What Is CBD?
To understand CBD and its therapeutic benefits, it is crucial to define essential terms and discuss how they relate to one another as they interact with human biology. Cannabinoids refer to chemical substances that react to specific cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system. Cannabinoids naturally produced in the body are called endocannabinoids and, together with the cannabinoid receptors, form the endocannabinoid system. Plant-produced cannabinoids, primarily by cannabis, activate the cannabinoid systems similarly to endocannabinoids and are called phytocannabinoids.
Researchers have identified more than 100 cannabinoids within cannabis and hemp plants, categorized into different classes based on their psychological effects. The most common and well-researched are tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) and cannabidiols (CBD). Both compounds are found in the resin of the cannabis flower and are reported to have significant therapeutic effects. THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, responsible for creating a “high” or intoxicated feeling. CBD does not prompt this response and is thought to mediate the intensity of the psychoactive effects of THC.
How Is CBD Related to THC?
CBD and THC are cannabinoids that are both found in cannabis and share the same chemical components—carbon, hydron, and oxygen atoms. However, these atoms are arranged into different structures, which present their own distinct chemical properties and cause distinct physiological effects. They both produce therapeutic effects by interacting with cannabinoid receptors, causing the release of neurotransmitters which influence mood, pain sensation, sleep patterns, and memory.
Because they interact with different receptors, CBD and THC have different effects. THC primarily binds with receptors in the brain, causing a person to feel intoxicated, referred to as being “high” or “stoned.” CBD binds to receptors throughout the body, causing relaxation and feelings of well-being. CBD tends to inhibit or neutralize the psychoactive effects of THC. Cannabis strains high in THC and low in CBD are more likely to have a psychological impact, including increases in anxiety and paranoia.
What is the difference between cannabis-derived and hemp-derived CBD?
CBD can be derived from hemp or cannabis, and the effects of these products differ based on their origin. Since the recent legalization of hemp in the US, growing hemp has been revitalized into a legitimate agricultural industry. It was made federally legal with the 2018 Farm Bill, but states have their own laws regarding its growth and sale. To stay within federal regulations, hemp must contain 0.3% THC or less, meaning it does not intoxicate consumers. It can be cultivated for a variety of uses beyond CBD products, including building materials, industrial products, textiles, paper, and personal care products. Hemp can be easily purchased online or in stores but is often poorly processed, inconsistent in quality, and mislabeled. It also tends to include unnecessary and even harmful ingredients, including artificial colors and flavors, corn syrup, solvent residues, pesticides, and other contaminants.
In contrast, cannabis contains more than 0.3% THC, leading to its intoxicating effects. It is legal in some states for medical or recreational uses and can be purchased in licensed dispensaries, but it has yet to be declared legal on the federal level. Compared to hemp, cannabis features significantly more resin, resulting in higher concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes, which equate with a higher CBD yield. This means that hemp growers must cultivate large quantities of their product to produce CBD extracts. CBD products created from cannabis are subject to more stringent testing and higher regulation than those made from hemp, meaning they tend to be safer, free of dangerous contaminants, and more effective.
Uses and Benefits of CBD
CBD has experienced a considerable surge in popularity due to its therapeutic benefits without the potential for harsh side effects experienced with pharmaceutical drugs. Extensive clinical studies and anecdotal accounts from both physicians and patients have demonstrated its usefulness as a treatment method for chronic pain and other symptoms experienced as the result of many conditions, including:
- Neurological conditions—Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, Huntington's chorea, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, sleep disorders, stroke, traumatic brain injury
- Neuropsychiatric disorders—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder, autism spectrum disorder, alcoholism, major depressive disorder, migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder
- Cardiovascular problems—arrhythmia, atherosclerosis
- Autoimmune diseases—rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation
- Metabolic syndromes—diabetes, obesity
- Gut dysfunction—Crohn’s disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, nausea
- Skin conditions—acne, dermatitis, psoriasis
Researchers around the world are currently studying the neuroprotective and anti-cancer effects of CBD. A 2010 study on subjects with brain cancer found that this cannabinoid “enhances the inhibitory effects of THC on human glioblastoma cell proliferation and survival.” Another study conducted this same year by German researchers found that CBD stimulates the growth of new brain cells.
