Will CBD give me a high? What effects will I feel? People often confuse CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). They know THC has psychoactive effects on the brain, so they typically think CBD does the same thing—and with good reason. After all, the two compounds come from the same cannabis plants and have the same chemical structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. It seems strange, then, that one causes a high and one doesn’t. So, how does CBD not produce psychoactive effects like its sister, THC? And how does it actually affect the brain?

Back to Basics

The simple answer is: despite having a similar molecular composition, the placement of one hydrogen atom in the structure is different in CBD, and thus, it doesn’t react as directly as THC with our body’s endocannabinoid system, meaning the brain feels different effects.

In our last post on how CBD helps pain, we went into a bit more detail on the body’s endocannabinoid system. ICYMI, it’s one of our body’s biochemical communication systems that helps with homeostasis—keeping things stable and running smoothly. The system has two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, coupled with G-proteins that bolster the effectiveness and efficiency of neurotransmitters send signals to the brain. CB1 receptors are housed in the brain and central nervous system and influence our emotions, mood, appetite, coordination, movement, and pain. CB2 receptors are found primarily in the immune system, but also in peripheral organs and tissues of the muscular and cardiovascular systems.



The Nitty Gritty

The body naturally produces endocannabinoid compounds that run with this system and react with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, influencing the transmission of neural signals. However, phytocannabinoids—a.k.a. cannabinoid compounds that come from plants instead of the human body like endocannabinoids—as found in both CBD and THC products, can also react with the endocannabinoid system and affect how it runs. Both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids activate presynaptic CB1 receptors of neurotransmitters to suppress either excitatory or inhibitory signals to the brain, depending on the type of neuron and the body’s needs (e.g. reducing inflammation or dampening pain signals).

However, as phytocannabinoids, CBD and THC differ in how they activate the receptors, specifically CB1 receptors. THC compounds bond directly with the CB1 receptors and influence neural transmission through contact, and it’s this physical bonding to the receptor that produces the psychoactive high.

Conversely, CBD compounds do not bind; they simply help stimulate the receptors and get them to better detect, recognize and use more of the body’s natural endocannabinoids already present in the system. In fact, a higher presence or concentration of CBD can actually counteract the felt effect of THC-CB1 binding, which can cause paranoia or increased anxiety in some people, thereby canceling out the high and its side effects.

Nittier and Grittier Yet

So, CBD gets our body to produce, recognize and use more of its own cannabinoids. But what does that mean exactly…scientifically speaking? Studies have found three main forms of CBD’s influence:

  1. Activation of Orphan Receptors: CBD can turn “orphan receptors”—a.k.a. protein receptors without a cannabinoid or other protein attached—into active or inactive receptors of the G-proteins that cannabinoids naturally carry, according to the needs of the body.
  2. Partial Agonist for Serotonin: CBD acts as a partial agonist to the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor, which means it can stimulate serotonin absorption in the body, thereby positively impacting those with anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.
  3. Potentiating Glycine Receptors: CBD increases the efficacy and potency of glycine receptors, which significantly impact the body’s regulation of nociceptive pain.

Ultimately, CBD has been found to increase efficiency and functionality not only of cannabinoid receptors in the body, but also of non-cannabinoid receptors, enzymes, transmitters, and cellular proteins. As it helps activate presynaptic CB1 receptors, it seems to also help activate and increase synaptic malleability and induce production of neurons, the consequences of which can have immense positive impacts on patients with psychiatric imbalances, such as anxiety and depression. And that’s not all! For diseases related to deteriorating neural function, such as epilepsy, cancer, stroke and brain trauma, CBD’s positive effects on neuroplasticity are proving a very promising combatant.

So how do the effects change when CBD is “THC-Free”?

If you’re in a state where marijuana is still illegal, that label doesn’t have a huge effect on the product you’ll consume and how it will affect you. Some CBD products are extracted from marijuana and can contain high amounts of both CBD and THC, which comes into play when you live in states where marijuana has been legalized. However, CBD products in most states fall under the 0.3% THC rule, which is the amount of THC legally allowed to be present in a CBD product and which is small enough to not cause a psychoactive effect.

Beyond that, as we discussed in a previous post, CBD products are categorized into three different groups by their composition: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate. Technically, broad-spectrum and isolate are the only two that contain almost zero THC—”THC-free.” This means you get the full benefit of CBD’s effects (like more efficient neurotransmission leading to things like decreased inflammation and lower stress levels, for example) without any chance of THC that could potentially affect you psychoactively, even in trace amounts.

Bringing It Back Around

All in all, CBD affects the brain by helping neurons fire signals more smoothly and allowing the regulatory endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 to keep things balanced between the nervous system and the rest of the body with greater success. It does not make you “high” or induce an experience of a different reality.

Anthony Tribunella

Having experienced the benefits of CBD first hand when it was starting to gain popularity, Anthony decided to spend his working life championing it to the public and his peers in the wider CBD community. As a CBD innovator himself, Anthony likes to remain at the leading edge of scientific and product development to ensure that the potential of CBD has every chance of being fully realized.

See all posts by Anthony Tribunella

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