Is CBD Psychoactive?

Many people have avoided CBD and CBD products because of the fact that it’s derived from cannabis and they believe it to be psychoactive and intoxicating. For decades the US government and others have reinforced these distortions by waging a propaganda and an actual war on cannabis.

The real victim in this propaganda war has been hemp. Both hemp and marijuana are products of cannabis. However, they’re by no means the same.

Before the 1930s, hemp had been used for millennia for a variety of purposes such as food, clothing, medicine, building materials, and as a way to prevent erosion along rivers.

What Is CBD?

CBD is the common name for a chemical in cannabis (called a cannabinoid) known as cannabinol. CBD is one of 113 known cannabinoids in a cannabis plant.

The other well-known cannabinoid is THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the chemical that causes the euphoric effect that users feel when consuming marijuana.

Under United States federal law, the only legal source of CBD is hemp. This is because hemp has an extremely low THC content. Federal law prohibits the commercial use of hemp that contains more than 0.3% THC.

But how does one differentiate the hemp plant form a marijuana plant? The difference is in the species of cannabis that’s used.

In general, there are 3 min species of cannabis. 2 of which are considered hemp plants. These cannabis species are:

  • Cannabis Ruderalis (also known as C. Ruderalis or simply Ruderalis) – Found largely in the northern Eurasian countries of Russia and Mongolia, this species of cannabis is far less known than its other 2 more famous cousins, it’s becoming a very popular strain. The newly found popularity of Ruderalis is due to the fact that it’s the heartiest of all the cannabis species. The weather conditions of the region have helped the plant evolve in ways that the other species haven’t. The harsh winters and the short period of growing time in the area helped the species evolve into an “auto-flowering” plant as opposed to others that flower based on light activation. This has resulted in many cannabis cultivators cross breeding Ruderalis with other cannabis species to achieve the heartier effects as well as the auto-flowering properties. Ruderalis has been used for centuries as a Russian homeopathic medicine. While this was not known until the modern ages, the reason for its effectiveness is that Ruderalis has the highest CBD content of the 3 species. On its own, Ruderalis is usually only good as medicine or as a food product as the plants rarely grow more than 2 feet high.
  • Cannabis Sativa (also known as C. Sativa or simply Sativa) – Sativa has been the more common species of hemp that’s been known around the world for its versatility. Originally native to southern and eastern Asia, the plant became one of the most important crops ever grown around the world. Sativa’s versatility allowed it to be used in such products as food, clothing, rope, medicine, building supplies and even paper. Much like its cousin Ruderalis, Sativa has lower THC content and higher CBD content than the species use for marijuana. Unlike Ruderalis, the plant can grow up to 10 times bigger, topping out at as much as 20 feet high,
  • Cannabis Indica (also known as C. Indica or simply Indica) – Indica became well known in the western world in the 1840s and 1850s when an Irish physician and scientist brought Indica back from its native India. It immediately became well known as a versatile medical treatment, but also became famous for its intoxicating effects. These plants can contain as much as 35% THC. The CBD content can vary extensively in the species, so it can be used to extract CBD, but it can’t be done legally under US federal law. These plants are much shorter than Sativa, but taller than Ruderalis, topping out at about 6 feet tall. Growing Indica for use as marijuana requires a lot of care as the plants must be isolated from other types of plants to avoid cross-pollination. Cross-pollination can have a dramatic effect on the THC content. In addition to marijuana, Indica is used as a medicine in some areas and also grown to create hashish from the plant resin.

What Does Psychoactive Mean?

If you were to look the word psychoactive up in the dictionary, you’d find that the definition is “of or relating to a substance having a profound or significant effect on mental processes”.

Under that definition, a groggy person who drinks a cup of coffee to become more alert has taken a psychoactive substance. The caffeine in the coffee has had a significant effect on their mental alertness.

A person that has a headache and takes aspirin or acetaminophen to stop the pain is taking a psychoactive substance because eliminating the headache is changing the pain in the brain and numbing it.

So the issue isn’t whether CBD is psychoactive, because it most definitely is. The real issue is whether or not CBD is intoxicating.

The dictionary defines an intoxicant as ”a substance such as alcohol or a drug that excites or stupefies to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished”.

CBD doesn’t have intoxicating properties. Taking CBD won’t provide a user with a euphoric feeling or get anyone “high”.

So is CBD psychoactive? Yes. Is it intoxicating? No. This means that people who fear using CBD because they fear a loss of mental faculties or motor skills have nothing to worry about, as CBD won’t affect their ability to function normally.

The Side Effects of CBD

One of the biggest sources of medical information for health supplements and medications online is WebMD. A search of CBD on Web MD shows that “Cannabidiol doses of up to 300 mg daily have been used safely for up to 6 months. Higher doses of 1200-1500 mg daily have been used safely for up to 4 weeks.”

