Cannabidiol (CBD) is perhaps best known for its potential to reduce inflammation along with the frequency and severity of seizures, particularly in children. The cannabinoid is also gaining a significant amount of attention for its wide array of other therapeutic and lifestyle benefits for all demographics.
But, what exactly is CBD and how does it work? Not only that, how is it different from the more well-known cannabinoid, THC? If you’re researching CBD, sifting through all of the available information to separate the facts from misconceptions can seem overwhelming.
To help you better understand CBD and all of its benefits, here is everything you need to know about the cannabinoid.
- What is CBD?
- Where is CBD found?
- CBD Derived from Hemp vs. Marijuana
- What's the Difference Between CBD and THC?
- How Does CBD Work?
- Health Benefits of CBD
- How CBD Can Be Consumed
- “The Entourage Effect” and CBD
- Methods of CBD Extraction
- How Long Does CBD Take to Work?
- How to Find High-Quality CBD Oil
- Does CBD Show Up in Drug Screening Tests?
- What About CBD Oil for Pets?
What is CBD?
Researchers have discovered that more than 400 different compounds exist within the cannabis plant. Among the more important ones are known as cannabinoids, of which there are more than 80 and counting.
Cannabinoids are specific compounds produced by the cannabis plant that interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the body. When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids bind to endocannabinoid system receptors — this has a number of effects.
The endocannabinoid system—part of the nervous system—is associated with mechanisms in the body that are responsible for regulating a number of different functions including appetite, mood, pain, memory and much more.
Cannabinoids aren't necessarily only found outside of the body to be ingested. In fact, they are actually produced naturally in the human body, just in a different form. As such, cannabinoids shouldn't really be looked at as a foreign substance at all.
Cannabinoids bind to receptors of the endocannabinoid system from the cannabis plant, but this system also produces cannabinoids on its own to help modulate immune system response.
While the immune system protects the body to keep it healthy, it can also overreact to environmental stimuli, creating adverse physical responses such as inflammation, allergies and joint damage. Negative mental responses can also be triggered like anxiety, paranoia and PTSD. Since cannabinoids help to regulate the immune system, they can also minimize immune responses in many cases.
Two of the more prominent cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant and is what recreational users seek to get "high."
On the other hand, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, which is why it is legal in the U.S. Further, CBD does not induce some of the potential negative side effects of THC like paranoia, anxiety and memory impairment.
CBD is among the more exciting and promising cannabinoids known today. With more and more research being done on CBD, its health benefits are becoming increasingly touted. CBD use is growing globally as it continues to break down barriers that have traditionally been held up against cannabis.
Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid, natural compounds found in the cannabis plant. It has made incredible strides in the medical and wellness fields after showing amazing potential as a wellness supplement and medicinal product that can offer benefits to just about anyone. As an increasing number of people seek its health effects, CBD is becoming more and more well-known, especially as the media continues to report on its benefits.
Where is CBD Found?
As already mentioned, CBD is naturally found in the seeds, stalk and flowers of cannabis plants. Since CBD is present in high quantities in the plant, it is easily extracted using various extraction techniques. In fact, CBD is among the more prevalent cannabinoids in the cannabis plant in addition to THC.
After it has been extracted, CBD can be processed into several different products other than oil including liquids and capsules. These products are readily available and can be found in medical marijuana dispensaries as well as health and wellness stores and online retailers.
CBD can be found in both hemp and marijuana cannabis plants. The main difference between the two is the level of THC. While marijuana contains high levels of THC, hemp only has trace amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid. The CBD that is naturally found in hemp is legal in the U.S. while CBD from marijuana is illegal. Legalization is occurring on a state-by-state basis as we speak.
CBD Derived from Hemp vs. Marijuana
Not all CBD is created equal, but there is often some confusion between CBD that is derived from hemp versus that is derived from marijuana. It's important for consumers looking to buy CBD to understand the difference between the two in terms of its legality and efficacy before making a purchase.
