Do You Need THC To Activate CBD?

Do you need THC to Activate CBD?


If we hear this one more time, we're going to lose it.


"You need some THC to activate the CBD".


It's almost dogma in the cannabis community.


It's one of those things that just keeps recycling among people with no real basis.


SO frustrating.


Let's set the record straight based on research.


We'll try to put a dent in this misconception and also discuss the opposite…


CBD offsets and counters the effects of THC.


And vice versa.


We're not anti-cannabis although there are some considerations with THC that people need to understand.


Let's get into it before one more person offers that same, tired advice.


And yes...we'll take a look at the "entourage effect" which might be the best marketing slogan since "Just Do It".


We'll cover these basic topics:

  • Do you need THC to activate CBD?
  • How do THC and CBD work in the body
  • Does CBD offset THC's effects in the body
  • Can THC cause anxiety?
  • Does CBD help with too much THC
  • The effects of CBD in the body
  • The effects of THC in the body


Let's get started.


There's a guy across the way at the coffee shop who's about to tell me that a little THC helps to activate the CBD.


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Do you need THC to activate CBD?

This whole thought comes from the original old-school growers on the illegal side of things.


This belief that the whole plant is better than its components.


The so-call "Entourage Effect".


There's no real research for this.


It's just a gut sense that growers and users had before things went legal.


There's a great synopsis here from Scientific American:


Our belief is that this stems more from a political motivation to make cannabis legal.


If you can say that benefits come from one component (CBD for example), then that argues against legalizing the plant itself.


Legalization is on its way anyway!


Research is showing very different things.


We have read 100's of NIH studies on CBD and even CBD with THC.


One thing stands clear...almost all the research is on CBD by itself.


And it's incredibly positive across a range of different issues.


In many situations, CBD and THC have countering and very different effects on a given issue!


We'll touch base on this nuanced interaction below in different sections.


In fact, the two tend to neutralize each other (more CBD neutralizes THC) in the body.


CBD is even showing remarkable effects for people addicted to cannabis!


To really get to the heart of this THC to activate CBD question, let's look at how they work in the body.

How do THC and CBD work in the body

First, THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, a family of different chemicals that can work within our own endocannabinoid system.

We have naturally occurring cannabinoids like Anandamide and 2-AG which are very important to our bodies and brains working correctly.


It just so happens that the cannabis plant also makes cannabinoids.

The two most prevalent are THC and CBD.


They are very different in terms of effects on the body.


We have to get into a little biology to get to the bottom of their interaction.


There are two types of cannabinoid receptors in the body.

  • CB1 primarily in the brain and central nervous system
  • CB2 primarily in the immune and endocrine system but throughout the body


We have CB receptors on almost every type of cell in the body except for red blood cells.


Here's a big difference.

  • THC tends to influence CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system
  • CBD tends to influence CB2 receptors in the body and nervous system


This difference speaks to why THC and CBD have very unique effects on the body.


It also speaks to why there are some negatives with THC:

  • Psychoactive - the "high" feeling (unless you're looking for that)
  • Can be addictive due to interaction with the dopamine system
  • Can cause psychosis or overdose
  • Can cause anxiety, paranoia, hunger, and other effects


CBD does not have these effects since it doesn't interact with the CB1 receptors in the brain.


Check out our What Does CBD Feel Like section and even the list of CBD benefits.


Aside from many other effects, CBD has many opposite effects to THC:

  • Calm effect - no high
  • Actually is showing results to counter addiction to many different substances
  • Has shown in MRI's ability to normalize brain activity during psychosis
  • Has shown powerful anti-anxiety effects and helps to balance hunger hormone levels


It's the polar opposite!


So how could THC possible by needed to "Activate" CBD?


If we drill down lower, it gets even more interesting.


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To the LIVER!!

Does CBD offset THC's effects in the body

Our poor liver has to do so much heavy lifting in the body.


This is equally true for CBD and THC.


The liver has to process both substances along with 60% of the medications on the market via a specific pathway.


In order for THC to become psychoactive, it has to be metabolized by the liver first.


Guess what blocks this process?




That's why the ratio of CBD to THC in a given cannabis strain can have such a different effect in terms of the psychoactive effects of THC.


CBD will actually block the metabolism of THC!


It won't reach those CB1 receptors in the brain in an activated form.


Just a head's up...the THC levels in today's pot is so much higher than even a decade ago.


It used to be that there was enough CBD to offset the THC or "mellow" it a bit.


That's not the case with a lot of cannabis available on the illegal or legal markets.


THC doesn't activate CBD.


They operate on very separate sets of CB receptors in the body and even counter each other's effects.


As just one example from our CBD and neuroinflammation article, THC and CBD had an opposing effect on microglia that are key to brain inflammation and schizophrenia!


Interestingly, THC was shown to dysregulate microglia activity which CBD helped to offset.

