Biphasic Response Curves

Updated: May 7

One biochemical aspect of some, but not necessarily all, cannabinoids and terpenes is something that scientists call a biphasic response curve (also called hormesis or biphasic dose response and related to multiphasic response curves).


Chemicals and drugs that exhibit such a response curve display an efficacy that is dose dependent. At low doses, the molecules present a particular effect (or no effect whatsoever), while at a stronger dose they deliver a different (and sometimes polar opposite) effect.

The THC molecule


A good example of this dynamic is THC. This phytocannabinoid displays a biphasic response curve with respect to anxiety. At low doses, it reduces anxiety and perceived stress. At stronger doses, however, THC can increase anxiety and even cause disorientation and panic attacks. Other cannabinoids, such as CBD and CBC, also display biphasic response curves with respect to particular effects (appetite, anxiety, changes in systemic inflammation, etc.).


"Most wellness practitioners and consumers are acclimated to a dynamic equating higher doses with a greater response," said New Mexico-based clinical practitioner and author of the 2016 book An Inflammation Nation Dr. Sunil Pai, MD in a 2020 interview with Vegas Cannabis Magazine. "However, with CBD and terpenes from hemp oil, it is actually the opposite!," said Pai.

Dr. Sunil Pai


Pai explained that, unlike many conventional drugs and therapies, more is not necessarily better when it comes to the most appropriate dosing for cannabinoids such as CBD. "Think of a key that's necessary to open a door. Only a small, gentle turn of the lock is required to open the door and enter the house. A bulldozer isn't required to knock down the door and surrounding wall!," said Pai.


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