To make the distinction between the two, it helps to gain an understanding of hemp and marijuana, both of which come from the cannabis sativa L plant species. Hemp plants have been around for decades and are typically used for the production of all sorts of different commercial products. It's a legal product that's widely available on many store shelves. This plant is usually tall and thin, and is predominantly grown for its durable fiber.
On the other hand, marijuana is a shorter and wider plant that is mainly grown for its flowers and buds. This plant is typically grown specifically to be smoked for recreational purposes or for cannabinoid extraction.
Perhaps the biggest difference between hemp and marijuana is the THC and CBD content. Both are cannabinoids, but THC has psychoactive properties whereas CBD does not. Marijuana is typically bred to have high levels of THC, while hemp is cultivated to have minimal THC (if any at all). While THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, they're very different.
Since THC is federally illegal, medical marijuana can only be lawfully bought and used in the handful of states that have legalized it including California, Oregon and Washington. On the other hand, hemp is legal because of its minimal or non-existent THC levels, meaning it is readily accessible everywhere. As such, the CBD oil that is extracted from hemp is also much more widely available and legal for purchase and use.
Hemp-derived CBD oil is safe for use by just about everyone including children, pets, and pregnant or nursing women who prefer a natural product over traditional pharmaceuticals.
In contrast, marijuana-derived CBD oil may not be safe for consumption for everyone mainly because of the THC content of this particular plant.
What's the Difference Between CBD and THC?
CBD and THC are the two main compounds found in the cannabis plant. Both compounds can offer important health benefits to the body.
Scientists have long known that THC is responsible for giving recreational users the "high" that they want. But until recently, not nearly as much has been known about the effects of CBD.
The biggest difference between THC and CBD is their psychological effects on the brain. As already mentioned, THC is what gets a person high. CBD does not have any psychoactive medical benefits. THC's euphoric effects are a result of the cannabinoid binding to CB1 (cannabinoid 1) and CB2 (cannabinoid 2) receptors, predominantly located in the brain. This alters how the brain operates and is what causes the “high.”
CBD doesn't bind to these CB1 receptors, so it does not give the same psychoactive effects as THC. CBD has more indirect effects. Because THC binds with CB1 and CB2 receptors so readily, it stimulates the body in different ways compared to CBD. THC is responsible for feelings of relaxation, sleepiness, altered psychological senses and hunger.
On the other hand, CBD doesn't directly stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors, but rather interacts with them indirectly. CBD has also been shown to boost the levels of the naturally-produced cannabinoids in the body by blocking the enzymes that metabolize them.
Of course, the legal status is another major difference between THC and CBD. The laws surrounding marijuana and THC are typically strict. Currently, THC is federally illegal in the US, though it is becoming steadily legal on a state-by-state basis. Presently, the states that have legalized recreational marijuana include Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and Alaska. In addition, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states.
The legal status of pure CBD can sometimes be a bit fuzzy. The law is typically open to differing interpretations. For example, cannabis is considered a Schedule I drug, which means it is technically illegal under federal law. CBD is also found in hemp, which is legal and is used to produce a number of different commercial products sold throughout the US.
In addition, the THC levels in CBD products also play a role in the legality surrounding CBD. As long as the CBD oil has less than 0.3% THC, it can be categorized as hemp under federal law making it legal to manufacture, distribute and purchase.
Although cannabis laws continue to evolve, the legal status of THC is pretty straightforward. In the meantime, the legal status of CBD tends to be much more intricate and complex.
How Does CBD Work?
Research continues to be done on CBD oil and how it actually works in the body to alleviate medical symptoms and improve overall health and wellness. Having said that, scientists have found that this compound does much more than just engage cannabinoid receptors. CBD has been associated with affecting vanilloid, adenosine and serotonin receptors.
- Vanilloid receptors: CBD interacts directly with many ion channels to provide a therapeutic effect on the body. For instance, CBD binds to TRPV1 receptors (also commonly referred to as "vanilloid receptors") that are associated with mediation of pain perception, inflammation and body temperature. TRPV1 is one of many TRP receptor variants that control the effects of several different medicinal herbs. CBD binds to TRPV1 thereby influencing pain perception and alleviating pain symptoms experienced as a result of many different medical ailments.
