Last updated on December 8th, 2023.
You may have heard the term ‘CBD,’ in reference to cannabis, the plant whose flowers are smoked as marijuana. Products are being advertised containing CBD. With the abundance of products found online and on shelves, you’re wondering just what CBD is. It is found in everything from personal care products like body lotion and soaps to foods and beverages. A recently approved CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, has even been approved to treat epileptic seizures.
So, just what is CBD? CBD is a cannabinoid, one of the active chemicals in cannabis. CBD demonstrates, among other things, strong anti-inflammatory medical properties, prompting researchers to investigate its therapeutic effects. Controversy surrounds its use as it was previously classified as a Schedule I substance.
We’ll dive further into what constitutes CBD, and how it reacts with the human body. We’ll explore the medicinal properties of CBD, and see where it’s used effectively, as well as things to consider if you want to explore the use of CBD.
What does CBD Stand For?
CBD is short for ‘cannabidiol’. It is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in cannabis. It is related to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol ), another cannabinoid, the one responsible for most of the psychoactive properties of marijuana. CBD and THC are among some twenty compounds considered cannabinoids. Both CBD and THC are phytocannabinoids in that they react with neurological receptors in the human body.
To understand why CBD reacts with the human body, you need to understand some basic information about the human endocannabinoid system, which was discovered in 1992. CBD and its counterpart THC act as neuromodulators, meaning they regulate the functioning of neurons by binding to neurotransmitter receptors.
A neurotransmitter receptor is a protein attached to a neuron that causes the neuron to act a certain way when neurotransmitters are present. CBD, though not a transmitter, acts as one, binding to proteins on receptors that are most highly concentrated in the brain and the immune system. Though little is understood beyond this, it is believed this high concentration owes to the immunological properties of CBD and THC.
Research is still in its nascent stage. There are two reasons why research surrounding CBD has been slow but gained momentum in recent years:
- The legal status of cannabis has made it difficult to obtain
- Most of the research was focused on the compound THC.
Now that cannabis has been legalized for medical and recreational use in many states, research efforts have shifted to CBD, a compound identified as having great potential in medical applications due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
There are three main types of CBD: full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate.
CBDs Long History
It may seem that CBD is something new, but the truth is that it has been used for centuries. Cannabis itself has long been considered a common treatment for various ailments like cramps, headaches, and nausea. But due to the psychoactive properties of THC, cannabis has had its detractors.
The following is a brief timeline covering some of the most momentous occasions in the history of CBD’s discovery and use.
- CBD is discovered in 1940 by Roger Adams and his team at the University of Illinois.
- During tests on animals conducted by Dr. Walter S. Loewe in 1946, it becomes apparent that CBD does not have psychoactive properties.
- The first CBD oil shows up in the early 1960s. Created by British pharmacologists, it was released with the intention of therapeutic use.
- In 1969, CBD’s unique molecular structure was discovered. It is composed of the same molecules as THC, which perhaps increases its stigma, but the molecule is deemed structurally different.
- Throughout the 1980s, the scientist credited with the discovery of CBD’s three-dimensional structure, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, demonstrates the compound’s potential for treating epileptic seizures.
- In June of 2018, the first drug containing CBD, Epidiolex, is approved for use.
Today, despite confusing legislation, many people in the United States use CBD. It’s estimated that up to 14% of Americans have tried CBD and CBD products. It can be bought online and shipped anywhere in the United States. It’s sold in grocery stores, drugstores, and dispensaries.
So, why all the fuss?
Isn't CBD a Drug?
The answer is somewhat complicated and is probably best addressed by considering the legal status of CBD versus THC. We’ll begin by considering CBD’s status under the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under this act, cannabis and all its resultant compounds were considered Schedule I narcotics placing it in the category of drugs like
The Schedule I status means that there is no recognized medical use for the drug, and there is a high possibility for abuse. Schedule II status means there exists the possibility of abuse, but there is a recognized medical application. This includes the drugs
In September of 2018, the FDA created new guidelines, classifying hemp-derived CBD products as Schedule V drugs, which are considered the least likely to be abused. This places them in the category of some over the counter medications. For further discussion on the difference between cannabis and hemp, click here.
