One of the most significant breakthroughs in cannabis science in the 20th century was the discovery of the endocannabinoid system. The identification of this complex biological system finally answered the question, “How does cannabis affect the brain and the body?”
Although researchers are still working out the finer details, the primary mechanism by which cannabis causes intoxication is via the cannabinoid compound tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is thought to bind directly to CB1 and CB2, the most well-studied of our endogenous cannabinoid receptors. These interactions elicit the euphoric high associated with THC-rich, psychoactive varieties of cannabis.
The effects of THC are well characterized and include general intoxication, analgesia, short-term memory loss, as well as anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant effects. Some users also report feelings of anxiety and tachycardia.
CBD Modulates Endocannabinoid Receptors
As researchers continue to learn more about the way cannabis interacts with the brain, it’s becoming clear that THC isn’t the only compound shaping the psychoactive effect of cannabis. We now know that CBD also plays a role. This may come as a surprise—CBD is often referred to as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. And while it’s true that, unlike THC, CBD doesn’t cause intoxication, it can modulate the effects of a THC high.
Like THC, CBD also binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. But unlike THC which activates these receptors, CBD acts as an antagonist and deactivates CB1 and CB2. By dampening the CB1 and CB2 receptor response, CBD can attenuate the effects of THC, including some of the unwanted effects like paranoia and increased heart rate.
However, this effect may be dose-dependent. A 2019 study showed that high doses of CBD (400 mg) reduced self-rated measures of intoxication when administered alongside a moderate 8 mg dose of THC. But a low dose of CBD (4 mg) actually increased self-rated measures of intoxication. Interestingly, the increase in intoxication by low-dose CBD was most noticeable in infrequent cannabis users across both subjective self-rated measures and objective measures evaluated by the researchers.
This explains why balanced cannabis strains that have a more equal ratio of THC to CBD tend to feel markedly different when compared to THC-dominant strains that contain little or no CBD. As a result, it’s critical for consumers to have access to accurate cannabinoid potency information when they’re purchasing cannabis products. Encore Labs offers complete California compliance cannabis testing including comprehensive cannabinoid profiling so you can know the exact cannabinoid compounds within your cannabis strains.