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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. The cannabis-derived chemical is non-psychoactive, and – while federally illegal – has been hailed as a cure for disease<br> 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.

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.

Chemical Structure

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.

Medical Benefits

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:

Side Effects

  • Problems with concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Balance
  • Memory loss

Side effects from CBD can include:

  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Crankiness
  • Drowsiness

CBD can also change the way some medicines work. Talk with your doctor about it.

What’s Legal?

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.

Show Sources

National Cancer Institute: “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ) — Patient Version.”

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health.”

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.”

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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.”

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.

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Fortunately, like THC, CBD appears to be well tolerated; as far as I can tell, there are no recorded incidents of fatal CBD overdoses.

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.

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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.

Mythbusting

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.

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