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At booth after booth at last month’s CBD Expo, and in all manner of trade magazine ads, online sites and news reports, KannaKnowledge often sees CBD products being touted as “non-psychoactive.” We get what people are trying to say — but it’s technically wrong, and it’s a common mistake that you and your clients shouldn’t be making.

What’s meant in this case is “non-intoxicating.” Because any way you slice it, CBD is a psychoactive substance, just not at the level one finds from THC. Let’s consider the basic biochemistry to help make matters clear.

A psychoactive substance is one that produces temporary changes in consciousness, mood and behavior by acting on brain chemistry and the central nervous system. Which CBD definitely does: crossing the blood-brain barrier to definitely alter a person’s functioning. Both CBD and THC interact with our bodies’ endocannabinoid systems, and in fact have the exact same molecular structure, yet each produces a very different effect.

Our bodies contain two receptors that bind with cannabinoids entering our system. CB1 receptors, found in the brain and central nervous system, help regulate mood, pain, coordination, appetite and certain other functions. CB2 receptors, found throughout the body, help regulate pain and inflammation. Pure CBD primarily binds with the CB2 receptors, and only loosely with CB1 receptors, which is why it typically aids with pain tolerance and overall well‑being without a feeling of getting high.

When full-spectrum CBD is ingested, which contains small amounts of THC, it produces the synergistic “entourage” effect by bonding more effectively with CB1 receptors. This can result in improved mood enhancement and pain tolerance, but again, without the intoxicating effect of high-level THC. The traditional THC high is produced through its tight bonding with CB1 receptors that generates feelings of euphoria. (THC mimics anandamide, a natural endocannabinoid that exaggerates mood, binding to receptors even more tightly than anandamide itself.)

There’s nothing wrong in admitting that CBD is a mood-altering substance: that, after all, is what users are after. But to say that it is “non-psychoactive” is misleading to consumers, patients, and people within the industry as well.