Is CBD Effective Without THC?
It's a very common question.
Unfortunately, it continues to swell based on a passed down "wisdom" from one person to the next.
Maybe 5 times out of 10, when you bring up CBD, you'll get the same response…
"Yes... but you need some THC to make it work".
We've got 100's of NIH studies that say NO!
Almost all the research is based on CBD by itself and for good reason.
CBD and THC have very different, even opposite effects in the body and brain.
In fact, there's a great deal of research on how CBD counters many of the effects of THC.
Extensive research has been done.
Let's take a look at what research says about the two.
We'll cover these key questions:
- Is CBD effective by itself
- Is CBD more effective with THC
- CBD's effects in the body/brain
- THC's effects in the body/brain
- What about the entourage effect and CBD with THC
- Does THC boost CBD's effects
Let's get started.
We need to tear down some myths!
Is CBD effective by itself?
Let's first tackle this.
As we mentioned above, the vast majority of research is for CBD by itself.
This makes sense since research usually tries to narrow the variables at play so we know where exactly an effect comes from.
For example, Cannabis (the plant itself) has effects on anxiety both ways.
It can calm some people but actually cause anxiety in other people.
This is a function of the CBD and THC ratios.
In research, CBD was found to calm anxiety and the pathways are pretty well established.
You can learn all about the benefits of CBD for anxiety here.
THC, on the other hand, was shown to increase anxiety in some people.
This may be due to the fact that 24-36% of people are likely allergic to THC.
The research on cannabis can be confusing for this reason.
There is no known research showing that CBD by itself can cause anxiety.
That's why researchers tend to narrow the focus like this.
Too many variables and you can get false positives!
There's a laundry list of health issues where CBD by itself is showing positive effects in research.
You can check out the growing list of CBD benefits here.
This brings up the question then... is it MORE effective with THC?
Is CBD more effective with THC
It depends on what we're dealing with.
First, understand that CBD acts to block THC's metabolism in the liver.
That's partially why it's used to counter the negative effects of THC (paranoia, anxiety, addiction, etc).
In fact, CBD is showing positive research as a way to deal with THC (or high THC marijuana) addiction!
In many pathways, CBD and THC offset each other.
Secondly, keep in mind that CBD primarily works with one set of endocannabinoid receptors (CB2) while THC works primarily with the other receptor (CB1 in the brain).
There are some issues that THC does have a positive effect on.
The three most noted are:
- Sleep (although it interrupts the stage 4 deep sleep stage)
- Appetite (increases with THC)
This assumes you're not one of the 24-36% of the population likely allergic to THC.
It's not so much that CBD is more effective with THC than that THC has its own separate and additional effects with the CB1 receptors.
Two issues there.
- THC is still a schedule 1 drug federally and is not available in any of the big CBD brands and products available online
- There are negatives to THC usages including addiction, habituation, increased risk of depression/anxiety, etc
There's a great new book called Never Enough by Judith Grisel.
It's probably the clearest and best explanation of what's happening in the brain with various drugs.
Research is showing that CBD (by itself) is neither habit-forming nor habituating.
Habituating just means you need more and more of a substance to get the same effect.
Basically, the brain adjusts to offset the input.
CBD doesn't interact directly with the brain's CB1 receptors like THC.
So the calculation a person has to make with THC is to weigh the positives against the negatives above.
THC itself has shown no effect in research to make CBD work better.
In fact, there's a slew of research saying that CBD offsets many of the negatives of THC.
Check out Does CBD Help With Greening Out?
CBD's effects in the body/brain
Let's first introduce the endocannabinoid system.
It spans the entire body and we have receptors on every type of cell (save perhaps the red blood cell).
There are two main types of receptors:
- CB1 in the brain and central nervous system
- CB2 in the rest of the body primarily
The endocannabinoid system has been shown by research to help balance the following key systems:
- Nervous system - neurotransmitters
- Endocrine system - hormones
- Immune system - inflammatory response and cellular growth/death and repair cycle
These three systems are at the heart of most modern diseases!
