Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don't

Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don't

J.P. Roe
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Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don't

CBD. Cannabidiol. You’re here, so you’ve probably heard of it. CBD has been showing up in the media left and right, and more than one of your friends has probably talked about trying it. 

So what exactly is CBD? And why is it suddenly so popular? Let’s take a look at a few of the “must knows” about this cannabinoid, as well as some of the things we don’t yet know -- even with the help of scientists and doctors.

Let’s start off with the basics, namely be exploring where CBD fits in among other derivatives of the cannabis plant. 

What’s the difference between hemp, cannabis, and marijuana?

The answer to this question is best reached by first looking at the plant itself.

Cannabis is a flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family. This family consists primarily of three key species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

You may have heard of hemp or marijuana referred to as “strains” or subspecies of cannabis, but that’s not true. Hemp and marijuana are naming conventions of the cannabis plant that are not scientific or based in botany, but are entirely cultural.

CBD vs. THC

The cannabis plant produces over 150 unique chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Of these, CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common cannabinoids.

THC and CBD are in both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana contains far more THC than hemp, while hemp contains more CBD and is often grown specifically for that purpose.

CBD and THC have the same chemical formula but a different molecular structure. Different “shapes” mean different chemical properties in terms of how these compounds act within the human body. While CBD and THC both work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain, their differing forms mean that they engage in completely unique ways -- similar to how differently-shaped keys can turn different locks. 

THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. The metaphoric lock that THC can turn is the one that creates a euphoric feeling that people associate with the drug. 

CBD doesn't cause that high -- it doesn’t fit into that lock. Instead, it's thought to work with other elements in the body to affect things like mood, pain sensation, energy, and hunger.

What is CBD?

Studies suggest that CBD’s primary role is in maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is a healthy state of balance and internal stability within the human body, and disruption of this balance is what often leads to pain, afflictions, psychological disorders, and other issues.

CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to support good health and maintain that homeostasis. Our ECS is a network of cannabinoid receptors found throughout the entire body. There are two known types of cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors help regulate many functions related to our central nervous system, while CB2 receptors manage the abilities associated with our peripheral nervous system.

This again relates to the difference between THC and CBD. THC binds to CB1 receptors whereas CBD attaches itself to CB2 receptors. When these cannabinoids attach to these connectors, they transmit signals that affect the body on a cellular level. 

Is Cannabidiol legal?

The answer depends on where you are when you ask the question.

CBD has been federally legal since 2018 when President Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 into law. That Act, often called the 2018 Farm Bill, included a section removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis. The only difference is the federal government considers cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid, to be legally classified as “hemp.” 

Now that industrial hemp is no longer a controlled substance, and CBD can be extracted from hemp, CBD is nearly fully legal. There are still other governing bodies to account for, however.

Federal, state, and individual agency regulations all apply, so it’s important to know which are impacting you where you live. 

The Farm Bill made federal law fairly clear on the matter. Federal drug enforcement authorities (like the DEA) no longer concern themselves with industrial hemp or CBD. The Farm Bill actually tasked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with regulating hemp-derived food and drug products, taking it out of the hands of the narcotics officers. 

Now, just because the feds made it legal, doesn’t mean the states themselves can’t chime in. Each state handles CBD differently. Some states and municipalities still regulate or forbid CBD sales. To be safe, be sure to check on what applies in your area. It’s best to check with your state government’s website to find out CBD’s exact status in your state and go from there.

CBD Health Benefits

CBD has been lauded as a treatment for a wide variety of health issues, although medical science is still catching up on providing evidence and clarity on many of these claims. What we know about CBD is that it has shown great effectiveness in treating seizures caused by two rare epilepsy syndromes, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). The FDA approved the first ever cannabis-based medicine for these conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD.

https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm611046.htm

What about uses and treatments that the FDA hasn’t weighed in on? There are many. 

CBD is commonly used to address anxiety. This is, in fact, the second most promising arena for CBD according to research. The cannabinoid has proven especially useful in treating certain types of social anxiety.

CBD is also being heavily used as a treatment for different types of chronic pain. One of the most popular applications is for arthritis, and many users are finding relief through CBD roll-on oils, hand creams, and pain relief lotions. 

Is CBD safe?

Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability, although these typically only show up when CBD is used in large doses. CBD can raise blood levels of certain other medications through the exact same interaction mechanism as grapefruit juice. 

Probably the most valid safety concern with CBD is that it is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. Since the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements, it’s hard to know if manufacturers are really providing what’s on the label of their products. It’s also difficult to know if there are dangerous contaminates or impurities in some CBD products. 

The easiest way to avoid these issues is to purchase from a known and trusted CBD retailer, especially if they cultivate and process their own products like King Buddha. Not all CBD products are created equal. Check to make sure the seller can provide independent lab tests to ensure purity of their product. Doing this is a great way to minimize the already tiny amount of risk associated with CBD. 

Based on what we’ve been told by the World Health Organization, we also know that CBD is non-addictive and poses no threat to the human brain. Their statements about the safety of CBD were fairly unilateral and built excellent momentum for CBD to gain traction throughout the U.S.

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