Tinctures, balms, gummies, and more. Over the last few years, CBD has rapidly carved out its place in the mainstream. CBD products are popping up everywhere you turn, from convenience store countertops to websites galore, making it now readily available in most every state. Yet this burgeoning industry is moving faster than research, regulations, and consumers can keep up with – leading to a lot of confusion and misinformation. Has information overload left your head spinning?
Read along to learn the basics of CBD. What is CBD? Where does it come from? Is it legal? This article will cover all of these frequently asked questions and more. We’ll explore the mental and physical health issues CBD can help with, how it works in the body, various ways to use it, along with some notes of precaution about safety and side effects. My goal is to provide an easy-to-understand but comprehensive summary of CBD. Then, you can decide if trying CBD is best for you!
I’ll be upfront and say that I am a believer and proponent of CBD! That is, the use of high-quality, organically-grown, lab-tested CBD by an educated consumer. Because there is a lot of junk out there too. Ready to dive in?
WHAT IS CBD?
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a powerful plant compound naturally found in cannabis. Evidence shows that CBD has been utilized by humans in herbal medicine as far back as 500 BC. Neat, huh? CBD and THC are two of the most well-known cannabinoids (a fancy name for cannabis plant compounds) but they aren’t alone! According to UCLA, there have been over 100 distinct cannabinoids as well as dozens of terpenes and flavonoids identified in cannabis – all of which can induce physiological changes in our bodies. However, the vast majority of them do not get you “stoned”, CBD included.
CBD will not get you high.
CBD has no intoxicating effects and is not psychoactive. This means people can use CBD products with ease in everyday life and in a variety of situations. For example, while at work, exercising, driving, or taking care of children. Combined with its ability to ease stress, anxiety, pain, inflammation, insomnia and more, this makes CBD very attractive and comfortable to use!
On the other hand, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the mental and physical “high” that people usually associate with consuming cannabis. THC also boasts a number of wonderful beneficial uses; some say even more powerful than CBD! Yet the psychoactive component makes it far more limiting for day-to-day use, less appealing to many folks, and still illegal in some states. It is legal for us to grow our own organic cannabis here in California (and we do – learn how here), though we still enjoy using quality CBD oil during the daytime.
Where does CBD come from? Hemp vs. Marijuana
Most CBD is derived from commercially-grown hemp plants. Hemp and marijuana are both species of the cannabis plant family (cannabis sativa), but are fairly different! Most notably, hemp contains little-to-no THC (no more than 0.3% by legal standards) while marijuana rings in with an average concentration of 12 to 25% THC. Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD, with varying levels depending on the particular strain.
Historically, industrial hemp has been grown for manufacturing of textiles, biofuels, and building materials. Those hemp plants are tall and lanky, looking far more like spindly weeds than the robust leafy cannabis plants most folks imagine. The stalks are of primary interest, processed for fibers.
Modern hemp, such as that grown to produce medicinal CBD oil and other extracts, has been selectively bred with low-THC strains of marijuana. The result is a hybrid: shorter, bushier hemp plants with larger “buds” (flowers) that are rich in terpenes, flavonoids, CBD, and other cannabinoids – but low in THC.
How are CBD products made?
After harvest, CBD is extracted from the resinous hemp plants by one of a number of extraction methods. The result is a highly-concentrated CBD oil. Then, the raw CBD oil can be diluted to a desired concentration and used in a variety of ways. For instance, mixed with a carrier oil for safe consumption as a tincture, or added to edibles, capsules, or topical creams.
The industry gold standard is C02 extraction. It is the safest method of extraction, and results in the most pure CBD oil. However, because C02 extraction is also the most costly option, some producers cut corners by using ethanol or solvent extraction instead. Solvent extraction can contaminate CBD with unwanted and toxic byproducts such as hexane. Therefore, I highly suggest seeking out CBD products that utilize C02 extraction only. At home, we use a simple infusion process to create homemade cannabis oil and then turn it into healing topical salve.
