As we’ve learned, cannabis plants produce many different cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, including CBD and THC. These are distinctly different compounds with different effects on the body.

The molecular structure of THC

The molecular structure of CBD

When consumed, both CBD and THC interact with receptors in the endocannabinoid system. This is a system that plays a regulatory role in a wide range of physiological and cognitive functions, including pain modulation, mood, and seizure threshold. You can think of the endocannabinoid system as a collection of locks and keys. The locks are located on cells, with many different keys floating around. The keys may be either endogenously produced (created by our bodies) or added exogenously (such as by taking a medication).

CBD and THC are both exogenously introduced “keys” that interact differently with the cannabinoid receptors (“locks”) in the endocannabinoid system, so they have significantly different effects on the body. Unlike CBD, THC is psychoactive, which means it causes a high.

Why Does THC Get You High?

In simple terms, THC attaches itself to cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB-1) in the brain. Like a key in a lock, THC snuggly fits right into CB-1, and as a result of this interaction, the brain releases dopamine. The release of dopamine, in turn, affects things like mood, cognition, and perception. The total sum of all these changes creates that feeling that we’ve come to call a high.

If you smoked pot in your friend’s basement back in high school, now you know why you scarfed down the entire party pack from Taco Bell, why your heart felt like it was racing, and why you found yourself crouching under the table, paranoid about an alien invasion. That, my friend, was the high caused by THC.

However, the mere presence of THC doesn’t automatically lead to paranoia and insatiable munchies. It’s important to know that these psychoactive effects generally kick in only after consuming way too much THC. The psychoactive effects of THC can typically be avoided when it is used at the right dose. Your doctor can help you find the dose that’s right for you so that you don’t get high from the THC.

Why Doesn’t CBD Get You High?

Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t fit snuggly into CB-1. Instead, it changes the shape of CB-1 in such a way that THC can’t attach to it. Because of this, mood, cognition, and perception aren’t affected, and there’s no feeling of that high.

While preventing THC from causing a high, CBD interacts with a myriad of other target receptors throughout the body, unlocking a series of chemical reactions that lead to effects like pain relief, a calm and relaxed feeling, restful sleep, and more.

CBD acts as a negative allosteric inhibitor, changing the shape of CB-1and preventing THC from attaching to this receptor.

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