Most people know about the THC cannabinoid in marijuana – especially recreational users, because it’s the compound that gets them high (but it does have medical qualities too). Historically, the lesser known, but still vitally important cannabinoid has been cannabidiol (CBD).
But what exactly does CBD do, and does it get you high? And if not, why not?
First off, no, CBD doesn’t get you high, but it is full of awesome therapeutic qualities, from treating rare seizures to acting as an anti-anxiety agent, which can be taken in the form of CBD vape oil, edibles, tinctures, creams, gels and concentrates.
Some CBD products contain just CBD, others are labelled full-spectrum (includes other cannabinoids and terpenes except THC), and in legalized states, or states with expansive medical marijuana systems, you can buy whole-plant medication which contains THC as well.
And secondly, no, you won’t get high off CBD – but that’s a good thing, given its main uses are medical. The non-psychoactive nature of CBD has allowed the compound to become the first choice medication for children with uncommon ailments such as Dravet’s syndrome, a severe and life-threatening form of epilepsy. To understand why CBD behaves as it does, let’s delve into the structural composition of cannabidiol.
Many factors affect how well cannabinoids will bind to receptors in the body. These include how the cannabinoid acts around water and the electrostatics of it. Interestingly, CBD and THC have a fairly similar structural makeup, but the slight differences result in CBD’s bond to receptors being three to five times weaker than THC’s.
In CBD’s molecular structure, there is a break in the ring, in a direct contrast to THC. This break gives CBD the opportunity to make an extra hydrogen bond and double bond to THC, which leads to the charge variation between the two cannabinoids.
Furthermore, CBD doesn’t just have a weaker bond to the CB-1 receptor than THC – it causes a completely opposite effect to the psychoactive compound. To understand why, we must look even deeper into marijuana biochemistry.
The shape and charge distribution differences in CBD compared to THC significantly affect the strength of the bond and its due reaction, but the CB-1 receptor also behaves differently when interacting with the two.
The CB-1 structure is a fairly new concept even to scientists, with the endocannabinoid system only recently being discovered. However, we do know that CB-1 receptors are considered G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). These receptors, which in reality are signaling proteins, are extraordinarily complex. Here’s what you need to know about their structure.
The CB-1 structure is made up of sensitive helices that permeate through the receptor’s cellular membrane. They are powerful and react in various ways when CBD or THC binds to them.
It’s the sensitivity of the helices that explain the vast differences between CBD and THC, despite the cannabinoids having a similar structure. On their own, the effects would not be that pronounced, however CB-1 receptors are designed to multiply the signals they are given, causing minor variations become major.
And that’s just one reaction that takes place between receptors and the cannabinoids that bind to them. When you think that there are many of these that occur inside the cell when the two interact, it’s clear to see why marijuana biochemistry is so complicated!
In the grander scheme of things, the tiny chemical reactions that take place may seem irrelevant, yet they are crucial to enhancing our understanding of the cannabis plant and how other cannabinoids and compounds interact. Unlocking this knowledge will allow cultivators and manufacturers to develop products even more suited to consumers than we have already.