As the two main compounds of the cannabis plant, CBD and THC are often talked about together — they share key properties and interact with the endocannabinoid system in similar ways. In medical cannabis literature, they often team up to produce greater benefits than they would individually, in a collaboration known as the entourage effect.
However, some research suggests that CBD might temper with the effects of THC, which might be good news for users who want to dial back the psychoactive experience produced by the compound during cannabis use.
Is it true that CBD counteracts the effects of THC, and are you missing out on some benefits by not taking them together? Let’s find out.
How does CBD work in the body?
Cannabidiol (CBD) works in the body by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. In doing so, it helps support important functions in the body like homeostasis, energy production, emotional regulation, mental clarity, central nervous system regulation, and even aspects of the immune system.*
This makes CBD oil and other CBD products an attractive option for therapeutic uses and has helped earn its reputation as an all-encompassing wellness product. Add the fact that even high levels of CBD don’t produce intoxicating, psychoactive effects — it’s easy to see why the CBD wellness industry is thriving as a natural way to support the body and mind.*
The accessibility and convenience of CBD has also helped the compound go mainstream in recent years. CBD products range from liquid hemp extracts like tincture and oils to gummies, edibles, vapes, and smokable flower without high THC content.
CBD is often paired with other cannabinoids as well, such as CBG or CBN, depending on the type of benefits the user seeks. CBG-rich formulations can support morning energy and alertness, while CBN is known for its more relaxing effects in nighttime blends.*
With the addition of other plant-based ingredients and their terpenes, today’s CBD products go above and beyond the cannabinoids themselves and provide holistic benefits for everyday use.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
At the core of CBD’s functionality is the endocannabinoid system, a vast network of cannabinoid receptors and transmitters found in nearly all mammals. In the human body, the ECS is highly concentrated in the brain but branches throughout the nervous system to help regulate organ function, the immune system, and other vital functions.
When the ECS is balanced and working as it should, we are able to stay resilient to stressors. CBD binds loosely with CB1 and CB2 receptors and may also help support the proper production of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.*
Because CBD products are so diverse in potency and formulation, each one interacts slightly differently with the ECS and will produce unique benefits based on the user's current conditions and stressors. This makes the compound highly adaptive, which explains why CBD can be used at various times of the day for different purposes.
In short, the ECS is a key component to whole-body wellness, and CBD is the main non-psychoactive compound that naturally supports the ECS in a natural, sustainable way.
How does THC work in the body?
While CBD brings our ECS into balance without producing a high, THC interacts directly with receptors to create significant changes in our perception and cognitive function. A THC high is noticeably more “fuzzy” and cerebral than a CBD serving, altering motor skills and changing how we process thoughts and memories.
In higher amounts, THC can also produce minor hallucinatory effects, as well as possible side effects like nervousness, paranoia, or shallow breathing. Depending on the circumstances, you may not want to feel the full psychoactive effects of THC — so preparation and low dose amounts are extremely important when first using the compound.
The good news: more and more cannabis products are being formulated with lower amounts of THC, paired with higher amounts of CBD, producing a more grounded and functional experience for cannabis users.
Many people find the effects of THC to be desirable, but with certain highly-potent products — sensations can feel disorienting or overwhelming. That's why some researchers are looking into CBD as a possible solution to balance the effects of THC while keeping the body and mind feeling relaxed.
It’s also worth noting that different versions of THC are more common than ever. This includes delta-8 THC, a cannabinoid that produces more mild psychoactive effects. However, delta-9 THC is known as the most popular psychoactive cannabinoid, so look for this analog if you want the "original" THC experience.
How does THC produce its effects?
By smoking or vaping marijuana or THC concentrates, the effects will kick in within minutes, whereas eating infused THC products, like edibles, will produce effects in around an hour due to the digestive process.
