What is CBD (Cannabidiol)?

Understanding the popular natural remedy

Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD
Written by Marc Lewis

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a popular natural remedy. People take CBD oils and gummies to relieve pain, anxiety, sleep issues, and many other ailments. These products are used in place of or in addition to pharmaceutical drugs. Other people take CBD to relax or focus.

CBD is one of more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is another cannabinoid. THC is the compound in cannabis that causes mind-altering effects. Unlike THC, CBD does not get you high. This has made CBD very popular.

There is only one FDA approved CBD drug. Epidiolex is approved for the treatment of seizures. But emerging science supports the health potential of the hemp plant. We also have a lot of anecdotal evidence to review. People want more natural options and they are leading a charge for better natural remedies.

Cannabidiol May Improve Health

We take a lot of medicines to treat symptoms. These drugs are prescribed to minimize the outward expressions of a deeper issue. This means that instead of fixing the root issue we are simply putting synthetic drugs into our body to feel normal.

The excitement behind natural remedies, and specifically CBD, is that we can empower our body to better regulate itself. CBD may help us achieve an internal balance that makes us better.

This is a pretty thought that often comes untethered in the 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.

It sounds complicated. But 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.

In addition to the cannabinoids, cannabis also contains terpenoids, or terpenes. 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.

How does CBD oil 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.

How does CBD oil 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 interact with 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.

To better understand what CBD is, it may help to understand some of the other cannabinoids. Below is a chart that lists some of the most popular cannabinoids and what each is good for.

CBD Sounds too Good to be True

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.

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.

Cannabinoids, and the benefits of each

CannabinoidEffect
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.


Image 1: Here is a picture of the hemp strain Boax. This high-CBD strain is grown in a greenhouse and shipped to farmers across the Carolinas and Kentucky.

Image 2: A closer look at high-CBD hemp, which is eventually harvested, dried, and processed to make CBD products like oils, creams, and edibles.

Frequently Asked Questions About CBD

Does CBD get you high?

The short answer is no. CBD will not get you high. CBD is more widely known for its health benefits rather than any intoxicating effects.

Intoxication is associated with another cannabis derived compound, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. CBD-infused products that come from hemp may contain up to 0.3% THC, but those will not get you high either.

CBD is entirely different in its chemical composition and it will not affect your cognitive functioning. This includes CBD gummies, oils, and vapes.

Why CBD Won’t Make You High

Let’s start with the basics. You can find both THC and CBD in marijuana, but marijuana plants are bred to contain an average of 5% to 20% of THC. CBD is extracted from hemp plants because of the plants ability to produce high amounts of CBD and less than 0.3% of THC. Since there are only minuscule levels of THC in CBD derived from hemp, there is no psychoactive effect from hemp-derived products. To go a little deeper, this is because THC binds receptors in your brain and CBD does not.

Misleading information about CBD continues to circulate as many refer to hemp and marijuana as the same plant, or choose to use the terms interchangeably. This stems from both plants being sub-strains of cannabis sativa. But hemp and marijuana are very different.

Many people have negative connotations about cannabis use as a health supplement, primarily due to stigmas that stem from illegal marijuana use. But the acceptance of medical marijuana and broader awareness around CBD have started to break down these stigmas.

Is CBD oil addictive?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency of the United Nations that’s dedicated to safeguarding the health of its member nations’ residents. Since its formation in 1948, WHO has had a measurable impact on international public health, even playing a pivotal role in the eradication of smallpox. As you start to do your own research about CBD, it’s critical that you only lean on the opinions of sources you can trust. If you’re one of those people asking yourself, “Is CBD oil addictive?” you’ll be pleased to know that WHO has studied the compound extensively.

After performing a variety of tests on both animals and humans involving the use of CBD, WHO issued a lengthy report that should allay any fears you might be having about addiction. “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential,” the report reads. WHO goes on to say that CBD is generally “well tolerated with a good safety profile” and that there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with CBD.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has also spoken out about CBD and its benefits. Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA’S Director, issued a blog post on the organization’s official website that mentioned CBD as a potential option for the treatment of neurological disorders like seizures. In that blog post, Dr. Volkow wrote, “In short, CBD appears to be a safe drug with no addictive effects, and the preliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.”

Even the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has gestured for CBD’s approval as a medicinal and non-addictive substance. The group responsible for athlete drug oversight for all Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American, and Parapan American sports removed CBD from its list of banned drugs in 2018.

CBD’s impact on other addictive substances

While searching for the answer to “Is CBD oil addictive?” we did come across some other interesting and relevant scientific research. Though CBD itself is not addictive, it’s believed to have properties that can address addictive disorders. Supporting analysis on that theory is still relatively nascent, but what’s out there looks promising. Among other things, researchers have discovered that CBD reduced the feelings of withdrawal when studying addictions to both cannabis and opioids.

But perhaps one of the most profound studies on CBD’s ability to combat addiction involves cigarette smoking. A double-blind study conducted on 24 smokers provided each participant with an inhaler to use whenever they felt the urge to smoke. Half of those inhalers contained CBD, while the other half had a placebo. Published results of the study showed that participants with the CBD inhalers smoked about 40% fewer cigarettes than usual. Meanwhile, the placebo group recorded no change in the number of cigarettes smoked.

Final thoughts on CBD and addiction

As is the case with any therapeutic modality, you should always explore all angles of whatever you are putting into your body. It’s important you remember that unlike its cannabinoid cousin, THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. That means the compound won’t get you high or result in a euphoric feeling that can intensify sensations and the way things smell and taste. In addition to a desire to avoid withdrawal, the body becomes addicted to THC when the brain reduces the sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. The good news is that just doesn’t happen with CBD.

