Understanding CBD

October 28, 2020 | Olivia Kulander

Where does CBD come from?

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is a molecule made by the cannabis plant. Cannabis is one of the oldest and most versatile crops known to humanity. The species Cannabis sativa specifically has had a long and extensive history intimately entwined with our species. We’ve used cannabis for millenia in textiles, paper, rope, food, and medicine.

Unlike its more famous cousin THC (the molecule responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis), CBD is not psychoactive, and so will not give you any of the characteristic effects of marijuana use. Instead, it works with the body’s endocannabinoid system to lessen pain and inflammation and improve immunity.

What is Hemp?

When cannabis plants have very low levels of the psychoactive THC, they are classified as hemp, and less regulated. The official cutoff is 0.3%, so as long as plants have less THC than that, they are considered hemp, and legal. When they have more than that, they are often called medical or adult-use cannabis (or by the slang term marijuana). Crops and products with THC are much more highly regulated and federally prohibited.

CBD from hemp is exactly the same as CBD from other cannabis. Most non-hemp cannabis in the United States has been bred for high THC levels in order to make the psychoactivity more potent. Since both THC and CBD are made from the same starting molecule (CBGA), more of one means less of the other, and so breeding for high THC has left most non-hemp cannabis with proportionally low levels of CBD.

In hemp, however, CBD is the star player, and it is by far the most prominent cannabinoid found in the plant. This, in addition to the fact that hemp is less regulated, means CBD is almost invariably sourced from Hemp. Since CBD is non-intoxicating, it will never get you high, and as of 2018, it is federally legal. Even more importantly, both modern research and traditional folk medicine show that CBD has the potential to benefit the animal body by maintaining, protecting, and repairing our health and homeostasis.

CBD and THC are Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are molecules made by all cannabis species, as well as a few other plants like echinacea and chocolate, and all vertebrates (animals with a backbone). Plant cannabinoids are called phytocannabinoids (phyto- means plant), and they are made to protect the plants from insects and other predators. Animals (including humans) make endocannabinoids (endo- means within), which are neurotransmitters that relay signals in our bodies. Whether by pure luck or a trick of evolution, phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids have very similar structures and so activate the same receptors. This means we can use phytocannabinoids as a skeleton key to hack our bodies’ signalling system.

There are over 100 different kinds of phytocannabinoids, all of which are made in sticky glands called trichomes. Trichomes grow on the outside of cannabis plants, mostly around the buds on the female plant. The two most prominent cannabinoids are CBD and THC, though CBG, CBC, CBN, CBL, and others are becoming more popular as research expands and consumers are exposed to more options.

How does CBD work?

The endocannabinoid system is one of the largest systems in the animal body in both size and scope, and it functions by using endocannabinoid neurotransmitters—along with their receptors and enzymes—to maintain balance, or homeostasis, within an organism. By mimicking the structure of our own endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids work within this system to regulate an astoundingly wide and seemingly unconnected array of health and wellness issues that affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Read more about this fascinating system here.

In addition to affecting the receptors and enzymes within the endocannabinoid system, CBD has been shown to interact with opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors. While there is a paucity of research on how exactly each of these interactions affect the human body, there is a growing body of evidence showing CBD’s ability to regulate pain, dampen drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and decrease depression and anxiety – all of which are regulated by these receptors. 

Additionally, while CBD does not directly activate the endocannabinoid receptor, CB1, it does interact with it, and actively blocks THC from activating it. This means that CBD effectively works as an antidote to THC, blocking its psychoactive effects. Without a receptor to bind to, the THC is incapable of producing its characteristic high. Thus taking CBD can be a good antidote to cannabis psychoactivity. It also helps to explain the low levels of CBD present in many strong marijuana strains – genetics with higher levels of CBD may dampen the high of the THC, and so have been bred out of high potency products.

Yeah, but does it actually work?

The therapeutic effects of CBD are varied and numerous, each backed by different levels of evidence – from anecdotal stories to extensive research and clinical trials. While cannabis has been used as a painkiller as far back as 2900 BC, perhaps one of its most familiar modern uses is as an anti-seizure medicine, especially effective in the treatment of childhood epilepsy.

A continually increasing number of scientific studies are looking at CBD and its benefits. In those studies, CBD has exhibited signs of being neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, antispasmodic, anti-tumoral, antipsychotic, anti-nausea, and analgesic (pain relieving), and shows promise in the treatment of insomnia, PTSD, ADHD, addiction, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, tissue healing, and many more conditions. What side effects have been observed are mild, including diarrhea and fatigue.

How to safely consume CBD

CBD can be applied topically (as an oil or salve) or ingested via inhalation (of smoke or vapor), eaten, or absorbed under the tongue. Laws are still evolving and being drawn around the country and continent, so it is important to find out which modes of consumption are legal where you live. Beyond that, it all comes down to personal preference. While CBD itself is tasteless as an isolate, it is becoming more and more evident that its benefits are greater and more far-reaching when it is left in combination with other cannabinoids and occasionally terpenes (plant molecules with purported health benefits and characteristic aromas) in a full-spectrum oil. When these compounds are allowed to interact, the “entourage effect” comes into play, and their synergy increases the efficacy of this whole plant medicine.

The nascent CBD industry is still finding its footing regarding regulation and oversight, so if you decide that CBD might be right for you, make sure to find a brand whose products you trust. A review conducted by the University of Arkansas of over two dozen products containing CBD found that virtually none of them had cannabinoid levels matching their claims, and that some even included synthetic (rather than plant-derived) CBD, or none at all. Staying informed means making your own decisions regarding your health, and we recommend avoiding products that may have residual butane or propane. Finally, make sure that any company you purchase from can provide proper licensing and third-party testing results to ensure that you know exactly what you are getting – both in terms of quality and dosing accuracy. 

Given a known amount of a quality product, CBD’s potential is clear - its possibilities have energized the research and medical communities, and its stratospheric rise in public opinion attests to the fact that it’s doing something right. If you have any questions about CBD or our products, please get in touch – we love to hear from you!

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