As the legal uses of the hemp plant grows, consumers are gravitating more and more towards cannabidiol (CBD), a natural compound in the plant that is widely becoming recognised for its myriad of health benefits. However, within the hemp plant lies another compound which is extremely psychoactive known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), that is best known for its role in cannabis as it is the main compound in the plant that produces the high feeling. The two often get portrayed falsely in the media because a lot of brands claim that CBD is not psychoactive and thus not intoxicating. This is not true because CBD is in fact psychoactive, but the way in which it binds to our bodies receptors is the crucial difference in how it acts positively and actually helps with conditions like anxiety, depression and seizures.
A chemical is found to be psychoactive when its primary function is to act on the central nervous system altering brain function. This alteration results in temporary changes in mood, behaviour and perception. Because CBD does not have the intoxicating effects of THC, it does not result in harmful or obvious alterations with our cognitive abilities. It also does not have any withdrawal effects. However, CBD does cross the brain’s blood barrier and thus affects the central nervous system, but the resulting changes in mood and perception are positive.
THC’s power of feeling high results from the way it mimics anandamide, a naturally occurring endocannabinoid that binds to the CB1 receptors in our brains, THC binds to these receptors even more tightly than anandamide itself, which then inhibits the release of other neurotransmitters. This is the main reason behind the feeling of being ‘high’ where mood responses are exaggerated.
CBD on the other hand has a much more milder and modulated effect on the brain's receptors. Whilst it does bind with our CB1 receptors, it results in a gentle stimulation or blocking of the receptor. It acts more like a modulator that either enhances or decreases the receptor’s ability to transmit signals. It is thought that this modulation of brain activity might be at the core for why CBD can reduce seizures and the modulate anxiety and depression.
This behaviour also triggers the body to create more CB receptors which naturally increases the levels of anandamide in the body. When our bodies have more CB receptors, they become more sensitive to the endocannabinoids that are already in the body and this results in improved moods and pain tolerance without detrimental, intoxicated responses.
It is also recognised that CBD modulates other receptors in our bodies, including the ones that are involved with serotonin and opioid that provide pain relief.
CBD brands in the UK are legally allowed to have a tiny amount of THC (0.2%) in their products because THC and CBD have a very therapeutic effect when working in tandem. Our CB1 receptors can only be modulated when there is a level of THC present which means products that are pure CBD, commonly known as isolates, do not have as much of a therapeutic effect as full spectrum products which combine THC and all the other healing benefits of the plants such as terpenes, or broad spectrum products which combine only the THC. You can read more about full spectrum vs broad vs isolates here and also the amazing effects of terpenes here.
As a consumer, it is really important to recognise these crucial differences when deciding what type of CBD product is right for your body and also be aware that CBD is a mood-altering substance that does not lead to intoxication.
Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only and not intended to serve as professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor and listen to your body on what works for you.