When searching for CBD products, most websites will list the compound as “non-psychoactive” because “psychoactive” it is a popular term used to describe the effects of marijuana and THC. By defining a product in this way, it helps to position CBD as the safer option and distance it from cannabis, which is still illegal throughout much of the world.
In reality, CBD should be referred to as "non-psychotropic", which is the correct term used to describe a substance that does not affect your mental state. The concept is easier to understand if we look at the definitions of both terms.
Psychoactive: “A substance affecting the mind”
Psychotropic: “Denoting drugs that affect a person’s mental state”
Psychotropic substances affect our mental state, our sense of reality, and our perception of the world. While this may be a reason that cannabis is the most-used illicit drug in the world, for those looking to take advantage of the potential health benefits of CBD, this quality is undesirable. The term “psychoactive” implies a substance that affects the mind, and while this can have negative repercussions, there are dozens of psychoactive foods and compounds that we consume daily without risk. Just because something can alter our mind doesn’t necessarily mean that the effect is dangerous or undesirable.
It may be hard to believe, but something we all eat and enjoy regularly is psychoactive. We are, of course, talking about chocolate! Specifically dark chocolate, but chocolate nonetheless. Cacao (the raw seeds from which chocolate is derived) is one of the most popular food products on the planet. And because the compounds within it have the ability to make us feel less stressed—this makes chocolate a psychoactive substance.
In a study published on the NCBI, researchers found that the consumption of chocolate in men and women aged 18 to 49 relieved them of light distress. The patients used for the study were from various demographics, with some having a history of depressive episodes. The subjects indicated that eating chocolate “consisted of feelings of increased energy or increased concentration”. The secret to chocolate’s psychoactive prowess lies in its ability to influence serotonin levels, a mechanism that CBD shares.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for transporting signals to different areas of the brain. It is believed to help regulate mood, as low levels of serotonin are associated with conditions like depression and anxiety. That conclusion aligns with what we know about the psychoactive properties of chocolate, as eating frequent amounts was found to boost serotonin levels—and explains why it helps relieve mild distress.
In another study published on the National Institute of Health, scientists found that the administration of CBD in living subjects (mice) “significantly enhanced serotonin levels”. The effect did vary depending on the original mental state and the duration of the treatment, but an increase was observed nonetheless. On its own, this mechanism is exciting, but not groundbreaking. However, what it does do is unlock the potential for treatment programmes aimed at depression or anxiety to include CBD in some capacity. This is something researchers are keen to understand, but analysing how the compound affects our brain consists of a vast number of variables. As a result, while the potential is there, iron-clad conclusions are still being studied and verified.
In the meantime, one thing we can confirm is the safety profile that CBD has earned. From the numerous studies that have taken place, to the comprehensive review undertaken by the World Health Organisation (WHO), one attribute that shines through is the compound’s lack of toxicity and incredibly low risk of side effects. As part of its investigation into CBD, the WHO ascertained that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile. Reported adverse effects may be as a result of drug-drug interactions between CBD and patients’ existing medications”.
Considering the potential side effects, as well as drug-drug interactions, the use of CBD should always be on a case-by-case basis. However, based on what we currently understand about the potential of the compound, its prospects are encouraging. Research aside, we can confirm that yes, CBD is psychoactive, and although its effect is still being studied, it is believed to have a promising future that may help treat various mood-related conditions.
Like chocolate, CBD has the ability to positively affect our mind, just as a psychoactive substance should. However, the comparison to chocolate is not purely based on their interaction with serotonin levels. Both compounds are likely to have adverse effects when taken in excess. It is for this reason that even substances that are good for our health should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle.