CBD is a compound found in cannabis plants (a cannabinoid) that provides proven therapeutic benefits. Because it doesn’t have the same intoxicating effects as its cannabinoid cousin delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC), cannabidiol (CBD) is more lightly regulated, and can be sold without a prescription in most U.S. locations. Even high-CBD strains of cannabis can be purchased online without a medical marijuana card.
Both hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant—Cannabis sativa—but hemp has been selectively bred for thick, heavy stalks, whose fibers have been used for centuries to make clothing, sails, paper and rope. Since most of the delta-9 THC in cannabis is found in the flowering portions of the plant, marijuana breeders have sought plants with lush, heavy flowers (buds), and for decades selectively bred out the CBD, because its calming properties reduce the raciness of the THC high.
There are other minor cannabinoids found in both marijuana and hemp that have similar effects as delta-9 THC, but they’re present in amounts too small to extract. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized U.S. hemp production, entrepreneurs have learned how to use chemical catalysts to convert hemp-derived CBD into other cannabinoids in quantities large enough to be commercially viable. That has brought about the advent of “new” cannabis compounds that mimic the intoxicating psychoactive effects of delta-9 THC—including delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, HHC, and THC-O.
CBD has psychoactive effects too. The physical and emotional feelings produced by CBD may be more subtle, but whether you call CBD’s effects a high or not, vaping CBD or using CBD oil tinctures does make you feel different. CBD produces sensations that many users find as pleasant as those provided by THC. Unlike THC products though, using pure (or nearly pure) CBD will not make you fail a drug test—as long as you’re careful to choose the right kinds of CBD products.
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Both CBD and THC are mood-altering compounds that have significant therapeutic benefits, like relieving pain and nausea, reducing inflammation, and treating some seizure disorders. But even though both cannabinoids are psychoactive, only THC is intoxicating. While CBD promotes relaxation and calmness, THC produces actual euphoria, and alters perceptions of space and time.
Humans and other mammals have an internal network of chemicals and receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems called the endocannabinoid system. These receptors, named CB1 and CB2, bind with molecules called ligands (in this case endogenous cannabinoids like anandamide) to control the release of neurotransmitters like glutamate and dopamine. The endocannabinoid receptors, ligands, and certain enzymes work in concert to affect a variety of processes in the body, including thought, memory, mood, pain management, and appetite.
Cannabinoids created outside the body—called exogenous cannabinoids—like CBD and THC from the cannabis plant, can also bind with the CB1 or CB2 (and other) receptors to produce various effects and moderate some physical functions. THC can relieve nausea and increase appetite, and both CBD and THC are effective for pain relief. CBD is an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, and has proven medically effective in treating certain seizure disorders.
Cannabinoids like CBD and THC are not considered dangerous, because they don’t affect the parts of the brain that regulate vital functions of the body. Unlike opioid receptors, the cannabinoid receptors will never signal your lungs to stop breathing. For this reason, it’s practically impossible to overdose on cannabis.
CBD is thought to be helpful in treating anxiety and insomnia. And while the scientific research isn’t absolutely clear, anxiety, stress and sleep problems are the most common reasons consumers use CBD. For many people, CBD is relaxing.
Interestingly, marijuana strains that have significant quantities of both CBD and THC rarely produce the undesirable effects—like paranoia and anxiety—sometimes experienced with weed that’s high in THC but has low CBD content. CBD apparently “competes” with THC on the CB1 receptors, and thereby moderates the psychological effects of its racier relative.
Although CBD may alter your mood—providing a deep sense of calm and relaxation—it doesn’t change spatial and sensory perception or create euphoria, like THC does. In that sense, both cannabinoids are psychoactive, but only THC is intoxicating. This also applies to delta 8 products, THCA and all other forms of tetrahydrocannabinol.
As we’ve already discussed, CBD’s primary sensation is relaxation. People describe it sometimes in terms of neutralizing pain and discomfort, or removing stress. For some, that feels like an effect in itself. For others, it’s an exaggerated sense of peace and calm, or just a lack of whatever negative feelings they had experienced before.
Because CBD is an anti-inflammatory, it can reduce pain and relax the body. That, along with the stress and anxiety relief, may be noticeable. A first-time user of CBD tincture and CBD capsules told Vaping360 that he felt “super relaxed, no anxiety, no pain, and almost like I was floating.”
People who vape or smoke CBD-rich hemp flowers (buds) or high-CBD/low-THC marijuana flowers seem to experience the most obviously psychoactive effects. That may be because the flower contains a higher level of THC than other CBD products.
A high-CBD cannabis flower user on Reddit described “an effect” that “could be described as an anti-effect.” They said that “something happens and things seem to lift away with no feeling.” A Vaping360 editor says that CBD “both dulls and clarifies your mental state. Either way, your mental state can be altered.”
Vaping and smoking expedite the active ingredients to the brain (through the lungs) much more quickly than other delivery methods. Using CBD oil tinctures sublingually (under the tongue) is the second-fastest method (though still much slower than inhalation). Using CBD edibles or swallowing a tincture is the slowest, since the CBD must process through the liver before reaching the bloodstream and brain.
It’s possible that some users feel the presence of any amount of THC when it’s mixed with CBD. That’s the well-known “entourage effect” theory, which basically says cannabinoids combine to create more than the sum of their parts. It’s worth experimenting with different kinds of CBD products to see what feels best to you.
In addition to CBD-rich flowers, CBD can be consumed in vape juice (e-liquid), CBD oil tinctures, edible products like gummies and drinks, in capsules, and in a wide variety of topical lotions and creams. CBD e-juice can be vaped in a regular vape mod or pen, or taken orally like a tincture. But even if its label calls CBD e-liquid “oil,” it isn’t really oil; e-liquid is made with propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Tinctures are made with actual CBD oil and carrier oils like MCT or coconut oil, and can only be consumed orally, never vaped. Inhaling vegetable-based oils can be dangerous.
One product to avoid is CBD oil that has been adulterated with synthetic cannabinoids. These are lab-created chemical compounds that bind with the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain that THC and CBD do. But they can be as much as 100 times more powerful than THC, and have been known to cause extended psychotic episodes and even death. They’re often sold under the brands Spice and K2 (but there are many others) in truck stops, head shops and convenience stores. Sometimes they’re sold as vape juice in bottles marked CBD.
Avoiding synthetic cannabinoids—or other less-sinister additives you don’t want, like melatonin—is simple. Buy from reputable dealers who offer a third-party chemical analysis of the products they sell. That’s something you may want to do anyway if you’re concerned that the CBD oil you buy could make you fail a drug test.
CBD is extracted from hemp and processed into different kinds of CBD products. CBD isolate and broad-spectrum CBD contain no discernible THC, and are the safest ways of using CBD if you are concerned about a drug test. Full-spectrum CBD contains traces of THC, and although it too is unlikely to make you fail a test, it should probably be avoided to be absolutely sure.
CBD derived from hemp plants almost always contains less than 0.3% THC, which is the legal maximum it can include unless it’s sold by a licensed dispensary in a state with a legal marijuana market. You can verify how much THC a product contains by checking the third-party test on the manufacturer’s website. If the seller can’t produce a test, or you feel hesitant, move on to a different company.
Hemp-derived CBD oil is highly unlikely to make you fail a drug test. As long as the CBD you choose has been tested by a third party, and is sold by a reputable retailer that stands behind its products, you can use it with confidence and enjoy the benefits CBD offers.