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Why CBD works better with a little THC (even if you don’t want to get high)

February 12, 2019

Way back in 2014, I wrote an article called Desperately Seeking CBD that profiled several families who either broke the law or moved clear across the country to access cannabidiol (CBD)—a non-intoxicating compound found in the cannabis plant that’s proven effective in treating pediatric seizure disorders that don’t respond to more conventional therapies. At the time, the father of a two-year old epilepsy patient explained that they’d uprooted their entire existence and moved to Colorado just to try the treatment.

The best available science makes clear that whole-plant cannabis preparations are quantifiably superior to single compounds.

Five years later, you can buy CBD ice cream in Texas. Cannabidiol is officially “trendy.” Capsules, tinctures, ointments, and oils containing the compound can be readily purchased online (as well as at gas stations and hair salons nationwide), and the legalization of hemp farming this December via the most recent US Farm Bill means that this rapidly growing market segment will likely expand exponentially over the next five years.

All good news, even if the recent media focus on shiny objects like CBD-infused cocktails has threatened to crowd out significant research showing cannabidiol has tremendous promise in treating cancer, diabetes, head trauma, chronic pain, neurodegenerative disease, depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Shop trusted CBD brands on Leafly Market

But unfortunately, along the way, there’s been a lot of shady operators selling CBD in a largely unregulated grey market, and as a result, a ton of misinformation has attached itself to this potentially life-saving cannabinoid.


6 common myths and controversies about high-CBD cannabis

In fact, Project CBD—a non-profit dedicated to boosting science-based understanding of cannabidiol—has compiled an extensive list of pervasive misconceptions, one of which is “CBD is medical, THC is recreational.”

On the contrary, even small doses of THC combined with CBD can improve the efficacy of your cannabis medicine.

THC is TLC for your CBD

Originally, cannabis contained far less THC than it typically does now, and a lot more CBD. But over time, breeders have created ever more potent strains, as that’s what fetches the best price in the underground market. These breeders certainly understood that selecting for greater potency meant maximizing THC output, but just ten years ago few had even heard of CBD, never mind realized it was steadily getting bred out of existence.


Beyond THC: It’s time to assert the primacy of terpenes

Project CBD was founded in 2009, a time when CBD had almost entirely vanished from the cannabis gene pool. The organization’s founders recognized that while there’s long been evidence of CBD’s medical efficacy, unlike THC, it wasn’t reaching actual medical cannabis patients in appreciable amounts. So they worked directly with cannabis labs in California (then a new phenomenon) to identify the few remaining CBD-rich strains in circulation and make them available to growers, researchers and patients.

Which means you can put them down as big fans of CBD. Just don’t put down THC while you’re doing it.

Project CBD receives many inquiries from around the world and oftentimes people say they are seeking “CBD, the medical part” of the plant, “not THC, the recreational part” that gets you high. Actually, THC, “The High Causer,” has awesome therapeutic properties… [but] diehard marijuana prohibitionists are exploiting the good news about CBD to further stigmatize high-THC cannabis, casting tetrahydrocannabinol as the bad cannabinoid, whereas CBD is framed as the good cannabinoid. Why? Because CBD doesn’t make you feel high like THC does.

Project CBD categorically rejects this moralistic, reefer madness dichotomy in favor of whole plant cannabis therapeutics.

The best available science makes clear that whole-plant cannabis preparations are quantifiably superior to single compounds because the plant’s complex mix of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids interact synergistically to create an “entourage effect” that enhances each other’s therapeutic effects.

  • A study conducted at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco found that combining THC and CBD produces more potent anti-tumor effects when tested on brain cancer and breast cancer cell lines than either compound alone.
  • A 2010 study found that patients with intractable cancer-related pain tolerated medicines that combined THC and CBD notably better than a pure THC extract.
  • A 2012 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that CBD “inhibits THC-elicited paranoid symptoms and hippocampal-dependent memory impairment”

Predicting Cannabis Strain Effects From THC and CBD Levels

Finding the sweet spot

Products with a balance of THC and CBD are becoming more commonplace in cannabis shops as consumers realize the value of cannabinoid synergy. (Elise McDonough for Leafly)

Lots of people (like yours truly) enjoy the psychoactivity of cannabis and find it mood elevating and healing in and of itself, but rest assured that you don’t need to get high AF to reap the benefits of THC.


