Does CBD Get You High: A Detailed Analysis

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In recent years, Cannabis has found a drastic shift in its uses. Contrary to the conventional use of the cannabis plant to make marijuana for smoking, some of the natural chemicals found in this plant such as cannabidiol (CBD) have been investigated to use them for medical purposes. The plant extracts, also known as the cannabinoids, have found immense medical importance that has been proven through immaculate medical research, which can be found online. The cannabinoids include cannabigerol, cannabidiol, cannabichromene, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) along with some other chemicals found in the extract from Cannabis sativa plant.

Cannabis has been used for medical treatment for a long time now. The usefulness of using cannabis plant extracts to treat ailments related to the brain have particularly been so much highlighted in the past decade or so. Having found the sweet spot between the characteristic ‘high’ of the marijuana due to THC and the positive brain effects of marijuana due to the existence of cannabidiol (CBD), the therapeutic uses of marijuana are certainly increasing day by day.

At first, “Cannabinoid” was a collective term assigned to the set of naturally occurring aromatic hydrocarbon extracts obtained from the Cannabis plant. But, due to the increase in the acceptance of the medicinal use of marijuana, cannabinoids nowadays refer to a diverse set of therapeutic substances that have pharmacologic actions that closely resemble that of the plant-derived cannabinoids. 

There is an increasing trend of using drugs in the whole of the North American continent, particularly by the elderly people ranging in the ages 50 and above. The increased use of drugs has largely caused negative symptoms in the users, along with withdrawal-related illnesses. The fast lifestyle of first-world countries such as the United States has taken people to an extent that they find entertainment in drug abuse. This killer trend is proving fatal for the large part of the population and is more prevalent in elderly people having ages above 50.

A study was conducted by some amateurs to investigate the prevalence of illicit substance abuse in older adults. The results were published in PubMed. Among all the drugs used by older adults to gain psychoactive signs, Cannabis use by older adults is considerably more common. The increased prevalence of Cannabis among the adults for recreational use can be estimated from the fact that the adults aged 50 years and older, 4.6 million reported using Cannabis for recreational purposes in the previous year, while less than 1 million of the drug-using adults reported dependence upon other illicit substances such as cocaine, hallucinogens, methamphetamine, and heroin use in the past year. The results gained from this study were confirmed by the later studies conducted by independent sources. Nowadays, there is an increasing trend of legalization of medically important drugs such as medical marijuana not only in the United States but throughout the world. According to statistics gathered the previous year, 47 states out of all the states in the US have legalized at least one form of medical marijuana. The fact that marijuana is being rapidly legalized and the relaxation in the terms for the possession of marijuana explains that the substance abuse rate among older adults may increase. This is because this particular group of the population uses illicit substances in order to cope with the illnesses that usually come with normal aging or the mental degradation caused due to diseases that affect older people such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. 

How is the brain affected by cannabis extracts?

Just like most of the other chemicals, the cannabis extracts affect our brain by binding to a specific type of receptors present on the cells. When these cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they trigger some changes in the metabolic machinery of the cells. These receptors are present on the cells throughout the entirety of our central nervous system, and they are specifically called CB1 and CB2 receptors. Such receptors are found predominantly in the brain in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Because these receptors directly affect the function of the cell they are on, the psychic effects experienced after consuming marijuana have a rapid onset. The psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC result in euphoria, enhancement of sensory perception, increased heart rate, decreased pain stimuli, and difficulties in concentrating on specific tasks. These effects are due to the relative abundance of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the hippocampus. The effects may also include short term impairment of memory. These effects are largely due to the psychoactive agents found in cannabis such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The endocannabinoid system

The endogenous cannabinoid system, or more commonly known as the endocannabinoid system, serves to regulate a wide array of physiological and psychological processes and possesses considerable potential targets for the potential treatment of numerous disease states. The intrinsic location of the endocannabinoid system enables the potential for it to act as a binding site for several anxiolytic drugs and other pharmaceutical therapy agents. The endocannabinoid system is just another neurotransmitter system in our bodies just like the acetylcholine system or adrenaline system. The neurotransmitter systems of our body consist of apparatus such as synaptic junctions across which the nerve impulse is transferred, and specific chemicals called neurotransmitters that serve to pass on the nerve impulses to the next nerve in series. The neurotransmitters serve as a bridge between the electrical and chemical systems contributing to the travel of the nerve impulse throughout the nerve. There are various types of neurotransmitters known to science. Some of them are excitatory, some of them are inhibitory and some of them are mixed neurotransmitters that can either be excitatory or be inhibitory according to the required circumstances. 