THC remains on Schedule I for the moment. Because it and other cannabinoids can show up in CBD concentrates due to the extraction process, there are special guidelines for CBD products to fit in the category of Schedule V. The requirements to fit in this category are:
- THC levels in the product must be 0.1% or lower
- The product has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
So, while cannabis is considered a Schedule I drug and cannot be purchased or used under Federal Law, CBD products can be purchased easily in stores or online, and are legal in all fifty states. Food, cosmetics, supplements, and drugs containing CBD still fall under FDA regulations.
Regulation Remains Complicated
CBD users should realize that some states’ laws differ from Federal Law in that they allow CBD to be sold without FDA approval by avoiding marketing the products as a dietary supplement or a food product. While CBD itself may be relatively harmless, it may be packaged along with other unsafe ingredients. Lax regulations can also result in an unclean product.
Is CBD Addictive?
There is some evidence that cannabis can create a psychological addiction in some people. But, there is no evidence to suggest that CBD alone is addictive.
- It does not produce a release of dopamine in the brain.
- It is not associated with the psychoactive ‘high’ that accompanies THC.
- It does not interfere with the neurological wiring of the human brain.
In fact, acting as a neuromodulator, CBD may help balance some of the interactions in an addicted brain. It has been shown to reduce cravings and anxiety in patients experiencing withdrawal from other drugs. Later, we’ll talk about some of the reasons you might consider using CBD, including its use in addiction treatment.
If you suspect that addiction is a problem for someone considering CBD treatment, seek medical help. For more information on how addiction works, and how to spot signs of addiction, click here.
Is CBD Safe?
CBD itself is relatively safe, as determined by its toxicity level. However, since it is active in the human body, one should take precautions before use, including consulting a healthcare professional. Consider some of the common noticeable side effects including
While using CBD, you should take the same precautions you would using any substance that can alter your physical state or mood.
To be safe, one should consider the amount used in dosing to avoid unpleasant side effects. It is recommended that users begin with 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) twice daily. After a week, users may increase the dosage to 5 milligrams twice daily. A useful bodyweight chart can be found here as well as some additional information on dosing.
Users advocate beginning with small doses and increasing the dose as its effects are demonstrated. Note that users may experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and dizziness if use is suddenly discontinued. These dosages are regardless of form you take the CBD in, whether CBD Oils, CBD Gummies or other.
But Will CBD Show Up in a Drug Test?
CBD, being non-psychoactive, is not tested for in work-related drug tests. But because THC can contaminate some CBD products, repeated CBD product use can cause THC to accumulate in the body. In a bit, we’ll talk about how to find and assess CBD products before use.
Concerns with Prescription Medication
Finally, CBD does affect the efficacy of other medications. It can increase the effects and side effects. You should seek the help of a healthcare professional to determine if CBD will interact with any prescriptions or drugs you are taking.
While regulations are still being developed and considered, CBD is a considered a non-addictive, Schedule V drug with manageable side effects. You can click here for more legal information about CBD in your state. For your use, consider buying from a reputable, regulated seller.
At this point, you may be wondering what health benefits or conditions CBD is capable of addressing.
What are the Medical Applications of CBD?
CBD has demonstrated potential applications in the following areas:
- Pain Management
- Symptoms of Cancer and Cancer Treatment
- Substance Abuse Treatment
Testing CBD is difficult on human subjects and, as of now, is incomplete and on-going. Regardless, people who use CBD to treat certain conditions have offered support in the form of testimonials. The efficacy of CBD depends on the amount used in dosing and how it is administered.
You have likely heard of CBD in conjunction with pain management. CBD is being investigated for use in treating the following conditions.
- multiple sclerosis
- sciatic nerve pain
Human testing has been performed in some of these cases, and the results were that CBD did reduce both pain and inflammation due to these injuries. For an in-depth look at some of these studies, you can click here.
Experiments on rats have suggested this to be true for injuries due to incisions and lacerations as well. You can click here to see the results of such an experiment. Though further testing would have to be conducted on humans, the results so far look promising.
Research is currently being conducted to explore CBD’s use as an antibacterial agent for bacteria that have become resistant to the more common agents. This work is still in its infancy, as tests are carried out in test tubes and animal models, and have yet to move on to human subjects.
So far, CBD has proven as effective as some commonly used anti-bacterial agents. Its performance is selective. It targets some strains of bacteria more readily than others. Some of the strains targeted are gram-positive bacteria, which include bacteria that result in skin-infections and pneumonia.
As of the moment, the mechanism behind its success is not yet known.