- Adenosine receptors: CBD activates adenosine receptors that allows CBD to have anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Adenosine receptors also help to release dopamine and glutamate, neurotransmitters that play key roles in the body. Dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. It also helps to regulate movement and cognition, while glutamate is involved in mediating memory and learning.
- Serotonin receptors: Research into CBD has shown that high concentrations of CBD directly activates a specific serotonin receptor, the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine). It has an anti-anxiety effect. This particular protein receptor has been implicated in several biological and neurological processes including anxiety, appetite, sleep, nausea, vomiting and pain perception. 5-HT receptors that 5-HT1A is part of, are activated by serotonin. These receptors stimulate several different intracellular chemical messages to produce inhibitory responses that can act as anti-depressants, anti-nauseants and even appetite stimulants. In addition to activating certain receptors, CBD has also been shown to block other receptors. More specifically, GPR55 can be deactivated by CBD. GPR55 is involved in adjusting physiological processes like blood pressure and bone density. Overactive GPR55 receptors are associated with osteoporosis and even the promotion of cancer cell growth. By blocking GPR55 signaling, CBD can serve as an effective means of decreasing bone reabsorption and cancer cell generation.
Health Benefits of CBD
There's a reason why CBD oil has gained in popularity over the recent past: it offers plenty of health benefits. Here are some benefits that CBD has been found to have, according to scientific studies.
Relieves pain: while many people are often prescribed NSAIDs for pain relief as a result of a variety of different ailments and injuries, CBD oil has been found to offer pain relief the natural way. Studies have shown that cannabinoids (including CBD oil) can alleviate pain by slowing down the transmission of neurons along pain pathways. CBD oil can also inhibit inflammation in joints that is often a source of pain in patients with arthritis and other degenerative diseases.
Reduces anxiety: CBD oil has a calming effect when taken in proper doses. Anxiety is a common mental health disorder that can have debilitating effects on a person's life. While it is typically treated with pharmaceutical medication, these drugs don't come without a few side effects including drowsiness and agitation. Some of them can even become addictive. Instead, CBD oil can be used as part of an overall treatment for anxiety. It works to alleviate anxiety by acting on the receptors of the brain for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating mood. Studies have shown that CBD reduces anxiety in patients with social anxiety disorder and may even be effective for panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Helps combat cancer: the suggestion that something as simple and natural as CBD oil may help to fight cancer is a huge one. Research has shown that this cannabidiol may be able to slow the growth of cancerous tumors and potentially stop them altogether. More specifically, research has found that CBD can inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells, and may even inhibit the growth of tumors associated with lung and colon cancers as well as some gliomas and leukemia.
Relieves nausea: while many of the health benefits of CBD oil have only recently been discovered, some others have long been known. In fact, cannabis has been used to alleviate nausea and vomiting for centuries. More recent studies have shown that low doses of cannabinoids like CBD suppress toxin-induced nausea and vomiting. For this reason, it has been increasingly implemented into cancer treatments in order to reduce the nausea that tends to be associated with cancer therapies like chemotherapy.
Treats seizures: perhaps one of the more well-known benefits of CBD oil is its ability to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. Many children who suffer from epilepsy and other seizure-inducing disorders have already found great relief from their seizures thanks to cannabinoids like CBD. Scientists believe that CBD oil’s ability to act on the endocannabinoid system of the body can provide these types of benefits for patients with epilepsy and other neurological disorders.
Reduces the incidence of diabetes: studies have discovered that CBD oil may have the ability to drastically lower the incidence of diabetes thanks to its impact on glucose, insulin and insulin resistance. Researchers also found an association between CBD use and smaller waist circumferences, an important factor in developing diabetes.
Improves cardiovascular health: recent studies have linked CBD with a number of benefits for the cardiovascular and circulatory system including lowering high blood pressure, an important factor in heart attacks and strokes. Research points to the possibility that CBD may be a natural and effective treatment protocol for high blood pressure. Though the exact reasons why CBD may have an effect on lowering blood pressure aren't entirely known, some researchers suggest that it is CBD's ability to reduce stress and anxiety that plays a role in blood pressure regulation. Some studies have also associated CBD with a reduction in oxidative stress and heart damage in diabetic mice with heart disease.
