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Does CBD Counteract THC’s Psychoactive Effect?

THC and CBD are the two most common cannabinoids, and they share a nuanced and special relationship. Read on to discover if CBD helps to minimise the negative effects of THC, and find out which CBD:THC ratio is best for you.

Can CBD tame THC’s psychoactive effect?

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The cannabis plant produces hundreds of different phytochemicals belonging to several families—cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and others. Among these, the cannabinoids THC and CBD stand out as the most sought-after chemicals.

All these cannabis constituents have their own purposes, but their effects tend to be more profound when combined. This chemical synergy is known as the entourage effect. According to this theory, not only do cannabinoids like THC and CBD synergise, but terpenes and other compounds as well. When it comes to our star cannabinoids, can CBD counteract or tame the psychoactive effect of THC? Find out below.

CBD VS THC

CBD and THC are the two most common cannabinoids encountered in modern cultivars. Although both produce beneficial effects, they feature a stark difference—THC is psychoactive, whereas CBD is not.

THC underpins the high produced by the cannabis plant. The molecule induces the often euphoric, enjoyable, and relaxing effects associated with smoking, eating, or vaping cannabis. However, THC can also pack some undesirable effects, giving rise to paranoia and even panic in inexperienced or unprepared users.

The secret behind these effects? THC binds to CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system like a key fits into a lock. These sites exist throughout the central nervous system; once activated, a series of chemical changes occur that give rise to an altered state of consciousness.

Researchers are just beginning to understand how CBD works in the body. Like THC, CBD also interacts with the endocannabinoid system. However, it does so in a different manner. The molecule doesn’t bind to cannabinoid receptors with much affinity. The fact that it doesn’t latch onto the CB1 receptor explains why CBD doesn’t produce a psychoactive effect.

Instead, CBD raises levels of endocannabinoids—including anandamide (often dubbed the “bliss molecule”)—that bind to native cannabinoid receptors. CBD also targets serotonin, TRPV1, GPR55, and PPAR receptors to produce its effects.

Through these pathways, researchers have found CBD to produce various outcomes. The cannabinoid appears to help individuals when they are feeling nervous and pressured [1] , and it may help soothe sensitive skin [2] and ease sore muscles [3] .

MIXING CBD WITH THC

Combining CBD and THC offers myriad benefits. Not only will it help tame the high, but the two cannabinoids appear to work better side by side. One of the easiest ways to consume both molecules at the same time is with a good old fashioned smoke. Select a strain that features equal parts THC and CBD and fire it up. These varieties provide enough THC to kickstart your CB1 receptors alongside adequate levels of CBD to stave off any adverse effects.

If you find you’re extra-sensitive to THC, try a CBD-rich strain with much lower levels of THC. You’ll still experience the effects of both cannabinoids, just with less of a high.

You can also try combining CBD oils with smoking and vaping. Inhale some THC-rich weed and keep a bottle of CBD oil nearby to modulate the high as you go. If the effects become too much, place a few drops under the tongue and wait for it to be absorbed.

Likewise, take several drops before your smoke to buffer against the psychoactive effects before they take hold. Taking CBD in this manner will enable you to dose accurately and readily.

CBD and THC each have powerful potential of their own, but what happens when you combine them? Can CBD tame THC's psychoactive effect? Find out inside!

THC! CBD! Terpenoids! Cannabis Science Is Getting Hairy

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Today, cannabis continues its slow march toward nationwide decriminalization with voters deciding whether to allow recreational use in Michigan and North Dakota, and for medical purposes in Utah and Missouri. As states keep chipping away at federal prohibition, more consumers will gain access, sure—but so will more researchers who can more easily study this astonishingly complex and still mysterious plant.

At the top of the list of mysteries is how a galaxy of compounds in the plant combine to produce a galaxy of medical (and, of course, recreational) effects. For example, THC feels different when combined it with cannabidiol, or CBD, another naturally occurring compound in cannabis, but the reasons aren’t fully known. It’s called the entourage effect: THC, like a rock star, only reaches its full potential when it rolls with a crew, consisting of hundreds of other compounds in the plant that scientists know about so far.

But the problem with researching a schedule I drug is that the government doesn’t want you to do it. Yet as more states go legal, cannabis continues to climb out of the scientific dark ages. Because it’s not just about giving people a comfortable high, but about developing cannabis into drugs that could treat a massive range of ills.

First, some cannabis basics. THC and CBD are cannabinoids, which means they bind to receptors in the human body’s endocannabinoid system, specifically the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Researchers only discovered the endocannabinoid system in the early 1990s, but it appears to regulate things like mood and immune function.

You may have noticed that cannabis’ effects can differ wildly from experience to experience. Eat a weed brownie, for instance, and the THC goes straight to your liver, where it’s metabolized into 11-hydroxy-THC. That metabolite “has five times the activity at the CB1 receptor, the psychoactive one, as THC itself,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a cannabis lab in California.

