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Is CBD Psychoactive? The Big Differences Between CBD & THC

Date 24th Apr 2021

Is CBD Psychoactive? The Big Differences Between CBD & THC

A common question first-time CBD shoppers have is, "Is CBD oil psychoactive? Will it get me high?"

It's understandable that you're worried, considering the cannabis Sativa plant the compound is derived from has a rough legal history in the United States and remains illegal throughout many countries. To quickly answer that question, CBD does not produce intoxicating effects.

However, let's dig a little deeper. In this article, we'll answer everything you need to know about using CBD, what compound actually produces the high (THC), and how to ensure you have the best experience with CBD.

What Part Of The Cannabis Plant Gets You High?

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of over a hundred cannabinoids produced in cannabis Sativa plants. They're the most abundant compounds in mature plants and the most studied for their effects on the body.

Technically speaking, both CBD and THC are psychoactive, but you'll find many reports, for simplicity's sake, saying that CBD is non-psychoactive. To be clear, only THC will get you highThe definition of psychoactive is any substance that affects the mind. 

Just because a compound can affect our mind doesn't necessarily mean it's dangerous. By this description, coffee is also a psychoactive substance. Caffeine is a stimulant that affects how we think and feel, but it doesn't alter our perceptions.

THC is the primary psychotropic compound in cannabis. The term psychotropic is an umbrella term typically used for recreational drugs that affect our sense of reality. 

CBD vs THC infographic

Hemp Vs. Marijuana

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis Sativa plants. What makes them different is their phytochemical constituents, more specifically, their concentrations of THC and CBD.

In the United States, hemp is classified as containing no more than 0.3% THC by dried weight. Hemp has also been bred to produce a higher CBD concentration for CBD oil production.

When it comes to avoiding a CBD oil that may produce intoxicating effects, you should make sure your product is harvested from legal hemp crops.

Why Does THC Produce Psychotropic Effects?

Our bodies seem to have an affinity for cannabis plants because the cannabinoids look similar to lipid-based neurotransmitters in a system discovered and named after cannabis, the  endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Plant-produced cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) bind to receptors in this system sensitive to internally produced neurotransmitters (endocannabinoids).These cannabinoids, both plant-derived and internally produced, are messengers that tell receptors what to do and when to do it.

The ECS acts as a regulator to maintain homeostasis for many of our vital functions, including: immune, stress, hormone, and sleep-wake cycle.

The chemical structure of THC resembles an internally produced cannabinoid called anandamide. Anandamide's name comes from the Sanskrit word "ananda," which means bliss.

When it comes to getting stoned off marijuana, we're mainly looking at the THC interaction with the brain's CB1 receptors. Activating CB1 leads to a waterfall of hormone release, mainly serotonin, that chances our auditory and visual experiences and produces a euphoric sensation [ 1]. While THC is also widely studied for its many potential health benefits, this mind-altering effect makes the compound undesirable for many users. 

CBD Hemp Flower bud

CBD Is Non-Intoxicating

CBD doesn't yield the same intoxicating effects is due to its molecular shape.

While it's very similar to THC and anandamide, it's just not the right fit to activate the CB1 or CB2 receptors to produce the cascade of effects that alters our audio and visual experiences.

CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, which means our overall "bliss" neurotransmitter is elevated [2]. Having more of the bliss molecule has positive effects on our mood and overall sense of wellbeing. 

So while CBD doesn't push the same buttons to release a flood of feel-good hormones, it has more subtle effects on elevating our mood and inducing a sense of calm. None of these results in the characteristic high of THC use.

Researchers are still looking to fully understand the pharmacological effects of CBD in the endocannabinoid system. From what we know, CBD helps strengthen the endocannabinoid system by increasing the levels of endocannabinoids. CBD also has some signaling effects on other receptors involved in the stress-response and our immune system. 

CBD May Counteract The Psychotropic Effects Of THC

Some studies have investigated CBD as a CB1 antagonist, meaning it blocks the uptake of THC to produce its powerful mind-altering effects [ 3].

CBD may also help counteract the effects of THC through its potent relaxing properties, helping to "take the edge off" from the undesirable effects of the THC high, including munchies, feelings of nervousness, and paranoia.

CBD supports the endocannabinoid system by slowing the breakdown of its messengers. The endocannabinoid system is a retrograde messenger system and works on an "on-demand" principle, meaning it releases endocannabinoids when and where they're needed to sustain balance [4].

The effects of CBD are wide-ranging and can affect individuals differently depending on their genetics, physical state, and where correctional balances in their systems are needed

CBD Lip Balm

Can You Get High From CBD Oil?

CBD oil derived from hemp will not produce psychotropic effects.

Because CBD is present in both marijuana and hemp crops, it's important to know your CBD source to ensure you're using a CBD oil that doesn't produce intoxicating effects. The only federally legal CBD oil is derived from hemp containing no more than 0.3% THC.

You can find CBD oil on the market derived from marijuana that contains a THC content that can get you high. It's not the CBD itself producing intoxicating effects. It's the level of THC present that can get you high.