Is CBD legal in the US?
Under the 2018 Farm Bill, it is legal to grow, process, and distribute hemp and hemp-derived CBD products within the United States. That is to say, as long as it stays below 0.3% THC – amongst other requirements. If the plants or products exceed the low THC concentration threshold, it is considered marijuana and thus federally illegal. The Farm Bill also removed hemp-derived products from the Schedule 1 category of controlled substances. Despite its federally legal status, select states still impart partial or full restrictions on CBD products. That said, CBD can be purchased legally online and delivered to all states.
Also keep in mind the FDA does not review the vast majority of CBD, with the exception of a handful of prescription-level products. Consequently, you won’t see “FDA approved” on most CBD items. The FDA treats over-the-counter CBD like other wellness products – including supplements and vitamins. In that case, it is up to the producer to follow Good Manufacturing Practices in regards to purity and honest labelling. That is why it is so important to choose CBD brands that have excellent transparency, including third party certification and lab test results available.
What health issues can CBD help with?
On the whole, cannabis is a profoundly magical plant! Emerging research continues to show promising and significant healing properties of cannabinoids – with few known risks.
CBD in particular has been reported* to help with a wide array of physical and mental health issues (listed below); some that are traditionally treated with prescription medication, and thereby fraught with their own issues, side effects, and often addictive nature. Rather, CBD has enabled many people to reduce their dependence on prescription drugs, opting for more natural relief instead.
CBD may ease or treat:
- Depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, ADHD, and other mood disorders. CBD boosts and stabilizes our overall mood by improving serotonin responses in the brain. It also increases the production of an endocannabinoid (a compound we make in our own body) called anandamide – named after the Sanskrit word for “bliss” or “joy”.
- Insomnia, restlessness, and other sleep disorders – helping you naturally fall asleep more quickly, and also sleep more soundly through the night. However, it is a misconception that CBD is a sedative. It can actually help increase alertness and focus during the day, and does not make most people feel overtly drowsy.
- Chronic pain, inflammation, and joint pain, including that which accompanies arthritis and fibromyalgia.
- Seizures and epilepsy. Charlotte’s Web is a famous high-CBD cannabis strain, named after the young girl that it was first documented to help. Charlotte had Dravet’s epilepsy, a very severe and debilitating form. CBD proved to be the only effective treatment at curbing the frequent seizures associated with the disease.
- Nausea and appetite issues, making it especially effective for patients going through chemotherapy or similar treatments.
- Nerve pain, such as that common with multiple sclerosis.
- Muscle spasms or tightness. For example, to reduce tremors for patients with Parkinson’s disease. CBD can also ease discomfort associated with endometriosis, menstrual cramps, and TMJ or teeth-grinding.
- Headaches, and for some, relief from migraines.
- Topical application of CBD (such as through a balm, lotion, or salve) may provide relief from localized pain, inflammation and skin issues such as acne, eczema or psoriasis.
- Studies also reveal notable relationships between CBD and disease prevention, such as the prevention of cancer cell growth and neurodegeneration.
Evidence and Research on CBD
Medical research on CBD is still in its infancy. Due to the long-standing illegal status of cannabis, scientific studies have been underutilized or outright prohibited in the past. Yet things are evolving!
In early 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine completed a comprehensive review of over 10,000 scientific studies on marijuana health research. In their final report, the researchers deemed many of the health applications listed above to have “conclusive and substantial evidence” for therapeutic benefits. Some only have “moderate” or “limited” evidence – such as for migraines or stopping cancer cell growth. But again, that may only be because the studies themselves have been limited. Each year, more and more trials are being conducted.
Consumer experiences and personal reports of the benefits of CBD are also substantial. Let me tell ya, the CBD we use significantly helps with my anxiety, stress, joint pain, and sleep issues. I’ve heard numerous wonderful testimonials and success stories directly from people I know as well! When you’re shopping around, don’t forget to browse the reviews. Since each of our bodies (and issues) are unique, the best confirmation is personal trial and error.