The endocannabinoid system is composed of neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are one of the most widely known, potent, and versatile signaling molecules known up to now. The receptors which serve to bind these neurotransmitters and pass on information are called the cannabinoid receptors. Two types of cannabinoid receptors are naturally found in the human body. This is probably possible due to the two receptors (i.e., CB1 and CB2 receptors) and enzymes regulating their endogenous ligands. Cannabidiol, CBD, binds to these receptors and then alters the function of these receptors and the resulting actions of the body on which these receptors and their ligands affect.  

Just like most of the other chemicals, the cannabis extracts affect our brain by binding to a specific type of receptors present on the cells. When these cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they trigger some changes in the metabolic machinery of the cells. These receptors are present on the cells throughout the entirety of our central nervous system, and they are specifically called CB1 and CB2 receptors. Such receptors are found predominantly in the brain in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Because these receptors directly affect the function of the cell they are on, the psychic effects experienced after consuming marijuana have a rapid onset. The psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC result in euphoria, enhancement of sensory perception, increased heart rate, decreased pain stimuli, and difficulties in concentrating on specific tasks. These effects are due to the relative abundance of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the hippocampus. The effects may also include short term impairment of memory. These effects are largely due to the psychoactive agents found in cannabis such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

We know that each type of neurotransmitter in our body has a particular effect. Some affect the sleep cycle, others serve to be of prime importance in passing on the motor nerve impulses to the muscles on the neuromuscular junctions. An example of such neurotransmitter is acetylcholine. Similarly, the cannabinoids serve to affect mood, anxiety, or may even grant muscle relaxant effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. The location of the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies is also very specific and is suited perfectly to their function. The cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the central nervous system. but to be more specific, CB1 receptors are highly expressed on neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) in the inner brain areas such as the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia. Due to their location, these receptors interact with the ECB system to have sharp effects on the actions controlled by these areas of the brain that include thought processes, cognitive behaviors, focus, and other primitive senses such as pain perception and autoimmune responses. Due to these properties, the cannabinoids such as CBD can exert therapeutic properties in degenerative disorders that affect the central nervous system, particularly the brain. Due to this location, CBD also has some serious anxiolytic properties, that enable it to be used for stress disorders and anxiety after an intense psychological trauma or in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other disorders that affect the thought process of the subjects.

On the other hand, the other major type of receptors in the ECB system is called the CB2 receptors. CB2 receptors are most commonly are expressed on immune cells, microglia in the CNS, and macrophages, monocytes, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, and B cells in the periphery. Additionally, CB2 receptors are also expressed on neurons, but to an extent that is almost as negligible as compared to the CB1 receptors. The abundant distribution of CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the brain and periphery accounts for their ability to impact a diverse variety of physiological and psychological processes and other emotions such as memory, anxiety, and pain perception. Moreover, they are the prime targets for the pharmaceutical effect of CBD to combat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis.

Cannabidiol – It is Different

However, cannabidiol (CBD) differs largely from THC in its psycho-activity. According to some studies, it has been found that CBD may even act to counter the psychoactive effects of THC. Owing to its anti-psychotic effects, this compound has found itself being used for many pharmaceutical purposes.  These effects are possibly caused due to the opposite effects of THC and CBD on brain activity in regions such as the striatum, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Many studies conducted by laboratories around the world, along with controlled clinical trials, have confirmed that CBD can be adopted as a well-tolerated, safe, and effective drug for antipsychotic purposes. The THC has an impairing effect on the body, while all the effects of CBD are non-impairing. But, CBD in cannabis has some effects on the body where it serves to release overall stress on the body. These effects are different from the euphoric or ‘high’ sensations induced in our bodies due to THC, and serve to alleviate the stress and anxiety. This makes CBD as the best alternate to marijuana to seek an escape from pain and anxiety.  23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana to be used for a variety of medical conditions. 15 other states have also formed laws that are intended to allow access to CBD oil and strains of marijuana containing high CBD to THC ratio.

The Preparation of CBD Oil

CBD is often used in its oil form. The oil is prepared by infusing CBD extracted from cannabis into some other vegetable oils such as olive oil or coconut oil that contains saturated fat. The oil can be easily prepared at home without sophisticated equipment by infusing the cannabis extracts with vegetable oils, but the homemade CBD oil will never be as powerful or potent as professionally prepared CBD oils made through repeated refining. CBD can be consumed in many forms, but oil is the most common one. 

The industrial method of extracting CBD oils is by using carbon dioxide (CO2) for extraction. In recent years, this method has gained immense importance in the industrial preparation, particularly due to the ‘clean’ nature of the process. However, using CO2 for extraction is an industrial method and requires a lot of sophisticated equipment, skilled professionals, and a suitable space to carry out this task. The CBD oils prepared by home preparations or industrial methods have very small quantities of THC or no THC at all so that all the effects you get are not psychotic, but a very controlled and a mellow feeling that grants the escape from anxiety without going through psychotic delusions or sensory impairments.

