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CBD Is Psychoactive — And That’s OK

CBD Is Psychoactive — And That’s OK
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


CBD Is Psychoactive — And That’s OK

Perhaps the biggest lie put forth by people in the cannabis industry is that CBD is a “non-psychoactive” cannabinoid. That’s patently false because CBD does affect the mind, and this is part of what makes it such effective medicine.

Here’s a thought experiment: What if you — and almost everyone else around you —are all the victims of a grand misunderstanding of what marijuana’s less-intoxicating ingredient CBD actually is and does?

It’s a question of how the word “psychoactive” is defined. While most people have been using the term “non-psychoactive” as a synonym for “non-intoxicating” when they describe CBD, they’re misusing the word “non-psychoactive.” In truth, a psychoactive substance is something that will alter mental processes or behaviors — but that doesn’t mean every psychoactive substance is going to get a user high.

Let’s put this to the test. Go to the search engine of your choice. Type in CBD and hit return. As it turns out, almost every result is going to declare CBD to be “non-psychoactive.” All of those assertions are wrong.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the many active compounds in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, it does not impart upon the user the intoxicating effects for which cannabis is known. Instead, CBD is associated with the opposite: with ameliorating THC’s distortions of space, time and sound and with fighting anxiety and depression and maybe even addiction.

In layman’s shorthand: THC is the party animal and CBD is the healer. For these reasons, CBD is popularly known as “non-psychoactive.” This term is the most-common descriptor applied to CBD, done so by numerous marijuana-industry sources, as well as mainstream media accounts published in The New York Times, The Guardian and elsewhere.

All of these sources are guilty of propagating misinformation. (A confession: I, too, have been responsible for casually peddling this falsehood in the past.)

Of course, CBD is psychoactive. That’s the point. If it weren’t, far fewer people would care about it. You would not know its name. It wouldn’t be the hottest and newest wellness ingredient in Brooklyn self-care shops and — certainly wouldn’t be the main component of a new FDA-approved pharmaceutical drug to treat epilepsy.

As Dr. Ethan Russo, one of the foremost cannabis researchers, told The Leaf, “Very simply stated, what is clear about CBD is that it must be considered psychoactive because of its ability to act as an anti-anxiety agent and an anti-psychotic agent.”

The Explanation Behind Why CBD Is Psychoactive

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the term “psychoactive” as “affecting the mind or body.” At the World Health Organization, “psychoactive substances” are “substances that, when taken in or administered into one’s system, affect mental processes, e.g. cognition or affect.”

Under both these definitions, CBD is psychoactive because it is affecting mental processes when it mitigates the “high feeling” of smoking cannabis or when it helps with anxiety and depression.

This means that it cannot be possible to say in the same breath that CBD is non-psychoactive and that it will help with anxiety and depression.

For example, other psychoactive substances include ibuprofen, caffeine and a glass of wine. If they weren’t — if they were no more efficacious than a glass of water or a deep breath of air — then nobody would care.

Martin Lee is the co-founder and director of Project CBD, an educational platform founded in 2010 that provides research and resources on cannabis therapeutics. In the beginning, Lee recently told Cannabis Now that Project CBD also used to refer to CBD as “non-psychoactive.”

At the time, the idea was to remind the public, especially those subject to decades of anti-marijuana propaganda, that the plant could be “non-intoxicating.” (Now, Project CBD uses the term “non-intoxicating” to describe CBD, instead of “non-psychoactive.)

“At least in the beginning, it was a way for us to emphasize that there was something else going on with the cannabis plant, that we should look at it differently,” Lee said. “But I’m uncomfortable with that now. As things went along, the obvious fact started staring us in the face: If it changes one’s mood, even if you’re not getting high, it’s psychoactive.”

Pharmacologically, THC and CBD act in similar ways. Both molecules interact with the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors — although at different sites and with different effects. A misunderstanding of how the molecules work, based on old science, may be at the root of the grand CBD myth.

Lee’s Project CBD has attempted to correct the record, but like many other rational and reasonable science-based efforts in our post-factual world, it is swimming upstream — and is working against bad-faith actors intent on marketing CBD in any way possible, to as many cannabis newcomers as possible.

At best, “non-psychoactive” is an honest mistake stemming from a well-intentioned misunderstanding. At worse, “non-psychoactive” is an adman’s trick, an intentional misdirection meant to deceive.

The problem is that some CBD products, derived from industrial hemp that’s much lower in CBD content than the grown-for-the-purpose cannabis, might actually be non-psychoactive because there’s not enough CBD present. But that means the product is faulty, not the ingredient itself.

TELL US, did you know that CBD is actually psychoactive?



  1. CBDGreen

    September 17, 2020 at 4:17 am

    This post is very timely and great piece. we should advocate the use of CBD for cancer patients, because it’s a miracle drop and has taken the world by storm.