Minimizes acne: over 9% of the American population suffers from acne, a common skin condition that can be exacerbated by poor diet, genetics, bacteria and an overproduction of sebum. Recent studies have found that CBD oil can help treat acne thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to lower the production of sebum. These results show some promise in the skincare world though more studies need to be conducted to produce more conclusive evidence.
How CBD Can Be Consumed
Since there are a wide variety of CBD products available, there are different ways that it can be taken in order to enjoy its benefits.
Swallow: the most common way to take CBD is to swallow the compound. When ingested, CBD oil is metabolized by the liver after which the active compounds are sent into the bloodstream. These products typically come with an oral applicator that's used to squeeze the appropriate dosage of CBD oil onto a spoon and then placed onto the tongue before swallowing.
Applied under the tongue: another common way to take CBD is to apply drops under the tongue and allow it to be absorbed through the mucous membrane. In this way, any other active compounds in CBD oil will also be absorbed. This method is popular because the compounds of the oil can be delivered to the bloodstream much faster as a result of bypassing the digestive system and liver.
Vaping: this method of CBD ingestion has grown in popularity over the recent past, especially as an alternative to traditional smoking methods that are harmful to the lungs. With vaping, a CBD vaporizer is used to inhale the product. Not only is this an easy mode of application, but it also provides one of the fastest ways for CBD to take effect. Vaping CBD allows the product to enter the lungs and diffuse right into the bloodstream. By bypassing the digestive system and liver, the CBD oil can work much faster than any other mode of consumption. As a result, vaping allows far more CBD to be absorbed and enter your circulation. That means you can experience the same helpful effects of CBD with a much smaller amount compared to other methods.
Chewing gum: some people take CBD by chewing gum infused with CBD oil that is used just like any other type of traditional chewing gum.
Mixed in a beverage: CBD can be blended into beverages and food products to create an edible form of CBD.
Topical ointment: some CBD products come in ointment and lotion form and can be applied directly onto the skin. In this way, CBD and other active components in CBD products can be absorbed into the skin and then interact with superficial cells without going into the bloodstream.
“The Entourage Effect” and CBD
CBD continues to be associated with a broad spectrum of health benefits, but it may be even more effective when it is combined with other cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. There are literally hundreds of compounds in cannabis, and over 80 of them are specifically categorized as cannabinoids. CBD and THC are two of the main cannabinoids found in cannabis, both of which commonly occur in the highest concentrations.
Scientists have discovered that implementing what's known as "whole plant" medicine can bring about even greater health and wellness benefits to those who take CBD oil products. By combining CBD with all of the naturally-occurring phytonutrients in cannabis, the medicinal effects of cannabis can be even more groundbreaking.
A big part of alternative medicine that includes cannabis, is based on making use of the whole plant for medicinal purposes instead of isolating active ingredients. This concept of whole plant medicine is being increasingly shown through growing evidence that medical substances can be more effective in plant form as opposed to pharmaceutical pill form.
Known as the “entourage effect,” a stronger medicinal impact can be achieved when hundreds of natural components in the plant work with each other and the body compared to when only one of those components is used alone. In essence, a multiplying or exponential effect is achieved when all the components of the plant are used synergistically as opposed to on their own. Different compounds magnify each other's effects to make the whole plant much more effective in alleviating medical symptoms.
The entourage effect can be readily seen when comparing the effects of THC with those of the entire cannabis plant. As already mentioned, cannabis contains a lot more active compounds than just THC. Many other cannabinoids aside from THC can work together to produce effective symptom relief. In particular, CBD can balance out the impact of THC on the body.
Studies have shown that specially-cultivated marijuana that has approximately equal amounts of THC and CBD can provide the most effective treatment for medical symptoms. This suggests that the ratio of THC to CBD is important in determining how effective the cannabis plant can be for therapeutic purposes.