The Psychoactive Effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol

The major chemical in Cannabis that is responsible for altering the brain's thoughts, thereby resulting in a deranged state of mind in a person (more commonly known as the ‘high’ one gets after consuming marijuana) is the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is a major constituent of cannabis and can be found in concentrations of up to 60 percent or more in raw Cannabis. That is why, people who smoke raw marijuana, having large quantities of THC in it experience the characteristic ‘high’ that is associated with smoking marijuana for long.

The ability of THC to grant a ‘high’ lies behind its ability to activate certain receptors in the endocannabinoid system of the body. The ‘activating’ nature of THC takes it to be called an agonist of the receptor. THC is an agonist of the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor of the endocannabinoid system. When raw cannabis containing the natural quantities of THC is given to people who have had their CB1 receptors blocked through using certain drugs called antagonists, cannabis cannot get them high because THC cannot displace the antagonists that are already given to those persons. All of this implies that intoxication through the activation of the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system is one of the major ways through which THC produces the ‘high’ effect, and results in a mentally altered state where the person has certain uncontrolled and deranged thoughts.

Scientists have studied the changes that occur during the high the person gets after smoking marijuana containing THC. The brain imaging studies gathered through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the persons that were administered marijuana before the clinical study has shown increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex region of the brain during the effect THC has on the central nervous system. The most pronounced effects of THC are noted in the central brain regions such as the hippocampus, basal ganglia, and amygdala. This region of the brain is responsible for certain cognitive behaviors, judgment and decision-making, focusing abilities towards a specific task and attention, and other executive functions like perfectly coordinated motor skills and speech. THC intoxication varies widely from person to person and is dependent on the thoughts that a person was having before smoking marijuana. The THC intoxication after consuming marijuana can affect any of these functions carried out by the central brain areas to varying degrees depending on the person.

Another major brain area that is affected during cannabis intoxication is the rewarding sensation of the brain, which feeds emotional and memory processes and judges the state of mind of a person. THC acts as an agonist in these regions and serves to activate the reward circuitry of the central nervous system. Thus, the activation of certain receptors and the release of certain neurotransmitters that cause relaxation in these regions produce pleasurable sensations and emotions. These pleasurable sensations can last as long as the marijuana is being smoked, or even last a day or two if there is enough concentration of THC in the body of the person.

The Difference between CBD and THC

CBD is not at all intoxicating. There is no scientific or experimental evidence of CBD being able to affect the thought process of the brain to an uncontrollable extent. This is because of the directly opposite effect of CBD as compared to THC. THC acts largely as an agonist for the CB1 receptors, which are thought to play a major role in intoxication due to cannabis smoking. 

CBD cannot activate the CB1 receptor in the central nervous system. Evidence gathered through carefully supervised studies indicates that it interferes with the activity of the CB1 receptor in the central nervous system, and inhibits it from affecting the vital brain regions that control cognitive abilities, speech, coordinated motor skills, judgment, and decision making ability of one’s mind. These effects of CBD are more pronounced especially in the presence of THC. When THC and CBD work together to affect CB1 receptor activity, the users smoking marijuana feel a lot more controlled, mellow, nuanced sensation that does not interfere with the vital functions of the brain. When CBD is used along with THC, the users also have a much lower chance of experiencing paranoia and deranged states of mind, as compared to the effects felt when CBD is absent. That's because THC activates the CB1 receptor, while CBD inhibits it. 

 A study conducted by physicians in February 2010 found that THC and CBD can have opposite effects on regional brain function. THC acts as an agonist, while CBD acts as an antagonist in the brain regions where THC acts to activate certain receptors to produce intoxication. This could help explain why CBD tends to temper the effects of THC. Taking a closer look at the overall effects of THC and CBD on the overall state of the body and organ systems and the effects of each on the body's cannabinoid receptors reveals a more complex picture of how the two interact through exerting their effects on the crucial brain regions.

In this regard, a clinical study was conducted and results were published on PubMed. A group of people was selected to investigate the effects of CBD in competing for the ‘high’ state that THC has in the body. The studies gathered through observing the community usage of marijuana suggest that cannabis products that are high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but low in cannabidiol (CBD) are particularly hazardous for mental health because of the impairing effects that THC might have on the mind in the absence of CBD that acts as an antagonist of the CB1 receptors. Laboratory-based studies were conducted for clarifying this issue because THC and CBD can be administered in pure form to the human subjects under controlled conditions. In this study, the hypothesis was considered that pre-treatment with CBD inhibited THC-elicited psychosis and cognitive impairment due to opposite effects on similar brain regions that THC stimulates. All the participants in the study were randomized to receive oral CBD 600 mg or placebo, before being administered a dose of intravenous (IV) THC. After the administration of tetrahydrocannabinol, there was a trend of lower impairment of brain function in the CBD group. Clinically significant positive psychotic symptoms were less likely in the group that was administered cannabidiol (CBD) as compared with the placebo.

