Cannabis contains over 100 different active compounds known as cannabinoids, but the two found in the highest concentrations are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid that gives marijuana its characteristic high. It also has a variety of medical uses such as relieving pain, muscles spasms, and nausea. However, THC is a potent chemical that can cause several unpleasant side effects. These include dry mouth and eyes, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, and paranoia.
CBD also has many potential benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. CBD doesn’t get you high, but it could help with a myriad of different health conditions ranging from sleep problems to seizures.
In recent years, many marijuana scientists have developed an interest in what is known as the entourage effect, a phrase used to describe how the various compounds in weed work together synergistically. The aspect of this that has caused the most ripples is how CBD counteracts THC and reduces the impact of its side effects.
To understand how CBD counteracts THC, we first need to look at how these two cannabinoids influence our bodies and brains. Allow us to introduce the endocannabinoid system…
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
Our bodies have been able to interact with cannabinoids since long before man started using marijuana medicinally or recreationally. In fact, we are capable of producing our very own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. These chemicals play a vital role in maintaining homeostasis and keeping our bodies in a state of permanent balance.
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Homeostasis controls everything from body temperature to blood pressure, and without it, we would simply die. Endocannabinoids help to maintain homeostasis by binding with receptors and creating what is known as a feedback loop. These loops tell your body what it needs to do to restore balance in the event that it is lost.
There are two known types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system: The CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are predominant in the brain and central nervous system, whereas CB2 receptors are found elsewhere in the body and are thought to be involved in immunity, amongst other things.
These receptors are shaped perfectly to fit with our endocannabinoids, but not other molecules, much like a lock will only open with a particular key. However, when the right molecule comes into contact with these receptors, it triggers a feedback loop which can have dramatic effects on both the body and mind.
One example of how these feedback loops work involves anandamide (AEA), one of the most widely understood endocannabinoids. AEA is sometimes known as the ‘bliss molecule,’ and one of its effects is reducing anxiety. AEA is released under stressful conditions and inhibits the activity of certain neurotransmitters, changing our emotional response and helping us to remain calm under pressure.
AEA is also involved in controlling blood pressure, appetite, motor function, and pain perception, amongst many other things.
It just so happens that mother nature designed THC with a very similar molecular structure to AEA. This means that when cannabis is consumed, it can bind with CB1 receptors and mimic the effects of our endocannabinoids. THC primarily binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, which is why it produces the cerebral effects of euphoria and relaxation that so many people crave.
How Does CBD Counteract THC?
CBD also influences the endocannabinoid system, albeit in a very different way to THC.
In biology, you will often hear the terms agonist and antagonist when talking about receptors. An agonist is a compound which increases activity at a particular receptor, whereas an antagonist has the opposite effect.
THC is a CB1 receptor agonist. When it binds with these sites, it produces many effects similar to those produced by AEA. In fact, THC is a much more powerful agonist than AEA, since AEA is broken down very quickly by our bodies. THC tends to stick around much longer, making its effects much more pronounced.
For some people, this increased activity in the endocannabinoid system can be too much, which is when side effects occur. Some of these are a mild inconvenience, for example, dry mouth and eyes or an uncontrollable desire to eat. Other THC side effects can be much more disturbing, though, and can result in paranoia, anxiety, and panic attacks.
There is plenty of evidence that CBD can mitigate these effects, but we are only just beginning to understand how.
Research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2015 found that CBD has an antagonistic effect on CB1 receptors by acting as what is called a ‘negative allosteric modulator.’ Allosteric modulators are compounds which can bind to receptors in an area other than their active site and change their physical structure.
In the case of CB1 receptors, CBD changes their shape enough that THC is no unable to bind with them as effectively. The THC key no longer neatly fits the lock, and this reduces its influence over the endocannabinoid system. As a result of this, we may see a reduction in many of its side effects.
The Benefits of Counteracting THC with CBD
There appears to be numerous benefits to using CBD to reduce the effects of THC. Studies have been carried out into the impact of these two cannabinoids in several areas including memory, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, and addiction.
Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 took a novel approach to investigate the effects of THC and CBD on short-term memory. The study included 134 cannabis users who were asked to perform a memory task; once while drug-free, and again while under the influence of their chosen weed.
The researchers then took a sample of each participants’ marijuana and saliva and compared the THC and CBD content of each. The results showed that while THC levels were fairly similar throughout the samples, the CBD content had more variance. The participants who used cannabis with lower CBD levels showed a higher level of memory impairment compared to their higher CBD counterparts.
The effects of THC and CBD on anxiety were already being studied as far back as 1982. A study published in Psychopharmacology took eight volunteers and administered either THC or CBD alone, a mixture of the two cannabinoids, a placebo, or diazepam. All of the participants received all of the treatments in a random order, and the effects were observed.
The authors concluded that CBD reduced the anxiety-inducing effects of THC and other “marihuana-like effects.” However, it did not influence the participants’ heart rates, suggesting that THC was not being blocked entirely. Of course, we now know why.
One of the most serious and well-publicized side effects of cannabis is psychosis. This can cause symptoms such as paranoia, delusions, and even hallucinations in susceptible people. For most people, these effects are short-lived, but for others, cannabis may trigger more chronic psychotic episodes.
Research suggests that while THC carries the risk of triggering psychosis, CBD may have profound antipsychotic effects.
One 2008 study investigated the impact of the psychotic effects of THC alone, THC combined with CBD, and that of no cannabinoids by testing hair samples from 140 participants. The participants with only THC present showed a higher incidence of schizophrenic symptoms compared with the other two groups.
Another 2011 study of 1877 subjects had similar results, with significantly reduced psychotic symptoms among those using cannabis with a higher CBD content.
Another risk associated with cannabis use is an addiction known as marijuana use disorder. This is defined as compulsive cannabis use which interferes with activities such as work or day-to-day self-care. More and more cannabis is needed to produce the same effects as tolerance develops, and when it is stopped, withdrawal symptoms can occur.
In a 2010 study, 94 cannabis users were tested seven days apart, once while drug-free and again while under the influence. The researchers found that, while intoxicated, those smoking high THC/low CBD strains were more reactive to drug and food-related stimuli compared with those smoking high CBD/low THC varieties.
Does CBD Counteract the THC High?
It has been suggested that CBD could counteract the psychoactive effects of THC and stop you from being high. However, the evidence for this is inconclusive. One study from 1976 suggests that CBD could reduce a high when taken before THC, but not when the two cannabinoids are taken together.
However, later research studies found that THC induced equal feelings of being stoned when taken alone or in combination with CBD.
How CBD Counteracts THC: Final Thoughts
CBD counteracts some of the side effects of THC by altering the way that it binds with receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
Research suggests that this can reduce many of the adverse effects of marijuana including memory impairment, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, and addiction. Better still, it appears that CBD does all of this without affecting any of the more pleasant aspects of your high!
With this in mind, along with all of the other benefits of cannabidiol, it seems sensible to opt for strains with a higher CBD content, as well as a generous dose of THC. Why not try some of these great 1:1 THC to CBD strains for an enjoyable, well-balanced high?