A Note On Whole Plant Extract/ Full Spectrum CBD Oil

Hemp CBD extract or full spectrum CBD oil is a term for an extract that contains many of the original cannabinoids, terpenes, and esters of the hemp resin to improve the effects of CBD in the body.

This means that there are trace amounts of THC in the bottled CBD oil, but experiencing a high from this amount of THC is like expecting to get drunk off of the trace amounts of alcohol in kombucha — a naturally fermented tea beverage.

If you're worried about the amount of THC content in your CBD oil, we recommend broad spectrum CBD instead. It still contains the many beneficial compounds to boost the effectiveness of CBD, but it's guaranteed to be free from THC.

What Are The Effects Of CBD?

CBD has become a popular natural health product for many people to support everything from sleep, digestion, stress, and even athletic and cognitive performance.

The human body is a highly efficient system, and nothing works in isolation. CBD may have a long list of benefits because it supports our body's ability to cope with external and internal disturbances through homeostasis. As we mentioned earlier, the endocannabinoid system works on an "as-needed" basis. When we experience external stress from work, relationships, or financial hardships, it can wreak havoc on our ability to sleep, digest, and focus.

The endocannabinoid system plays a role in how we cope with the physical changes these external stresses place on our body by increasing GABA, a neurotransmitter that behaves like a brake pedal to stress hormones improves our overall mood by activating 5-HTP receptors that release serotonin and the vanilloid receptors that help with discomfort [ 5].

Strengthening our endocannabinoid system can help us become more resilient to stressors, therefore, support our overall health.

The Side Effects Of CBD

Clinical investigations of CBD found the compound to be non-toxic and well-tolerated in mammals [ 6]. That being said, taking too much of anything can lead to negative consequences.

Taking too much CBD at once can lead to undesirable consequences. Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be any long-term adverse effects of CBD use, and the discomfort you feel only lasts as long as the CBD remains active in your system (3–5 hours, depending on the ingestion method).

Some of the reported side effects of CBD include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite

To avoid experiencing these CBD side effects, you want to make sure you're using a CBD oil from a reputable source and dosing appropriately.

Because CBD affects everyone differently, depending on a wide range of factors, including age, metabolism, genetics, and physical condition, dosing is a very personal affair. The general guidance for CBD dosage is to start with low doses and gradually increase your doses over the course of several days.

If you're taking CBD for the first time and have an underlying health condition or are on any medication, we recommend speaking with your doctor for professional medical advice to make sure you don't experience any negative drug interactions.

neurogan CBD oil dropper citrus full spectrum

Here's How To Tell A Good CBD Oil Brand From The Bad

The CBD industry is still fairly new and poorly regulated. Though the Food and Drug Administration is working on ways to hold brands accountable on the American market, there are bad CBD products that slip through the cracks.

Many brands on the market aren't doing their due diligence to source quality hemp crops and test the products for potential contaminants. Here's what you should look for in a reputable CBD brand.

Hemp Crops Comes From A Good Source

High-quality CBD products start at the soil with happy, pesticide-free hemp crops.

Look for brands that place high standards in their farming practices. The agricultural practices in the United States are very high, but not all farms practice pesticide-free farming.

The cannabis plant is highly sensitive to its growing environment, which means traces of pesticides can make it to the final bottled product, causing more harm than benefits to your health.

Third-Party Testing

While it's not a required practice, brands that take the quality and safety of their products seriously will send a sample of their CBD oil to a non-biased, 3rd party lab results for cannabinoid profile, potency, and potential contaminants.

You want the report to read an acceptable amount of THC (less than 0.3%) and free from pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, and mycotoxins.

Good Product Reviews

See what other people are saying about CBD products before making a purchase.

While it's easy enough for brands to buy fake product reviews posted on their websites, you can easily tell the legitimate ones from the lies by how a brand interacts with its customers online.

Read independent CBD product reviews and scour forums to see what other users have to say. Only shop with a credible track record and back up their products with a good customer service policy.

The Science Of CBD And Effects infographic

The Takeaway: Is CBD Oil Psychoactive?

Technically speaking, any compound that can alter your mood is considered psychoactive. Coffee, chocolate, and CBD are considered psychoactive under this description.

But we know that what people are truly asking with the question "Is CBD psychoactive" is whether or not CBD will get them high?

The definitive answer is that no, CBD does not produce a high.

CBD and THC have different molecular shapes allowing THC to produce intoxicating effects, while CBD does not.

CBD products don't interact with the same receptors that influence an influx of hormones in the brain that alter our perception, resulting in intoxication.

If you want to make sure you're getting a CBD product that doesn't get you high, you want to make sure the CBD oil or any other product (gummy, vape, concentrate) comes from hemp — not marijuana cannabis strains. This ensures that the maximum THC threshold has 0.3%, which isn't enough to cause intoxicating effects.

If you're looking for more resources to learn more about CBD, check out our blog for in-depth, science-based articles.

Resources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC58776...
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC33161...
  3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/156229...
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC66788...
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15927244/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC70528...
Katrina Lubiano
Katrina Lubiano

Katrina Lubiano is a content writer in the health and wellness space based in Vancouver, Canada — Canada's epicenter for cannabis culture. When she's not working, she enjoys sailing, watercolor painting, and cooking.