Why is THC Intoxicating and CBD is Not? How Can One Cannabinoid Alter the Mind so Profoundly, and the Other Seemingly Not at All?
When we’re talking about cannabis and euphoria, we’re dealing exclusively with CB1 receptors, which are concentrated in the brain and the central nervous system each one interacts with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor. THC binds well with CB1 cannabinoid receptors. CBD has low binding affinity for CB1 receptors.
Think of it like an electrical plug connecting to a wall socket. A THC molecule is perfectly shaped to connect with CB1 receptors. When that connection happens receptor agonist, which means THC works to activate those CB1 receptors.
THC partially mimics a naturally produced neurotransmitter known as anandamide, aka “the bliss molecule.” Anandamide is an endocannabinoid which activates and enhances pleasure associated with food consumption, and it’s likely responsible for some of the rewarding effects of exercise (e.g. the “runner’s high”). Anandamide closely resembles anandamide that it activates CB1 receptors, allowing it to produce some of those same blissful feelings.
CBD, by contrast, is not a good fit with CB1 receptors. It’s categorized as an antagonist of CB1 agonists. This means that it doesn’t act directly to activate or supply cannabinoid-like THC. In other words, when you ingest THC and CBD, the THC directly stimulates those CB1 receptors, while the CBD acts as a kind of mod opposes the action of THC at the CB1 receptor, thereby muting the psychoactive effects of THC.”
How does that work in real life? Let’s say you vaporize cannabis flower with 24 percent THC. If that flower has 0.2 percent CBD, the THC is going to excite you, and you might also experience some of the less desirable effects of THC, such as a heightened feeling of paranoia. If you consume cannabis with 24 percent CBD You’ll still feel high, but perhaps not stupefyingly so—and the CBD should help keep the paranoia in check.
This difference has had profound political implications. As the founders of Project CBD have noted, some have mistakenly labeled THC the “bad cannabinoid Southern states in an effort to allow patients access to this potent cannabinoid while prohibiting its euphoric sibling.” But the pioneering cannabis researcher Rap and terpenes may work better together than in isolation. The GW Pharma product Sativex, for example, is a drug approved outside the U.S. for treatment of MS.
As researchers learn more about CBD and the role of other cannabinoids and compounds in the treatment of conditions like MS, we may be able to more accurately.