Symptoms due to Cancer and its Treatment
Cancer and cancer treatment produce a myriad of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and pain. CBD, very often in combination with THC, has been effective in treating these symptoms.
But one should be cautious. The use of CBD is occasionally being touted as a ‘cure-all’ for cancer. There is no evidence yet that supports CBD’s use as a cure for cancer or any disease.
Anxiety and Depression
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mental health. Low levels of serotonin can contribute to anxiety and depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed for these conditions. CBD has been effective in treating these symptoms, and offers patients the ability to treat their condition without the significant side effects of an SSRI.
Because of its effect on the endocannabinoid system, CBD and THC are being studied to address neurological disorders, including schizo-related disorders. These disorders, large believed to be caused by an abundance or deficit of neurotransmitters, may benefit from the cannabinoids’ ability to regulate transmission.
It is believed that because of its ability to act as a neuromodulator, CBD can lessen the effects of psychotic symptoms and episodes. CBD may prove to excel as an alternative to habit-forming medication that has similar effects. Care should be taken to see that CBD will not interfere with prescription antipsychotics.
For an in-depth review of more of these benefits, you can click here.
Substance Abuse Treatment
Many substance abusers suffer from the conditions mentioned previously. Similar to some of the mood disorders, the brains of addicts are affected by an imbalance of neurotransmitters. CBD has demonstrated that it acts as a neuromodulator, evening out neurotransmitter effects.
Recently, the FDA approved the use of Epidiolex to treat epileptic seizures. This is the only currently FDA-endorsed drug containing CBD. This is significant as other FDA approved drugs are not effective in 30% of epileptic seizure treatment cases. CBD offers another alternative for these individuals whose only other options include the use of monitoring devices and surgery.
For a more in-depth review of the concerns specifically surrounding seizures and CBD treatment, click here.
Studies are showing that CBD does help with Alzheimer’s Disease as well as other neuropathic dementia-related diseases. It is believed that CBD can help rebuild some of the neurological pathways in the brain that are destroyed as a result of dementia.
For the results of a large study concerning dementia-related illness and CBD, click here. The authors discuss the idea of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself. CBD, serving to reduce neuroinflammation, helps the brain rebuild itself under less stressful conditions.
And the list continues...
The list of medical applications continues to grow now that CBD is regularly available for research and use.
Types of Products that Contain CBD
So, we’ve discussed what CBD is, some of its properties, and how the medical community is treating it. It is generally considered safe and shows promise in treating symptoms associated with many conditions. Maybe at this point you’ve spoken with a doctor, and you’re considering trying CBD yourself.
We’ll discuss what you, as a consumer, should know before making purchases of CBD based products. CBD can be consumed topically, orally and through inhalation. A quick search of the type of products available includes the following:
- Nasal Spray
- Food Supplements
- Massage Oils
- Bath Soaks
- Lip Balm
- Vaping Liquid
We’ll discuss some of these products and the methods used for consumption. Keep in mind, none of these methods are inherently safe. As safe as CBD itself might be, not all methods of consumption are. CBD products are often tainted in the manufacturing process or include ingredients not under the jurisdiction of the FDA.
Let’s look at some ways we can be more certain of a CBD product purchase.
Before You Make Your Purchase
Because regulation around CBD is still evolving, some companies produce an inferior product that, while labeled as containing CBD, contains little or none. In the worst case, it has other ingredients that can have an adverse effect. Here are some steps you can take to see that the CBD product you are buying is legitimate.
- Read the label. Look for industry-standard descriptions such as ‘pure cannabidiol’, ‘certified CBD’, and ‘hemp-derived’.
- Check for the location of the farmer on the label. Legitimate CBD products will disclose the location where the plant containing CBD was grown.
- Check to see that the product was created using CO2 extraction or alcohol extraction. Highly pressurized CO2 is used to extract CBD from the original plant. Other solvents can be used, such as butane, but CO2 is widely regarded as one of the safest, as it doesn’t remain in the final product. Alcohol extraction is another safe form of extraction, leaving no alcohol in the results.
- Check for third-party verification. Third-party companies have stepped up in some states to provide testing for CBD products, seeing that the product label accurately describes the process used to make the product and that it contains the amount of CBD indicated.
We’ll cover some of the ways the human body can absorb CBD. The following descriptions should give you an idea of how you might want to consider taking CBD. The methods vary in the speed of delivery and the dosage.