  2. Rocky

    May 19, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    Any substance that alters behavior can be considered psychoactive like caffeine, nicotine, sugar, etc. CBD has anxiolytic effects, therefore, it is indeed psychoactive.

  3. Doris hamilton

    March 27, 2020 at 4:22 am

    I astonished after knowing CBD Is Psychoactive. Thanks for sharing this

  4. Bradley G Jones

    February 13, 2020 at 1:30 am

    No, (CBD) is the conversion of (CBDa), as (THCa) needs heat which occurs through the curing process, or by adding heat which converts non-psychoactive (THCa) to psychoactive (THC). While in a living cannabis plant, these cannabinoids are predominantly found in acid form(THCa) which holds no-psychoactive effects until heated. Causing the lose of a molecule of DNA creating (THC)delta9. Also, psychoactive effects refers to agnostic principles which turn on CB receptors in the human endocannabinoid system such as (THC), while cannabidiol, or (CBD) turns off these receptors which renders non-psychoactive effects being the CB receptors are off.

  5. Tomi Ken

    October 27, 2018 at 11:43 am

    CBD is not psychoactive, only THC is what does. I quite agree with you on the definition of herb

  6. Kelvin Jackson

    October 12, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    cbd oil is not psychoactive according recent studies. What is psychoactive is THC

  7. Hashim Bennet

    October 11, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    This is really an eye opener on cbd, I think this really make sense. Thanks for information.

  8. sunday Lewis

    October 10, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for this great post. THC and CBD both molecules interact with the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors, but while THC is psychoactive CBD is completely non-psychoactive.

  9. Hakhaz Benny

    October 8, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    CBD is not psychoactive, THC is what does. I quite agree with you on the definition of herb

  10. Josh Andrews

    October 7, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Is not psychcoactive. More propaganda.
    Wait wait. Asprins psychoactive too now huh. Smart guy.

  11. Josh

    October 7, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Wow. What miss informed bullshit.
    Cbd is not psychoactive.

  12. Yukun Godwin

    October 5, 2018 at 2:00 am

    Thanks for this great post on cbd oil, CBD is completely non-psychoactive hence no “high feeling” and it helps with anxiety and depression. Unlike the THC that will get you high.

  13. CBDsense

    September 26, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Just when you thought you know a thing or two about CBD, you read this. To be honest, it makes perfect sense. We hear a lot of stories of people claiming to get calm and relaxed after using CBD so that indeed makes it psychoactive.

    Anyway, we have some work to do changing a lot of information. 🙂

    • Josh Andrews

      October 7, 2018 at 7:56 am

      Your an idiot

  14. Pogolito

    September 19, 2018 at 7:48 am

    He doesn’t mention the reverse placebo effect. If a patient is hardcore anti-marijuana, chances are CBD won’t work. They become too focused on how their head feels, while neglecting the way their illness feels.
    As a cancer survivor myself, I always ask folks who sick and afraid of getting high; “Would you rather be a junkie taking drugs that actually make you feel sicker than you are?” Or…Netflix and chill?

    • Don't bother

      June 7, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      Great logic. Why not advocate wider use of heroin for cancer patients? Rather be high than sick, right?

  15. Lucky B.

    September 17, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    cbd oil has actually taken the world by storm because of the many health benefits and is completely non-intoxicating, hence it’s have a lot of media buzz

  16. Kenny Morrison

    September 15, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    Well THC is non intoxicating too since cannabis is non toxic. How about calling CBD non-inebriating?

    • mox

      March 29, 2019 at 9:02 am

      intoxication and inebriation are synonyms. intoxication does not mean the substance is toxic.

  17. Rosemarie Bird

    September 15, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I will agree that CBD is psychoactive for the readons you stated. It should then be compated to other HERBS that are used for the same issues. Such as Valerian or St Johns Wort.

    I personally think that Cannabis should never be referred to as a DRUG.
    Drugs are synthetic, man made substances.
    HERBS are Nature made and some used for medicine.

    Definition of herb – any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine, or perfume, any seed-bearing plant which does …

    • mox

      March 29, 2019 at 8:59 am

      why can it not be an herb that is a drug? not all herbs are drugs and not all drugs are herbs but there is an obvious and observed overlap. i understand there is stigma, avoidance, and fear to the word “drug” but you don’t get to change the definition of words because of that.

      here is the first googled definition because i am lazy, although it is accurate.
      drug: “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body”

      sounds like some herbs to me… such as cannabis.

      and for lack of better place to put this thought: think about WHAT is in the herb rather than it is an herb/plant/etc. itself, (which doesn’t matter here, beyond defining that it is indeed an herb). what is the chemical giving a medicinal herb its’ value? by your definition, an herb can be medicine, and if pointing to the actual definition of drug, i don’t understand your logic.

      apologies this is both very poorly written and organised.

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