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. The cannabis-derived chemical is non-psychoactive, and – while federally illegal – has been hailed as a cure for disease<br> 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 …
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However, the notion that CBD isn’t psychoactive is based on outdated science.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.
What is CBD? The ‘miracle’ cannabis compound that doesn’t get you high
In early May, a federal court declined to protect cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical produced by the cannabis plant, from federal law enforcement, despite widespread belief in its medical value.
The ruling was contrary to existing evidence, which suggests the chemical is safe and could have multiple important uses as medicine. Many cannabis advocates consider it a miracle medicine, capable of relieving conditions as disparate as depression, arthritis and diabetes.
The perception of its widespread medical benefits have made the chemical a rallying cry for legalization advocates.
The first thing to know about CBD is that it is not psychoactive; it doesn’t get people high. The primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). But THC is only one of the scores of chemicals – known as cannabinoids – produced by the cannabis plant.
So far, CBD is the most promising compound from both a marketing and a medical perspective. Many users believe it helps them relax, despite it not being psychoactive, and some believe regular doses help stave off Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
While studies have shown CBD to have anti-inflammatory, anti-pain and anti-psychotic properties, it has seen only minimal testing in human clinical trials, where scientists determine what a drug does, how much patients should take, its side effects and so on.
Despite the government ruling, CBD is widely available over the counter in dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal.
CBD first came to public attention in a 2013 CNN documentary called Weed. The piece, reported by Dr Sanjay Gupta, featured a little girl in Colorado named Charlotte, who had a rare life-threatening form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.
At age five, Charlotte suffered 300 grand mal seizures a week, and was constantly on the brink of a medical emergency. Through online research, Charlotte’s desperate parents heard of treating Dravet with CBD. It was controversial to pursue medical marijuana for such a young patient, but when they gave Charlotte oil extracted from high-CBD cannabis, her seizures stopped almost completely. In honor of her progress, high-CBD cannabis is sometimes known as Charlotte’s Web.
CBD has been sought for its healing properties. Illustration: George Wylesol
After Charlotte’s story got out, hundreds of families relocated to Colorado where they could procure CBD for their children, though not all experienced such life-changing results. Instead of moving, other families obtained CBD oil through the illegal distribution networks.
In late June, the US Food and Drug Administration could approve the Epidiolex, a pharmaceuticalized form of CBD for several severe pediatric seizure disorders. According to data recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the drug can reduce seizures by more than 40%. If Epidiolex wins approval it would be the first time the agency approves a drug derived from the marijuana plant. (The FDA has approved synthetic THC to treat chemotherapy-related nausea.)
Epidiolex was developed by the London-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows cannabis on tightly controlled farms in the UK. It embarked on the Epidiolex project in 2013, as anecdotes of CBD’s value as an epilepsy drug began emerging from the US.
While parents treating their children with CBD had to proceed based on trial and error, like a folk medicine, they also had to wonder whether dispensary purchased CBD was professionally manufactured and contained what the package said it did. GW brought a scientific understanding and pharmaceutical grade manufacturing to this promising compound.
Fortunately, like THC, CBD appears to be well tolerated; as far as I can tell, there are no recorded incidents of fatal CBD overdoses.
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.
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