One of the main arguments CBD advocates will make is that, in contrast to THC, cannabidiol is non-psychoactive and therefore not a mind-altering substance. And, for the most part that is completely true – CBD doesn’t produce the same euphoric high that is associated with THC and other psychoactive substances.
But while CBD isn’t psychoactive in the traditional sense, the molecule does play a role in regulating mood and emotions. So is it inaccurate to suggest that CBD isn’t mind-altering? Let’s further investigate this cannabinoid, and find out more about how it interacts with the brain.
CBD does not cause a mind-altering “high”
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound that has given cannabis its recreational reputation, but in recent times, medicinal marijuana supporters have been more focussed on cannabidiol (CBD), a therapeutic, calming cannabinoid with the ability to treat a range of conditions.
Because CBD doesn’t produce a THC-like high, it’s generally not thought to be psychoactive. However, some cannabis experts are now arguing that CBD is psychoactive in its own way, because of the effects it has on the brain and the user’s mood.
CBD and THC interactions with the brain are rather different. THC binds directly to cannabinoid receptors, particularly CB1 receptors located in the brain. The direct bond made between THC and cannabinoid receptors leads to a psychoactive high soon after consumption. In contrast, CBD links to a separate part of these receptors, resulting in different effects.
In fact, CBD and THC can interact with the same cannabinoid receptor, and when all three are linked, CBD’s anti-psychotic properties help to reduce the psychoactive effects of the THC. Therefore, CBD-dominant strains tend not to bring about as much of a cerebral high.
However, while CBD is not recreationally psychoactive, and cannot be used individually to cause a euphoric high, the cannabinoid does have a direct impact on the brain.
Understanding how CBD affects the brain
Researchers are still playing catch-up on CBD science, although significant advancements have been made over the past decade, and especially in the past five years. We now better understand how CBD interacts with the brain, and this knowledge has helped us to recognize why the molecule has the therapeutic qualities that it does.
CBD’s impact on the brain is positive, as the three following effects indicate:
1) CBD’s anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects
CBD has powerful anti-anxiety qualities, and has become a popular natural choice for those experiencing mental health issues. Coupled with its anti-psychotic properties, the anxiolytic effects of the compound are calming. Moreover, human trials on CBD’s apparent anxiety-easing traits have only confirmed what anecdotal reports suggested.
CBD is also proving an effective medication for treatment-resistant schizophrenia – trials have, so far, predominantly focussed on CBD isolate treatments when used in conjunction with existing medication.
A human study from 2011 pointed toward CBD’s potential in managing public speaking anxiety. Participants new to CBD were administered 600mg doses of the compound before an event, and all 12 reported reduced anxiety levels.
2) How CBD influences mood
If you’re feeling down, scientific evidence shows that CBD promotes a natural increase in serotonin, the same chemical that anti-depressants attempt to stimulate.
CBD interacts with the 5HT1A receptor, one of many serotonin receptors present in the human brain.
Considering that anti-depressants and other prescribed drugs can take several weeks to deliver a consistent mood boost, the potential of CBD in this area is encouraging, as is the preliminary research that has been conducted on rodents.
CBD also helps to stifle the breakdown of anandamide, an endocannabinoid often referred to as the “bliss molecule”, or a “human THC”. Anandamide helps to improve mood, and create feelings of contentment and, unsurprisingly, bliss.
Marijuana users are known to seek out the plant when feeling down – maybe this explains why.
3) CBD’s anti-seizure qualities
Perhaps the best-known CBD medicinal property of all, human trials have shown time and time again that the compound has anti-seizure qualities. Cannabidiol reduces brain excitability, and can dramatically reduce the number of seizures experienced, even in patients with severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy.
In patitents with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome, THC has also proven to be an effective, near-instantaneous treatment, particularly in children. The psychoactive cannabinoid is present in many medicinal cannabis oils, and generally just a few drops are required to bring relief.
So there we have it. Technically, CBD may have a few psychoactive properties of its own, but they are in no way similar to those of THC. But don’t forget, THC can be medicine too!