Is CBD Really Non-Psychoactive blog banner Cannmart


Cannabidiol or CBD is commonly referred to in most articles it features in as “non-psychoactive” or “non-psychotropic” purely on the basis that it doesn’t get you intoxicated in the same way that tetrahydrocannabinol or THC does. But this isn’t strictly the case if you look at the dictionary definitions for psychoactive or psychotropic: - “A psychoactive drug, psychopharmaceutic, or psychotropic is a chemical substance that changes brain function and results in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behaviour”

The way in which CBD interacts with the human body is by mimicking neurotransmitters in the endocannabinoid system, so given the proper definition of psychoactive above, CBD is psychoactive. A quote from Ethan Russo, MD – A long-time researcher into Cannabis and its effects states: - “…these terms (psychoactive and psychotropic) are inaccurate given its prominent pharmacological benefits on anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and possibly even depression.”

He then goes on to point out that the fact it is called commonly called non-psychoactive isn’t essentially a bad thing because people associate the word psychoactive with being “high”. So, to the average person, it is fine for this label to be used. He has however suggested a better definition use would be “non-intoxicating”.

How Does CBD Work?

CBD is a cannabinoid that can be ingested to have an effect upon the endocannabinoid system that occurs within the human body. The main receptors of the endocannabinoid system are the CB1 and CB2 receptors and these are located throughout the human body, but predominately within the brain and the Central Nervous System (CNS). CBD doesn’t bind directly to these receptors; however, it does drastically change how other chemicals affect these receptors. This makes CBD an antagonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CBD is also known to be an agonist of the 5HT-1A receptor, which is a subtype of serotonin receptor and is the most widely spread serotonin receptor found within the CNS and throughout the brain. The receptor is responsible for binding serotonin and when it does so produces physiological responses in the brain such as increased sociability, inhibition of drug-seeking behaviour and decreased anxiety and depression. CBD will mimic serotonin and bind to this receptor.

We can see from CBD’s interaction with these pathways that it does cause psychoactive effects, although they all appear to be positive according to research conducted so far, which is potentially where the confusion and misuse of the terminology have arisen.

CBD is Psychoactive in a Positive Way

The studies that have been conducted on CBD that conclude that it is psychoactive all prove it because it responds to the human body under specific circumstances. Research has shown that CBD appears to have an effect on people with certain illnesses or conditions. 

However, there is no proof currently available that CBD causes any effects upon people with no pre-existing illness or condition. As it stands there is no evidence that CBD has any psychoactive effects upon the minds of healthy subjects.

The circumstances upon which CBD has shown to be psychoactive in clinical studies are: -

  • Its help in addiction recovery, in particular, its potential help in preventing relapses in addictive behaviour caused by dependency and impulsivity.

  • Its effects when combined with THC. Because it is an antagonist for the CB1 receptor, and THC binds to the CB1 receptor which subsequently induces intoxicating effects, CBD can reverse certain psychoactive effects of THC.

  • It helps with anxiety. Studies have shown that CBD can reduce the symptoms of social anxiety in people with social anxiety disorder by changing the way in which the body perceives the anxiety by changing the blood flow to the brain.

The research studies in which CBD is effective isn’t limited to the studies listed here, however, it is limited to studies in which there is an existing condition or illness. Does this mean that CBD has no effect on the minds of healthy subjects at all? Could you take CBD as a supplement to your diet?

A study conducted by Bergamaschi et al. in 2011 showed that doses of up to 1500mg of CBD per day were well tolerated by humans, so no harmful effects were noticed in the study from test subjects who were taking 30x more than the daily recommended dose.

In addition to this, other studies have shown that CBD can potentially help with induced anxiety in subjects that don’t ordinarily suffer from a predisposed anxiety condition. 

Is it Damaging to Call CBD Non-Psychoactive?

Because referencing CBD as “non-psychoactive” has become synonymous with it not inducing the same intoxicating effects as THC, it seems that people are simply confusing the definitions between psychoactive and intoxicating.

It also appears that people are talking about CBD being non-psychoactive in the same breath as them discussing that it can help with anxiety etc… which also show that it is the definition of psychoactive that is being confused, not the effects of CBD.

Therefore, I would conclude that although the use of non-psychoactive is being used, the information being given about CBD appears to have complete factual grounding and as such the misuse of the word psychoactive isn’t particularly damaging to the information being given on CBD.