The only side effects of CBD that WebMD lists are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness

The site does list warning pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid CBD as there’s not enough information regarding the safety of CBDs effect on the child. Furthermore, there’s a warning that Parkinson’s disease patients may experience issues if they take high doses of CBD. (

The Endocannabinoid System

In the early 1990s, the first studies were released that showed that the animals and humans have natural receptors in their bodies that process cannabinoids. This became known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

It started in 1992 when prolific cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam discovered anandamide, a naturally occurring endogenous cannabinoid. He discovered a second endocannabinoid in 1995. This endocannabinoid was named 2-arachidonoylglycerol or 2-AG.

The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives an overview of the ECS and has published many studies that reference the ECS. In order to fully understand these studies, you must have a basic understanding of the following terms:

  • Lipid – An important organic molecule found living cells. Together with carbohydrates and proteins, lipids are the main constituents of plant and animal cells.
  • Endogenous – Processes that originate from within an organism, tissue, or cell.
  • G-Proteins – (also known as guanine) nucleotide-binding proteins, are a family of proteins that act as molecular switches inside cells and are involved in transmitting signals from a variety of stimuli outside a cell to its interior
  • GABA – (also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid or γ-aminobutyric acid) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Its principal role is reducing neuron excitability within the nervous system.
  • Neurotransmitter – a group of chemical agents released by nerve cells that stimulate neighboring neurons, muscle, or gland cells, thus allowing impulses to be passed from one cell to the next throughout the nervous system.
  • Arachidonic Acid – A polyunsaturated omega-6 essential fatty acid. It is found in animal and human fat as well as in the liver, brain, and glandular organs.

The endocannabinoid system is a biological system in humans and most animals that is composed of endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoid receptor proteins that are expressed located in the brain, the vertebrate central nervous system, and peripheral nervous system. (

The endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating a variety of physiological and cognitive processes including:

  • Appetite
  • Fertility
  • Memory
  • Modulating Motor Activity
  • Mood
  • Pain-Sensation
  • Postnatal development
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal development

One report regarding the review of several ECS studies states: “The discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS; comprising of G-protein coupled cannabinoid 1 and 2 receptors, their endogenous lipid ligands or endocannabinoids, and synthetic and metabolizing enzymes, triggered an avalanche of experimental studies that have implicated the ECS in a growing number of physiological/pathological functions. They also suggested that modulating ECS activity holds therapeutic promise for a broad range of diseases, including neurodegenerative, cardiovascular and inflammatory disorders, obesity/metabolic syndrome, cachexia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, tissue injury and pain, among others.” (

CBD activates the adenosine receptors in the body. These receptors release the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate. These control such functions as motor control, motivation, reward mechanisms, memory, learning, and cognition.

The serotonin receptor in the body is also activated by CBD. The 5-HT1A serotonin receptor controls pain perception, appetite, nausea, anxiety, addiction, and sleep mechanisms in the body.

Since the 1990s, studies have found CBD has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, neuroprotective, and antiemetic properties.

Furthermore, studies have found that CBD has played a role in treating symptoms (and in some cases the entirety) of these conditions:

In some cases, CBD alleviated symptoms but didn’t cure the disease, especially diseases that currently have no cure.


Prior to the propaganda and then legal wars waged against cannabis in the 1930s, the plants played a major role in not only health but everyday life.

Hemp and even marijuana were recognized medical treatments that were used for millennia. Remedies using cannabis in China date back to 2700 BC. A medical document from 1200 BC in ancient Egypt notes the use of cannabis for headaches.

Modern medicine started studying cannabis as an effective treatment for a variety of illnesses in the 1830s when an Irish physician and scientist moved to India and studied local folk remedies to find that Indica was used and useful in treating such issues as convulsions and headaches. As a result, he brought Indica to the western world. By 1850, medical and pharmacological texts were touting the versatility of cannabis as a way to treat dozens of illnesses and conditions.

It became so common that Indica was sold as an over-the-counter remedy, just like aspirin or cough syrup is today.

The big problem was the intoxicating effects of cannabis. The early 1900s was a time when prohibition was gaining ground and eventually led to alcohol being banned in the US for over a decade. Despite this, marijuana was still legal and still sold over-the-counter in most states, so people could purchase Indica at the local pharmacy and enjoy the effects.

When the US government went after cannabis (interestingly enough, prohibition had been repealed by this point) they painted all cannabis with the same broad strokes and outlawed hemp as well.

Hemp has the same benefits as marijuana but without the intoxicating effects (as well as many other non-medical uses). But that didn’t matter. The goal was to ban marijuana and that’s what happened.

Today, we know much more about cannabis. We know that CBD is effective in affecting the brain and nervous system (as does THC) but unlike THC, doesn’t require the user to give up their daily activities due to the high that THC causes. CBD is psychoactive, but not intoxicating.