For a long time, it was commonplace for even the largest CBD publications and companies to refer to the cannabinoid as non-psychoactive in order to differentiate it from THC—the compound responsible for producing the infamous high associated with marijuana consumption.
However, in the United States there’s been a recent push from the cannabis community to describe cannabidiol (CBD) more accurately. While it’s true that CBD doesn’t get users high, is it really fair to say that CBD is non-psychoactive and doesn’t have therapeutic effects?
What Does Psychoactive Mean?
Is CBD psychoactive? Let’s start by taking a close look at the psychoactive definition to determine the answer.
A psychoactive substance refers to any chemical compound that interacts with a human nervous system to create a change in mood, perception, or cognition. The term may be used interchangeably with psychotropic drugs or psychopharmaceutical. It’s an umbrella term covering a myriad of different types of drugs, including common ones you may not necessarily think of as psychotropic.
“Anything that affects the function of the brain is psychoactive. Anti-epilepsy medications are psychoactive,” according to the neuroscientist Dr. Adie Wilson-Poe who serves as a science adviser to Weedmaps.
For example, is caffeine a psychoactive drug? Is alcohol psychoactive? Both of these everyday chemicals directly affect the nervous system by either depressing or stimulating it, creating tangible shifts in mood and perception. Therefore, technically your morning cup of coffee or any caffeinated beverage is psychoactive.
CBD And The Brain
Our bodies naturally produce chemicals similar to cannabinoids like CBD and THC. They’re called endocannabinoids, and they are neurotransmitters that send signals to receptors located throughout our brains and nervous systems. These receptors and neurotransmitters combine to create what’s referred to as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays a significant role in maintaining our essential human functions such as appetite, memory retention, mood, and sleep patterns.
When we consume cannabis or hemp, the cannabinoids in the plant interact with the ECS to influence the aforementioned human functions. So, therefore, both CBD and THC could be considered psychoactive constituents of the cannabis plant. However, the two compounds don’t work exactly the same.
THC binds directly to cannabinoid receptors, in a sense mimicking endocannabinoids and sending signals directly to the brain and nervous system. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t quite fit as snugly into endocannabinoid receptors. Instead, the compound alters the way these receptors interact with other neurotransmitters, indirectly altering mood and perception. This is also why consuming CBD with THC is said to temper some of the more unwanted effects of THC in what’s called the entourage effect.
What Do We Mean By Non-intoxicating?
Not all psychoactive drugs affect the brain in the same way. Anyone who has experience with both THC and CBD can tell you the practical effects of CBD are incredibly different from THC. So how can we most correctly differentiate between these two kinds of substances?
When we say something’s intoxicating, we’re talking about a chemical that can impair judgment. Typically this term is most often used to describe alcohol intoxication, but it can refer to other recreational drugs such as cocaine, opiates, or even THC. Intoxicating effects include creating a feeling of being high or buzzed.
Compounds like caffeine or CBD, while still psychoactive by definition, only produce non-intoxicating effects. Even though these substances interact with the nervous system and affect the brain, they will not impair your ability to perform daily tasks, like go to work or drive a car.
It’s commonplace to confuse intoxicating with psychoactive that even well-respected publications like the Guardian published an article as recently as 2018 incorrectly referring to CBD and non-psychoactive. However, it’s vital for an industry as misunderstood as cannabis to be scientifically accurate when referring to these CBD products. That’s why we at E1011 Labs choose to use the term non-intoxicating instead.