GREATER SPRINGFIELD – Retail cannabis shops may not be proliferating as quickly as CBD oil sellers, but the retail market for legal marijuana is here to stay in Massachusetts – and expanding across the country.
However, just like CBD oil, marijuana – or cannabis – has the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications. And according to Northampton-based Cannabis Consultant Ezra Parzybok, today’s marijuana offers a higher concentration of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC – as well as the 85 other cannabinoids – than the pot (or weed) many older consumers remember from their youth.
Reminder Publishing spoke with Parzybok about today’s cannabis potency, the difference between medical and recreational marijuana, and how today’s strains might interact with any medications a user might also be taking.
“Essentially the pot of 30 or 40 years ago was grown outdoors and was not heavily policed,” Parzybok explained. “What is really ironic is that people are wary of marijuana [today] because it is stronger than it used to be. If [it] had been legalized 49 years ago, it would not be as strong now.”
Parzybok said years of an underground cannabis industry is what led to today’s stronger strains. “When you put something underground and criminalize its purchase, [cultivators] are going to grow as much as they can in as small a space as possible, and started breeding [plants] to be stronger.”
His advice to individuals who might be revisiting their cannabis habit of years ago – “start low and go slow.
“People have learned to take only one puff [when smoking] instead of 10 puffs,” he explained. “If you take a dose of THC that is stronger than what you are used to it can be an extremely uncomfortable experience.”
Parzybok said a too-strong dose not only affects the body, but also the mind, sometimes causing people to imagine things, such as believing they are having a heart attack or stroke – or that “something terrible is happening to them.”
An experienced user will understand that the feeling is going to pass, Parzybok said. For those who haven’t encountered this effect before, he shared “It goes away in one or two hours; if you lay down and take some deep breaths, you will be fine.”
Medical vs. recreational
Parzybok said the use of the terms medical and recreational marijuana tends to create confusion among consumers.
“I generally tell people the products are the same at medical shops verses those at recreational shops,” Parzybok said. “The only difference is their legal status … their legalizing state may require different levels of THC in the recreational; sometimes different states allow stronger concentrations in the medical.
“But it is a misconception to think something is medical grade and another is recreational grade. Essentially they are the same product,” he said.
Parzybok also has an issue with the term “recreational” as it is applied to cannabis use.
“It implies that you only use it for recreation, for entertainment,” Parzybok said. Comparing the “recreational” use of cannabis to wine drinking, he explained, “It’s like red wine. You just don’t use red wine for entertainment, you use it because it goes well with dinner and maybe, it relaxes you and take the edge off.
“A lot of people use marijuana [cannabis] not because they have a medical issue, but because it helps them sleep,” Pazybok added.
Cannabis use and drug interactions
“I always think it is very important to be conservative anytime someone is taking medications and have not consumed cannabis [before,]” Parzybok said. “The best and first approach should be medical – that means talking with your physician about [medication] dosing. You want to make sure you are taking a dose that is well below the dangerous dose.”
Parzybok said in the case of painkillers, data suggests that because the THC in cannabis also has pain relieving properties, “you don’t need as much” of the prescription or over-the-counter medication. The danger in any interaction he added is not with the THC or other cannabinoids, but in the medications themselves because “that is not how the endocannabinoid system works. [The cannabinoids] do not depress cells in the body’s systems, they work with the system. The more opioids you take, the more they depress the systems.”
He also said that cannabinoids could affect people differently, acting as a sedative for some, and a stimulant for others.
“For every person who cannot smoke before bed because it keeps them awake, there is another who smokes because it is the only thing that puts them to sleep,” Parzybok noted. The method of cannabis use – smoking, oil ingestion, edibles can also impact how – and how quickly – a person feels the effects, he added.
]]“The beauty of CBD and THC is, if you go slow and work your way up to a dose where you feel the effects in your body, you can then know what it is going to do,” Parzybok said. “Is it making you [tense], stimulating you, making your pain go away [or] making your pain worse.”
Some further thoughts on CBD
In a continuation of the discussion on CBD oil that appeared in the health column of the June 13 edition, Reminder Publishing reached out to Parzybok for more information on choosing CBD oils for use.
When it comes to purchasing CBD oil products, Parzybok said it’s important to become an informed consumer.
“It is apparently common for CBD products to have different levels of CBD than what might be labeled, but batches and crops can vary,” Parzybok said. “My issue is that usually they don’t say how much or what type of CBD is on the label.”
He said that most manufacturers only list a measure of the concentration or percentage of CBD on their labels, which makes it unclear if the product is whole plant or isolate.
“It's important to note that if the concentration is very high on the label – more than 20-50mg per serving – then it might be CBD isolate, which requires higher doses to be effective – but does not contain trace THC,” Parzybok said.
He added though there are websites that are dedicated to lists of CBD, “It is sort-of a rabbit hole because who knows if the lists are reputable?
“ProjectCBD.org is a reputable educational website which provides guidance. Companies like CV Sciences are reputable. If the website has a link to the lab analysis of the product then you know they are testing their product. Look for the lab analysis. Health food stores will be reputable,” he shared, adding that even the most famous CBD company, Charlotte’s Web, doesn’t list their concentrations or “even say that their product has CBD oil in it!”
If a label does list a very high concentration of CBD, Parzybok said that usually indicates the product is an isolate.
When checking out websites and reading product labels, Parzybok advised CBD customers to be on the lookout for information presented in broken English.
“I find those occasionally and those come from China and Eastern Europe. Look for American or Canadian companies,” he stressed, adding that where and from whom you buy your product is also extremely important.
“I would never buy CBD from a gas station but health food stores and even vape shops can be knowledgeable about their suppliers,” Parzybok added. “If the company has gotten their products into a reputable supplement store – or the online store has FAQ’s linking to lab analysis, then my feeling is they are reputable.”