Considering the plethora of health benefits that CBD has on the body, an increasing number of strains of cannabis that are high in cannabidiol are being produced.
One of the more well-known strains is “Charlotte’s Web,” a strain that was specifically developed for children with epilepsy. This particular CBD oil is very high in CBD and extremely low in THC. It is named after a girl named Charlotte Figi who suffered approximately 300 seizures every week as a result of a rare condition called Dravet Syndrome.
Despite trying several different treatments, nothing seemed to work to settle Charlotte's seizures. After some time, Charlotte's father saw a video of a young boy being effectively treated for the same medical condition with a cannabis strain that was high in CBD and low in THC. After finally being able to obtain this product, Charlotte's seizures disappeared almost completely within a short time period.
Aside from Charlotte's Web, there are many other CBD-rich strains of the cannabis plant that have shown to offer medical and health benefits.
Methods of CBD Extraction
The purpose of CBD oil extraction is to create a cannabinoid in a highly concentrated format to allow for easy consumption. There are several ways to extract CBD oil, some safer and more effective than others.
Solvent extraction method: the most common substances used in the solvent extraction method are ethanol (a low-grade alcohol) and butane. This method allows for the extraction of a full range of cannabinoids from the cannabis plant that creates a product that is relatively safe for human consumption. However, this method also allows chlorophyll to be extracted too that can lead to unpleasant side effects. While the chlorophyll can be removed by filtering the extract, the CBD oil’s potency can be drastically lowered by doing so. Butane can also be used for this method of extraction and can actually produce a CBD oil that's stronger in concentration compared to extraction with ethanol. However, butane usually has more solvents and can leave behind unsafe residues that can impede immune function and healing.
Dry ice extraction method: for this method, dry ice is used to obtain the concentrated CBD oil.
Olive oil extraction method: extra virgin olive oil can be used to extract CBD oil in a safe and inexpensive way. That said, cannabis-infused olive oil will need to be stored in a cool, dark place because it is perishable. This form of extraction is usually only used by individual users who extract their own CBD from home as this form of extraction produces low yields. CBD companies don't typically use this method for this specific reason.
CO2 extraction method: this is a popular method used by manufacturers and involves the use of carbon dioxide under high pressure and cold temperatures to isolate and preserve the CBD oil's purity. This process is more expensive than other methods of extraction because it requires the use of expensive equipment and experience. However, the end result is usually a product that is safe, potent and void of any chlorophyll.
How Long Does CBD Take to Work?
Not only do people who take CBD oil want to make sure that the product they are using will be able to alleviate the symptoms they may be experiencing, they also tend to be curious about how long it takes for CBD oil to take effect. The answer to this question depends on the medical issue affecting the person, the person’s body, and the method of consumption.
Since people can't do much to control the medical issues being experienced and the factors that make up their unique bodily system (such as age, overall level of health, metabolism and genetics), most people tend to focus on mode of consumption when it comes to controlling the speed at which CBD oil takes effect after taking it.
Essentially, there are four common ways to get CBD products into your system: inhaling, taking sublingually, eating or applying topically. The method that offers the fastest effects is vaping, followed by applying sublingually as a close second. With these two methods, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to start feeling the impact of CBD oil. CBD takes longer to take effect when eaten or applied topically to the skin. With these two methods, users report taking as long as an hour before feeling the full effects.
How to Find High-Quality CBD Oil
With more and more studies showing the effectiveness of CBD oil and an increase in demand from consumers, an increasing number of CBD oil manufacturers are popping up and creating and selling their own products. But not all manufacturers are created equal, nor are their CBD oil products. Many products are created from rich plants and expensive extraction techniques and equipment, while others use poor quality plants and cheaper extraction processes that yield lower quality CBD oil products.
So, how can consumers be sure that they are getting the best CBD oil products on the market? Here are some ways to identify good quality CBD oil:
Less than 0.3% THC: A low amount of THC in a CBD oil product is exactly what consumers should be looking for. Any more than that can generate the psychoactive effects that one would experience by ingesting traditional marijuana. Although hemp and marijuana are closely related, commercial hemp is low in resin, is legal and does not produce a lot of THC.
