CBD can ease the psychiatric side-effects from using THC, study finds

New research suggests that CBD may be able to counteract certain side-effects from using cannabis products containing the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

In a study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, a research team from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, found that cannabidiol (CBD) can balance out negative symptoms associated with using THC.

“For years we have known that strains of cannabis high in THC and low in CBD were more likely to cause psychiatric side-effects,” said Steven Laviolette, a professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, in a press release. “Our findings identify for the first time the molecular mechanisms by which CBD may actually block these THC-related side-effects.”

Although medical cannabis is helping millions of patients with certain medical conditions, a vast amount of individuals just can’t deal with the possibility of side effects brought on by THC, such as anxiety, paranoia, and impaired memory.

Researchers examined rats that were given THC, and found that they exhibited many of the acute negative side effects in behavioral tests, such as anxiety about new environments, problems with social interaction, and memory.

After examining the rats’ brains after tests, researchers determined that the effects were caused by an overactive cellular signaling molecule called extracellular signal-regulated kinase, or ERK.

“We found that THC is overstimulating the ERK pathway, altering oscillation patterns in the brain linked to schizophrenia and disturbing the dopamine system,” said Laviolette.

A group of rats that were given both CBD and THC displayed normal ERK signals, and did not reveal any signs of anxiety, paranoia or memory loss in the behavioral tests. The researchers believe that means that the CBD prevented the overstimulation of the ERK pathway.

“CBD by itself had no effect,” said Vanier Scholar Roger Hudson, lead author on the study. “However, by co-administering CBD and THC, we completely reversed the direction of the change on a molecular level. CBD was also able to reverse the anxiety-like behaviour and addictive-like behaviour caused by the THC.”

While these conclusions are in need of further research, the study could help medical cannabis producers create products better suited for specific patients.

“Our findings have important implications for prescribing cannabis and long-term cannabis use. For example, for individuals more prone to cannabis-related side-effects, it is critical to limit use to strains with high CBD and low THC content,” added Laviolette. “More importantly, this discovery opens up a new molecular frontier for developing more effective and safer THC formulations.”

Oscar Pascual