CBD vs THC Part One: Entheogens and the Pursuit of Health

While we have discussed the many health and nutritional benefits of Canabidiol (CBD), we have been cautious about discussing CBD's counterpart, the compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC as it is commonly known. The main reason for this caution has been, of course, the legality of THC in the United States and elsewhere around the world. 

In the United States, THC is illegal under federal law. And while many states have stricken old laws from the books and made THC and cannabis legal, federally it is still a crime to posses even small quantities of THC. Being lumped in with THC puts CBD into a bit of a grey area in terms of its own legality.

This is of course due to THC's psychoactive properties. When you smoke or eat cannabis, it is the THC that “gets you high”.

This occurs because THC as a chemical compound is remarkably similar to the body's own endocannabinoid compounds, and is therefore able to bind to the corresponding receptors in the brain. Specifically, THC binds well to the CB1 receptor. It then begins sending signals to the brain which are responsible for the “high” one feels.

While we may take advantage of this chemical reaction for recreational purposes, it has historically had a much more profound use. Cannabis is among the many plants on earth (including peyote, psyloscibin mushrooms, and more) known as Etheogens.

The word “etheogen” is derived from ancient Greek and literally means “becoming divine within”. This refers to the many spiritual and shamanic uses of these plants form around the globe and throughout human history. 

In fact, it can be truly said that modern western culture, as it has spread around the world, is the first human culture that does not use Entheogens ritualistically and as an important part of that culture's spiritual foundation.

While some may argue that our culture's entheogen is alcohol, if we look closely at the effects of that substance compared to, say, ayahuasca or peyote, we can see immediately that it is a pale stand-in, and in fact serves to dampen the connection with the divine, rather that to enhance or manifest it.

When we look at cannabis in an entheogenic light, we can see right away that, stripped of its psychoactive (its spiritual) effects, it becomes just another plant. One with numerous and important medical uses, to be sure, but a plant nonetheless.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. One of the defining characteristics of an etheogen, or in fact a spiritual experience in the broad sense, is that it isn't something you can do all the time.

You can't go into work, or operate machinery, or drive on a freeway, while having a profound revelatory encounter with the divine. It simply isn't safe. And so we isolate away those compounds that give us the health benefits we are searching for, while eliminating the profound experiential nature of what the plant as a whole can offer us.

So now, because we are able to do that, we can help children who have frequent seizures, without worrying about THC's effect on the developing or adolescent brain. We can ingest CBD for anxiety at work, without worrying about losing our concentration on the line or “spacing out” at a board meeting.

CBD isolation is therefore a great stride forward for medical science and for human well-being as a whole. It allows you to experience the benefits of the cannabis plant, without the high.

However, it is important to consider where CBD comes from. The compound is, of course, just one of many within an organism (cannabis) that seems designed to fit the human brain on a chemical level. Consumed as a whole, cannabis has a powerful transformative effect. This effect is lost to a large degree on the high-seekers who consume it recreationaly as a party drug, or simply as a way to relax.

Taken in an intentional context, cannabis does become a life-altering experience. We can use it most profoundly as a way to see our own though-processes from an altered and therefore alternate viewpoint, allowing us to re-frame these processes, see where they are and aren't working, and make (or at least decide to make) adjustments. This is what some call the “me-croscope”- an intentional examination of the mind that is really only possible in the altered state that comes from THC.

This is seen especially when cannabis is used in a psychiatric setting. With those suffering from PTSD or obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example, CBD can be used to alleviate the symptoms.

Anxiety, anger, and the inflammations that are often the body's response to them can be helped to a great degree by taking CBD. But if you add THC into the mix, then you are suddenly able to re-frame the thought patterns that give rise to the anxiety or to the anger. 

OCD's intrusive and disturbing thoughts may become less disturbing when viewed from a slightly skewed vantage point. Lastly, the profound spiritual experiences that can occur when you ingest an etheogenic substance intentionally for that purpose (and in the right setting) can do wonders for these problems, and may even be part of overcoming such crippling issues as addiction and Major Depressive Disorder.

There are many, many other issues which can be helped by CBD, but which can be helped more by CBD plus THC. We will look at these in Part Two of this article. In addition, we will look at issues which can be made worse by THC and how to balance the two.