular modified strain, high in cbd in treatments for seizures, and certain degenerative nerve cell diseases such as MS.  CNN did a wonderful special report on this exact strain of pot.  Chic unless you are a chemist/scientist and have first hand long term studies to back up your statement, then it sounds to me you just want pot to get high.

ZavierMcFall-Maycock
ZavierMcFall-Maycock

@crdavis54 @chictyler  To  be fair a scientist in Israel discovered THC in 1964,  Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.


There isn't proof that "THC cures cancer" this has just been ignorant people reading it wrong (and I do just want to get high, its no worse than people drinking and that's legal, especially if you don't smoke it, and vape or eat it).  What there is evidence of is that cannabis has some cancer fighting properties when it comes to certain cancers, and might be able to fight tumors because it induces cell death and inhibits cell growth in the tumor.  It's mainly cbd that they found correlated to this, the thc is awesome for eating disorders (anorexia, personal experience, its even used to treat it in my state, doesn't help the image issues, you need a therapist for that, but it does make you eat and want to eat) and cancer patients on chemo though, its not like its useless medicinally.  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page4

JayEnglish
JayEnglish

@JoanneDevoreVecchio  Cannabis is actually very easy to cook, and there are many methods. Arguably the most effective for baking is to infuse it with butter, in doing so it is often useful to make too much because the butter can later be used in almost anything. You must first melt the butter and heat it to a light simmer or boil then add the finely ground marijuana plant (the smaller 'sugar leaves' are most often used, though the bud may be more potent and deliver a different high). Stir very regularly and cook for a short time if you intend to bake with it(~5-10mins) and for a longer time if you wish to cook it for a shorter time in something such as a stir-fry (lower heat for ~15mins). Then use a fine sieve to take out the chucks, this is optional as many people do not mind the fine chunks and enjoy the flavour. Then place the content into a fridge and leave to cool for a day. It is now fine to be used in almost any baking or food as if it were normal butter with pleasant tang and physical effect. :)