Microdosing cannabis: Benefits without the buzz

However, finding your optimal dose will involve some trial and error.

According to Project CBD:

The successful use of cannabis as a medicine depends to a great extent on managing its psychoactive properties. The goal is to administer consistent, measurable doses of a CBD-rich cannabis remedy with as much THC as a person is comfortable with… Preclinical science lends credence to the notion that a small amount of THC can confer health benefits. Oral administration of a low dose of THC (1 mg/day) resulted in “significant inhibition of disease progression” in an animal model of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), according to a 2005 report in Nature, which noted: “This effective dose is lower than the dose usually associated with psychotropic effects of THC.

In a feature called We Asked a Scientist: What’s the Right Dose of CBD?, Nick Jikomes, Leafly’s in-house neuroscientist, explored the complicated process involved in optimizing the benefits of cannabis without going one toke over the line, including managing the complex interplay between THC and CBD.

CBD is essentially getting in the way of THC’s ability to bind the CB1 receptor, which is why the presence of CBD has a significant impact on the psychoactivity of THC-containing products, [and] why the ratio of the two compounds is important for anticipating the effects of cannabis products… While THC and CBD have different pharmacological properties, they can both have similar physiological effects, probably acting through different mechanisms. For instance, both compounds can have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects; they may act through different mechanisms, so having THC and CBD could potentially enhance an outcome surrounding pain relief.

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a legally operating cannabis dispensary, you should have no problem finding flowers, concentrates, topicals, and edibles with a wide range of THC-to-CBD ratios. But patients and consumers still sourcing their cannabis from the underground market will encounter more difficulty.

Browse menus near you For CBD/THC products

One suggestion is to try combining whatever form of CBD you can access locally with the best whole-plant cannabis you can lay your hands on. Perhaps this means swallowing a CBD capsule and then taking a few puffs off a joint an hour later.

As always with cannabis, start with small doses and work you way up until you find the sweet spot.

David Bienenstock's Bio Image

David Bienenstock

Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock is the author of "How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" (2016 - Penguin/Random House), and the co-host and co-creator of the podcast "Great Moments in Weed History with Abdullah and Bean." Follow him on Twitter @pot_handbook.

View David Bienenstock's articles

  • David

    Well done David for using the term non-intoxicating compound to describe CBD. Too often CBD is described as non-psychoactive, which is clearly wrong considering the anti-psychotic effects of CBD. CBD is a important medicinal compound in its own right. But your article also highlights the important point that THC has great medicinal as well as recreational value. Good article!

  • Chris

    It’s just a thought of mine, But I think that the THC is the delivery system for the CBD. If you think about it, the inside of your body contains alot of moisture and oil and water do not mix. But for some reason the THC has the ability to stick to your inner tissue and stay in your system for a long time. If the CBD rides piggy back or with the THC it also adhears to the the tissue with the THC.

  • Deborah McCormick

    David, thanks for the great explanation of THC. However, there is no mention as to ratio recommendation CBD:THC. My whole reason for medical marijuana is severe arthritic pain. Two dispensaries I have been to in Florida really push using a 1 to 1 ratio. Yet 2 physicians I have seen in regard to the Florida registry card recommended a ratio of 20mg.CBD : 1 mg.THC. Your thoughts? Any research you are aware of?

    • Kim Dunshie Herning

      By no means an expert here, but I think cannabis medicine is as individual as regular medicine. What works for one may not work as well for another. I have discovered a strain called Euphoria CBD which is 2/1 CBD/THC 10 mg/5 mg that works amazingly on my arthritis. I make cannacaps out of it to take twice daily.

      • yiehom

        Know where one can find instructions on how to make cannacaps ?

