A common question for people new to CBD
By Dr. Leslie Mudd, PharmD
For Baby Boomers like me, the best explanation of “getting high” comes from the John Denver song, “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” He sings: “Sunshine almost always makes me high.” But when that sunshine makes a hemp plant grow, and that hemp plant creates CBD, does that CBD get you high?
“Getting high” has been scientifically described as elevating one’s state of mind. The science shows that getting high is the creation of an altered state of mind or consciousness. Sometimes, that feeling is created with a drug or chemical.
Getting high can come from strong feelings and emotions as in a beautiful day, a familiar song, or the face of a loved one. Drugs, plants, or botanicals can also chemically produce that altered state of consciousness. Exercise enthusiasts can experience a “runner’s high,” which is the feeling of an endorphin rush that comes with prolonged exertion.
Because the public is more familiar with THC’s role in getting marijuana users high, many people wonder if CBD does the same thing. Does CBD get you high? Many people want the wellness benefits of hemp without the intoxicating effects of marijuana. For them, this is an important question. To start, let’s discuss the difference between CBD and THC.
CBD vs THC
The cannabis plant contains 150 phytocannabinoids. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) dominates the cannabinoid profile of most cannabis plants found in nature, followed by cannabidiol (CBD).
Scientists around the globe are currently studying these cannabinoids, although their benefits have been anecdotally understood for decades.
Here’s a simple way to understand the difference between cannabis with high THC content versus cannabis with high CBD and low THC content. Generally speaking, the type of cannabis we call “marijuana” produces THC, and the type of cannabis we call “hemp” produces CBD.
Hemp vs Marijuana
Due to CBD’s increasing popularity as a wellness product, many cannabis growers now cultivate plants with high CBD content. When Congress legalized hemp, it changed the definition of hemp to distinguish it only by its THC content of not more than 0.3 percent.
Soon, growers realized that the federal government no longer prohibited the many other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. In short order, these cultivators began cross-breeding cannabis strains to reduce THC levels to meet federal guidelines.
Cannabis plants that produce CBD are nearly identical in every way to cannabis plants that produce THC. They look the same and smell the same. Only a chemical analysis with a lab report can tell the difference between marijuana and hemp.
Phytocannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
A quick vocabulary lesson might be helpful here. “Phyto-“ means “plant” in Greek. So, phytocannabnoids are cannabinoids found naturally in plants. The cannabis plant is the only known plant on Earth that creates phytocannabinoids. “Endo-“ is a Greek prefix that means “from within, or inside.” So, “endocannabinoid” means a cannabinoid produced naturally inside your body.
Likewise, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a set of receptors found throughout the body. The ECS communicates with cannabinoids produced internally (endocannabinoids) and those ingested in the form of phytocannabinoids, whether inhaled through smoke; absorbed sublingually through a tincture; or taken orally in a capsule.
The ECS consists of two types of receptors: CB1 and CB2. These two types of receptors could be key to understanding why some phytocannabinoids like THC produce a “high” sensation, while others, like CBD, do not.
How does THC get you high?
THC, the principle psychoactive constituent of cannabis, works by activating the ECS’s CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors are mostly clustered in the brain and elsewhere in the central nervous system.
This is how THC directly affects brain function and causes the sensations associated with “getting high,” such as: euphoria, laughter, distortions of time and space, and distortions of the senses.
How are THC and CBD different?
CBD, on the other hand, has little to no effect on the CB1 receptors found in the brain. That means it has no biological way to get you high. In fact, studies show that CBD can act as a THC inhibitor. In this way, CBD can reverse the intoxicating effects of THC, such as paranoid symptoms and hippocampal-dependent memory impairment.
That corresponds with what we understand about CBD as helping the body restore homeostasis. When the body has too much THC, CBD can counteract THC’s effects to bring the body and mind back into balance.
Is CBD psychoactive?
This question is at the heart of the topic: Does CBD get you high? The general understanding is that “psychoactive” means the same thing as “getting high.” So if something gets you high, it must be psychoactive. But scientifically speaking, it’s a little more complicated than that.
For instance, studies show cannabidiol can have an anti-anxiety effect. This study from Brazil conducted in 2019 concluded that CBD oil shows promise as a treatment for people who live with anxiety. The researchers tested human subjects in a simulated public speaking test with various dosages of CBD against a placebo. Another study from 2016 observed the same anti-anxiety effect in the administering of CBD for PTSD. A 10-year-old girl suffered from PTSD as a result of sexual abuse. After 5 months of cannabidiol, the girl could sleeping in her own room and handle a new school year, with no observable side effects.
This mood-altering quality of cannabidiol qualifies it as psychoactive, even though it is non-intoxicating. The real question isn’t whether CBD is psychoactive, but rather whether it is intoxicating.
Psychoactive vs Intoxication
So, CBD oil does not get you high, but it is psychoactive. This might seem contradictory at first, but here’s the difference. An intoxicantproduces a state of diminished mental and physical ability, like alcohol, recreational drugs, and THC-rich cannabis.
A psychoactive substance, on the other hand, merely changes an individual’s mental state by impacting how the brain and central nervous system function. That includes a wide range of substances like caffeine and chocolate. One way to remember this is that all intoxicants are psychoactive, but not all psychoactive substances are intoxicants.
If THC gets you “high,” does CBD get you “middle”?
We have discussed CBD’s ability to restore a body to balance and homeostasis through its interaction with the ECS. Also, we discussed how cannabidiol can “bring down” a person experiencing too much THC in their system, also known as having a “green out.”
With this knowledge, it’s not difficult to understand that not only does CBD not get you high, but it gets you middle, bringing the body and mind into balance in a healthy way.
To further ease concerns, Cornbread Hemp makes its USDA certified organic CBD oils from organic hemp grown in Kentucky, where hemp is legal but marijuana is not. Therefore, you can rest assured that Cornbread Hemp products will never contain more than the federal legal limit of THC, which is not more than 0.3 percent. And that’s not enough to get you high.
In short, cannabidiol only gets you as high as John Denver’s sunshine, which is to say: CBD is psychoactive but not intoxicating. CBD does not get you high.