While CBD affects ECS receptors mildly, THC interacts with CB1 directly once the chemical crosses the blood-brain barrier. It has a very high binding affinity with these receptors, which are primarily concentrated in the brain, explaining the cerebral sensations of a THC high.*
THC also impacts the action of the neurotransmitter anandamide, which can produce feelings ranging from euphoria to anxiety and motivation. With a rapid uptick in anandamide, THC users may get a rush of mood elevation, though this may be overshadowed by other physical sensations or mental fog.*
Finally, THC is known for heightening appetite and the pleasure derived from food by interacting with 2-AG, another endocannabinoid. By interacting with CB1, CB2, 2-AG, and anandamide, the effects of THC on the body are wide-ranging and often unpredictable — making CBD a reasonable addition for balance and calm.*
How does CBD make you feel?
Unlike THC, which produces an almost-immediate high, the feeling from CBD is more subtle and dependent on the current stressors and symptoms you face.*
For instance, if you’re dealing with tension in the head and neck, a CBD serving may help reduce the tense feelings in those areas since the ECS will seek to balance neural responses in those particular areas.
Alternatively, if you’re facing an emotionally stressful situation, CBD can help soothe some of those uncomfortable feelings and offer a sense of mental resilience.*
In other words, it’s all about how you feel when you take CBD and how your ECS responds to the compound when introduced. If you’re already feeling balanced and energized, CBD can help prolong or heighten those sensations, but you’ll never get the potent “buzz” that THC produces when taking CBD.
Remember that CBD is rarely used alone unless you opt for CBD isolates. Many CBD products include other cannabinoids and often trace amounts of THC. By using whole-plant hemp extracts, you’re getting way more than CBD alone and will benefit from a diverse array of compounds that go beyond the benefits of CBD.*
Can CBD actually counteract the effects of THC?
We know that CBD has a less potent effect on ECS receptors, while THC binds with them directly while also ramping up neurotransmitter activity in the brain. This is the key distinction when looking at the effects of CBD vs. THC, but how does this play out when both compounds are consumed at once?
As it turns out, CBD can limit THC's psychoactive effects, which might be good news for those searching for a more balanced cannabis experience. The data reveals that CBD occupies the CB1 receptor as an allosteric inhibitor, thereby blocking some of the negative effects of THC.*
This isn’t to say that a THC buzz will disappear if you take CBD, but rather that you may reduce some of the sensations that are familiar with a higher amount. Specifically, studies show that CBD might reduce the anxiogenic effects of THC in test subjects, meaning they were calmer and more composed.*
While the research is not conclusive—there’s reason to believe that CBD may help keep you feeling more relaxed and at ease when taking THC. This could be useful to keep in mind when your THC high has undesirable effects or you simply want to test a new approach to cannabis you have yet to try.*
As always, understanding the ratio of THC to CBD and overall THC levels in your products is key to a safe and enjoyable experience.*
Is it beneficial to use CBD and THC together?
We’ve become accustomed to looking at CBD and THC as totally distinct, but we must remember these two compounds are closely linked as the primary known cannabinoids. Rather than keeping them separate and avoiding cross-interactions, we see CBD and THC as complementary and necessary to bring out the best in one another.*
For example, a CBD user will likely get more therapeutic benefits from a full spectrum CBD tincture, since the product includes trace amounts of THC with a broader effect on the ECS. Conversely, a heavy THC user might find that some extra CBD can help soothe feelings of nervousness or racing thoughts after smoking, vaping, or taking an edible.*
What is the entourage effect?
The reason why CBD and THC pair so well together is known as the entourage effect. This is the phenomenon whereby cannabinoids work synergistically in the ECS, balancing more receptors together than one cannabinoid (also known as an isolate) experience.
The more cannabinoids at play, the greater the entourage effect, which is why whole-plant hemp extracts are the best way to experience the benefits of hemp. This applies whether you’re looking for everyday wellness from CBD or chilling out for the evening with THC.
The bottom line
The more we learn about CBD and THC, the clearer we see the connection between the two and how they work together.
It’s interesting and useful to learn that CBD could reduce some of the undesirable effects of a THC high and that the entourage effect can improve the effects of all cannabinoids.*
The takeaway here is to open your mind to new combinations of cannabinoids that might improve your experience and provide benefits you never thought possible. Knowledge and safe experimentation are key to finding your perfect regimen, and Sunmed is here with the resources and products you need to get there.