What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

By Marc Lewis

Maybe you’ve heard about CBD on the news lately. Or a friend told you to try CBD for pain. The truth is, there’s no shortage of hype around CBD at the moment. There does seem to be a shortage of solid, measured advice on the subject.

Our goal is to provide good information about the benefits and risks of CBD, so you can make an informed choice.

First, a snapshot:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in cannabis
  • Both marijuana and hemp are forms of cannabis
  • CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, which can relieve pain
  • CBD may reduce anxiety and depression
  • FDA has approved Epidiolex, a CBD medicine, to treat seizures 

Cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, is found in cannabis—both hemp and marijuana. It’s one of more than 100 cannabinoids in cannabis. Other cannabinoids include the well-known THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates physiological factors like sleep, mood, and digestion.

How does CBD make you feel?

If you have ever felt euphoric or high after a good exercise, this is your endocannabinoid system rewarding your body. Taking products that contain CBD has a similarly positive effect on your body. You may feel a sense of lightness or relief. Some people have compared the feeling of a steady intake of CBD with the feeling they get from yoga or meditation—like a clarity.

Does CBD get you high?

No. CBD lacks psychoactive effects of THC.

To feel high off CBD a person would have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole. This is why CBD is gaining in popularity. With CBD, you are getting beneficial cannabinoids into your system that can help your body function, without becoming intoxicated.

[ Read about the difference between CBD and THC ]

Consider This: Evidence suggests cannabinoids work better when taken together. This can be as simple as taking a hemp-derived product that is “full-spectrum,” which means it contains a small amount of THC. Industrial hemp (or low-THC cannabis) contains less than 0.3% of THC in most states. This means it contains too little THC to be intoxicating, but enough to deliver a wider range of cannabinoids. Scientists call the increased therapeutic value of cannabinoids working together the “entourage effect.”

What are the benefits of CBD?

There are medicines we take to fix things that are broken. We take medicines to fight infections, remove trespassers from our system, and eliminate bad cells. But there are also medicines we take to treat symptoms. Many drugs on the market are prescribed to minimize the outward expressions of a deeper issue. This means rather than fixing an issue, sometimes we put synthetic drugs into our body as a way to return to normal.

Some of the excitement around cannabinoids is because they empower the body to regulate and heal itself. This means rather than treating systems, we are improving health.

Note: This is a pretty thought that often comes untethered in corners of the internet where natural health enthusiasts gather. It’s important to read about the benefits and the risks to make an educated choice.

“So I take CBD to get normal? Not to get better?”

Here’s the truth as we know it so far:

  • Research points to the positive potential of a stimulated endocannabinoid system
  • Inflammation causes pain. Reducing inflammation can reduce pain
  • Inflammation in the brain is linked to anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Reducing inflammation may impede the symptoms of these disorders or delay their onset
  • Your body is designed to regulate appetite, sleep, and mood. It also has systems in place to balance emotions. Cannabis may help your body better regulate these core functions
  • Researchers have studied the anti-spasmodic (seizure fighting) potential of cannabis for nearly 50 years
  • Cannabis has been used by humans as medicine for hundreds of years

Now, there is evidence that suggests the introduction of cannabinoids into your body can help treat conditions such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Nausea
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite
  • Seizures
  • Inflammation

The benefit of introducing cannabinoids into your body is that they can help your body better regulate itself, or achieve more balance. These benefits are indirect, meaning the health advantages are not a result of the cannabinoid but rather what your body is empowered to do when its regulatory system is fully activated.

[ See an alphabetical list of the health benefits of CBD ]

In addition to the cannabinoids, cannabis also contains turpenoids, or turpenes. These are the fragrant, flavorful compounds in cannabis found on the floral leaves and flowers of female cannabis plants. These molecules have health benefits such as:

  • Anti-inflammation
  • Cancer prevention
  • Neuroprotection

You may also hear about CBD or cannabis and the health benefits of plant-therapy as it relates to two conditions that are regularly in the news.

If you are interested in trying CBD or adding a cannabis therapy to your wellness plan, it’s always important to speak to a healthcare professional. You never want to change or discontinue prescribed medications without consulting a doctor.

[ Learn more about CBD products and how to take them ]

How does CBD work?

Phytocannabinoids (or cannabinoids like plants) interact with receptors in your endocannabinoid system. Scientists think your body is receptive to phytocannabinoids because they so closely mirror the endocannabinoids your own body makes.

Cannabinoids bind to receptors in our bodies. These receptors are found all through our nervous system, in our immune system, and our reproductive system.

A balanced endocannabinoid system positively impacts your health precisely because it’s tied to so many vital systems.

THC has a powerful, noticeable effect because it binds directly to receptors in your body.

CBD has a more indirect effect because it stimulates receptors in your body, allowing them to better use available endocannabinoids. This empowers your body to regulate and heal itself.

In a sense, CBD helps your body work better.

Here are the health benefits associated with certain phytocannabinoids.