CBD is shown to interact with receptors in the most pathways of any endocannabinoid... by far!
Of course, the three systems above interact strongly with neurotransmitters but CBD doesn't interact directly with CB1 receptors.
That's why there is no "high" or psychoactive effect with CBD.
Numerous studies have shown how CBD affects different aspects of these very powerful systems.
Check out How CBD Works to get research by issue from Acne to Psychosis.
What about THC?
THC's effects in the body/brain
THC also works within that endocannabinoid system above.
It primarily interacts with the CB1 receptors in the brain.
This is why it causes a "high" effect and is psychoactive.
It's also why some of the effects can be negative such as addiction, habituation, and other issues.
A study just came out which showed that just 1-2 uses of cannabis with THC as an adolescent puts people at risk for depression and anxiety later in life.
If you read Never Enough, you'll understand exactly why!
It also speaks to why pain and sleep are affected by THC.
The "switches" for these two feelings originate in the brain where CB1 receptors reside.
At Indigo Naturals, we focus on CBD Isolate (no THC) because of the stronger safety profile and the legality in the US as a supplement.
Let's address a favorite of the industry though... the so-called "Entourage Effect".
What about the entourage effect and CBD with THC?
We have an entire article on the entourage effect at our Is Full Spectrum CBD better than CBD Isolate article.
In a nutshell, the entourage effect is a nifty term for the belief that the different substances in the Cannabis plant augment each other's effects.
For example, THC and CBD would increase each other's effect and better work together than if you took them by themselves.
Most of the entourage effect on these two in research is the exact opposite!
A great deal of the original research that led to this term was based on the fact that CBD helped to offset the negatives of THC!
Just one of many examples.
THC is known to cause anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, and temporary psychosis which is dose-dependent.
CBD has been shown to calm or negate these effects.
In fact, the ratio of CBD to THC is a good determinant of whether there will be a high feeling at all with THC or cannabis.
In States where THC is legal (such as California), it is easy to find 3:1, 10:1, and even 30:1 CBD to THC products.
Anything 10:1 CBD to THC and higher is generally accepted as not being able to impair or cause a high feeling.
The CBD is blocking the THC metabolism in the liver and actually normalizing the parts of the brain associated with psychosis (based on an amazing study with MRI's for pre-psychotic people).
Check out CBD and schizophrenia to learn about that research.
It's a very powerful example of CBD versus THC across maybe one of the most complicated systems...neurotransmitters!
So, in the case of CBD and THC, the entourage effect actually means the OPPOSITE of what brands try to push it for.
As to the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in the plant, check out the Full Spectrum CBD versus CBD Isolate article for further exploration of the entourage effect.
There's a great write-up on the entourage effect by Scientific American here:
Does THC boost CBD's effects?
Is there research that shows THC increases CBD's effect in the body?
After reading 100's of articles, there is only one that might.
It is a study of pain in mice.
There were other variables involved (THC, CBC, CBG, CBN).
In this study where THC and CBD were about equal, there was a better pain response at the higher dose levels.
It's hard to tell if the mice were "high" and that might account for paw retraction effect but that's the test everyone hangs their hat on.
This brings up an interesting point on CBD and THC levels.
Of course, THC and CBD are the two most prominent cannabinoids in the cannabis plant by far.
In one of the most popular full-spectrum CBD brands, here's the ratio of CBD to other cannabinoids:
- CBD to CBN - 160:1
- CBD to CBG - 114:1
- CBD to CBC - 55:1
In most legal CBD on the market, you can't have THC above .3% anyway.
That's CBD:THC - 260:1
We're talking about a negligible amount.
You would have to go to the States where it's legal at 3:1 etc to really see an effect.
That being said, we want more concrete research to back any synergistic hype that you see EVERYWHERE for CBD and THC.
They work on different receptors in the brain!
We just figure that the CBD market doesn't need another sales job without backing it with some facts.
That's not why we're here at Indigo Naturals.
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.