The cannabis plant contains over 100 active compounds known as cannabinoids, all of which have different effects on the human body and brain.
The best-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD, with THC typically being the most abundant and providing the psychoactive high for which marijuana is famed. CBD is the most abundant non-intoxicating cannabinoid in the plant and is prized for its medicinal benefits, including its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects.
As well as benefiting a wide range of medical conditions, it is also widely believed that CBD can counteract the THC high, making it less intense and reducing some adverse side effects such as anxiety and paranoia. However, a ground-breaking new study has found that CBD may intensify the potency of THC rather than decrease it!
This discovery has the potential to rock the cannabis industry, making even the most qualified experts question what they think they know about the herb. Read on to find out exactly what this new study has unearthed, and what that means for you.
How THC and CBD Affect the Body and Brain
Before we delve into the research that is blowing the minds of cannabis enthusiasts around the world, let’s take a quick look at just how THC and CBD affect the body and mind.
These two cannabinoids have a powerful influence over human biology thanks to what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system comprises chemicals called endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoid compounds produced by our bodies, rather than the phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant.
The system also includes receptors known as CB1 receptors (found primarily in the brain and nervous system) and CB2 receptors (located in peripheral tissues and the immune system). Because endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids have similarly shaped molecules, both can bind with these receptors and trigger a wide range of physiological responses.
The ECS has an essential role in regulating many different activities within the body including energy metabolism, appetite, circulation, endocrine function, and mood. Therefore, the phytocannabinoids found in marijuana have the potential to influence these mechanisms, too.
THC binds readily with CB1 receptors in the brain, which is why it has such a pronounced effect on cognitive function as well as inducing feelings of relaxation and emotional wellbeing. CBD also works on CB1 receptors to some extent but is best-known for its ability to relieve a range of medical conditions by binding with CB2 receptors.
Of course, this is over-simplifying things somewhat. To make matters more complicated, THC, CBD, and the other active components of cannabis are thought to work together synergistically in what is known as the ‘entourage effect.’ This phenomenon means that the exact chemical makeup of any given marijuana strain will have a significant impact on its overall effects.
Does CBD Intensify or Decrease the Potency of THC? Looking at the Research
For years it has been accepted that one of the features of the entourage effect is CBD’s ability to decrease the potency of THC and make marijuana’s psychoactive effects less pronounced.
Various studies have found that CBD can counteract some of the negative side effects of THC including anxiety, memory deficits, psychotic symptoms, and the risk of addiction. One particular piece of research conducted in 2015 suggested the underlying mechanism for this unique effect could be the way in which CBD binds partially with CB1 receptors in the brain.
CB1 receptors have a primary binding site known as the orthosteric site and a secondary binding site known as the allosteric site. While THC binds with the orthosteric site of CB1 receptors to bring about its powerful physiological and psychological effects, CBD is believed to bind with the allosteric site instead.
If this theory is correct, CBD will change the overall shape of the receptor slightly, making it far more difficult for THC to bind. In turn, this will decrease the potency of THC, and soften its effects on the body and brain.
Although this idea is generally accepted within the industry, the new 2019 study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience is throwing some doubt over just how accurate it is.
The research conducted by Solowij et al. investigated the action of different doses of CBD on the strength of a THC-induced high. A total of 36 participants were subjected to different drug conditions during five sessions, each spaced one week apart. The researchers compared:
- High-dose CBD (400mg) alone with placebo
- THC (8mg) alone with combined THC and low-dose CBD (4mg)
- THC (8mg) alone with combined THC and high-dose CBD (400mg)
In each session, the cannabinoids were vaporized, and the effects were monitored both subjectively by the participants themselves, and objectively by observers. The study was double-blind, meaning that neither the participants nor observers knew who had taken which preparation on which day.
The results showed that, while high doses of CBD did seem to decrease the potency of THC as previously thought, low doses had the opposite effect. Furthermore, the researchers found that CBD alone exhibited some intoxicating effects compared to placebo, challenging the belief that CBD does not cause any kind of high.
So, What Do These Results Mean in the Real World?
The results of this study are intriguing, but what do they really mean for those wanting to use cannabis recreationally or medicinally? Are they something you should be thinking about when picking out your next strain at the dispensary?
Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward. While it is, of course, important to think about the cannabinoid content of your marijuana, the dosages of THC and CBD used in the study do not really reflect what you would encounter in the real world.
Even high CBD strains such as Charlotte’s Web rarely surpass 20% CBD, which would work out as 200mg CBD per gram of flower. Although this is a generous amount, it is still only half of the high CBD dosage used in the study. Similarly, it is now not unusual to find strains with an average THC content of around 20%. Again, this works out to 200mg per gram of flower, a much higher dose than the THC used in the study.
Because of this, it is difficult to translate the results of the study into information that is actually useful when trying to choose the perfect variety of cannabis for you. Additionally, there are other factors which influence the effects of each strain including other cannabinoids and terpenes.
Although the study does throw up some valid questions about cannabinoids and the way they interact, it would be beneficial to see some further research comparing the effects of certain cannabis strains rather than isolated cannabinoids administered in unrealistic doses.
And if you are worried about whether your non-intoxicating CBD oil is secretly getting you high, you probably needn’t be. Most manufacturers recommend a starting dose of just 25mg, much lower than the 400mg used in the study! You might feel calmer and more relaxed after taking CBD, but you aren’t likely to be blown away in the same way that you would after smoking a high THC cannabis strain.
After looking at the study in detail, there is one message that truly stands out. Even though our understanding of cannabis and its complex chemistry is improving all the time, there is still so much more to discover.
New Study on CBD and THC: Final Thoughts
The results of this new study are unexpected and the fact that CBD may intensify the potency of THC rather than decrease it calls into question our current knowledge of cannabinoids. However, due to the doses of THC and CBD used in the study, the results may not be entirely applicable in reality.
We think it’s fair to say that when choosing your cannabis, common sense should always prevail. If you are new to the scene, it would be wise to select a strain with a low THC content so that you don’t end up overdoing it and suffering the consequences. However, if you are a veteran user, you may need a higher dose of THC to get the effects that you desire.
If you want to enjoy the plentiful benefits of cannabis without the high, opt for a high CBD/low THC strain, or try a full-spectrum CBD oil instead. The recommended dosage and price of these products mean that you are unlikely to take enough to get you high, although they may provide you with some subtle relaxation.
Finally, if you are thinking about using marijuana for a specific medical condition, consult your physician first to discuss the most appropriate dose of THC and CBD for you. And if you are purely interested in it for recreational purposes, remember to use responsibly!