The Ultimate Guide to CBD

At the same time as the movement for cannabis decriminalization began to achieve the greatest success, CBD became the health supplement that caught the world's attention. Cannabidiol's existence has gone from being an obscure bit of trivia and the interest of specialized researchers to earning the enthusiasm of millions of people around the world. However, there's a great deal of disinformation floating around and it can be hard to find reliable sources. Here's everything you need to know about CBD, from the endocannabinoid system to the entourage effect and how to identify quality CBD on the market.

What is CBD?

CBD is one of many phytocannabinoids that you can find in plants. While cannabis plants have the densest concentration of these compounds within cannabis (researchers have counted more than 100, and the number is always growing), many healthy foods are rich with them. If you eat broccoli or use cloves in your cooking, then your body already has phytocannabinoids in it. For that matter, your brain produces its own naturally-occurring endocannabinoids.

The molecular formula of cannabidiol (CBD)
The molecular formula of cannabidiol (CBD)

Scientists only discovered these compounds within the last few decades, and cannabis prohibition has suppressed the research into CBD and other cannabinoids. However, there's a growing body of evidence validating the popularly-held ideas about the medicinal qualities of CBD and other cannabinoids. Here's a quick primer:

Typically Hemp-Based

People often draw a distinction between hemp, cannabis, and marijuana. Strictly speaking, this distinction is more practical than scientific. All strains belong to the same species of plant, which is cannabis. Within this species, any two plants can pollinate one another but they vary wildly with regard to their concentration of different cannabinoids. A strain that growers have bred to possess high levels of THC will typically be referred to as weed or marijuana, while growers identify strains with minimal THC as hemp.

This is an important distinction, because CBD and THC effect the body in extremely different ways. By deriving CBD from hemp, growers are able to produce oils and other products that have extremely low levels of THC. By concentrating on CBD and minimizing THC content, manufacturers produce supplements that won't get you high and stay on the right side of the law.

CBD is Non-Psychoactive

While cannabis exists in a state of legal restriction, most states and countries do not ban the plant itself. Instead, they regulate psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC and CBN. For the most part, hemp-derived products that remain below a strict legal threshold of psychoactive cannabinoids are legal either in fact or in practice.

Besides legality, isolating one of the key components of cannabis from the psychoactive high that results from smoking THC-rich marijuana has many practical benefits. Many people have no wish to get high or are uncomfortable doing so, and CBD has already shown itself to have real medical potential and may grow into a valuable alternative to medical marijuana.

Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and Isolate CBD: The Entourage Effect

When you begin exploring the world of CBD, you'll often run into three descriptive phrases; full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate. In all cases, the cannabidiol itself is the same compound. What's different is the presence of other cannabinoids and terpenes, the non-cannabinoid organic compounds within the cannabis plant.

According to industry aficionados, full spectrum and broad spectrum CBD may be more effective thanks to the entourage effect. This is the concept that the compounds in hemp work together to produce an effect that's greater than the sum of its parts, and it's virtually a gospel among small hemp growers around the world. Researchers hold a certain level of skepticism toward the idea of the entourage effect, but there are a few studies that indicate beneficial interactions between specific cannabinoids[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6915685/.

On the other hand, the benefits of isolate are highly concrete. It's practical for industrial use thanks to greater longevity, 0% THC concentration, there's no pungent flavor as in oil-based hemp products and it's water soluble. This makes it better-suited for many forms of consumption, and it also solves the problem of hydrophobia which reduces bioavailability in consumed CBD products.

Lax Regulations Mean Third-Party Lab Tests Are Vital for Consumers

The problem with labels such as full spectrum is that there's no process by which a product earns them. Since there are no regulations, anyone with a burgeoning interest in CBD needs to do their background research before buying something. Reputable CBD sellers will send their products to an independent laboratory for tests that verify safe levels of THC as well as the advertised concentration of CBD and other cannabinoids. Furthermore, they'll advertise this clearly on the label and make sure that consumers can see that their products are reputable.

If you aren't able to find a verifiable third-party lab test on a CBD product, don't buy it. In the best case scenario, you're being ripped off. But in other cases, it might contain dangerous, unhealthy synthetic cannabinoids that can cause serious side effects.

Non-Psychoactive and Free of Abuse Potential

While some cannabinoids have psychotropic mind-altering effects, cannabidiol is not among them. According to the World Health Organization[2]https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/CannabidiolCriticalReview.pdf, CBD has no appreciable side-effects, cannot produce a high and has no abuse potential. To date, no one has ever died from taking too much CBD, although consumption above recommended levels can produce mild side effects. This absence of side-effects is one of the main reasons for it's runaway success, as people see little reason not to try it for themselves. As such, individuals around the world have tried it for virtually everything and many people swear by it as a cure-all.

A Panacea?