HOW DOES CBD WORK?
The Endocannabinoid System
When ingested or inhaled, CBD molecules interact with our internal endocannabinoid system to trigger a variety of physiological responses. Yes, you read that right! Similar to an immune or endocrine system, our bodies contain an entire network of natural receptors that are designed to interact with cannabinoid compounds.
Scientists only recently discovered the existence of the human endocannabinoid system in the mid-1990’s, and have since revealed that all mammals have one! Moreover, they’re discovering just how critically connected it may be to good health and wellbeing. A properly functioning endocannabinoid system helps our bodies maintain homeostatic balance to the nervous and immune systems, as well as many other organs.
When the endocannabinoid system is out of whack, serious issues can arise. Researchers believe that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (a shortage of either compounds or receptors) throws off homeostasis or normal balanced bodily functions, and therefore allows for disease to develop. It is suggested that everything from cancer and IBS to migraines and fibromyalgia could be attributed to deficiencies of the endocannabinoid system.
This is why CBD sounds like a “magic bullet” that can help with an almost unbelievable number of issues: because the system it jives with keeps dozens of key physiological reactions in balance!
CB1 and CB2 receptors
The endocannabinoid system is made up of two key receptors, CB1 and CB2. They’re designed to accept cannabinoid molecules like a lock and key. When this connection happens, they in turn influence one or more body processes – such as those related to mood, appetite, pain sensation, metabolism, anxiety, sleep, and more. The receptors respond to both internal endocannabinoid compounds (those naturally produced by the body) as well as introduced phytocannabinoids – like CBD.
Both CB1 and CB2 receptors are found readily throughout the body, though each is concentrated in distinct areas that directly correlate to the response they elicit. For example, CB1 is primarily concentrated in the brain and central nervous system. Fittingly, CB1 stimulation plays a significant role in memory, mood, sleep, pain and motor functions.
In contrast, CB2 extends outward to other parts of the body and peripheral organs, including muscles, skin, the stomach, kidneys, pancreas, liver, cardiovascular system, immune system, glands and nerves. Considering, it should come as no surprise that CB2 is the good guy responsible for controlling inflammatory responses, cell regeneration, and tissue repair.
In a nutshell, when one of these systems is having a hiccup (and giving us an unpleasant physical response), CBD can come in and right its course. And while CBD can be powerful on its own, it is even more effective when its friends come along for the ride!
The Entourage Effect
Experts in cannabis research and medicine believe that CBD is most effective when combined with other botanical compounds naturally found in cannabis. This includes additional cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, THC, flavonoids, and terpenes. Terpenes are the same aromatic compounds found in the essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus, orange, black pepper, pine and more – which have notable health benefits of their own, hence the essential oil craze!
CBD works synergistically with the other substances found in cannabis to provide unique and improved therapeutic benefits, dubbed the “the entourage effect”.
Just as wholesome, balanced meals provide superior nutrition than eating just a plate of veggies, or only a bowl of lentils – there is strength in numbers! For example, a 2010 study found that cancer patients received the most relief from pain and nausea when administered a combination of both THC and CBD over either of them alone.
Now, that isn’t to say you need a high level of THC to go along with your CBD treatment! Many folks don’t want the associated “stoned” feeling. A doctor might suggest a well-balanced CBD:THC cocktail for patients battling serious medical issues, though a small amount of THC (including the 0.3% found in legal hemp) is also believed to augment CBD effects.
Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, or Isolate
CBD oils, extracts, and products are available as full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate form.
- Full-spectrum CBD retains the raw, rich diversity of compounds found in the mother plant, including other cannabinoids, terpenes, phenolics, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids during extraction. If you’re hoping to take advantage of the entourage effect for the most broad range of benefits, opt for full-spectrum products. Don’t worry, the 0.3% THC (or less) found in quality full-spectrum CBD products is not nearly enough to get you high. The product you purchase should have lab results available that show the exact concentrations of every component it contains.
