Much research has been dedicated to understanding how the two main components of marijuana—THC and CBD—work independently. But a new study indicates that the cannabinoids interact with each other in unexpected ways that seem to undermine popular notions about CBD and cannabis’s “high.”
A team of Australian researchers recruited 36 individuals, some of whom were regular users and others who consumed infrequently, and administered vaporized marijuana in various doses to learn how different concentrations of the two ingredients affected the participants.
Five doses were administered: a placebo, THC alone (8mg), high-CBD alone (400mg), THC and low-CBD (8mg and 4mg, respectively—which is the closest parallel to popular cannabis products) and THC and high-CBD (12mg and 400mg, respectively). Blood pressure and blood samples were taken, and experts used tests to assess subjects’ level of intoxication throughout the experiment.
Generally speaking, conventional wisdom dictates that CBD—formally known as cannabidiol—is a non-intoxicating compound that can mitigate the high produced by THC. But according to the researchers, that’s not actually the case. One of their novel findings concerned the high-CBD alone variant. The experts observing participants who vaped that preparation “inferred intoxication but had no direct insight into the internal world of the participants, who felt intoxicated due to distinct feelings of depersonalization, derealization and altered internal and external perceptions.”
“No such findings have been reported in the literature in relation to high doses of CBD,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published this month in the journal European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.
They also discovered a somewhat counterintuitive effect of CBD. When participants inhaled the low-CBD and THC variant, their subjective assessment of their intoxication was higher than when they vaporized THC alone, indicating that in low doses CBD might actually enhance the psychoactive effects of THC. Objective analysis of things like THC concentration in blood plasma also substantiated that finding. This effect was “most prominent in the infrequent users.”
“While precise mechanisms remain to be elucidated, the finding that low doses of CBD may potentiate effects of THC has significant implications for consideration of proportions of THC and CBD that may be recommended within plant matter. With cannabis increasingly being used for medicinal purposes, it is important to ensure that harms are minimized in favor of boosting therapeutic properties. While intoxication per se is not necessarily harmful overall, it is not welcome by many clinical patients, and it may be harmful in situations such as driving under the influence of cannabis.”
Finally, the study affirmed that CBD can, as previous studies have indicated, mitigate the intoxicating effects of THC—but that effect seems to only occur when the CBD concentration is high.
“These findings, while specific to vaporization and requiring replication, may have implications for recommended proportions of THC and CBD in cannabis being used medicinally or recreationally within the community,” the researchers wrote.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.