How does CBD interact with the psychedelic receptor? 

The science behind CBD is pretty complicated. For years, recreational marijuana users have been reporting that high-THC strains offer psychedelic and mind-altering experiences, while high-CBD flower offers a more ‘relaxed’ high.

Consequently, research into this phenomenon found that CBD (cannabidiol) acts as an antipsychotic capable of mediating and minimising psychedelic activity.

This is due in part to CBD’s ability to bind with the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A, which mediates the psychedelic experience.

In this article, we’ll be taking you through how CBD interacts with the psychedelic receptor, the context surrounding it, and how this interaction could be useful to us.


What is serotonin?

Before we dive into the function of CBD itself as an antipsychotic, it’s important to establish the importance of serotonin within this discussion.

You may know serotonin as the so-called ‘happy hormone’, or the ‘neurotransmitter of happiness’. Serotonin deficit is demonised in popular culture as the reason for depression, and a contributing factor to a whole host of other mental health issues.

However, serotonin’s function isn’t that simple. Physically, serotonin is a complex molecule found within the brain and its peripheries. It contains an intricate receptor system which splits into seven main subtypes, each one responsible for regulating a different physiological function.

Serotonin is also known as 5-HT and is present in all bilateral animals. It’s involved in the regulation of a diverse mix of cognitive and physical functions, including learning, appetite, aggression, sleep, and reward activity.

Because of this, serotonin receptors are the target for a whole host of corrective pharmaceutical drugs, including those for gut-related conditions and neuropsychiatric disorders.

The thing is, there are two different kinds of primary serotonin receptor – 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A. This is where CBD comes in. CBD is set up to bind with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. However, it shows an exceptional affinity for binding with 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A.

5-HT1A receptors are, irrevocably, associated with mood and the regulation of ‘happy hormones’ within the body. However, the 5-HT2A receptor is responsible for mediating the actions of hallucinogenic substances within the body such as LSD, mescaline, and even THC.

CBD is, as we’ve already established, a non-psychoactive compound. It won’t get you high, make you trip, or alter your brain function in a psychedelic manner. So, when CBD acts at the 5-HT2A receptor, it offers a completely different effect.


How do receptor complexes work?

Now you understand why serotonin receptors are important for CBD travelling around the body, it’s probably worth noting that they’re capable of conjoining themselves with cannabinoid receptors.

The process is known as ‘dimerisation’, and the result is an entwined “homomeric” receptor complex. It was only recently that this process was understood, and scientists still aren’t sure exactly why it occurs.

However, they do know that cannabinoid receptors can link up with serotonin receptors and perform actions with unique signalling capabilities.


Do the endocannabinoid and serotonergic systems interact?

Thanks to these unique receptor complexes, a physical link can be drawn between the endocannabinoid and serotonergic systems.

Even separately, though, there is evidence of extensive crosstalk between the two systems. Crosstalk in a biological sense refers to when one or more components of a signal transduction pathway affect the other.

An example of this is the cannabinoid compound Anandamide, which is endogenous (produced naturally inside of our bodies). Anandamide shows activity at 5-Ht1A, just as CBD does.

Both are considered ‘modest agonists’ at the human 5-HT1A receptor, meaning that they activate the receptor as opposed to blocking it as an antagonist would.


How does CBD prevent short-term memory loss?

CBD has a binding affinity for 5-HT1A, where it acts as an agonist. At 5-HT2A, however, it has been shown to act as an antagonist.

To fully understand this, it’s necessary to touch on the impact of cannabis on short-term memory recall. Though many recreational users don’t like to admit it, cannabis does cause short-term memory loss. This isn’t always negative, though, and can be used effectively to mediate memories of traumatic events, for example.

The 5-HT2A receptor has been linked to a range of neuropsychiatric and psychedelic phenomena, including hallucinations, mood disorders, and cluster headaches such as migraines (and migraine aura).

When recreational marijuana users consume high levels of cannabis resin or strains that are high in THC, they can experience vivid, kaleidoscopic hallucinations similar to those caused by LSD.


How does CBD interact with serotonin receptors?

This is where the difference occurs. Although both CBD and THC interact with 5-HT2A receptors, THC is a partial agonist, while CBD is an antagonist (i.e. it blocks the receptor from firing). Additionally, THC does not bind completely with 5-HT2A, instead directly activating the CB1 cannabinoid receptor.

As we’ve discussed, however, the 5-H2A receptor and the CB1 receptor can combine to form heterodimer complexes; creating entirely new entities that activate unique signalling pathways.

Research shows that the impact of THC can be mediated through these new receptor complexes, and by the presence of CBD at the same synapse.

Currently, there’s no definitive explanation for why CBD is able to interact with a predominantly psychedelic receptor without causing psychoactivity. However, what we do know is that CBD’s antipsychotic properties make it a popular and effective remedy for alleviating symptoms of disorders like:

  • schizophrenia
  • depression
  • psychosis
  • anxiety


CBD Oil UK from SmartCBD

As research progresses, we’re sure to find out more about how CBD interacts with the psychedelic receptor 5-HT2A.

SmartCBD stocks a range of balms, pastes, and oils to help alleviate symptoms of the disorders listed above. View our range of CBD-rich products here.

Remember that you should never stop taking prescribed medication in favour of CBD. Before making changes to your medication schedule, speak to a medical professional and ensure they authorise your decision. CBD is not a medicine and must not be used in place of potentially life-saving drugs.