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How THC helps CBD—without getting you high

November 7, 2019
How THC helps CBD without high; CBD dominant retail experience
Jesse Milns/Leafly

When considering the effects of cannabinoids on the body, it’s easy to focus on single compounds. Yet this hyperfocus on individual compounds may obscure the ways cannabinoids can be used in tandem to benefit a person’s wellbeing.

Few people need convincing to include CBD in their THC-rich therapies, but the opposite suggestion is a little more controversial. Could including THC in a CBD regimen produce a result that is more effective, or an experience that is more pleasant than CBD in isolation?

Frustratingly, many people view CBD as the “good cannabinoid” and THC as the “bad cannabinoid,” since it can be intoxicating. Yet the two compounds each have their benefits and drawbacks, appearing to act differently together than they do apart.

There is some evidence that indicates that THC and CBD work synergistically, and that a small amount of THC may enhance the effects of CBD without causing intoxication.

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Can THC enhance CBD?

Both scientific and anecdotal evidence support the idea that low-dose THC may improve the efficacy of CBD.

A 2015 study found that administering a whole-plant CBD-rich preparation, which contained 17.9% CBD and 1.1% THC, increased the effectiveness of CBD by making it dose-dependent.

The researchers found that isolated CBD has what is termed a narrow therapeutic window. This means it is only effective within a relatively small range of doses.

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A dose-dependent response curve, which the researchers obtained in the CBD-THC extract, is desirable, because it allows doctors to better customize the dose to each patient.

Dr. Michael Verbora, MD and chief medical officer of Aleafia Health, is a cannabinoid expert who has spoken around the world about cannabinoid medicine. When asked if a small amount of THC might help CBD work better, he is enthusiastic.

“This is most definitely something that is often mentioned or discussed amongst patients and physicians utilizing cannabinoid therapy … From personal experience [as a medical doctor], I can attest to the fact that in many instances when CBD is ineffective, I do add small microdoses of THC, at 1 mg per dose at a time, and I sometimes find it works far better.”

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Dr. Verbora also refers to a 2018 study on epilepsy patients.

“[The study] looked at pure extracted CBD vs. whole-plant extracted CBD. The study found the full plant extract to be more effective than the isolated CBD on its own. This [also] lends evidence to the entourage effect.”

Adding in some THC helps more than CBD on its own.
The entourage effect refers to the theory that the cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis work synergistically, mutually modifying one another’s effects, producing a unique experience that cannot be attributed to, or mimicked by, a single compound.

“One could presume that the fully extracted CBD dominant-product likely had some low levels of THC and [this] would lend credence to the fact that adding in some THC helps more than CBD on its own.”

The cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis appear in specific ratios which may help them act together in a way that is more effective than in isolation. This is the theoretical foundation behind the concept of “whole plant medicine”, which aims to take cues from mother nature on how best to use the therapeutic compounds in cannabis.

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Are low doses of THC intoxicating when combined with CBD?

Some people are concerned with THC’s intoxicating properties, and may opt to use CBD products that do not contain THC. However, in low doses, and when combined with CBD, THC can be a different beast altogether.

It is well established that THC in high doses can create strong intoxication, and even psychotic-like experiences in some people. However, studies typically administer THC in isolation.

Current research indicates that CBD may play a protective role against the side effects of THC. A 2011 study found that cannabis with a higher CBD content was associated with fewer psychotic experiences, likely because CBD modulates the effects of THC in the endocannabinoid system.

Dr. Verbora advises patients who are concerned about the intoxicating effects of low-dose THC to go slowly.

“Using high-CBD products, low in THC, is a great way to start [and] avoid impairment. With time and experience, increasing the THC slowly with regulated products allows individuals to customize their treatment to maximize benefits while minimizing negative effects.”

Dr. Verbora emphasizes: “You can use THC without impairment, and that’s an important message that is often missed.”

Laura Tennant's Bio Image

Laura Tennant

Laura Tennant is a Toronto freelance science writer. She has an Honours B.Sc. in Neuroscience from the University of Toronto. She hopes her writing will help others make better-informed choices about their health and lifestyle.

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