We hear all the time that, “CBD won’t get you high!” or, “CBD is entirely non-psychoactive!”. But is it true? Learn the truth. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring, non-psychotropic cannabinoid of the hemp plant <i>Cannabis sativa</i> L. and has been known to induce several physiological and pharmacological effects. While CBD is approved as a medicinal product subject to prescription, it is also widely sold over the c … THC and CBD both come from cannabis, but they have different effects on the body and mind, and they aren’t always legal. Learn more.
Is CBD Really Non-Psychoactive, or Is This a Myth?
If you have researched CBD online, you’ll almost certainly have seen it described as ‘non-psychoactive.’ Many people use the term without understanding what it means. Similarly, you will read that THC, the cannabinoid in marijuana that causes an intoxicating high, is psychoactive.
However, the notion that CBD isn’t psychoactive is based on outdated science. The fact it helps define the cannabinoid as distinct from THC is another reason. In this article, we outline the truth behind whether CBD is psychoactive.
The Science of CBD – A Quick Primer
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is found in humans and other mammals and consists of different endocannabinoids. These are neurotransmitters that bind to receptors in our peripheral nervous system and central nervous system. The ECS regulates a variety of cognitive and physiological processes in the body, including:
The CB1 and CB2 receptors are the main receptors for endocannabinoids. The CB1 receptors are typically found in the central nervous system and brain. They help regulate mood, pain, appetite, and other functions. The CB2 receptors are primarily located in the immune system and throughout the body. They generally regulate pain and inflammation.
CBD Versus THC’s Effects
THC’s ability to mimic anandamide is why it provides intoxication. Anandamide, known as the ‘bliss’ molecule, binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain, which is associated with a mood boost. THC binds more tightly to CB1 receptors than the bliss molecule. As a result, it prevents the release of other neurotransmitters, leading to a feeling of euphoria.
CBD’s effect on the CB receptors is significantly milder. It loosely binds with CB1, which ultimately blocks the receptor. CBD is a modulator capable of increasing or decreasing a receptor’s capacity for transmitting signals. Its effects are often likened to a dimmer switch. Researchers believe that CBD’s ability to modulate brain activity is why it helps with symptoms of epilepsy, such as seizures.
CBD could also modulate some of the body’s other receptors. Examples include serotonin, which impacts mood, and opioid receptors, which offer relief from pain. CBD can also reduce the intoxicating effects of THC.
What Does ‘Psychoactive’ Mean & Why Do People Think CBD Is Non-Psychoactive?
A psychoactive chemical acts primarily on the central nervous system and also alters brain function. This leads to a short-term change in mood, behavior, perception, or consciousness.
CBD doesn’t cause intoxication like THC. Moreover, using it won’t lead to clear signs of cognitive changes, nor will you suffer withdrawal symptoms once you stop using it. Even scientific researchers refer to CBD as ‘non-psychoactive.’ This study published in BioMed Research International in 2018 is one example.
However, it is a misnomer. CBD crosses the blood-brain barrier and has a direct effect on the central nervous system. It also causes changes in mood and perception. There is evidence from the countless CBD users who claim they feel calm and relaxed after taking it. A huge percentage of people use the cannabinoid to help relieve pain.
Psychoactive, Intoxicating, & Psychotropic
The term ‘intoxication’ usually refers to a state where a person has lost control of their faculties or behavior. In general, it describes the effects of drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis. CBD doesn’t result in any such loss of control, so saying it is non-intoxicating is technically more accurate.
A psychotropic substance is also something that impacts a person’s mental state, perception of the world, and sense of reality. While CBD could help someone feel less anxious, it doesn’t alter reality. Marijuana potentially does, as do drugs such as psilocybin, LSD, and other hallucinogens.
The term ‘psychoactive’ seems to carry negative connotations, which is why CBD sellers are keen to steer clear. They are only too happy to go along with the myth that cannabidiol isn’t psychoactive.
