When Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana, founder of the award-winning health blog, “LupusChick,” used a new brand of CBD oil for the first time three years ago, she expected to feel relief from her anxiety and chronic pain. Instead, she felt like she’d just smoked pot – a LOT.
“Within a few minutes after I put the oil under my tongue, everything felt like it was in slow motion,” she said. “My reactions were slow and I wasn’t in control over myself – like there was a separation between me and my body. It actually scared me.”
Zeppieri-Caruana said she “had no choice” but to go to bed immediately after using the oil, and she slept for 11 hours straight. Though she had used CBD before and even promoted it on her blog because of her many positive experiences with it, she said she was “very nervous” using it again after this bizarre incident.
And she isn’t the only one who claims to have been high on CBD. Two Reddit posts describing similar stories sparked fourteen comments from other users sharing their experiences with the mysterious “CBD high.” One user said they felt “just as high if not more” as they would after smoking weed, and another described it as an “elevating experience.” One even reported “accidentally using too much (CBD oil) and getting high at work.”
But is it really possible to get high on CBD? Or are those who claim to experience a CBD high just overreacting to its stress-relieving effects?
Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a practicing physician and spokesperson for the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, said the answer is a mixed bag.
“I tend to believe my patients,” Vinocur told GreenState. “I’ve had patients who take CBD tell me they feel high on it, and I don’t doubt that. But it doesn’t get you high in the same way THC does.”
Vinocur explained that CBD doesn’t react with the cannabinoid (CB1) receptors in the brain the way THC does, making it impossible to experience the same high you’d get on weed with pure CBD. Instead, CBD reacts with the same receptors depression medications work with, like serotonin.
So why is the CBD high so similar to the high you get from THC?
Vinocur had a few ideas.
1) Your CBD might have more THC in it than you think
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the purchase and sale of most CBD products containing less than 0.3 percent THC in the United States. Any products containing more than this THC limit are illicit under federal law.
But there are a couple problems with the Farm Bill. First, state cannabis laws override it. Marijuana is fully legal in 11 states at this time, as well as in Washington, D.C., and, naturally, many of the CBD businesses located in these states are selling products containing a higher percentage of THC.
The second problem is that it is still unclear how much power the FDA has to enforce this law. Because of this, some CBD suppliers may infuse more than 0.3 percent THC into their products to strengthen their effect, or tamper with the product in other ways (like infusing more CBD than advertised or failing to incorporate CBD in the product at all) without being transparent with customers.
For the CBD consumer, this means one thing: check your labels. You may have accidentally purchased a product with more THC than you were betting on, whether because you bought it from a seller located in a state where marijuana is legal or your seller is guilty of false advertising. In this case, your CBD might just be getting you stoned.
To avoid this, Vinocur advises purchasing CBD exclusively from sellers who are fully transparent about what they put in their products.
“Reputable CBD companies will do what supplement companies do – provide analytics,” Vinocur said. “I only send my patients to companies where you can see exactly how much CBD and THC is in the product.”
2) You could be reacting to full spectrum CBD
CBD products come in three forms: full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate. Full spectrum CBD contains all the cannabinoids that are naturally part of the cannabis plant – CBD, THC, and Terpenes (i.e. the organic compounds that give marijuana its smell.) CBD isolate contains nothing but CBD, and broad spectrum CBD contains everything full spectrum does, minus the THC. While full spectrum and broad spectrum are widely considered stronger than CBD isolate because of their “entourage effect,” Vinocur said that, for some, that effect may be a little too strong.
“It’s possible what people think is a CBD high could be a reaction to Myrcene, or another kind of terpene found in full spectrum CBD products,” Vinocur said. “You could always try CBD isolate for a while to see if that fixes the problem.”
RELATED: CBD: An Alternative to Opioids?
3) You could be converting CBD to THC in your stomach
Did you know you have an in-house chemistry lab? It’s your stomach. There’s a lot of acid in there, and acid can convert CBD to THC. While nothing is definitively proven yet, experts believe this could explain why some people who use CBD isolate (i.e. CBD without any THC or terpenes in the mix) can’t pass a drug test – they’re converting CBD to THC in their stomachs.
Vinocur believes this could also explain the CBD high.
“You’re supposed to keep CBD oil under your tongue for as long as possible, but sometimes, if you’re taking large doses, like 100 mg or more, you will end up swallowing some,” Vinocur said. “In that case, the extra CBD converts to THC in your stomach. That could have an effect on how your brain responds.”
Though there is too little research on CBD at this point to determine definitively whether this conversion could cause a high, Vinocur said she encourages her patients to swallow as little CBD oil as possible. It wastes less of the product (which is most effective dissolved under the tongue or vaped), and it may just be the difference between getting a little pain relief and having an out-of-body experience.
4) It may just be a you thing
The way you’re wired has everything to do with your CBD experience. Weight, genetics, and biochemistry, as well as any other supplements and medications you take, have a huge effect on what CBD products and brands work for you, and which make the world start spinning.
That’s why Vinocur recommends taking only 2 mg of CBD to begin with, and slowly upping the dose as you feel comfortable. She also says to avoid driving and any other obligations requiring strong critical thinking and motor function when trying a new brand or product for the first time. Lastly, she says to use CBD two to three hours after taking any supplements or prescription medications, as they may react with the product and generate a high (or another unwanted effect), and, of course, to let your doctor know you’re using CBD.
“Using CBD is a very personal experience – we’re not all textbooks, so it takes a while to find your sweetspot with it,” Vinocur said. “That’s why it’s so important to find a doctor who will take the time to be there for you, answer your questions, and work with you as you use it.”
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was updated to feature related links on March 9th, 2021.