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Does CBD Relax or Stimulate?

by Ryan Scott

CBD’s Relaxing Effects

The cannabinoid CBD has long been thought to help one unwind and relax, as well as treat many various chronic pain symptoms. This is largely due to the fact that CBD affects 5-HT1a receptors that control serotonin levels in the brain and body, and endocannabinoid receptors, which, among other things, control stress and energy levels (1). These types of receptors are commonly found throughout the body and affect levels of essential neurotransmitters that control mood, anxiety, and stress.

CBD’s increase in popularity by individuals who tout its many benefits has caused a vast array of scientific studies to be undertaken to determine the cannabinoids role in the body. These studies have shown that CBD positively affects emotional behavior, sleep, stress levels, and irritability (2); thus leaning towards a capacity for a calming effect. Some studies have also concluded CBD to be beneficial as an antipsychotic, relieving symptoms of patients who suffer from schizophrenia and other mental disorders (3).

CBD’s Stimulating Effects

Although the sedative effects of CBD have been described by many people who use it, there exists a populace of individuals who report a stimulating effect as well. This stimulating effect may be caused by CBD’s ability to activate certain adenosine receptors, the same receptors in which caffeine, a stimulant, also binds to and activates. Adenosine receptors reside in the same area of the brain’s hippocampus where cannabinoid receptors are also found (4).

CBD is considered by many to have biphasic properties. A biphasic drug is a drug in which can have different effects on the body at different blood concentration levels. At lower concentration levels, CBD has been shown to interact with the endocannabinoid system by producing effects described as alertness and other elevated responses. At higher concentrations, CBD produces a more sedative-type effect, resulting in feelings of calmness and relaxation. It is this biphasic role that can produce effects that are both relaxing and stimulating depending on the concentration of CBD that one consumes.


Russo EB, Burnett A, Hall B, Parker KK. “Agonistic properties of cannabidiol at 5-HT1a receptors”. Neurochem Research. 2005;30(8): 1037-43.Fusar-Poli et al. “Distinct effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on neural activation during emotional processing.” Arch Gen Psychiatry 66.1 (2009): 95-105.Maria Scherma, Paolo Masia, Matteo Deidda, Walter Fratta, Gianluigi Tanda, Paola Fadda. “New Perspectives on the Use of Cannabis in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders”. Medicines (Basel) 2018 Dec; 5(4): 107.Amir Segev, Nachshon Korem, Tomer Mizrachi Zer-Aviv, Hila Abush, Rachel Lange, Garrett Sauber, Cecilia J. Hillard, Irit Akirav. “Role of endocannabinoids in the hippocampus and amygdala in emotional memory and plasticity”. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Sep; 43(10): 2017–2027

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