Phytocannabinoid Effect
Δ9-THC

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol

Anti-cancer, anti-proliferation, anti- and pro-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, analgesic, anxiolytic and anxiogenic, anti-epileptic, anti-emetic (nausea and vomiting), neuroprotective, euphoriant, hedonic, sleep promoting
CBD

Cannabidiol

Anti-cancer, anti-proliferative, anti-emetic (nausea and vomiting), anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-diabetic, anti-psoriatic, anti-diarrheal, analgesic, bone stimulant, immunosuppressive, anti-ischemic, antipasmodic, vasorelaxant, neuroprotective, anti-epileptic, antipsychotic, anxiolytic, transforms white fat into brown fat, increases anadamide activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors
Δ9-THCV

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabivarin

Appetite suppression, bone stimulant, anti-epileptic, anti-diabetic, anti-lipidemia
CBG

Cannabigriol

Anti-proliferative, antibacterial
CBC

Cannabichromene

Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, bone stimulant, anti-microbial, anti-proliferative, anti-fungal
CBDA

Cannabidiolic acid

Anti-cancer, anti-proliferative, anti-emetic (nausea and vomiting), anti-inflammatory
Δ9-THCA

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid

Anti-spasmodic, anti-proliferative, analgesic, pleasure, mild euphoria, well-being, anti-emetic (nausea and vomiting), anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective
CBDV

Cannabidivarin

Bone stimulant
CBN

Cannabinol

Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer

Table source: Leinow, Leonard, and Juliana Birnbaum. CBD: A Patient’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis. North Atlantic Books, 2017.

“Things in my body are found in plants? I thought we came from monkeys.”

If you’re skeptical that a chemical in a controversial plant holds the key to better health, you should be. There is no shortage of noise touting cannabinoids as the key to wellness, youth, pain-free existence, even weight loss. Talk about cannabis too often borders on evangelical.

But there are very cool connections between our bodies and plants.

Video source: Fundación Canna

What intrigues some about introducing phytocannabinoids to a wellness plan is how similar these natural occurring compounds are to things the human body already makes, things the body needs and loves. It also may be why CBD gives some people the feeling of a deep breath that lasts.

[ Learn more about your endocannabinoid system ]

Protect Yourself: Synthetic cannabinoids are available. While some researchers study the benefits of synthetic drugs, avoid these on the open market. The American Journal of Public Health notes “reviews on synthetic cannabinoids indicated markedly more acute and severe adverse health effects.”

What are the side effects of CBD?

According to the World Health Organization:

CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile. Reported adverse effects may be as a result of drug-drug interactions between CBD and patients’ existing medications.

Several countries have modified their national controls to accommodate CBD as a medicinal product.

To date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.

This may read like a green light. But research is limited. It’s smart to proceed with caution.

Consider this: If you were driving and saw a sign on one side of the road that read: “Speed Limit 25, Children At Play.” Then on the other side of the road there was a sign that read: “Hell With It, Speed!” You might proceed with caution, if only for the unclear signals.

How much CBD do I take?

According to the World Health Organization:

In clinical trials and research studies, CBD is generally administered orally as either a capsule, or dissolved in an oil solution (e.g. olive or sesame oil). It can also be administered through sublingual or intranasal routes. A wide range of oral doses have been reported in the literature, with most from 100-800mg/day.

Another often-cited chart suggests using your weight to determine dosage, starting with “1-6mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of body weight based on the individuals level of pain.”

Because there is so much variance in dosing information on the web, and because dosage may come down to your tolerance, weight, and drug interactions, moderation is key. Start with the smallest recommended dose and work your way up.

Some experts believe the health benefits of cannabinoids are tied to very small daily doses, so there may not be a need to go overboard.

One positive note is that studies have not observed tolerance in CBD. Unlike a need to consume more THC over time to achieve the same effect, how your body processes CBD should stay the same over time. This means once you find a dose that’s right for you, you can stick it.

Protect Yourself: A JAMA study found only 1/3 of products containing CBD were accurately labeled. Vape products were most mislabeled. Oil were most accurate.

Is CBD legal?

This depends on where you live. Many states have legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp. These hemp-derived products are required to contain less than 0.3% THC. But many states still have unclear laws.

There are almost no reports of criminal action against people who buy products online. But the sale of products online is murky. It is also unwise to fly with products that contain cannabis or cannabis extracts.

[ Check your state’s CBD laws ]

Keep Learning

In an evolving space where scientific research is in its infancy, remain skeptical. Research brands before you buy. Hold companies to a high standard. It’s possible to create cannabis products with a locally farmed cannabis, a transparent supply chain, and rigorous testing. Though you’re entering an unregulated space where, unlike with most FDA-approved medications, claims are presented without a 30-second legal disclaimer, you still deserve good information.

Also, talk to a healthcare professional you trust. Your doctor may have access to new information and as the stigmas associated with cannabis are lifted, conversations will increasingly move to more professional settings.

We believe in access to natural options. We think there is value in decreasing a dependency on synthetic products. That does not mean we advocate for quitting a medication you are prescribed because you read an article on the internet.

Be careful, and stay smart.

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