5 myths and misconceptions about cannabidiol

Is cannabidiol a psychoactive compound? Does it exert sedative effects? We look at a new article by Ethan Russo that answers these questions and more

Is cannabidiol a psychoactive compound? Does it exert sedative effects? Can it turn into THC after being ingested by humans? Where does it stand in relation to other cannabinoid drugs, such as rimonabant? And is it, in fact, legal across the US, whereas cannabis plants or related products containing THC are not?

According to Dr. Ethan Russo, these questions encompass some of the most pervasive misconceptions held by researchers and laymen in relation to CBD. The renowned medical cannabis researcher clarifies each of these issues in a commentary piece recently published in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences.

Is CBD a psychoactive substance?

Yes. If we consider the most rigorous term—a drug that exerts some kind of psychological effects—then CBD must qualify. Dr. Russo mentions anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction and depression among some of the psychological domains that can be modulated by CBD.

He argues that what people mean when saying that CBD is not psychoactive (as we have done repeatedly here at Lift), is that it is a non-intoxicating and non-addictive substance that lacks the more controversial effects of THC or other 'hard drugs'. Among others, CBD does not produce perceptual hallucinations or feelings of euphoria and bliss.

Is CBD a sedative?

According to Dr. Russo, people often blame the sedative effects of cannabis-related products on CBD, and he tracks the origin of this popular belief to early anecdotal reports. But recent evidence is at odds with this idea.

Low to moderate doses of CBD are distinctly alerting, insomniac, and in fact are able to counteract some of the mild sedative properties of THC. On the other hand, extremely high doses of CBD can sometimes interact with other drugs to produce sedative effects, but according to the author, these are easily fixed by altering drug dosages.

The real culprit for the sedative effects of cannabis products is actually a non-cannabinoid known as Myrcene.

Can CBD turn into THC after being ingested?

A myth that was unknown to me posits that CBD can be converted to THC when immersed in a liquid similar to gastric acid. Such a chemical conversion is actually possible, and it has been performed since the 1940s.

As far as we know there are no human enzymes capable of achieving this transformation. Human CBD clinical trials that measure cannabis contents in the blood have never revealed such an effect. Further evidence in this direction relays in the fact that patients never report any subjective effects that resemble those of THC.

Is CBD similar to Rimonabant?

Rimonabant is a synthetic inverse agonist of the cannabinoid type 1 receptor that was temporarily in the market before being withdrawn due to severe side effects. CBD chemical mechanism, although still unclear to some extent, resembles more that of an indirect antagonist (i.e., one that ends up blocking the access of molecules to the receptor). Gathering preclinical and clinical evidence suggests that contrary to rimonabant,  CBD is considerably safe.

Is CBD legal in the United States?

CBD is an unscheduled drug in most nations, but not in the USA where it is classified as a Schedule I agent analogous to THC. Some confusion has arisen from an 'exception clause' in the 1970 Controlled Substance Act that states that planting and harvesting of hemp is a legal act, whereas the chemical extraction of its contents is not. Another issue arises from the fact that even if CBD drugs such as Epidiolex get approved for use in forms of intractable epilepsy, their legal status does not simply extend to other CBD products (or for that matter, to other medical conditions).

Despite this, CBD commercialization is currently not being prosecuted at a federal level and it has recently experienced a considerable growth across local and online retailers.

Overall, Dr. Russo’s paper touches on some interesting questions related to CBD. While its message takes a strongly pro-pharmaceutical stance, it remains nevertheless informative for professionals, patients, and laymen who take interest in this increasingly popular substance.

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