The ability of CBD to exert positive effects on the brain system of a person without impairing the state of mind of the person has made it an ideal drug for combating various nervous disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, psychosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other inflammatory disorders like arthritis, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. 

CBD in Anxiety

Anxiety is not always a medical condition requiring immediate attention, it is completely normal to have anxious feelings about something daily. It is very important to judge the situation when will a person having anxious feelings require medical attention before experiencing aggravated symptoms such as panic attacks due to increased anxiety. The anxiety is medically linked to the brain, or more specifically to the amygdala which controls the fear, thoughts, and emotions and serves as the hub of anxiety. The ability of CBD to affect the endocannabinoid system, which in turn has supernumerary effects on mood, stress, anxiety, and state of mind of a person, has enabled it to become an effective drug to cure long term stress and anxiety that might reduce the quality of lifestyle of any person. Moreover, the quality of CBD oil that does not affect the psychological state of mind of the person who is using it, has granted it the ultimate sweet spot for having all the perks of marijuana without getting the ‘high’ sensation which is the characteristic of marijuana. 

CBD and Dementia Due to Neurodegenerative Diseases: 

One of the most common neurodegenerative disorders of today is Alzheimer’s disease. It is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes gradual cell death in various areas of the brain occurs, thereby leading to a gradual loss of memories and disability to store new memories. It is the most common cause of dementia today all over the world. Alzheimer’s Disease is a disorder caused due to the gradual degeneration and the resultant death of cerebral cortical cells, and the effect of the death of these cells is visible in the form of dementia in the patient. The most common symptom of AD is memory loss, which may be so severe that personal neglect occurs in some of the patients. This disease may also lead to impaired cognitive abilities of a person. Acquired cognitive disabilities caused by this disease have a diverse effect on the social life, overall behavior, and day to day activity of the patients. However, the ability of cannabinoids such as CBD to fine-tune various vital brain circuits in the nervous system has found bright prospects in the treatment of various forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s. In this regard, a study was conducted and the results were published on PubMed. The study comprised a total of 21 cases in which cannabinoids particularly CBD obtained from Cannabis plants were used as a therapeutic measure against Alzheimer’s disease. The results of the study were particularly convincing and supported the use of cannabidiol for the treatment and stopping the progression of the disease.

Another major disorder causing dementia is Parkinsonism. Parkinsonism is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by involuntary tremors throughout the body, stiffness, and rigidity. The disease gradually progresses over time like Alzheimer’s, and the symptoms get greater over time. Parkinson’s disease is caused due to degeneration in the areas of the brain that produce dopamine: a neurotransmitter involved in executive functions of the brain such as coordinating the motor control of muscles, as well as lower-level functions including lactation, sexual function, and nausea. The exact cause of cell death in the areas that produce dopamine in the brain is still not understood to the scientists and continues to be the hotspot of Parkinsonism research.

Cannabis extracts, particularly CBD, have found to be useful in Parkinsonism. The pain-reducing properties of CBD help reduce pain. Research has also found that administering oral doses of CBD to patients having Parkinsonism helped relieved the tremors and muscle instability. The dose-related improvement due to the administration of CBD in dystonia was observed in all patients, and the collective effect of CBD ranged from relieving pain to getting rid of tremors throughout the body. Another complication that might occur in Parkinson’s disease is psychosis, and the symptoms of psychosis gradually aggravate over time. A small study conducted in 2009 found CBD to have particularly canceling effects on the symptoms of psychosis, thereby improving the sleep and general lifestyle of the patients having Parkinson’s disease. A study conducted at the University of Louisville, Kentucky shows that CBD acts as an inverse agonist on the CPR6 receptors that are found in the brainstem and are responsible for controlling movement, emotions, and learning - all of which are affected by Parkinsonism. This means that CBD responds to these receptors, and can act as a therapeutic agent in relieving the symptoms of this disease. Studies also show a promising effect of CBD in treating psychosis and resulting in insomnia due to Parkinsonism’s Disease Dementia (PDD).

CBD in Inflammatory Disorders:

The primary mechanism due to which CBD can be used to avert inflammatory diseases lies in the vast anti-inflammatory properties of the CBD. CBD averts inflammation due to various ways. One of the factors through which CBD can avoid inflammation is the dysfunction of the cytokines (chemical substances in the body which serve to mediate inflammation through promoting it). Endocannabinoids, particularly nonpsychoactive agents such as CBD, affect the cytokine structure and biology of various cell systems. Antiproliferative effects of endocannabinoids on cancer cells have been studied well, and their effect on stopping the inflammation is large. 

These properties of CBD have encouraged the physicians to use CBD in particularly debilitating disorders, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis. These diseases progress primarily through inflammation, and the ability of CBD to avert inflammation is a good indicator of why CBD can be used in such disorders.


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