How Does CBD Work?
The endocannabinoid system is complex and encompasses endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids such as CBD operate in this system either as agonists, in which they mimic endocannabinoids and activate these receptors, or as antagonists, in which they block receptors and hinder activity. CBD typically acts as an antagonist, which is why it counteracts the effects of THC.
The two primary receptors in the endocannabinoid system are CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors can be found primarily in the central nervous system, and the effects of cannabinoids in this area reflect the brain regions with which they interact. These interactions occur most frequently in the limbic system, which regulates behavioral and emotional responses involved in actions necessary for survival (including feeding, reproduction, child-rearing, and fight-or-flight responses), the mesolimbic pathway, known as the reward system (it regulates and reinforces motor functions involved with seeking rewards), and areas associated with pain perception. The peripheral nervous system, especially the immune system and related cells, contain the most CB2 receptors, which work by reducing inflammation.
Since its discovery, the endocannabinoid system has dramatically advanced scientific knowledge of human health and the mechanisms underlying various diseases. It regulates a wide array of physiological processes, including mood, energy level, immune system activity, intestinal health, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and bone density. It also informs how we experience hunger, stress, pain, and other biological phenomena.
An improperly functioning endocannabinoid system, be it deficient or overactive, can have wide-reaching health consequences. CBD can help to modulate the endocannabinoid system and can slow or even halt the progression of disease. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health suggest that “modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans.”
CBD offers therapeutic benefits in a wide range of products, including capsules, isolates, flower, oils, gummies, topicals, and products specifically designed for pets. The Food and Drug Administration first acknowledged the therapeutic effects of cannabidiol in 2018 when it approved a drug called Epidiolex for treating pediatric seizure disorders. However, this medication is very costly and difficult to access for most individuals seeking relief from other conditions. People who can’t obtain pharmaceutical CBD can purchase over-the-counter CBD capsules or pure CBD isolate, a crystalline solid or powder with similar chemical composition to Epidiolex.
Many people prefer to smoke or vape CBD, so flower and oils containing varying levels of CBD in broad spectrum formulas, or levels of CBD and THC in full spectrum formulas, can be purchased from cannabis dispensaries for smoking or vaping. Different strains of flower and formulation of oils can offer different effects to consumers, making it vital that you do your research before purchasing. Knowledgeable staff members at your local dispensary or CBD retailer can help you navigate their selection to recommend the right product for you.
Smokeless delivery methods of CBD, including tinctures, gummies, and topicals, have surged in popularity, especially among people with certain medical conditions. Tinctures and gummies both provide discreet, easily portable, extended-release relief and are the perfect products for anyone looking to try CBD for the first time. For individuals experiencing pain in specific areas of the body, topical products, such as creams, balms, and lotions, can be very helpful. CBD has even expanded into the realm of personal care and beauty, as it can reduce oil production and inflammation in addition to providing moisture and antioxidants. Pet owners are also using CBD for its ability to reduce nausea, anxiety, and inflammation, as well as alleviating pain and controlling seizures.
Cannabidiol is a chemical compound found in hemp, cannabis, and naturally occurring in the human body that demonstrates a variety of therapeutic effects for individuals living with several physical and psychological conditions. There are very few known side effects from the consumption of CBD, and there is no evidence suggesting that it has the potential for addiction. As its therapeutic potential has been recently recognized by consumers and physicians alike, state and federal laws have adapted to reflect this. Before purchasing CBD products, make sure to check your local laws, as this will influence your choice between hemp-derived CBD and cannabis-derived CBD.
This post is meant to be informational and should not be taken as medical advice.Resources: