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The ins and outs of smoking CBD

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Contents

  1. The difference between smoking CBD and THC
  2. Why consumption method matters
  3. The benefits of smoking CBD
  4. The side effects of smoking CBD
  5. Hemp flower vs. high-CBD flower
  6. How does smoking CBD feel?
  7. Frequently asked questions

You’ve likely seen cannabidiol (CBD) everywhere from drugstore gummies to boutique coffee concoctions. But there’s reason to believe smoking high-CBD flower might be one of the most effective ways to experience the potential benefits of CBD.

If you’re curious about smoking CBD flower and want to explore the pros and cons, this is the guide for you. And if you’re looking for a literal guide to smoking, we have a guide for that, too.

smoking a bubbler

Many consumers typically prefer consuming or smoking CBD through a pipe, joint, or vape pen. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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smoking a bubbler

The difference between smoking CBD and THC

Contrary to popular belief, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD have a lot in common. They’re the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis plants and they both have the potential to help with anxiety. They even have the same chemical structure (the atoms are just arranged differently). The main difference between THC and CBD can be summed up in one word: intoxication.

CBD is often touted as nonpsychoactive or having no psychoactive effects, but it’s more accurately described as nonintoxicating. Why? Even though CBD won’t get you high, that subtly calm feeling you might experience after taking some CBD tincture is technically a psychoactive effect. Any substance that has a direct effect on the function of the brain is considered psychoactive. By contrast, THC can be intoxicating even at low doses.

Both THC and CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Why this happens has to do with how THC and CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The human endocannabinoid system consists of the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. The body’s most studied cannabinoid receptors are the Cannabinoid-1 and Cannabinoid-2 receptors (CB1 and CB2), and they are found in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, and the immune system.

THC binds with the CB1 receptors in the brain to produce that classic weed high, while CBD has been shown to have the opposite interaction with CB1 receptors, acting as an antagonist. When consumed together, CBD appears to improve the therapeutic and enjoyable effects of THC by minimizing the unwanted side effects such as anxiety and a rapid heartbeat.

smoking joint in bed

The bioavailability of CBD is greater through the lungs than through the gut. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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smoking joint in bed

Why consumption method matters

The consumption method plays a critical role in how long it will take to feel the effects of CBD. Inhalation is considered an effective delivery method for CBD because of how quickly the body absorbs it. When CBD is smoked or vaped, cannabinoids enter the lungs and then the bloodstream, circulating throughout the body from there.

While some cannabis consumers and patients prefer to take their CBD through oral administration or topical application, others have found inhalation to be the most effective way to consume. And there may be some science to support this preference.

According to Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and scientific adviser to Weedmaps, “The bioavailability of CBD is greater through the lungs than through the gut. Specifically, about half of the CBD you inhale makes it into the blood, but only 5% of the CBD you eat gets into your blood.” A Chemistry & Biodiversity study published in 2017 confirms this, stating that while the bioavailability can vary based on how the CBD is smoked, “smoking… provides a rapid and efficient method of drug delivery from the lungs to the brain.”

As an added benefit, the effects are felt almost immediately after inhalation. The effects of edibles, on the other hand, can take up to two hours to kick in.

cbd joints

Smoking CBD flower is an efficient way to experience the potential benefits of CBD. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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cbd joints

The benefits of smoking CBD

Of the emerging research into CBD’s potential medical benefits, there is concrete scientific evidence for its effectiveness in the treatment of epilepsy by reducing seizures. So much so that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a CBD-based drug to treat childhood epilepsy. But that’s the only hard scientific evidence on the cannabinoid.

Anecdotally, cannabis consumers have used CBD to alleviate depression, anxiety, insomnia, and pain. But until multiple studies confirm the anecdotal benefits of CBD and the benefits of smoking CBD specifically, that’s all they are — anecdotal.

The good news is there is a lot of clinical evidence that CBD is safe to consume, even in large quantities. A clinical trial published in CNS Drugs in 2019 showed that healthy individuals who received 1500 mg of CBD twice per day experienced very few adverse reactions and all were mild. For context, most CBD products on the market today contain 10 mg per serving.

Because CBD poses minimal risks even in large quantities, you should be able to experiment with smoking CBD flower without fear of overdoing it.

The only way to find out if CBD works for you is to try it. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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The side effects of smoking CBD

Because smoking CBD involves — no shocker here — smoke inhalation, there is the risk of developing respiratory issues. Whenever you combust plant material, toxins called polyaromatic hydrocarbons form. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons exist in both tobacco and cannabis smoke and exposing yourself to those toxins is one of the risks of smoking weed.

Luckily, smoking cannabis doesn’t have the same risks as smoking cigarettes. While smoking CBD flower in excess may lead to respiratory issues (like bronchitis or, in severe cases, COPD), there has been no causal link found between smoking weed and cancer, one of the biggest risks associated with smoking cigarettes. Smoking anything, including cannabis, has potential risks.