- Broad-spectrum extracts are processed to remove the small residual amount of THC. This is a good option if you want to avoid THC completely, such as those concerned about drug testing. It is fairly unlikely for full-spectrum CBD products to cause a THC-positive on an average urine test. However, it has been known to happen. Especially if the THC content in the product was inaccurately labelled, or the person consumed very large quantities of the CBD product.
- Isolates are formulated to contain only a single cannabinoid, such as CBD or THC alone. CBD isolate will not offer quite the same bang-for-your-buck as broad or full-spectrum extracts. Yet isolates enable producers or consumers to take advantage of precise compounds if desired. NuVita, our favorite CBD brand, offers some full-spectrum CBD oils that are further infused with either CBG or CBN isolates. CBG (cannabigerol) is said to have additional anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, and intestinal health benefits. CBN (cannabinol) is a sedative and helps promote sleep, so we only use that one before bed.
WAYS TO USE CBD
CBD products come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and delivery methods. The three primary ways to use CBD are ingestion (oral), topical use on skin, or inhalation.
Popular CBD edibles include gummies, soft gels, hard candy, or powder to mix with beverages. Concentrated CBD oil tinctures are very efficient and effective, and typically come in either dropper bottles or spray form. For maximum and fast absorption, hold CBD oil under your tongue for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. This is my preferred way to take CBD. If you add oil to a beverage (coffee is a popular one) then it acts more like an edible – and must be processed by the digestive system first, leading to a slightly slower onset.
CBD and other cannabinoids are fat-soluble and require a lipid precursor to activate their receptors. Hence, CBD products almost always contain a carrier oil (such as coconut oil or olive oil) to help increase the bioavailability of CBD. Consuming CBD with high-fat foods or a meal also aids in adsorption.
CBD-infused creams, salves, lotions and balms can provide relief from localized pain and inflammation. The application of topical CBD can also help skin ailments such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. It may even slow the growth of irregular skin cells, including cancer cells. Topical use of CBD or THC will not cross the blood-brain barrier. Meaning, it will not provide systemic relief or the same widespread effects as it does when ingested or inhaled. This is why our homemade cannabis salve (which contains both THC and CBD) does not get us stoned.
“Vaping” is another very trendy way to use CBD. This is an area I suggest you use an immense amount of precaution. Personally, I am not a fan of inhaling concentrated oils or “dabs”. Any impurities or contaminants within the raw cannabis are exponentially concentrated in extracts. Then, delivered directly to one of the most sensitive and critical organs in the body – your lungs. In addition, many vaporizers are cheaply made and could potentially add toxins such as heavy metals to the mix.
Inhalation delivers the most immediate effects of CBD and THC. We do vaporize our organic homegrown cannabis, but with the safest and most efficient vaporizer available. You can also vaporize or smoke whole flower CBD (hemp buds) in the same manner as marijuana, with far less risk than concentrates. To learn more about vaporizing, please see this article: “Vaporizing Cannabis: Science, Safety, Quality and Technology”
CBD HEALTH & SAFETY CONCERNS
A review of CBD wouldn’t be complete without some words of caution. The goal of this article is not to get you overly excited – running out to try the next CBD product you can get your hands on. Due to the boom of the CBD industry, the potential to make money, and the lack of regulation, there are a lot of sketchy products hitting the marketplace. For instance, I don’t trust the stuff you can find at the local gas station or convenience store as far as I can throw it! They’re cheap for a reason, most likely cutting corners somewhere. And just like anything else, CBD may not be the best fit for every person.
For an in-depth look at discerning quality CBD oil, please see this article: “How to Choose Quality CBD Oil: 6 Things to Look For”. It covers the importance of potency, purity, dosing, certifications, testing, and more.
