We will take a look at a popular question, “Does CBD counteract THC?” that is on everyone’s minds. You will find that the science behind the effects of these two cannabinoids is compelling. The best way to understand how the effects come about is to know the basics.
The cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are among the over one hundred cannabinoids. Cannabinoids have various effects on the human body and mind. The effect of cannabinoids in the body depends on how much cannabinoid is present and what combination the cannabinoids are in. Cannabinoid activity can also vary based on how they interact with an individual’s endocannabinoid system. Surprisingly, THC and CBD are not exactly the yin and yang of cannabinoids. THC and CBD can work in harmony and can also have opposing effects.
The most prominent counteraction between CBD and THC is the ability of CBD to hinder the intoxicating effects of THC. Can CBD help anxiety by reducing stimulating effects that some people feel from THC? Perhaps. Not all cannabis will produce anxiety, in fact, many strains can reduce it. The wrong strain for the wrong person or too strong of a dose can still result in undesirable THC side effects that may be reduced by CBD.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a large role in regulating activity in the central and peripheral nervous systems. It exerts these effects through the interaction between cannabinoid receptors CB-1 and CB-2, and through the biochemical messengers that relay messages to the nervous system.
Cannabinoids like CBD can also influence the endocannabinoid system through interactions with other cellular components other than cannabinoid receptors. Either way, a cascade of signals between cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid compounds, receptors, and cells can result in effects like reduced inflammation, increased antioxidant activity, and more balanced homeostasis.
The CB-1 receptor is most abundant in the brain, but it is also present in other organs such as the heart, blood vessels, liver, lungs, and the digestive system, as well as fat and sperm cells1. The CB-2 receptor is mostly found in immune cells, and it is largely involved in regulating the immune system and regulating inflammatory responses. When the body is in good balance (homeostasis), CB-2 receptors have a very low presence in the central nervous system (CNS). When the body is not in homeostasis and is experiencing conditions such as inflammation, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s (AD), Parkinson’s (PD), and ALS, and cancers such as gliomas, CB-2 presence in the brain is notably increased.
How Does CBD Counteract THC?
Receptor agonists and antagonists are terms to describe how a substance chemically interacts with a receptor site like CB-1 and CB-2. Agonists bind to receptors and activate a biological response. A partial agonist is an agonist that does not bind as well to a receptor. Partial agonists can still partially activate the receptor, the biological response may be less pronounced. Receptor antagonists bind with receptors in a way that prevents a receptor agonist from binding. Antagonists will prevent the biological response that would otherwise be produced by a receptor agonist.
THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant1. It is also known to have a broad spectrum of health benefits. Within the ECS, THC is capable of activating both CB1 and CB2 receptors. THC has the highest potency at both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of all the cannabinoids from cannabis.1,2 However, THC still behaves as a partial agonist to both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. This is because it cannot induce their full activation and produce a maximal response.
Effects of THC Activated CB-1 Receptors1,2
- Suppress locomotor activity
- Decrease body temperature (hypothermia)
- Induce catalepsy (immobility)
- Produce analgesic properties
- Psychoactive (intoxicating) effects
- Muscle relaxant and antispasmodic
- Neuroprotective antioxidant effects
Effects of THC Activated CB-2 Receptors1,2
- Expression of immunomodulating properties
- Expression of anti-inflammatory properties
- 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin
- Twice as strong as hydrocortisone
- 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin
- Twice as strong as hydrocortisone
- Appetite stimulation
- Nausea and emeses inhibition
- Relief of neuropathic pain
CBD is the other major cannabis-derived cannabinoid that, unlike THC, is not psychoactive1. CBD has low binding affinities for both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Recent studies of its functional properties revealed that it behaves as a CB1 receptor antagonist and indirectly influences the ECS through immune cells. So does CBD counteract THC the same way for these receptors?
CBD has the unusual ability to antagonize CB-1 at very low levels in the presence of THC, despite having a little binding affinity2. That is how CBD modulates the effects of THC/CB-1 activation-associated adverse effects such as anxiety, tachycardia, hunger, and sedation.
