CBD and the Psychoactive Label

An attorney by the name of Ian A. Stewart recently wrote an intelligent article about CBD and the outright false claim that it is non-psychoactive. It’s a statement made in just about every article or news story you can find about CBD – including posts right here – but as cannabis becomes more mainstream, it’s important to strive for accuracy. The truth is, CBD isn’t non-psychoactive. It’s non-intoxicating. And while the difference may seem minor, it’s significant.

The Definition of Psychoactive

Mr. Stewart describes a chemical as psychoactive “when it acts primarily on the central nervous system and alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness, or behavior.” Clearly, CBD doesn’t impact people in the same way as THC – there are no obvious cognitive changes, nor do people experience symptoms of withdrawal. But like THC, CBD does cross the blood-brain barrier. It also has a direct effect on the central nervous system that impact both mood and perception. Project CBD rightfully poses the questions, “how much sense does it make to attribute psychoactivity exclusively to one (THC) and not the other (CBD)? Is it really accurate to say that CBD is a “non-psychoactive” substance?”

The Endocannabinoid System

The human body comes equipped with an endocannabinoid system, which features neurotransmitters that bind to receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system. Things like appetite, pain, mood, memory, and stress responses are regulated by the endocannabinoid system. And when you introduce external cannabinoids, like those found in the cannabis plant, things get interesting. These cannabinoids can bind to receptors known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found in the brain and central nervous system, and they help regulate things like coordination, appetite, pain, and mood. CB2 receptors are scattered throughout the body, and they play a role in moderating pain and inflammation.

CBD in particular has a gentle, moderating effect on these receptors. As Mr. Stewart explains, CBD “loosely binds with CB1, which results in gentle stimulation or blocking of the receptor. CBD acts like a modulator that can amplify or decrease the receptor’s ability to transmit signals, similar to a dimmer switch.

CBD can also affect other receptors in the body, and it’s believed that CBD’s ability to reduce pain is due to its ability to mimic endorphins without suppressing them. But the fact remains that this effect is because CBD has a psychoactive effect. You don’t feel the cerebral action that THC produces, but mood and pain tolerance are impacted.

As Project CBD so tidily sums up, “If CBD can relieve anxiety or depression or psychosis, then obviously cannabidiol is a profound mood-altering substance, even if it doesn’t deliver much by way of euphoria. Perhaps it would be better to say that CBD is ‘not psychoactive like THC,’ rather than repeating the familiar and somewhat misleading refrain that ‘CBD is not psychoactive.’ ”

It’s a sign of the times – as new research begins increasing our scientific understanding of cannabis and CBD, dated terminology and misconceptions should rightfully fade. Describing CBD as non-psychoactive should be one of them.