As a sneak peak: NuVita is the brand we’re currently using, trust, and enjoy! Their CBD oil is made from organically-grown Colorado hemp, meets my stringent quality standards, and delivers effective results. Even more, NuVita is a small woman-owned business, and they donate a portion of profit to organizations that help victims of human trafficking. NuVita has helped me immensely with stress, anxiety, focus, joint pain, and sleep issues. (Use our affiliate link or the code “deannacat” to save 10% at checkout)
Before we sign off, let’s address some possible adverse side effects and other safety concerns.
Possible Side Effects of CBD
Overall, studies show that CBD has very low toxicity and minimal side effects. This is one reason it is so appealing, especially compared to THC or many prescription medications. The most commonly reported side effects include tiredness, changes to appetite, and diarrhea. CBD also has the potential to lower resting blood pressure. For folks who already struggle with hypotension, this can be troublesome.
The risk of side effects also vary depending on how you use CBD. For example, vaping may lead to lung irritation, wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and/or dizziness.
What else is in it?
While CBD is generally well-tolerated, contaminants in CBD products may cause adverse reactions. Impure CBD oil could contain heavy metals, pesticides, mold, or other toxins that lead to headaches, general malaise, or more serious complications. Cannabis plants readily uptake and store whatever is in the soil, or applied to their foliage. That is why it is SO important to choose high-quality, third party certified, lab-tested CBD that is derived from organically-grown US hemp. I can’t stress this enough.
Quality CBD products will provide lab results (aka Certificates of Analysis) readily available for every batch. The analysis should show results or the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, mold, solvents, bacteria, and other contaminants. The exact concentration of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids or terpenes present will also be listed.
Additionally, folks may have issues with other ingredients in CBD products. I’ve talked to a few people with coconut allergies. Lo and behold, coconut oil (MCT) is a very common ingredient in CBD oil. MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, and is a type of coconut oil that is liquid at room temperature. In that case, consider trying Green Gorilla. They’re a reputable certified organic CBD brand that uses olive oil instead.
Interactions with other medications
If you are currently taking prescription medication or have a serious health issue, please do further research and/or talk with your physician. CBD may interact with a variety of drugs, including antibiotics, blood thinners, and antidepressants. Or, potentially interfere with the way certain medications are metabolized (processed) in the liver.
Have you ever heard that you’re not supposed to consume grapefruit if you’re taking certain drugs? The interaction is similar. CBD and grapefruit both temporarily neutralize an enzyme in your liver (P-450) that should otherwise be busy breaking down your medication.
- CBD is a natural plant compound that boasts promising benefits for a wide array of physical and mental health ailments, by enabling the body to maintain desirable homeostasis.
- Hemp-derived CBD containing less than 0.3% THC is federally legal, but the industry is very new. Therefore, it is wise to be a cautious consumer and choose CBD products carefully.
- Seek out US-made products from domestic and organically-grown cannabis that have third party certification and lab results available for every batch.
- Full-spectrum CBD products offer the most effective and widest range of therapeutic benefits. Broad-spectrum products (THC-free) may be the best choice for those with a zero tolerance workplace and looming drug tests.
- Ingesting CBD as edibles or oils offers full-body benefits with fewer known risks than vaping concentrates.
- When in doubt, talk to a doctor about your personal health questions and medications before starting your journey with CBD. It may interact with certain prescription medications.
Plant medicine is pretty wonderful, don’t you think?
Well, I hope you enjoyed learning more about CBD! As you can see, it is a fascinating, complex, and evolving subject area. No wonder you had questions. Please let me know if there is anything you’d like to know more about in the comments below. Also, please feel free to spread the love and knowledge by sharing this article. Stay tuned for a follow-up article on how to choose and use organic CBD oil. Thanks for reading!
You may dig these related articles:
- How to Grow Cannabis, Organically: Seeds, Soil, Care & More
- How to Make Homemade Cannabis Oil
- Homemade Cannabis Salve Recipe (can be used with THC or CBD/hemp)
- Vaporizing Cannabis: Science, Safety, Quality &b Technology
- How to Choose a Quality CBD Oil: 6 Things to Look For