More from Curaleaf

  • Home
  • Research
  • CBD vs THC: Comparing THC-Dominant Cannabis with Equal CBD & THC

CBD vs THC: Comparing THC-Dominant Cannabis with Equal CBD & THC

Published: 28/10/2022

Is THC and CBD legal?

Law changes, such as the 2018 rescheduling of cannabis in the UK, have permitted the legal supply of cannabis products containing both cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) when initiated by a doctor listed on the GMC’s Specialist Register. These compounds represent the most numerous cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant and each has been extensively researched to better understand its potential for use in medical settings.

Side effects of THC

THC is most widely known for its psychoactive and intoxicating effects. On the other hand, whilst THC can now be prescribed for medicinal reasons in the UK, there is also evidence – from both medical and recreational populations – that THC may induce unwanted feelings of anxiety at certain doses.

Other common side effects of TBC include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Euphoria
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired balance
  • Visual disturbances
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Impaired sleep

THC predominantly causes its effects on the human body by activating the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor. CBD however, causes the increase of a compound that is already present within the human body which activates CB1 receptors.

Cannabis and anxiety

It has been theoried that both state and trait anxiety prior to cannabis intake may impact the effects of CBD and THC on anxiety. A recent study aimed to further assess the potential of cannabis products with a 1:1 CBD/THC ratio by analysing the anxiety data collected in a randomised controlled trial that investigated THC and CBD effects on cognition and driving performance.

Design and Methods of the Study

The study involved a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects design with four conditions. Each condition was separated by a minimum washout period of 7 days to ensure accurate results. Preparations included a THC-dominant cannabis product, a CBD-dominant cannabis product, a THC/CBD-equivalent cannabis product, and a placebo. The order of treatment was randomised and was self-administered by vaporisation at 200˚C.

A total of 26 participants (all occasional cannabis users) were recruited for the study.

Participants completed the trait section of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory questionnaire (STAI-trait). They were instructed to refrain from illicit substance use and alcohol for 7 days and 1 day, respectively, prior to each study session. Baseline state anxiety was measured by a visual analogue scale (VAS). Once treatment was administered, patients completed an emotional Stroop task (EST) and rated their anxiety on the state section of the STAI-state) and VAS. The VAS was assessed repeatedly up to 5.5 hours after cannabis inhalation. Blood samples were also taken at similar intervals.

Measuring Anxiety Levels

The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory consists of both a trait and a state section, each designed to assess respectively relatively stable aspects of anxiety proneness and current anxiety levels. Each section consists of 20 four-point Likert statements. Each section has a min-max score range of 20-80 with a higher score indicating higher anxiety. Participants also indicated their level of anxiety on a VAS scale where zero meant “not anxious” and 10 meant “very anxious. The Emotional Stroop Task (EST) was also used to assess implicit anxiety.

Results of the Study

Overall, participants had a mean score of 33.13 on trait anxiety, as measured by the STAI-trait questionnaire. Trait anxiety scores for healthy adults and college students’ range, respectively, between 36–38 and 38–40. State anxiety was seen to increase with the administration of both THC-dominant and THC/CBD cannabis compared to placebo; however, self-rated state anxiety after THC/CBD was lower compared to THC.

CBD was seen to counteract THC-induced anxiety completely when baseline anxiety was low, partly counteracted THC-induced anxiety when baseline anxiety was medium but did not counteract THC-induced anxiety when baseline anxiety was high. Furthermore, CBD, by itself, did not significantly change anxiety ratings as indicated by any of the anxiety measures.

Does CBD help anxiety?

These findings suggest that CBD may partially reduce THC-induced anxiety when both cannabinoids are delivered in equal combination. These findings, which are in line with several previous studies, should be of interest to medical cannabis clinicians when making prescribing decisions.

Conclusions of the study

The researchers acknowledge some limitations of this study. Firstly, this study focused only on the acute effects of CBD on THC-induced anxiety in occasional cannabis users. These results may, therefore, differ in chronic cannabis users who may be at risk of higher levels of anxiety or the development of anxiety disorder. Furthermore, this study was part of a larger trial that measured cognition and driving ability following cannabis administration. This trial measured anxiety before and after a potentially anxiety-inducing task (driving simulation), but not during.

To gain a better understanding of the anxiety-reducing potential of CBD in association with THC administration, the researchers note that “future studies need to examine whether CBD is able to counteract THC-induced anxiety completely when an explicit stressor is present.” They also suggest that future research in this area should also include patients or participants with either a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder or with high trait anxiety.

Learn more about anxiety and cannabis on our conditions page.

Share this article

Am I eligible?

We aim to make things easy and to keep you informed of your progress every step of the way, from the moment you apply to the receipt of your prescription(s).
Related Articles

Eating disorders (EDs) and disordered eating have the highest mortality rate and treatment costs of all mental health ...

Read more

It is acknowledged that many mental health conditions have an onset in the first two decades of life, ...

Read more