While CBD is no panacea, studies have backed up the idea that it does have potential in treating many conditions. To start with, it's a potent anti-inflammatory agent and also appears to have mood regulating qualities, which alone make it well-suited to treating many of the most common maladies of today's world. One CBD-based drug, Epidiolex[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6938286/, is already available as a treatment for certain types of seizures.

You should always consult with your doctor before you try adding CBD to your treatment regimen. However, in the absence of serious health conditions and existing medication prescriptions, existing studies indicate that there's little to no risk in taking it.

How CBD Works

Most medications have fairly specific functions, but there are numerous separate mechanisms at play when someone consumes CBD. Many studies have identified that CBD has potential for managing hard-to-treat pain[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503660/, offering a neuroprotective[5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938896/ boost to the brain, and a rich variety of other benefits. How does CBD positively impact the body in so many seemingly unrelated ways?

Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System

In the 90s, researchers who discovered and identified cannabinoids found the presence of four key factors in the way that compounds such as THC and CBD affect the body. The human body possesses two relevant neuroreceptors, CB1 and CB2, which our natural endocannabinoids as well as plant-based phytocannabinoids interact with.

Researchers have termed these neuroreceptors and endocannabinoids as the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and theorized about the role it plays in the body. Since it holds such wide-ranging effects, some researchers have developed the universal regulator theory[6]https://www.jyi.org/2018-june/2018/6/1/the-endocannabinoid-system-our-universal-regulator. Under this line of thinking, the endocannabinoid system interacts with mood, inflammation, and other aspects of the body to restore and maintain balance. If correct, consuming CBD produces so many beneficial effects because it replenishes your supply of cannabinoids and enhances the function of your universal regulatory system.

Bioavailability in Different CBD Consumption Methods

The other side of how it works consists of the way the body metabolizes it and the level of bioavailability.

Any time you consume CBD, certain amounts of it don't reach your broader system. Higher levels of bioavailability mean that you'll experience the same or better effects from a proportionately smaller level of CBD, among other things. The most popular ways to take it are among the following group:

  • Oral Consumption
  • Sublingual Administration
  • Inhalation
  • Dermal Application
  • Transdermal Application

While oral consumption is popular, it unfortunately offers a low level of bioavailability. Different methods of administration[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6275223/ are much more efficient, such as sublingual administration. In this case, you place a dose of CBD oil below your tongue and allow the mucus glands to absorb it. Inhalation is also highly effective, as vaping CBD or smoking hemp flower bypass most of the problems that oral consumption involves.

Topical application methods stand out as perhaps the most unique, with exception to rare, virtually unexplored application avenues such as application to the eye or rectum. Applying it to the skin allows for absorption via the pores, and has varying effects depending on the exact type. Alcohol-based transdermal creams[8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851925/ are able to reach the bloodstream and boost global CBD levels considerably. While the average CBD lotion that's commercially available does not reach the bloodstream, it does increase local bioavailability levels, bringing concentrated benefits to the targeted area.

What the Science Says About CBD

Before getting into the studies surrounding CBD, it's critical to reiterate that medicine is complex and there's no substitute for the guidance of a doctor. A study indicating that CBD may be able to help treat a serious problem doesn't necessarily mean you should self-medicate with cannabidiol. Everyone's medical circumstances are different, so talk to your doctor and do not mistake the following studies for medical advice.

Treating Seizures

The groundswell of support for CBD owes a great deal of thanks to social media; who hasn't seen the famous videos of mothers soothing their epileptic children in moments with CBD oil? Today, you can see the results of those videos borne out in studies that show CBD may be able to reduce epileptic seizures[9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6514832/ by close to 40%.

Potential Non-Addictive Alternative to Opioids

As chronic pain conditions drive people to opioids, America is experiencing a historic blight of overdose death. It's against this backdrop that CBD has emerged as a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-pain agent with real potential to make people's lives better. Rather than being important for the effectiveness alone, CBD is invaluable thanks to its lack of addictive qualities and abuse potential. While it's too early to call it an alternative to opioids[10]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32035004/, serious researchers are nonetheless exploring that possibility.

Soothes Anxiety and Improves Sleep

The potential for CBD to alleviate stress and improve sleep is one of the most common reasons for self-medication. While the science was slow to catch up on this point, it nonetheless vindicates the idea that CBD exerts a positive effect on mood and sleep. In this study[11]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/, people who received a dose of CBD were consistently more relaxed and less anxious than those who went without. Almost 80% of patients saw a drop in anxiety levels, while 46% saw an intermediate-term improvement in sleep.

The Potential of CBD

Public enthusiasm has a way of getting carried away with itself, but peer-reviewed science needs to take its time. While there's no doubt that some of the claims people have made about CBD over the years are false, the science has begun to validate many of the most popular and important claims pertaining to it. In the coming decade, it's likely that CBD will continue to find increasing acceptance in the medical establishment and that the FDA will approve more CBD-based treatments. What's certain is that the future is sure to bring even more interesting, unexpected developments surrounding CBD and other hemp-derivatives.