Does CBD Get You High? Spoiler Alert
CBD Users Seem REALLY Happy, But Does That Mean They’re High?
If your town resembles mine, then you’ve probably noticed more and more businesses carrying CBD—or cannabidiol—products. Most of the gas stations advertise CBD vape cartridges and my local health food store just stocked a killer CBD Bath Scrub. But does the spate of products mean that the sweet old lady living next door is getting high from her CBD butterscotch candies?
Let me say it loud enough for the people in the back: CBD does NOT get people high. To be more specific, CBD can relieve pain, anxiety, sleep—it can even help with acne. But it’s only fair for me to acknowledge that CBD users seem happier when consuming their preferred products. Going from chronic pain to not being in pain will do that.
But happy doesn’t mean high. Still not convinced? No worries! Read on to learn more.
Your Endocannabinoid System
Before we can get into the details of how CBD doesn’t get you high, let’s talk about how it’s able to do anything. Essentially, it all has to do with you. More specifically, it has to do with your Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Your ECS is a communication network that regulates several of your body’s physiological processes. When you enjoy CBD products, your ECS is interacting with CBD through these neural receptors.
Note that it was only in 1988 that the first cannabinoid receptor was even discovered, so we’re still learning about the ECS. The scientists who found these receptors noted that they were the most abundant of any neurotransmitter receptors. Also, their locations were mainly in parts of the brain responsible for memory, appetite, pain, emotions, cognition, and motor coordination. CBD, therefore, binds with your cannabinoid receptors to affect those parts of your brain.
The coolest thing, at least to me, is that our bodies naturally have a system in place that promotes homeostasis, which is a fancy word for physiological balance. And it does that through interactions with cannabinoids. It’s also cool because it’s likely that mammals have biologically evolved with that system since the sea-sponge days. In case you weren’t aware, that was like several, several million years ago.
So your sweet, elderly neighbor with her CBD butterscotch candies is probably just looking for arthritis relief without the high attributed to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound from cannabis. But that still doesn’t answer our question. If THC and CBD both affect us through our ECS, then why does one get you high and not the other? Excellent question. Onto the chemistry lesson!
CBD vs THC
Much of the debate over CBD stems from its similarity to THC. Admittedly, they do have a lot in common: They share similar chemical makeups, they’re both found in hemp, and they both interact with your ECS receptors. No wonder why consumers scratch their heads wondering if CBD will get them stoned.
While their chemical makeup may be the same, the arrangement of their molecules differs by one very special little atom. That atom is what causes CBD and THC to interact differently with your receptors. As Analytical Cannabis put it, “where THC contains a cyclic ring...CBD contains a hydroxyl group. It is this seemingly small difference in molecular structure that gives the two compounds entirely different pharmacological properties."
Basically, because the two compounds have unique molecular shapes, they fit into the receptors differently. The specific way that THC molecules fit into ECS receptors is what causes their psychoactive effects. When THC molecules perfectly bind with those receptors, you suddenly start feeling groovy.
But when interacting with that same receptor, CBD doesn’t fit perfectly. If they were able to fit perfectly, they would have the same psychoactive qualities that THC does—but alas, they don’t. They do, however, have a long list of medicinal benefits. Just some of those benefits include:
But does CBD get you high? Nope.
CBD Actually Brings You Down...in a Good Way
For all the THC purists out there, I beg you to consider including CBD products in your repertoire. Some people may argue that THC is where the party’s at. But CBD is what keeps the party going instead of spiraling out of control.
Because CBD changes the shape of that receptor, it makes it harder for THC molecules to bind properly. “Through its interactions with the CB1 receptor," states Analytical Cannabis, "CBD is thought to modulate the psychotropic effects of THC by inhibiting its ability to bind to and stimulate the receptor. Which is why people don’t feel as ‘high’ when using CBD-rich cannabis compared to when they consume products high in THC." So while THC induces a high, CBD mellows you out.
I know, I know. It makes it sound like CBD is the buzzkill at a raging party. But it’s not! Think of CBD as the friend that reminds you to drink more water, eat something healthy between ice-cream sandwiches, and get enough sleep. It’s because of that friend that you have the mental fortitude and physical stamina to keep partying all night long...or calmly read a book at home with your cats all night. Whatever floats your boat.
When the high that THC gives you isn’t fun anymore, CBD rides in to save the day. Some of the effects of THC aren’t always awesome and having a way to bring you back down can be helpful. While a lot of people ingest cannabinoids to relieve anxiety, sometimes it can have the opposite effect. Paranoia, short-term memory loss, and anxiety are the three least favorite THC side effects. Luckily, CBD can counteract those pesky effects.
I remember being worried that I'd feel high when I used CBD oil to combat migraines. I had a 3-minute drive home in the dark and knew that the lights from oncoming traffic were going to sear painfully into the back of my skull.
Ten minutes before my drive home I placed a few drops under my tongue and had a pleasant drive home. The pain from my migraine was lessened, and instead of my normal anxiety, I remember smiling as I listened to the radio. But was I high? No. I just wasn’t in pain.
So it doesn’t matter whether you’re vaping CBD, snacking on CBD edibles, or using a CBD topical—you won’t feel high. You may, instead, experience pain-relief and calmness; you might sleep better; and, after extended use, you may even notice a fortified immune system.
Let us know in the comments if CBD makes you feel ANY kind of way. Everyone is different, so the experiences people have with CBD are varied and fascinating. Plus, if you share your experiences you might get featured in an upcoming article!
Hannah Walker is a mostly-retired University English instructor who spends her time freelance copywriting. When not doing that, she’s writing articles related to CBD, skincare, and/or media. With an MA in English-Creative Writing, she’s almost certainly working on a creative piece at this very moment. Her blog includes personal pieces as well as academic articles exploring social issues in film, television, and music. Hannah is on Instagram and Pinterest, always.