That’s why it’s so easy to overdo it with edibles. When you smoke cannabis, the THC at first skips the liver and goes straight to your bloodstream. It’s about five times less potent that way than if you eat cannabis, meaning that chowing down on 10 milligrams of THC is roughly equal to smoking 50 milligrams of the stuff.

Mode of ingestion, then, is a big consideration in the cannabis experience. But so too are factors beyond your control. “We’re pretty aware that the endocannabinoid system is not a static picture throughout the day,” says Raber. “Why it changes, what causes those changes—those are other levels of complicated questions.” Cannabis might hit you differently during the day than at night, and can also depend on your mood or whether you’ve eaten.

But that’s not all. THC also interacts with other cannabinoids in your system, and it has a complicated relationship with CBD in particular. Anecdotally, cannabis users have reported that CBD can modulate the psychoactive effects of THC—think of it sort of like an antidote to the paranoia and anxiety that comes with being too high. That might be part of the reason edibles can feel so powerful: If you eat a brownie loaded with just THC, you aren’t getting the CBD you would if you smoked regular old flower. (Not that some manufacturers aren’t also adding CBD to their edibles. CBD is so hot right now, but it’s hard to find flower with high CBD. Cultivators have over the decades bred highly intoxicating, THC-rich strains at the expense of CBD.)

With cannabis growing more legitimate as a medicine, researchers are finally putting hard data to these anecdotal reports. They’re beginning to understand how CBD might modulate the often unwelcome effects of THC.

Consider the drug Marinol, a synthetic form of THC available since the 1980s. It’s a good appetite stimulant, but it’s also good at getting patients high and paranoid. “When you just stimulate the CB1 receptor with this pure molecule, it’s very intoxicating and patients don’t tolerate it very well,” says Adie Wilson-Poe, who researches cannabis for pain management at Washington University in St. Louis.

However, give patients a drug like Sativex—which combines THC with CBD—or even pure cannabis flower or extracts, and they tolerate it much better. “We specifically see that CBD protects against the paranoia and anxiety and the racing heart that THC produces,” Wilson-Poe says.

It all comes back to the psychoactive CB1 receptor. THC is an agonist that fits nicely into CB1, activating it. “CBD can’t do that at the CB1, but it does sort of sit in the pocket,” says Wilson-Poe. “It can compete with THC for the spot in the receptor.” Which means that if you take CBD with THC, there may be fewer receptors available for the THC to activate, thus modulating the psychoactive effects, like paranoia.

“But that’s probably not the whole story,” Wilson-Poe says, “because CBD has at least 14 distinct mechanisms of action in the central nervous system. So it does a little bit of something at a whole bunch of places, and we probably can’t attribute the anti-paranoia or anti-anxiety effects just to CB1 occupancy.”

Now let me add yet another complication to our growing list of complications: THC and CBD are far from alone in the cannabis plant when it comes to medicinal properties. Those two might be anti-inflammatory, for instance, “but if you were to vaporize a whole flower, you’d be consuming potentially a couple dozen anti-inflammatory molecules at once,” says Wilson-Poe. “In this sense I think of whole-plant cannabis as like a multivitamin for inflammation.” (Because there are so many important compounds at play, some researchers prefer the term ensemble effect over entourage effect. “Entourage” makes it sound like everything is supporting the rock star that is THC, when the reality might be more nuanced.)

There might also be medical applications when you don’t want the entourage effect at work. One of THC’s more famous treatments, for instance, is for lowering eye pressure to treat glaucoma. “We found that it works, and THC does a nice job,” says Indiana University, Bloomington researcher Alex Straiker, who studies cannabinoids. “But it’s actually blocked by CBD. People often think, oh yeah, CBD and THC work together. But in terms of CB1 receptor signaling, they actually oppose each other, or at least CBD opposes THC.” That’s not to say, though, that CBD isn’t having some sort of beneficial effect on its own when it comes to treating glaucoma.

Plus, there are many other kinds of receptors in the endocannabinoid system that these compounds could be targeting. “It’s messy,” Straiker says.

So while CBD seems to mitigate the unfun effects of THC, it also might get in the way of certain medical benefits that THC has to offer. But because there’s seemingly no end to the complexities of cannabis, CBD might also enhance THC’s anti-cancer properties. Research has found that if you apply THC and CBD to cancer cells in the lab, the combination is more effective than THC alone at both inhibiting the growth of those cells and outright killing them. The future of medical cannabis, then, depends in large part on teasing apart the entourage effect—leveraging it in some cases, and maybe breaking up the entourage (or ensemble) when THC or CBD alone is most beneficial.

Some call it the entourage effect: THC achieves its full effects only when it rolls with a crew of other compounds.