CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that sometimes produces gentle sensations of calm and relaxation. It interacts with your body in a different way to THC and generally produces milder results with no high, intense euphoria or stoned feeling.
Ultra-runner Kristian Morgan told us, "It helps calm me and make me feel at peace with the world."
However, how CBD feels can vary from person to person, it also depends on how much you take and how it interacts with your body. To get an idea of how it will affect you it’s important to understand precisely what happens when you consume it.
What Happens to Your Body on CBD?
When you ingest or inhale CBD, it can interact with your body in several different ways. These different actions produce a range of varied effects and may create mild sensations or feelings:
CBD prevents the breakdown of anandamide
Unlike the intoxicating cannabinoid THC, CBD doesn't bind directly with your endocannabinoid receptors. Instead, it interacts with enzymes to allow your body to restore a healthy balance across key systems. By blocking specific enzymes, CBD allows the endocannabinoid anandamide to build up in your cells.
Anandamide is known as the 'bliss' molecule and is responsible for the pleasant sensation some people get after exercise, known as the 'runner's high'. It’s a signalling cannabinoid that supports recovery after times of stress or poor health. Usually, it’s short-lived because when it enters your cells, it's immediately broken down by enzymes.
Both CBD and anandamide enter cells via the same transport molecule. When CBD is present in your body, it uses these transport molecules to enter your cells, preventing anandamide from using them. As a result, anandamide can’t access the enzymes that usually break it down allowing it to build up in your body.
CBD can activate serotonin receptors
When taken in higher concentrations, CBD has been found to activate 5-HT1A receptors. These are usually triggered by serotonin and can produce a variety of chemical messages to produce numerous therapeutic effects. When activated by CBD they may also produce sensations of pleasure or calm.
CBD can bind with vanilloid receptors
CBD also binds directly with TRPV1 receptors. These are known to interact with a broad range of herbal substances, particularly those that have been used as folk remedies in the past. It's also called the vanilloid receptor because it interacts with vanilla, but the other well-known interaction is with capsaicin, the potent, spicy substance in chilli peppers.
This receptor may be part of the reason why so many people love hot food and derive pleasure from it despite the heat. It also may be responsible for the reasons why so many of the people we spoke to, reported enjoying the feelings produced by CBD.
Personal Experiences of CBD
Everyone's experience of CBD is unique, but there are some common themes. We asked a range of people who take CBD regularly to share how it makes them feel.
Most of them explained that any sensations weren't very strong: "The feeling of taking CBD is very mild and sometimes I don't notice anything at all. When I do feel it, it's as if I've just woken up; my muscles feel loose, and my body feels relaxed." (Tom Russell)
A common theme with all of those we spoke to was its calming effects: "It gives me a sense of calm, like the tension in my body has been relieved. If, after a hard day's work, I find myself reaching for a beer to unwind, I find CBD oil a much better option; it's healthier, contains minimal calories and perfectly hits to the spot." (Mark Turner)
Many of the sensations and effects reported seemed to be linked to an experience of inner peace and balance. Jack from High and Polite told us, "To me, CBD feels like the outside pressures of the world being turned down and my thought processes calming - similar to how I feel post-meditation."
What Factors Affect How CBD Feels?
How CBD’s various interactions influence us and how they make us feel doesn't just depend on the individual chemicals; it depends on a much broader range of factors. These include:
By increasing the amount of anandamide in your body, CBD helps to support your body's own systems to find a healthy balance. However, these effects will only be noticeable if your body systems are out of balance. If you're already in an excellent state of health, higher levels of anandamide may not produce any noticeable results.
Like with many supplements, people with a higher body mass may need to consume more to feel the same effect as those with a lower body mass. Body composition will also likely have an effect as blood flow can be faster to some tissue types than with others.
Internal body chemistry
The molecules present in your blood, tissues and cells will play a significant role in how and when CBD can interact with your body. The presence of other substances could speed up or slow down the absorption in your blood and increase or decrease how much is broken down by your liver. Consequently, how CBD feels will likely be different in some ways from one individual to the next and it may even be different from one day to the next.
How much you take (biphasic effect)
CBD produces different effects depending on how much you take and what concentration is achieved in your blood. Some people report that at low levels it makes them feel alert, while at higher levels, it has a more relaxing effect. When a substance provides two distinct effects like this, it's called biphasic. Alcohol is another biphasic substance that produces stimulant-like effects in small amounts and depressant effects when more has been consumed.
CBD oil vs CBD soft gels vs CBD vape
Hemp derived CBD comes in many different forms, including oils, capsules, soft gels, gummies and e-liquids. Each one works in a slightly different way and may feel different when they take effect. Also, different brands use different recipes and processes that can result in a different ratio of active ingredients.
Some make their oils with CBD isolate, and others include traces of other cannabinoids and terpenes. According to the entourage effect theory, even tiny amounts of these other substances cause them to work together and produce slightly different results.
The most common types of CBD include:
CBD softgel – These are soft capsules that hold a precisely measured amount of CBD to be swallowed and ingested. When the capsule reaches your gut, it breaks down and releases the contents. The CBD then crosses the gut wall and enters the bloodstream, and is taken to the liver, where a large proportion of it is broken down and metabolised in the first pass system. Only about 13-19% will get through this stage for use in your body.
Softgels are discreet and easy to use but can take more than an hour to take effect. However, the effects will likely last between 6 to 9 hours.