However, many people don’t realize that they consume psychoactive substances regularly! Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, is a prime example. Dark chocolate contains an abundance of cacao, the raw seeds from where the chocolate is derived. Its compounds can help reduce tension. Therefore, cacao, and by extension, chocolate, are psychoactive substances.
Old Science, Wrong Conclusions
The idea that CBD is non-psychoactive comes from a reliance on old science. Even today, researchers are still learning more about how CBD impacts human physiology. We know that CBD operates through over 60 different molecular pathways.
We’re also aware that CBD acts through a variety of receptor-independent channels. The cannabinoid binds to a series of receptors in the brain, including:
- GPR55:The orphan receptor.
- PPAR-gamma:A nuclear receptor that regulates gene expression.
- TRPV1:Plays a major role in CBD’s antipsychotic effect.
- 5HT1A:Helps with CBD’s anti-anxiety properties.
CBD doesn’t directly stimulate the CB1, and CB2 receptors like THC does. THC fits into a specific binding site in the CB1 receptor. The ‘lock and key’ description is apt for this process. THC is the molecular key that fits perfectly into the CB1 receptor’s lock.
Researchers discovered the CB1 receptor in 1988. Ever since, researchers see it as a ‘given’ that CBD has little binding affinity for this receptor. However, recent research suggests that CBD does interact with the CB1 receptor. Moreover, it does so in a fashion that makes it therapeutically relevant.
A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2015 made a fascinating discovery. The researchers found that CBD is a negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor. CBD doesn’t bind directly to the CB1 receptor like THC. However, it interacts allosterically and alters the receptor’s shape in a manner that weakens the CB1 receptors’ ability to bind with THC.
All of the above means that CBD reduces the effects of THC. It is why you probably won’t feel intoxicated after using cannabis with a high CBD content.
There are thousands of studies on CBD now available to read. Researchers have discovered that CBD has antidepressant, antipsychotic, and anxiolytic effects. Therefore, if the cannabinoid can relieve symptoms of anxiety, psychosis, or depression, it does affect the brain and central nervous system.
As a consequence, it is a myth to suggest that CBD is non-psychoactive.
Final Answer to the Question: “Is CBD Non-Psychoactive?”
We can conclusively say that CBD IS psychoactive. A psychoactive substance affects the brain and acts on the central nervous system. It results in a temporary effect on behavior, mood, perception, and consciousness.
An abundance of research clearly illustrates CBD’s moderating effects on depression, anxiety, psychosis, seizures, and pain. While it doesn’t provide an intoxicating or psychotropic effect like THC and other drugs, it is psychoactive. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that CBD is non-intoxicating than non-psychoactive. You could also say it is not psychoactive in the same way as THC.
The British Journal of Pharmacology study is several years old, but the claim that CBD is non-psychoactive remains. It is still mentioned in the medical community! Now that hemp is federally legal, a clear distinction has been drawn between it and marijuana.
Those in the CBD industry will likely try to ensure the same distance appears between its product and THC. Continuing to assert that CBD is non-psychoactive is potentially a useful marketing tool. However, it is also misleading.
Conversion of Cannabidiol (CBD) into Psychotropic Cannabinoids Including Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): A Controversy in the Scientific Literature
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring, non-psychotropic cannabinoid of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa L. and has been known to induce several physiological and pharmacological effects. While CBD is approved as a medicinal product subject to prescription, it is also widely sold over the counter (OTC) in the form of food supplements, cosmetics and electronic cigarette liquids. However, regulatory difficulties arise from its origin being a narcotic plant or its status as an unapproved novel food ingredient. Regarding the consumer safety of these OTC products, the question whether or not CBD might be degraded into psychotropic cannabinoids, most prominently tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), under in vivo conditions initiated an ongoing scientific debate. This feature review aims to summarize the current knowledge of CBD degradation processes, specifically the results of in vitro and in vivo studies. Additionally, the literature on psychotropic effects of cannabinoids was carefully studied with a focus on the degradants and metabolites of CBD, but data were found to be sparse. While the literature is contradictory, most studies suggest that CBD is not converted to psychotropic THC under in vivo conditions. Nevertheless, it is certain that CBD degrades to psychotropic products in acidic environments. Hence, the storage stability of commercial formulations requires more attention in the future.
