Could CBD reduce some of the less pleasant side effects of cannabis?
Cannabis contains over 100 different active compounds known as cannabinoids, but the two that exist 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, muscle 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 has many potential benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. CBD does not create a 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 the entourage effect, a phrase they use to describe how the various compounds in cannabis work together synergistically. Of most interest in this study is how CBD counteracts THC and reduces its side effects.
To understand how CBD counteracts THC, it is important to look at how these two cannabinoids influence the body and brain. Integral to this is the understanding of the endocannabinoid system.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors that help modulate homeostasis.
Homeostasis controls everything from body temperature to blood pressure. Endocannabinoids help to maintain homeostasis by binding with receptors and creating 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 primary 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 exist elsewhere in the body. They appear to be involved in immunity, amongst other things.
These receptors are shaped to fit with our endocannabinoids, much like a lock will only open with a particular key. 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 of these feedback loops involves anandamide (AEA), one of the most widely understood endocannabinoids. Some people refer to AEA as the ‘bliss molecule,’ and one of its effects is reducing anxiety. The body releases AEA under stressful conditions and it inhibits the activity of certain neurotransmitters. This changes the emotional response and helps maintain a sense of calm. It also affects blood pressure, appetite, motor function, and pain perception.
THC has a similar molecular structure to AEA. This means that when a person consumes cannabis, it can bind with CB1 receptors and mimic the effects of AEA. THC primarily binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, which is why it produces the cerebral effects of euphoria and relaxation.
How Does CBD Counteract THC?
CBD also influences the endocannabinoid system, albeit in a very different way from THC.
In biology, you will often hear the terms agonist and antagonist when talking about receptors. An agonist is a compound that increases activity at a particular receptor, whereas an antagonist has the opposite effect.
THC is a CB1 receptor agonist that produces effects similar to those produced by AEA. In fact, THC is a much more powerful agonist than AEA, due to AEA’s faster metabolism in the body. THC’s slower metabolism causes more pronounced effects and can lead to more side effects. 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.
CBD can mitigate these side effects. Research for 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 that 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 not unable to bind with them as effectively. As a result of this, we may see a reduction in many of its effects.
The Benefits of Counteracting THC with CBD
There are numerous benefits to using CBD to reduce the effects of THC. Studies have shown the impact of these two cannabinoids in several areas, including memory, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, and addiction.
The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 investigated 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 cannabis.
The researchers then took a sample of each participants’ cannabis 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.
A study published in 1982 in Psychopharmacology took eight volunteers and administered either THC, CBD, a mixture of THC and CBD, a placebo, or diazepam. All of the participants received all of the treatments in random order and the researchers observed the effects.
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.
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 temporary, but for others, cannabis may trigger more chronic psychotic episodes.
Research suggests that while THC carries the risk of triggering psychosis, CBD may have 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 of cannabis use is an addiction known as marijuana use disorder. Experts define this as compulsive cannabis use which interferes with activities such as work or day-to-day self-care. More and more cannabis is necessary to produce the same effects as tolerance develops, and when they stop using, 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?
There is inconclusive evidence that CBD could counteract the psychoactive effects of THC and stop you from being high. One study from 1976 suggests that CBD could reduce a high when taken before THC, but not when the two cannabinoids are taken together.
Later research studies found that THC induced equal feelings of intoxication 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. 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 feeling?