A 2007 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal examined self-reported respiratory symptoms in participants who used cigarettes and cannabis. The study found that using a vaporizer could decrease respiratory symptoms in regular cannabis users who smoke.

In addition to possible respiratory issues caused by smoke inhalation, CBD does interact with some prescription drugs so check with your doctor before smoking it.

Hemp flower vs. high-CBD flower

While they may sound similar, the difference will largely dictate where you can buy these products — or if you can buy them at all.

marijuana plant

Hemp flower and high-CBD flower may look the same, but they’re legally very different. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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marijuana plant

The hemp plant produces a broad range of cannabinoids, including THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid in marijuana. However, hemp does not produce enough THC to be intoxicating when consumed.

Although the hemp plant doesn’t produce a significant amount of THC, it is capable of producing the non-intoxicating and medicinally rich CBD in high concentrations. And certain strains of hemp produce flowers that look indistinguishable from the high-THC cannabis you’ll find at legal dispensaries.

Many countries differentiate hemp from marijuana by the amount of THC produced. In the US, industrial hemp is defined as a Cannabis sativa L. plant containing no more than 0.3% THC by weight. Thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018, you can legally buy hemp flower online in nearly every state.

High-CBD flower is only available for purchase in licensed dispensaries in states where it’s legal since it contains THC levels higher than the cutoff for hemp. While it contains higher levels of CBD than most cannabis flower on the legal market, it’ll typically contain significant levels of THC as well.

How does smoking CBD feel?

The experience of smoking CBD vary depending on the product and the individual who is consuming the CBD. For example, dabbing a pure CBD isolate will likely cause different effects than hitting a high-CBD vape pen that also contains some THC.

While CBD won’t get you high or intoxicated, it may provide a sense of calm, relaxation, and well-being. Depending on the dose and the individual, CBD might have sleepy, relaxed, happy, or even energetic vibes. While there are no serious side effects reported with CBD, overconsumption can cause drowsiness.

In addition to feelings of relaxation, some report feeling a quick relief of swelling and pain after smoking CBD.

In addition to a feeling of relaxation, smoking CBD has been reported to provide quick relief of swelling and pain. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Frequently asked questions

Is smoking CBD safe?

While more research into the effectiveness of CBD consumption methods is needed, most evidence suggests that smoking CBD flower will not cause intoxication. The primary concern for users is getting unadulterated CBD and, for those who prefer smoking, the potential long-term consequences for the lungs. CBD does interact with some prescription drugs so check with your doctor before trying it.

Can you smoke CBD oil?

CBD can be infused into a variety of products, including vape juice, edibles, capsules, and CBD oil tinctures. CBD tinctures are strictly for ingestion, while CBD oils are made for inhalation.

CBD vape juice, sometimes referred to as CBD vape oil, may vary in concentration depending on state-specific laws. It is legal in 30 states. Another 17 states have CBD-specific laws that enable some level of use or consumption.

weed concentrate vape pen

CBD can be infused into a variety of products, including vape juice, edibles, capsules, and CBD oil tinctures. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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weed concentrate vape pen

The FDA has not stepped in to regulate CBD products, but in 2018 the FDA approved the prescription use of Epidiolex, a purified form of CBD oil, for treating epilepsy.

Rick Simpson Oil, named after its Canadian developer who claims he cured his own skin cancer with a custom blend of cannabis oil, is a popular form of CBD oil that is commonly smoked.

CBD oil derived from industrial hemp plants only contains CBD, while marijuana-derived products, such as Rick Simpson Oil, have a high concentration of THC and the full range of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

Does CBD kill your high?

The answer isn’t clear, but CBD has demonstrated the ability to moderate a high produced from THC by preventing the body from absorbing it. Some people say they use CBD when they get too high to reduce the effects. Evidence suggests CBD actually interferes with the activity of the CB1 receptor, especially in the presence of THC.

So, when THC and CBD work together to affect CB1 receptor activity, users tend to feel a more mellow high and are said to have a reduced chance of experiencing paranoia compared with the effects felt when CBD is absent in a product. This synergistic relationship is often referred to as the “entourage effect,” which explains why certain combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes seem to enhance the benefits of cannabis.

The ins and outs of smoking CBD Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents The difference between smoking CBD and THC Why consumption method matters

The next big thing in marijuana won’t get you high

Jenni Avins

senior lifestyle correspondent

Recently, at the end of a surf trip with several friends, my pal Tim passed me a pipe packed with sticky green buds. I’m not much of a social smoker (more of a one-hitter-before-chores type) so politely declined.

Then, he made an odd promise, for a guy brandishing a glass pipe and a lighter: “It won’t get you stoned,” he said. “It’s CBD.”

I took a little hit, and soon after, felt my body pleasantly melt into a lawn chair, my ability to socialize not at all impeded. Truth told, at the end of a physically exhausting vacation and a can of Tecate, I was already pretty relaxed. But the CBD seemed to deepen that state.