So, is CBD oil addictive?

Nope, and in many cases, it can actually help its users who are battling an addiction to other substances. It’s no wonder projections for future CBD sales are so high—no pun intended.

Can I take CBD while breastfeeding?

This is a tough question to answer. There’s not a lot of conclusive research available. If you go on YouTube for advice, you’ll hear people say CBD is completely safe to take while breastfeeding. If you look around for professional medical opinions, you’ll likely find very different opinions.

That’s putting new mothers in a difficult position. Having found a natural anxiety reliever and, potentially, a natural remedy for postpartum depression, moms are wondering if CBD is safe for their babies.

Here’s a couple points to consider.

Cannabis can be passed on to the baby

One thing that may be clear is that the CBD a breastfeeding mom takes will likely be passed on to the child. When breastfeeding mothers take marijuana, the drug shows up in the urine of the child. With marijuana, experts warn that a baby may become sedated and unable to suck. CBD interacts differently in the body than THC, but also has calming effects. If you are taking a full-spectrum CBD oil, you baby may ingest some, even trace amounts, of THC. Asking if CBD is safe to take while breastfeeding is also a question of whether or not CBD is safe for babies.

Cannabis and young brains don’t mix

The effect of cannabis on young brains is another thing to consider. Research has shown that introducing marijuana to young or developing brains has risks.

We talked to Dr. Gary Wenk, professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at Ohio State University, and he was clear: “One, if you used marijuana when you’re very young, you place yourself at risk to develop psychosis as you get older. Two, if you carry a genetic vulnerability to psychosis, to depression or something, it may unmask those symptoms,” Dr. Wenk said.

However, Dr. Wenk also told us that if one wanted to study the negative impact of cannabis on people there has, historically, been plenty of research funding available. But there was less money available for researchers who want to look at the benefits of cannabis. This may speak to the largely negative opinion of marijuana in the medical community. It may be a reason to be skeptical.

However you look at it, research on cannabis is limited, and even more limited when we’re talking about children and breastfeeding moms. So while YouTube may tell you CBD is safe for your baby, it’s hard to know for sure.

Have an honest conversation with your doctor

If you are a mother who is considering CBD as a treatment for anxiety or depression after the birth of your baby, speak to a healthcare professional you trust. While literature on the subject is limited, there is enough information available for your doctor to take a position or help you find more information.

Why is CBD so expensive?

When someone first ventures into the world of CBD, they might be shocked by the higher prices of the products. While it might seem strange that a one-ounce bottle of oil could be so costly, there is often good reason behind the price tag. There is a lot that goes into creating that bottle, and the processes can be both labor intensive and pricey. While not all CBD products are created equally, this will give you an idea of why some of the highest-regarded brands are charging top dollar for their products.

Agriculture Practices and Regulations

The high prices begin with the agriculture process necessary to grow hemp and marijuana. In addition to the seeds, labor costs for cultivation and harvesting, and farming equipment, farms will have to handle certain licensing procedures. The circumstances and prices vary based on state, but companies growing and distributing these plants will have to go through certain reporting, testing, and licensing requirements, which can be pricey.

High Quality Hemp

The quality of hemp used can play a huge role in the pricing of CBD. Brands with higher quality CBD products will often grow their own hemp, or purchase it locally. This way, they know exactly what processes are used to grow the plant, and ensure it is the best quality possible. Other brands may be able to lower their product prices by importing plants from out of the country. However, this can result in lower quality hemp, as it may be coming from an area with less regulations on agriculture.

Labor Intensive Process

The high-cost procedures don’t end at the farm. Once material is procured to make into a CBD product like an oil or salve, in needs to go through a lengthy process to reach its final form. There are multiple steps to the extraction process (more on that below), which each take time and require monitoring. On top of that, at the end of the extraction process, batches are seemingly small compared to the amount of hemp or marijuana required. The process needs to be repeated multiple times to create a large quantity of product.

Expensive Extraction Methods

When it comes to making a CBD product, there are two main extraction processes most commonly used. One is an ethanol extraction. This process, which is on the more inexpensive side, mixes the plant with alcohol, and then it is distilled and strained until the ethanol is evaporated. This method can be used to create larger batches, so CBD products made from this process is generally less expensive. However, the CBD tends to be less potent, and there may still be traces of solvent in the finished product. 

The other popular (and more expensive) method is a CO2 extraction. Through this process, machinery uses pressurized carbon dioxide to extract the oil from the hemp. Oils extracted through this method are generally higher quality since there isn’t a risk of leftover solvents (like through ethanol extraction), and the oil is more potent. However, it is done in smaller batches, so CBD products that are made with this process tend to be more expensive.

Testing for Purity and Concentration

Once a CBD product is completed, it needs to be tested for purity and concentration. Just as in the agriculture phase, testing can add yet another layer of expenses to the CBD creation process. After testing is complete, the product is finally ready to be bottled and distributed.

The processes and quality of material used often justify the higher prices of CBD products. That being said, some brands may be able to get away with higher prices with to smart marketing, even if the product isn’t as high-quality as possible. As you are looking into CBD products, research the processes (like extraction methods) and quality of hemp used to decide if the price accurately reflects the quality.

Keep Learning About CBD

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 locally farmed cannabis, a transparent supply chain, and rigorous testing. Though you’re entering an unregulated space that is void of any FDA regulations, you still deserve good information.

Here’s some of the brands that we have come to trust through our research:

Before you buy, 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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