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  • by Nicola Boulton September 05, 2022 5 min read

    Is CBD Psychoactive? The Big Differences between CBD & THC

    CBD is mainly considered to be non-psychoactive, as the internet puts it. However, the intensity with which this phrase is repeated puts it into popularity. Being non-psychoactive implies that CBD is non-intoxicating, which is a true statement. In the real sense, CBD is psychoactive. This article explains whether CBD is a psychoactive product and the difference between CBD and THC.

    A psychoactive substance means that it works on the central nervous system and changes how the brain functions, which may cause a non-permanent alteration in mood, perception, behavior, or consciousness. CBD does not affect intoxication as it is seen in THC. It also does not bring about changes in cognition or the effect of withdrawal. CBD, however, is a brain barrier as it crosses the brain, affecting the central nervous system and resulting in alterations in perception and mood. 

    CBD Science

    According to Kendall & Yudowski (2017), the endocannabinoid system is composed of several endocannabinoids, such as a neurotransmitter, which are bound to each receptor through the central and peripheral nervous systems. The endocannabinoid system aids in controlling several body's physiological and cognitive processes like a response to stress, mood, memory, appetite, and pain. The cannabinoids in plants, also known as Phyto cannabinoids, are similar to the body cannabinoids in their chemical composition. It is why they can affect the endocannabinoid system of the body located in various parts of the body, such as the skin, eyes, brain, muscles, cardiovascular system, bones, and many others. The system works in the body to bring about homeostasis.

    According to Navarro et al. (2018), CB1 and CB2 are the two primary receptors for cannabinoids. CB1 receptors are situated in the central nervous system and the brain. They aid in controlling coordination, appetite, pain, and other specific roles. The CB2 receptors are located all around the body and are mainly found in the immune system. Their part is to control inflammation and pain.

     THC’s intoxicating power comes from its capability of mimicking anandamide, the body’s cannabinoid that bounds to CB1 receptors in the brain linked with improving mood. THC bounds CB1 receptors of anandamide more strongly than the body's endocannabinoid (anandamide), blocking the release of the neurotransmitters. As a result, mood responses linked to euphoria and feelings erupt.

    Compared to THC, CBD has minimal and well-regulated effects on the receptors. CBD sluggishly binds itself with CB1 leading to a slight stimulation or blockage of the receptor. CBD is a modulator that may increase or lower the receptor's ability to transmit signals.   The modulation ability of brain activity is believed to be the source of the power of CBD to reduce seizures and mood conditions associated with depression and anxiety. The actions trigger the body's production of many receptors, increasing anandamide levels. As more CB receptors are added, the body’s sensitivity to the present cannabinoid rises too. It results in improved pain and tolerable mood with no intoxication effects.

    CBD also modulates the other body receptors linked with serotonin which affects mood, and opioid receptors responsible for pain relieving. CBD is believed to reduce pain by mimicking endorphins but not suppressing them. Opioids are known to suppress natural endorphins.

    Differences between CBD and THC

    CBD and THC are the prominent two natural substances derived from the cannabis sativa plant, though over 100 other cannabinoids exist in the plant. Cannabis and hemp produce THC and CBD. Although cannabis contains a high amount of THC, the hemp plant contains CBD in higher concentrations.

     According to Citti et al. (2019), Kyle, the chief science officer located in Colorado-based Cannabis Company, says that, structurally, both the CBD and THC contain chemical composition that is the same. They comprise 21 carbon, two oxygen, and 30 hydrogen atoms. The only distinction between these chemicals is the mode of arrangement that is not the same. The body, therefore, receives them in different ways. Both substances bind to the neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood, memory, pain, and sleep.

    The compound THC is a well-known substance that causes a sensation of 'high' usually obtained from it, causing psychoactive effects. In fact, in many countries, THC is still termed illegal. On the other side, CBD is considered non-psychoactive since it does not produce sensation effects that are mainly linked to THC. However, portions of THC might be present legally in CBD up to 0.3%, which is not enough to produce psychoactive effects.

     Though both CBD and THC may result in several side effects, THC usage results in intoxication and dry mouth effects, for instance, paranoia, dizziness, and feelings of disorientation. The main effects are psychosis and panic effects. Massive doses in the case of CBD can lead to issues related to the liver and sleepy feelings, though researchers are still on these effects. An individual might be hospitalized in cases of enormous dosage. CBD also has been confirmed to have zero potential abuse and cannot result in hospitalization, possibly due to high dosage.

    Bridgeman & Abazia (2017) explained that as the compound THC is used mainly for recreational and medicinal reasons and is widely legalized in many countries, it is illegal federally. CBD is more broadly available and legalized, but its conditions are somewhat questionable. It is known to benefit both mental and physical illness by managing chronic anxiety and pain. Since CBD is highly accepted, it may be available in products such as flowers that may be smoked, beverages, tinctures, and balms in shops, beauty stores, and big box retailers. However, this information about CBD cannot be traced in products made of THC since they are illegal in whichever conditions in most countries.  


    CBD and THC are obtained from cannabis, meaning they are from the same plant. However, the two substances have distinctive characteristics that separate them. CBD is mainly well known for its medicinal health benefits as THC is majorly linked to the effects of feeling high. Therefore, before using either, one must consult the doctor to know any effects of the substance on other medications an individual is undertaking.

    To know the proper CBD that is effective and safer, one should know the various types of CBD products though not all the brands are made equal. It means that their quality and efficacy might differ dramatically. An individual should ensure buying CBD from an established brand with a good and strong reputation. Verifiable laboratory confirmation is the primary label one should consider when purchasing.


    Bridgeman, M. B., & Abazia, D. T. (2017). Medicinal cannabis: history, pharmacology, and implications for the acute care setting. Pharmacy and therapeutics, 42(3), 180.

    Citti, C., Linciano, P., Russo, F., Luongo, L., Iannotta, M., Maione, S., ... & Cannazza, G. (2019). A novel phytocannabinoid isolated from Cannabis sativa L. with an in vivo cannabimimetic activity higher than Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol: Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabiphorol. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-13.

    Kendall, D. A., & Yudowski, G. A. (2017). Cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system: their signaling and roles in disease. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 294.

    Navarro, G., Morales, P., Rodríguez-Cueto, C., Fernández-Ruiz, J., Jagerovic, N., & Franco, R. (2016). Targeting cannabinoid CB2 receptors in the central nervous system. Medicinal chemistry approaches with focus on neurodegenerative disorders. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10, 406.

    Nicola Boulton
    Nicola Boulton

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