CBD is one of the many chemical compounds in a class called “cannabinoids” that naturally occur in cannabis plants. While THC is the most famous of cannabinoids for its ability to get us high, CBD is a rapidly rising star for its capacity to deliver mental and physical benefits without the giggles, paranoia, or couch-lock. Eaze, a marijuana delivery service that operates in California, reported an “exceptionally high” demand for CBD in 2017, which led the company to quadruple its product offerings in the category. Chris Kelly, a representative of Tikun Olam, an Israeli company at the forefront of medical marijuana, calls Avidekel—his employer’s highest-CBD strain—the “golden child” of its offerings. Rolling Stone deemed it one of the five best strains of 2017.

In addition to that good old “melting into a lawn chair” feeling, CBD’s reported benefits include relief from anxiety, joint pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, menstrual cramps, insomnia, nausea, seizures, bowel inflammation, and plain old moodiness. Today, adults in more than half of US states (and 16 countries worldwide) have legal access to marijuana for medical purposes, and it’s been legalized for recreational use in nine states, plus Washington, DC. As marijuana continues its march into the mainstream, CBD has emerged as an easy entryway for those who want to dip a toe into the wellness benefits of weed, but may be skeptical of getting stoned.

You can use it as a rub, or as a soak inside the tub

In the months since that first hit, I’ve tried out CBD in many forms. I’ve dropped tinctures under my tongue to help me sleep, whipped Whoopi and Maya’s CBD-enhanced raw cacao butter into hot milk to ease cramps (yes, that’s Whoopi as in Goldberg), and massaged Lord Jones’ piney scented CBD lotion into a stiff neck.

As with marijuana, the modes of consuming CBD are limited only by one’s imagination. Curious gourmands can sip it in a CBD-laced “Stoney Negroni” at the West Hollywood restaurant Gracias Madre, and aesthetes can rub it onto their lips via rose-scented balm. For a more traditional medicinal experience, CBD also comes in soft gel capsules, droppers, and sublingual sprays. (In more than 20 countries outside the US, one such spray is prescribed to multiple sclerosis patients who suffer from muscle spasms and stiffness.) And of course, since CBD is derived from the flowers of cannabis plants, one could just go ahead and smoke a high-CBD strain of marijuana the old-fashioned way, by rolling it into a joint or lighting up a bowl—or the new-fangled way, by vaping distilled cannabinoid oils in a Dosist vape pen that vibrates to alert the user they’ve reached the recommended dose.

How CBD works

Yu-Fung Lin, an associate professor of physiology and membrane biology at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine, teaches a course on the physiology of cannabis. She says although CBD is not considered to be psychotropic—meaning it won’t alter our perception of reality or produce a feeling of euphoria—it’s still working on our brains. CBD doesn’t activate our brains’ cannabinoid receptors in the same manner as THC, but it does target a wide variety of proteins in the brain and nervous system that regulate cell activities all over the human body. By interacting with the brain’s signaling systems in various ways, it can provide relief from pain, anxiety, and nausea. Beyond our brains, says Lin, CBD may benefit our bones and immune systems and work broadly throughout the body as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which may help protect cells from damages associated with neurodegenerative diseases.

With these sorts of benefits, it’s little wonder that there’s a booming market for CBD—and readily willing suppliers promising miraculous results.

“CBD can be used to relieve multiple symptoms,” says Lin. “But you need to know what you are getting.”

To THC or not to THC

CBD products made from industrial hemp, which contains almost no THC (less than 0.3% in the US), are legal in all 50 US states. While many users report benefits of hemp-derived CBD—not the least of which is legality—some experts say a little THC helps CBD work in the body; that cannabis’ chemical compounds work better in tandem than in isolation.

This is often called the “entourage effect,” or as Lester Grinspoon, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School calls it, the “ensemble effect.” (Like so much of the research surrounding cannabis, which is heavy on anecdotal evidence and light on hard science due to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug, the entourage effect is the source of healthy debate.)

“It’s a mixture of CBD, cannabidiol, THC, and the phytochemicals, the terpenoids,” Grinspoon tells High Times. “You need all three of them to get the best therapeutic effect.” For this reason, Grinspoon, Lin, and many others say that the best source for therapeutic CBD is a plant with all of its cannabinoids intact.

For the layperson with legal access to cannabis, the easiest of way of doing that is to visit a trustworthy dispensary, where you can ask for products derived from plants that have a high CBD-to-THC ratio. The aforementioned Avidekel, for example, is about 18:1. You can also ask for lab results that show the exact breakdown of a plant’s chemical compounds.

Like most medicines, CBD will have a different effect on everyone who uses it, so the best way to find out what works is simply to try it. Research shows minimal side effects, though some users have reported drowsiness and an upset stomach. Personally, I’ve once felt perhaps a little too relaxed after drinking a 20:1 CBD-enhanced hot cocoa to relieve excruciating cramps. But you know what? My muscles relaxed too.

CBD’s reported benefits include relief from anxiety, joint pain, PTSD, menstrual cramps, insomnia, nausea, seizures, bowel inflammation, and plain old moodiness.