It’s no secret that the acronym “CBD” has been omnipresent in the media and pop culture lately. CBD is short for cannabidiol, a molecule found in the cannabis plant. While CBD is often positioned as a miraculous cure-all capable of treating everything from anxiety to back pain, the vast majority of the population doesn’t fully understand what it actually is or how it works.
Fortunately, understanding the finer points of cannabidiol doesn’t have to be as difficult or confusing as you might think—here’s what you need to know.
Cannabidiol is a chemical compound found in hemp and marijuana—the two primary species of the cannabis family. Through both anecdotal accounts and limited scientific studies, cannabidiol is thought to have potential utility for treating a wide range of symptoms and illnesses, including anxiety, inflammation, pain, seizures and even chronic addictions such as alcoholism.
Unlike the active ingredient in marijuana THC which causes a “high” when ingested, CBD offers no psychoactive effects and is not thought to alter a user’s state of mind. This makes the molecule attractive those looking to medicate without the “stoned” feelings often associated with THC-rich medical marijuana—particularly those who suffer from anxiety and panic as a result of coming into contact with even small amounts of THC. CBD is also generally considered to be safe at high doses and has not shown indications of causing dependency.
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When discussing cannabidiol, it’s important to note that CBD has only been backed by evidence supporting its effectiveness as a treatment for epilepsy. Proponents of CBD claim that the compound has use cases for a variety of treating a variety of different ailments, including:
CBD is also being looked at closer at several academic research facilities for its potential anti-cancer properties. At the moment, however, most usage of cannabidiol is based off purported benefits that are anecdotal in nature. Effective dosage ranges have not been established, either, which can make finding the right dose for treating a specific ailment exceedingly difficult.
There are four major methods of administering CBD into the body: oral (ingesting), transdermal (through the skin), sublingual (under the tongue) and inhalation (vaping/smoking). Many people don’t realize that bioavailability—the body’s ability to absorb CBD into the bloodstream—can vary significantly from one method of administration to another.
Oral consumption of CBD, for example, is thought to cut the body’s absorption down to an astonishingly low 6%, which means a 100mg dose of CBD would only yield absorption of approximately 6mg. Conversely, vaporization of CBD is thought to have a much higher bioavailability—between 34-46%. Inhalation also expedites the onset of effects from CBD, which is one reason why it is the preferred method of administration for treating panic attacks. That said, effects are thought to last longer when cannabidiol is administered sublingually, orally and transdermally.
While there’s currently a lack of scientific research on cannabidiol and plenty of work to be done, the inherent safety of CBD is thought to be very high. Some people don’t experience significant side effects when taking CBD, and no reports of an overdose have ever been recorded. That said, these assumptions are in reference to the molecule itself and not the products it is packaged within.
As CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, their safety profiles are exceedingly difficult to determine. Some products are carefully made and tested for potency and residual heavy metals, for example, while others are made in makeshift home “labs” and may contain potentially harmful compounds—an especially prominent concern for vape liquids. Thus, no CBD product should be considered completely “safe,” and user discretion should always be placed front and center before making any purchases.
CBD is unique in how it operates, in that other cannabinoids—specifically THC—bind to pathways found throughout the brain and body known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabidiol, on the other hand, does not bind to these receptors; instead, it directs the body to use more of the cannabinoids already being produced naturally.
In this way, CBD is more of a catalyst than it is a “drug” in and of itself.
Since most cannabidiol products contain less than 0.3% THC, they are typically legal across most states. While both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in a number of states, however, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, meaning that any CBD product that contains THC is still considered to be against the law to possess or consume.
Though the claims of being a “wondercure” are almost certainly overstated, the potential held by cannabidiol as a treatment for epilepsy is scientifically backed and may extend to a number of other ailments. That said, CBD products should always be purchased with a great deal of discretion. More research is needed to determine exactly how CBD works and what its use cases are, but initial findings and overwhelming amounts of anecdotal evidence supporting the molecule’s efficacy are promising to say the least.