CBD oil - This is usually held under the tongue, where it passes through the thin membranes into your sublingual blood vessels. This route avoids the first pass through the liver resulting in about 35% of the CBD ready to be transported throughout your body. It also produces faster results and takes effect in 15 to 45 minutes and last between 2 to 6 hours.
E-liquids – E-liquids are a special formulation of CBD designed to be used in a vaporiser (vape). The vape turns the liquid into vapour so it can be inhaled and pass into your bloodstream through your lungs. This also avoids the first-pass system, and up to 56% is likely to reach your blood for use in your tissues and cells.
It's one of the fastest-acting types of CBD and can produce results in 5 to 15minutes. However, it's also the shortest lasting and will likely only produce results for one or two hours.
Which method do people prefer?
The different types of CBD are suited to different people and different circumstances. Some like the potent, quick effects of e-liquids: "I prefer taking e-liquids. I think the combination of the active ingredient and the inhalation makes you slow down and relax in a way you wouldn't otherwise. It also makes me feel relaxed quicker."
Others think that soft gels make it easy to take CBD a precise amount: "I prefer taking soft gels because they're easy to accurately dose and easy to take with food. I don't feel much difference between them and oils, but some e-liquids have a quicker, more obvious relaxing effect on me."
However, the most common preference was for oils. They're easy to use, fast-acting and versatile: "I prefer taking CBD oil because it gets to work within about 15 minutes, whereas I find CBD soft gels can take up to an hour to take effect. I don't consume CBD e-liquid."
One person we asked felt that CBD oils gave them more control over exactly how much they could take: "I prefer to use CBD oils because I find it easier to take an amount that suits me. I also usually feel stronger effects from the oil than other methods. With a well-made, relatively potent oil, I typically notice a gentle lightheaded sensation within about 15 minutes. After that, I experience sensations like a whole-body calmness."
THC vs CBD Feeling
THC is an active component of cannabis and known for it's psychoactive effects. It’s usually found in marijuana strains and can make up between 4% and 30% of their extracts. In the UK, CBD products may contain traces of THC, but the legal limit is no more than 1mg per container.
THC produces its effects by binding directly with CB1 endocannabinoid receptors. This produces powerful sensations of euphoria and intoxication.
"THC builds slowly and can make my body feel heavy; I usually feel happy and more talkative. Sometimes I find simple things very funny." (Emily Bass)
"THC is fantastic; I feel all my senses are heightened. My hearing is sharper, my vision is enhanced, my sense of touch is heightened, and food smells and tastes incredible. Too much THC can make me not want to talk or socialise with anyone; I just want to sit in peace, delve deep into my subconscious and meditate or relax in nature and just take it all in." (Mark Turner)
Although CBD and THC work in different ways, they interact with elements of the same systems and consequently, some people think that the sensations are similar: "The sensations from THC are strong and always noticeable whereas CBD is very mild. I usually feel very slightly different after I've taken CBD, but, unlike THC, it doesn't affect how I think or act." However, THC feels significantly stronger and more potent: "THC makes me giggly and provides enhanced pain-relieving qualities. It's a much more intense sensation of relaxation."
Mark provided a useful analogy to explain the difference, "CBD is like performing a service on your engine; it gets everything working perfectly again and balanced. THC is like adding a turbo; you can get more performance; however, it shouldn't be overused because the engine parts will wear out faster. Keep the turbo boost for when you really need it or want it. CBD gets me back to being me; THC enhances me."
The main differences are that CBD produces gentle, sometimes unnoticeable sensations and THC results in much more immediate, potent effects: "CBD is very subtle and often unnoticeable for me. Anything more than one puff on my vape of THC has an obvious uplifting, stimulating effect." (Jack)
CBD Side Effects
CBD has health benefits with an excellent safety record, and the World Health Organization reported, "CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile". Many people can take CBD with no negative results; however, as with most supplements, some side effects have been reported. These are mostly mild and included fatigue, diarrhoea, changes in appetite and changes in weight.
There is growing evidence that CBD may also interact with some medications. One class of medication that's been identified are those that are metabolised by the CYP450 enzyme. Because CBD is also broken down by this enzyme, it may block the medicine from being broken down, resulting in stronger effects. Currently, the UK Food Standards Agency doesn't recommend CBD for anyone who takes medication.
Most substances become toxic when taken in large enough amounts, but there are currently no studies that show this for CBD. Some scientists have used their research to speculate that THC gives a 50% chance of death if you consume 30mg per kg of body weight. Others found that in dogs and monkeys, a single measure of THC up to 9000mg/kg was non-lethal.
So far, evidence is mounting to demonstrate CBD's safety in low and standard doses, but there's still a lot to learn about larger amounts. In 1981 a trial with monkeys found that daily doses of 30-300mg per kg of body weight had little effect apart from slightly increasing the mass of the animal's liver and kidneys. There is likely a concentration at which CBD becomes toxic, but current research indicates that it will either be the same as THC or higher.
CBD is a beneficial food/dietary supplement that sometimes feels mildly relaxing. Some people who use it regularly report that they can feel it taking effect, but others don't notice anything at all.
When it enters your body, it interacts with several different receptors, including those involved with your endocannabinoid and endocrine systems. These interactions help your body to send necessary chemical signals to return to a balanced state. It may also produce sensations of pleasure.
While this no doubt contributes to how CBD makes you feel, everyone experiences it slightly differently. Your body mass, health and internal chemistry all impact how it works in your body. This is why it's so important to start by taking small amounts and getting to know what products, types and strengths work best for you.