This is CBD in its purest form. It comes as a crystalline solid or a sticky paste. It is one of the least expensive ways to obtain CBD. Isolates and powders allow the user to add CBD to whatever they would like – nutrition shakes, meals, teas, for example. Note that CBD does not dissolve in water. CBD must be dissolved in alcohol or oil.
Isolates offer the advantage that they are pure CBD. During the manufacturing process of other means of consumption, THC and other cannabinoids can be present in the final product. Isolate offers CBD alone, which may be important for some who don’t want the effects of THC or who might need to pass a drug test that tests for THC.
Isolates can also be smoked, but require equipment to heat and inhale the isolate. Dabbing, the act of heating and inhaling isolate with special tools, is described here. Dabbing is one of the more intensive ways to experience CBD. Since the isolate is inhaled, the effect is delivered quickly.
One popular option for CBD consumption is CBD oil, which is applied under the tongue, and quickly absorbed into the body. This is CBD in a carrier solution of oil. A quick search on Amazon reveals scores of products in various flavors and CBD contents. It is often CBD oil that is added to products to upgrade them to CBD products.
You will want to purchase CBD Oil from a reputable seller (we’ll discuss how to identify one shortly). While CBD itself may be safe, the process used by producers may not be. There is a risk of contamination and risk of an inferior product. Use the process mentioned earlier to determine the legitimacy of the CBD oil you are buying.
Edibles and Beverages
Eating or drinking CBD as an additive to food and beverage will be the preferred method of consumption for many since it guarantees delivery of the product, and it isn’t irritating to respiration. It also allows discretion when consuming the product. Keep in mind, the safety of these products depends on whether or not they are dispensed from a licensed seller.
When eating or drinking a product with CBD, it’s important to pay attention to the dosing information on the label. Ingredients from the product will take time to be absorbed into the human body. This will take longer than inhaling or depositing oil underneath the tongue. The process can happen quickly, or it can take several hours. Be sure you’ve set aside an appropriate amount of time when experimenting.
Capsules and Supplements
Capsules and supplements offer another discrete way to consume CBD. Dosages should be clearly labeled on the packaging. The ingredients in capsules and supplements suffer from the same manufacturing setbacks present in other forms of CBD use.
Other Inhalable Products
Inhaling CBD is the fastest way to get CBD into your system and experience the effects. However, it can be dangerous as not all carrier solutions are meant to be heated and inhaled.
Vaping: CBD oil is added to vaping liquid. There have been health concerns surrounding vaping, but most of these were due to black market THC products. Vitamin E acetate was being used as a carrier oil. Lipids should never be inhaled. Be sure to purchase your CBD vaping liquid from a licensed seller.
For more discussion of the dangers associated with vaping and vitamin E acetate, click here.
Flower: CBD can be consumed in the form of flower specially bred to have CBD and not the Schedule I THC cannabinoid.
This category includes lotions, balms, and anything else applied directly to the skin. Research on humans is inconclusive so far, but users have been supportive through individual testimonies. These products are sometimes sold as arthritis and back pain creams, but it is unclear if CBD applied topically can reach the source of the inflammation beneath the skin.
Reputable CBD Sources
Because the CBD industry is new, there will be honest manufacturers who come and go, likewise with the less legitimate sources. When finding a distributor, see that their product content and manufacturing information is made widely available.
You can visit this page for a demonstration of the type of data that a product label should contain. Notice where the data isn’t present, it is referenced on additional documentation. This is the sort of thoroughness you want demonstrated by a distributor.
Professional chemists working in the cannabis industry say a lot still needs to be done concerning testing and regulation. Regulatory bodies have been swamped trying to handle the influx of applications for new products. There aren’t enough scientists with the background necessary to perform product testing for all the products that appear and disappear.
Now you know what CBD is. We’ve discussed its history, its legality, and its interaction with the human body. We’ve talked about various ways to use the product and methods for finding safe products.
Under the advice of a medical professional, you may decide to try CBD at this point. If you’re still on the fence, that’s understandable. Only a few years ago, there was less published evidence on CBD’s effectiveness. CBD products were largely advertised based on their novelty, and this practice continues.
Many use CBD for pain, and they swear to its effectiveness. Within the coming years, research may more solidly back these claims, and we may see improvements in CBD products as they become safer.