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What is CBD? What You Need to Know About Cannabidiol

Posted by Calum Napier on
What is CBD? What You Need to Know About Cannabidiol
CBD seems to be everywhere these days, but many people are still wondering: what is CBD?

What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

There’s more to cannabis than a psychoactive “high.” cannabis resin glands are home to a multitude of chemical compounds. In fact, the crystal-like trichomes that adorn cannabis flowers are like tiny chemical factories. In total, the herb can produce over 500 unique chemical compounds.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of them. Unlike the famous tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), however, CBD does not cause intoxication. Instead, many consumers may find that they feel clear-headed and calm after consuming the supplement.

CBD belongs to a class of chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The cannabis plant can produce over 100 of these chemical compounds in all.

Cannabinoids are also thought to be produced mainly by the cannabis plant, though researchers have been exploring other plants and fungi that may produce similar compounds. Both psychoactive marijuana and hemp plants can produce these compounds. Plants cultivated for human consumption, however, tend to produce more cannabinoids than hemp plants grown for fiber or seed.

The cannabis plant produces cannabinoids and other phytochemicals in order to protect itself from predators. The wide range of chemical compounds in the herb can also mitigate damage from UV rays, prevent pathogenic infections, and attract pollinators to its flowers. In a way, compounds in cannabis oil, like CBD, act as both an external immune system and communication network. Cannabinoids protect the plant from harm while aroma molecules in oil entice beneficial insects.

Evidence suggests that, for the cannabis plant, CBD may be both an antimicrobial and an antioxidant. While these traits help the plant survive, they may also be beneficial for human health. A growing body of research is showing that CBD holds potential for a wide range of conditions.

What Does CBD Do?

Simply stated, CBD does quite a lot. Emerging research suggests that CBD may have surprising effects on mood and anxiety. In early animal trials, the cannabis compound has provided successful as an anti-anxiety tool, perhaps even easing fear associated with traumatic memories. 

The molecule may also have some general first-aid properties. CBD is expected to be a potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and analgesic, reducing uncomfortable aches and pain.

While there may be numerous benefits to CBD as a general over-the-counter remedy, the compound may also be useful to those with serious diseases. As with all cannabis medicines, there is still much to learn about CBD. However, in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved the use of a prescription drug made from a cannabis-derived CBD. The drug, called Epidiolex (also now available in the UK on prescription), may successfully treat two rare forms of epilepsy, Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Currently, the compound is being studied for its potential in treating psychosis & schizophrenia. It is also being studied, in combination with THC, as an add-on treatment to improve outcomes in patients with certain types of cancer. 

How Does CBD Work?

To understand how CBD works, you’ll need to dive into a little science. CBD is able to produce medicinal effects because it engages with a unique cell signaling network within the human body.

That network is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and it was named after the cannabis plant. As a cell signaling system, the ECS can be compared to a traffic cop that coordinates movement at a busy intersection. Specifically, the ECS coordinates communication between the central nervous system and the body’s peripheral and visceral organs. The ECS also plays a role in immune function, assisting in response to injury and infection.

The ECS itself contains a number of different parts, including cell receptors, chemical messengers, and the enzymes that create and break down these chemical messengers. Cell receptors, called cannabinoid receptors, sit on the surface of nerve cells, organs, and immune cells. These receptors are “activated” by chemical messengers called endocannabinoids. The prefix endo meaning inside. In contrast, the cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant are phytocannabinoids, the prefix phyto referring to plants.  

Endocannabinoids fit into cannabinoid receptors much like the way keys fit into locks. Once these chemical messengers make contact with their receptors, their interaction triggers a cascade of physiological changes inside of the cell. These changes cause the cell to respond differently, potentially altering the messages the cell sends into its surroundings. These changes could be alterations in electrical current, a halted inflammatory response, and much more. When endocannabinoids are no longer needed, enzymes can break down these chemical messengers so that they stop producing active effects.  

Above all else, the ECS is thought to be a stress response network. By “stress,” we’re talking about more than simply a bad day at work. Rather, in this instance, stress refers to any activity that threatens homeostasis. Homeostasis is the scientific term for optimal balance, or equilibrium, in a system. Exercise, for example, can be considered a stress. After exercise, the body responds by increasing levels of Endocannabinoids in circulation. This promotes feelings of bliss, pain relief, and perhaps even inspires hunger.

Similarly, after inflammation caused by injury or disease, immune cells increase the number of cannabinoid receptors expressed on their surface. It’s almost as if these cells are calling out for more endocannabinoids to activate them. In this case, inflammation is the stressor and immune cells try to return to a balanced state by priming themselves to receive endocannabinoids.

Researchers are still exploring the precise ways CBD engages the endocannabinoid system. Based on the science so far, however, CBD works by blocking the enzymatic breakdown of endocannabinoid molecules. By preventing them from being broken apart and recycled by the body, more endocannabinoids are available for your body to use. As it turns out, these endocannabinoids play some big roles in human health and behavior. Overall, the ECS is thought to play a part in:

  • Bone growth
  • Emotion
  • Fetal growth
  • Memory
  • Metabolism
  • Movement
  • Pleasure
  • Pain perception
  • Reproduction
  • Sleep
  • Stress response
  • Temperature regulation
  • Thought

Increasing the level of endocannabinoids in circulation, however, is not the only way that CBD works. Research suggests that the cannabis compound may improve mood by engaging serotonin receptors, the same receptors targeted by antidepressant drugs. The molecule may also reduce pain by engaging with special heat & pain-sensing receptors called capsaicin receptors. Capsaicin receptors were named after the molecule that causes hot peppers to be spicy.