In pilot experiments, we have replicated the finding that adolescents, low-dose THC activates microglia in the prefrontal cortex via CB1 cannabinoid receptors and increases IL-6 mRNA. The increase in IL- 6 was prevented by concurrent cannabidiol.


THC increases brain inflammation.  CBD prevented it.


Also, check out the very differences between THC and CBD on oxidative stress!


There's an estimate that 80% of the health (not the getting high part) benefits people get from cannabis comes from the CBD!


The high, of course, comes from the THC.


You can learn all about this interplay here:

Let's take one quick example that research supports.

Can CBD cause anxiety?

CBD's powerful effects on anxiety are well established now (See CBD and Anxiety here).


First, a little Klingon:

The anxiolytic effects of CBD in humans were first demonstrated in the context of reversing the anxiogenic effects of THC.


Anxiolytic just means anti-anxiety.


That's attributed to CBD.


Anxiogenic means increasing anxiety.


That's attributed to THC!


Again...polar opposite.


Interestingly, it's estimated that 60% of people with allergy and histamine issues are also allergic to THC.


Roughly 40-60% of the population on whole have allergy and histamine issues!


It's higher for women (tied in with estrogen levels) and higher still for women over 40!


Does that sound like someone you know??


A little simple math and at the high range, roughly 24-36% of the population may be allergic to THC!


There's a direct tie to histamine release and inflammation in the brain and anxiety.


Read The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore (totally fascinating!)


The "side effects" of THC and other plant materials may just be acute allergic responses.


This goes to why we only deal with CBD Isolate at IndigoNaturals.


The same effect holds true for Full Spectrum CBD as it does for THC.


Check out Why CBD Isolate Only for Histamine and Allergy Issues


Back to THC, CBD, and anxiety.


There are numerous examples of opposing and contrarian effects between THC and CBD in the body.


Forget activating about canceling out!


Which may be a useful tool in certain situations!

CBD for greening out - help with too much THC

Aside from the bigger question of THC addiction, CBD is showing promise when a person has too much THC.

THC overdose is a very real thing.


Being "Greened Out" is the term for the THC equivalent of drinking too much alcohol.


Does CBD help with this?


The answer is YES!


As we mentioned above, CBD blocks further metabolism of THC by the liver into its active form.


At this point, it's excreted from the body unactivated (by the liver again).


Maybe more importantly to the poor person greening out, CBD offsets the psychoactive and physiological effects of the excess THC.


Most of the greening out effect of THC is psychoactive:

  • Temporary psychosis and or fear, anxiety, paranoia
  • Acute anxiety (and all its physical manifestations - rapid pulse, shortness of breath, etc)


If someone doesn't like their relationship with THC, check out our taper section:



Both of these effects are directly and positively affected by CBD itself in research.


Learn all about using CBD for greening out here.


Still, think THC has to activate CBD in the body?


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Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!

The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.





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I would love to see those studies. Please post links to them. We’re always open to new information.

Every NIH study we’ve looked at show opposing effects of CBD and THC in the body. We’ve listed just a few of them here:

In fact, CBD is shown to offset the negative effects of THC (see CBD if you’re greening out article) along with pregnenolone.

We just wrapped up an article on CBD and appetite. THC and CBD had totally opposite effects.

Outside of appetite stimulation, effects on pain, and maybe cancer (which CBD also affects), it’s hard to argue for THC outside of recreational.

As for sleep, THC can induce drowsiness but it interrupts the most important stage 4 of sleep where the brain removes toxins via the newly discovered lymphatic system. New studies show that interrupted sleep looks just like extreme anxiety in brain scans.

CBD does not interrupt sleep cycles this way. Again…would love to see the research and we’ll ignore that roughly 25% of the population is allergic to THC.


I think the reason people are asking whether THC is needed in the tiniest amount or not because doctors studying this at John Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic , and New York university all have studies surrounding this pointing doctors in the direction that a minuscule amount of THC is needed for the best results in CBD products. So it’s not just some crazy rumor it’s coming from actual physicians at world renowned hospitals.


That’s an odd ratio. It’s basically 1 to 1 versus almost 1 to 2. I haven’t seen it accurate to the nearest tenth before :) Basically, it’s double the amount of CBD. For anxiety, CBD is probably the better fit. For pain, THC might have more impact there but there are other issues to look at. First, they oppose each other in many pathways. Check out our newest article which goes through these different pathways here:

For pain, we’re more excited about low dose naltrexone, metformin, and even topical ketamine. We’re writing a full review of metformin and LDN as the research is very interesting. Anxiety is clearly in CBD’s wheelhouse. Check out CBD and the mechanisms of anxiety here: Be well!


Can you explain the difference in the potency of 1:1 and 1:19 for CBD being the 19? I’m using CBD oil for pain and anxiety but I have read but still am not sure what to purchase to meet my needs. Do you have some guide lines that can educate me?
Thanks, Beth


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