How CBD Makes You Feel Relaxed — But Not High

Photographed by Rachel Cabitt.

If you're one of the 40 million adults who suffer from anxiety disorders in the United States, then there's a pretty good chance you've been curious whether trendy CBD products would help you chill out. There are countless CBD gummies and tinctures that are marketed specifically for anxiety relief, and people anecdotally claim that cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis and hemp, helps promote relaxation and calmness.

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But if you're not necessarily a cannabis user, or have had a bad experience with marijuana in the past, then you might be wondering if CBD would do more harm than good for your needs. In other words: is taking CBD going to make you stressed out and high when you're already anxious?

For starters, you might need a refresher about what CBD even is. CBD is one of many compounds found in cannabis and hemp. Another big one is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and that's the one that contributes to the psychoactive effects (euphoria, pleasure, forgetfulness) that many of us consider a "high." Manufacturers have figured out ways to separate the CBD from plants, which is why there are so many CBD products available.

While it's entirely possible for trace amounts of THC to be left over in CBD products, it's typically not enough to induce a euphoric effect, explains Justin Amesbury, director of research and development at Lazarus Naturals, a company that specializes in making CBD more accessible to veterans, people on long-term disability, and low-income households. So, the short answer is, no, CBD won't make you feel high. "CBD in very high concentrations is reported to produce an uplifting effect, but rarely do we come across folks needing servings that high," he says.

Technically, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines any substance that affects mental processes, such as cognition, as "psychoactive." By this definition, CBD could be considered psychoactive, but the key distinguishing factor is that CBD is non-intoxicating, even at concentrations well beyond what most people would ingest, Amesbury says. In a 2017 report on CBD, the WHO noted that, while THC can impair people's cognitive performance and psychomotor abilities, "in general, clinical studies have reported that even high doses of oral CBD do not cause those [psychoactive] effects that are characteristic for THC and for cannabis rich in THC."

To get really technical here, the reason why THC makes you high and CBD doesn't has to do with the way that the compounds bind to receptors in your endocannabinoid system. THC activates CB1 receptors in brain areas that are associated with euphoria, relaxation, anxiety, and short-term memory impairment. But CBD is actually a CB1 antagonist, meaning it'll actually block or modulate THC's intoxicating effects. (In fact, some suggest that taking CBD is a good way to decrease the negative side effects of THC, such as anxiety and paranoia.)

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So, if you're eager to pop a CBD gummy before a stressful day, the good news is you don't have to stress further about whether it'll make you seem stoned. While it may not cure your anxiety once and for all, it could be one helpful tool to implement when you just need to chill — without the munchies, dry mouth, and paranoia that you might associate with a regular high.

Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under Federal Law, regardless of state marijuana laws.

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