        • Holly Vaughn

          That one is easy. I buy empty capsules from eBay. You can probably get them from Amazon or locally as well (health food stores/pharmacies?).

          SHORT VERSION:

          1. Buy empty capsules
          2. Buy light-blocking glass dropper bottle
          3. Buy CBD oil
          4. Open and fill empty capsules with appropriate amount of drops
          5. Swallow capsule(s)


          Firstly you need to find the proper size capsule that’s right for your needs. Look to dosing to see how many drops it’ll take to get your proper dose and buy the appropriate size capsule (and obviously you can use more than 1 cap for your dose). Capsules come in sizes from 000 (biggest) down to 4 or 5. I’m using Size “2” and it holds about 10-14 drops of oil each. I wish I’d gotten the 0 or 1 because I typically need 25 to 50 drops of my tincture.

          [Look up “capsule sizes” on Google, then click on “Images” to see examples of capsule sizes]

          You also need a bottle with a dropper that has a small tip since you’re going to be filling capsules. It needs to be light blocking so any opaque/painted bottle will work. There are a bzillion beautiful dropper bottles in a myriad of colors. (I’ve got a pretty orange one)

          Finally, you’ll need your oil.

          Now that you have your dropper bottle, capsules, and oil….the rest is obvious.
          1. Pull empty capsule apart
          2. Fill large half with the appropriate number of drops
          3. Carefully slide “lid” half onto the larger half
          4. Push together until you feel a “click” type sensation to lock the two halves together

          That’s all, folks!

          • AC Carter

            The gelatin capsules don’t dissolve from holding an oily substance inside? Or do you take your capsules immediately to not risk that problem?

        • hommer

          You may want to consider looking into making cannabis gummies. You can find instructions online. For me the cannacaps are less predictable as to how long before it takes affect.

  • Holly Vaughn

    I think the author means in general. Not specific super potent strains from days of yore. Most street/recreational weed was less powerful before all these specific herbology experiments began in making plants mostly THC rich.

  • Saint Anne

    I disagree. THC will not work at all with CBD if you have Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. The CHS I was diagnosed with has evolved into a full-blown THC allergy so I recommend 100% THC-Free CBD extract. I use Bluebird Botanicals 1500 mg/1 oz. It works very well for chronic pain, anxiety and depression.

    • AC Carter

      Dang….I am sorry! That sounds like a worst case scenario for many of us, and you live it. Glad to read that the CBD product is working though!

  • The Sweet Life

    Mix CBD flower with a little of a cannabis strain(take your pick),grind the 2 together and put in your vape and toke it at 365F. This for those who do not want to get blitzed but still feel a subtle high and a body relaxing tonic. It works for me. No anxiety and no elevated HR. You stay functional as well.

  • LK

    An excellent article on what’s happening. From my perspective it’s the medicinal end even though theres been an explosion of edibles, beer and all the other products people have come up with for those who are looking at it from the recreational end. As I wrote it’s the medicinal properties and factual information in dealing with the CBD/THC for medical uses! I’m hoping that it gets fully legalized so people who have medical problems can cross state lines in any mode of travel and not be worried about being arrested for having a CBD/THC product that’s being used for real medical purposes whether it’s doctor prescribed or not. I also do not want any big Pharma getting involved in the growing and/or genetically modifying any of the plants from different genetic strains. Why? Because they have absolutely no idea what can happen long term genetically to either plants or people who ingest the products long term. There’s also the probability the costs will go up!


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  • French Hat

    Next time when you want to write an article, start from the getgo by getting to the point, also 2014 is only 5 years ago and its not “way back” recap your story have too much fat in it and little meat, and I still didnt get the headline that why adding THC to CBD make it better.

  • Susie Mmpatient

    Well, hash is hash. I think the author meant flower, not pressed kief.

  • Susie Mmpatient

    Growers in IL keep growing 30%+ strains … I find them a little much unless mixed with hemp flower.

  • Jay

    America is limited to Sativa?? We have everything my guy