Keywords: Cannabis sativa; cannabidiol; degradation; psychotropic effects; tetrahydrocannabinol.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Chemical structures of ( a…
Chemical structures of ( a ) cannabinol (CBN) including the numbering system, (…
Chemical structures of (a) cannabinol (CBN) including the numbering system, (b) Δ 9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ 9 -THC) and (c) cannabidiol (CBD).
Google trends analysis for cannabidiol…
Google trends analysis for cannabidiol (CBD) (Data source: Google Trends ).
Chemical structures of ( a…
Chemical structures of ( a ) hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), ( b ) cannabigerol (CBG)…
Chemical structures of (a) hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), (b) cannabigerol (CBG) and (c) cannabichromene (CBC).
Overview of various chemical conversions…
Overview of various chemical conversions of cannabidiol (CBD) to different conversion products and…
Overview of various chemical conversions of cannabidiol (CBD) to different conversion products and the respective conditions, which are reported in the literature.
Chemical structures of ( a…
Chemical structures of ( a ) cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and ( b )…
Chemical structures of (a) cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and (b) Δ 9 -tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (Δ 9 -THCA).
CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
You’re probably hearing a lot about cannabis and marijuana products as they become legal in more and more states. Two natural compounds are getting the most attention: CBD and THC.
Cannabis is a plant that makes a thick substance full of compounds called cannabinoids. There are more than 100 of these chemicals in cannabis. They cause drug-like reactions in your body.
CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis products.
THC and CBD are in both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana contains much more THC than hemp, while hemp has a lot of CBD.
CBD and THC have the same chemical formula — 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the way the atoms are arranged. That gives CBD and THC different chemical properties, and they affect your body differently.
Both CBD and THC work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain. They can affect things like pain, mood, sleep, and memory.
How CBD and THC Affect the Body
THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. It’s what makes people feel “high.”
We have two types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. THC binds with receptors — mostly in the brain — that control pain, mood, and other feelings. That’s why THC can make you feel euphoric and give you that so-called high.
CBD doesn’t cause that high. Instead, it’s thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of well-being.
People take CBD products to help with everything from arthritis and Crohn’s disease to diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some say it helps with anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. So far, there’s little evidence that CBD helps with any of these.
The FDA has approved one CBD-based drug. Epidiolex is a treatment for several severe forms of rare childhood epilepsy.
CBD is a hot topic for researchers. The National Institutes of Health clinical trials database shows more than 160 trials involving CBD that are either active or recruiting.
Some states authorize the use of THC as part of medical marijuana, THC may help ease things like:
- Problems with concentration
- Memory loss
Side effects from CBD can include:
- Upset stomach
CBD can also change the way some medicines work. Talk with your doctor about it.
Laws are changing all the time on cannabis. Many states allow medical marijuana, containing THC, for several uses, but it is still illegal under federal law. Some states have made recreational marijuana with THC legal for personal use. But it’s also illegal under U.S. law.
As part of the Farm Bill in December 2018, Congress legalized hemp. But there are still rules about where and how you can sell products that contain CBD. You can’t sell some across state lines, for example. All CBD products are illegal if they’re sold with the promise of medical benefits.
Check your state’s laws before buying products with CBD or THC.
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Echo Connection: “4 Differences Between CBD and THC,” “What Are the Differences Between CBD and THC?”
American Council on Science and Health: “CBD And THC – The Only Difference Is One Chemical Bond.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Answers to the top questions about cannabis extract,” “Medical marijuana.”
FDA: “FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy.”
U.S. National Library of Medicine ClinicalTrials.gov: “CBD.”
UW Health: “Do You Vomit When You Smoke Pot? Here’s Why.”
Alcohol and Drug Foundation: “Medical cannabis.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Marijuana and Cannabinoids.”