Third-Party Lab Reports are Available: it's very important that third-party lab reports are made available. These documents will provide you with a great deal of transparency about the product. For instance, a detailed lab report that is constantly being updated will include important information about the CBD oil including:
- The exact amount of CBD in the oil
- The exact amount of THC and other cannabinoids that are found in the oil
- The types of terpenes and respective concentrations that are in the oil
- Whether or not the oil is free of toxins and pesticides
- The date that the batch was tested. Ideally, this date should be as recent as possible
Clean Extraction Method: the method of CBD oil extraction can make a huge difference in the overall quality of the product. The extraction process is the method used to remove the CBD from the hemp plant including CO2, butane and alcohol extraction. As of late, the CO2 extraction method is considered the cleanest and creates a pure CBD oil product that is considered safe to use. This chemical-free, “cold” extraction method is more expensive and makes use of much safer solvents to ensure a pure, safe and potent extract. This extraction method is also non-toxic and environmentally-friendly. Other extraction methods use petroleum solvents to extract the compounds from the cannabis plant that leave behind petroleum-based residues that can wind up in the CBD oil product. When the CBD oil is ingested, these residues can negatively affect several biological functions in the body. The method also produces oils with a much lower concentration of CBD.
Whole-Plant Extract: rather than creating CBD oil products that depend solely on the CBD itself, more and more manufacturers are incorporating several components of the cannabis plant to create a much more effective and potent product. This is known as "whole-plant" or “full-plant" extract, based on the premise that many compounds of the plant have a synergistic relationship referred to as the "entourage effect." These compounds (including cannabinoids like CBD, THC, CBC and CBG as well as terpenes and flavonoids) work best when they are extracted and used together rather than when taken in isolation. As such, whole-plant extract CBD oils are superior to CBD isolates.
Does CBD Show Up in Drug Screening Tests?
Some people who are required to take a drug test to identify the presence of drugs like marijuana may understandably wonder if taking CBD oil will show up in drug screening tests.
Although drug tests are specifically looking for traces of THC and not CBD, that doesn’t mean the test will come back negative. As mentioned earlier, certain CBD oil products may include small amounts of THC. This is especially true with low quality products.
That said, a person would have to consume an extremely high amount of CBD oil in order for the test to come back positive for THC. The consumption of anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 mg of CBD in a 24-hour period could be enough to lead to a positive drug test. As such, it's best to stay on the safe side and only consume CBD oil products that are free or extremely low in THC.
What About CBD Oil for Pets?
The benefits of CBD on the human body are tough to argue against based on the ongoing research on this cannabinoid, but how can it help pets? In fact, CBD can be as beneficial to pets as their human counterparts because they also have an endocannabinoid system.
Pet owners typically give CBD oil to their furry friends to:
- Reduce anxiety
- Promote relaxation in nervous pets
- Treat epilepsy
- Improve skin issues
- Reduce pain, particularly in aging animals
Further research is required to determine exactly how CBD oil can help pets and the appropriate doses to achieve optimal results.
There is so much that scientists have learned about CBD and its health effects on the human body over such a short amount of time and still more needs to be discovered.
Easily considered to be one of the more promising breakthrough products in the health and wellness sphere, CBD oil continues to increase in popularity among consumers who are looking for a means to alleviate painful and uncomfortable symptoms associated with various medical issues in addition to those who are simply looking for a wellness product that they can use to supplement their healthy lifestyle to promote optimal health.
Kai Pattison, M.S.
Athlete Relations x Physiologist
Kai Pattison was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Kai graduated with a Master’s degree in clinical physiology from Point Loma Nazarene University. He is very passionate about human physiology and the applications in sport performance, recovery and clinical diagnostics. Kai has specialized in cardiopulmonary diagnostics, exercise induced energy expenditure and metabolism. Kai has also gained extensive research experience at UCSD on Parkinson’s disease. He enjoys educating and informing people on the importance of exercise to reduce risk of multiple inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. His passion for alternative medicine enables him to strive when promoting health and wellness.