CBD also has agonistic activity at 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT1A) which is attributed to its anti-anxiety and anti-depressant potential2. It is also an antagonist of GPR55, and on GPR18, which may support the proposed therapeutic role of CBD in cell migration disorders like endometriosis.
Effects of CBD-Activated Receptors and Cells2
- Neuroprotective antioxidant (more potent than ascorbate or tocopherol)
- Cytotoxic in breast cancer (and many other cell lines)
- Prevents prion accumulation and neuronal toxicity
- Preserves and protects normal cells
- Powerful activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties
- Acts as a TRPV1 agonist analogous to capsaicin but without noxious effect
- Inhibits uptake of AEA and weakly inhibiting its hydrolysis
- Antagonizes tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a)
- Enhances adenosine receptor A2A signaling via inhibition of
an adenosine transporter
- Anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects
- Inhibits some causes of acne
- Reduces stroke risk
- Strong antioxidant activity
The Benefits of Counteracting THC with CBD
The entourage effect is the effect of plant components as a whole versus the effects of an isolated plant component. By “counteracting” THC with CBD, what a person can actually experience is a less intoxicating high that promotes the most medicinal properties of the cannabis plant.
In addition to harvesting the benefits of all of the cannabinoids, full-spectrum extracts may also contain terpenoids that complement the beneficial properties of cannabinoids. Terpenoids are capable of influencing the body through multiple routes that can complement the activity of cannabinoids2.
One example of how does CBD counteract THC (to help) was observed in a study of the ability of nabiximols oromucosal extract in successfully treating intractable cancer pain patients who were unresponsive to opioids2. Researchers observed that a high-THC extract with no CBD failed to be distinguished from the placebo, while the THC-CBD combination provided a larger effect than the separate cannabinoids.
Does CBD Counteract Being High?
Cannabis strains have different cannabinoid and terpene compositions1. The overall effect of a particular strain can have different effects depending on the abundance of different cannabinoids and terpenes.
The ratio of THC:CBD in a particular strain, and terpene content, will influence the effects of the strain. While black market marijuana is bred to have extremely high THC for recreational use, medical cannabis strains have more versatility. For example, some medical cannabis strains are bred to have a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio to minimize the psychoactive effects and maximize the medicinal benefits of the entourage effect. That is medical marijuana strains aim to maximize the benefits of cannabis while minimizing the adverse effects of THC.
In this way, CBD does not fully counteract THC, but it balances it. This is useful for recreational marijuana users as well. While cannabis has not caused an overdose, it is possible to have very uncomfortable effects from taking in too much THC. CBD can help counteract the THC high in these situations.
“Acute overdose incidents involving THC or THC-predominant cannabis usually consist of self-limited panic reactions or toxic psychoses, for which no pharmacological intervention is generally necessary, and supportive counseling (reassurance or ‘talking down’) is sufficient to allow resolution without sequelae. CBD modulates the psychoactivity of THC and reduces its adverse event profile…”
– Russo, 2011
Terpenes like limonene and pinene may also help reduce the psychoactivity of THC, alone, or in combination with CBD2.
How CBD Counteracts THC: Final Thoughts
We aren’t going to tell you not to go to the hospital if you feel sick or too high from taking marijuana. However, if you are hoping to avoid a costly medical bill there are some steps you can try at home.
What to do if you smoke too much weed?
- Be extra cautious when consuming edibles
- Take some CBD tincture
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Give it some time to sleep off
- Remember that the effects will pass
Cannabinoids are different from substances like opioids because there aren’t any cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem. Through brainstem receptors, substances like opioids can cause deadly overdoses. Does CBD counteract THC in a dangerous way as opioids do?
No death by cannabis overdose has been reported through history because cannabinoids are not able to shut down brain function through the brainstem. While smoking too much weed is definitely an uncomfortable experience, a large body of research agrees that it will not kill you and the effects of a bad high will pass with time.
- Hartsel, J. A., Eades, J., Hickory, B., & Makriyannis, A. (2016). Cannabis sativa and Hemp. In Nutraceuticals (pp. 735-754). Academic Press. Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2018/1691428/
- Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344-1364. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/