CBD Oil Effects

CBD may not produce an intoxicating “high,” but that doesn’t mean that the compound won’t have an effect on your mind. In low to moderate doses, CBD oil may promote feelings of alertness & energy. In higher doses, some people find that the compound is more sedative. CBD oil affects mood as well, often lifting spirits and easing anxiety.

The effects of CBD are subtle, however. Often, the only thing a consumer will feel is the absence of some sort of discomfort. Say, for example, you had mild feelings of nausea and fatigue prior to taking CBD. It is possible that, after a few minutes, these uncomfortable sensations may have eased away without you really noticing. In higher doses, you are more likely to notice a substantial effect.

In terms of the overall effects of CBD oil on health, the implications are vast. The endocannabinoid system assists in coordinating a whole host of basic bodily functions. It’s no surprise, then, that CBD can produce a number of wide-ranging health effects. Some of the most well-researched effects of CBD may include:

  • Anticonvulsant
  • Antidepressant
  • Anti-Anxiety
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-Nausea
  • Pain Relief
  • Stress Relief

It’s important to note, however, that many of these general effects have only been researched in laboratory settings and with animal models. In the human body, there is still much to be discovered about the general health properties of CBD. The effects of CBD oil can also vary from individual to individual. The cannabis compound may be an effective anticonvulsant in one individual but might not work at all in another. Similarly, CBD may ease anxiety in one person but another may find that they dislike the effects of the cannabinoid. More research is needed to determine when CBD is most effective and when it is not.

CBD Oil in the UK

CBD oil is made by separating resin from plant material and concentrating the resin into an essential oil. CBD oil is specifically made from high-CBD hemp (in the UK). The CBD oil sold online is extracted from hemp plants. 

CBD oil is often placed underneath the tongue or mixed into food. Since CBD oil is a concentrated extract, the product can become quite potent. The activation time of CBD oil is also quite rapid. Extracts placed under the tongue can begin to take effect within 15 to 30 minutes. Though, the oil has been known to halt seizures in some patients in a mere one to two minutes after sublingual application. It is important to keep in mind, however, that every body metabolizes CBD differently. For some, taking CBD oil with food may slow down the activation time.  


THC is the primary intoxicating compound in the cannabis plant. Both CBD and THC share some common effects, including reducing nausea, easing pain, and promoting a good mood. There are a few key differences between the two molecules, however. THC can inspire undesirable side effects, like dizziness, paranoia, a racing heart, and anxiety. CBD, on the other hand, can block some of the negative side effects of THC.

Unlike THC, CBD is not associated with a racing heartbeat. The compound can also lessen the psychoactivity of THC, reducing the strength of the overall experience. Further, evidence shows that CBD can mitigate some of the memory imp[airments that THC can inspire as well as reduce hunger. When combined with THC, however, some of the pain-fighting and relaxing effects of the two compounds can become more pronounced.  

CBD Oil Benefits

Apart from the health and wellness effects of CBD oil, there are many reasons to give the molecule a try. Here are the top 3 benefits of CBD oil:

CBD Oil is Easier to Access

Even though CBD is legal in the UK, cannabis as a whole is still off-limits. Yet, while accessing psychoactive cannabis may be difficult, consumers in several countries have access to CBD products through online retailers. 

CBD Oil Does Not Cause Intoxication

As mentioned above, CBD does not produce intoxicating effects. Instead, it’s possible that you might not notice the subtle effects of the molecule at all. The subtlety of CBD oil is one of its biggest benefits. Since there is no intoxication or impairment with CBD, it’s easy to consume during the day, before work, or anytime when you need relief with a clear head.

CBD Oil Won’t Cause You to Fail a Drug Test

The standard five-panel urine test used by employers often tests for the presence of a THC metabolite, not a CBD metabolite. If you purchase products made with purified CBD isolate, there should be little to no chance of failing a drug test. Products made from high-CBD strains, however, may contain trace amounts of THC. 

CBD Oils Possible Side Effects

While CBD has been used safely even in high doses, it may come with some side effects. These side effects have been reported in drug trails of Epidiolex (a pharmaceutical drug made with purified CBD).

During these drug trials, patients were given 10 to 20 milligrams of CBD per kilogram of body weight per day. For the 166-pound American woman, that is roughly akin to 750 to 1500 milligrams of CBD each day. The Food and Drug Administration reports that adverse events were much more likely at the 20 milligram per kilogram mark, which is a far higher dose than is consumed by the average individual.

Some of the most common side effects included:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sleepiness
  • Poor quality sleep
  • Infections
  • Rash
  • Lack of energy
  • Liver stress
  • General malaise

In general, however, CBD was well-tolerated with few serious side effects. In low doses, these side effects are not as common. Though, only further research will determine the overall effects of long-term CBD supplementation.

Excerpts taken from

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