You may have read about it in the newspaper or seen it on television. Perhaps you know someone who uses it. These days, talk of Cannabis sativa and its constituents is everywhere.
Today we are going to go into detail about what cannabidiol (CBD) is and what it does in the body.
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Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the major chemical compounds present in marijuana and hemp plants, which both belong to the same genus and species, Cannabis sativa.
For decades, CBD took a backseat to marijuana’s other major chemical compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana, which have been the primary focus of nearly all coverage about cannabis for decades.
But, therapeutically speaking, CBD has merit as well. As scientists continue to study CBD and gain a more thorough understanding of how it can be used, we’re beginning to understand the full potential of Cannabis sativa and its compounds.
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of over 80 cannabinoids that are present in cannabis plants. In fact, cannabis plants contain over 400 unique compounds. The pharmacology of most of these compounds and cannabinoids is largely still a mystery.
While CBD is present throughout the cannabis plant, it is found in the highest concentration in hemp plants, inside the resin glands of female plants. These glands are known as trichomes.
Over recent years, the increased study into CBD has offered a rich new and exciting understanding of what this compound is, how it works in the human body, and how it may be beneficial to those suffering from a wide variety of conditions, particularly those which have been challenging to treat successfully in the past.
CBD as a supplement is a relatively new idea. We’re just now beginning to understand many of the different conditions that may respond to treatment with CBD.
This is due in part to the fact that CBD is polypharmacological, meaning it can affect multiple different areas of the body at once, as opposed to just one. More studies, especially human clinical trials, are required to understand the scope of its use fully.
When researchers determine what conditions to study with regards to CBD, they first look at the ECS and which disease states are linked to alterations of this system. The aim here then is restoring balance and normal functioning of the ECS with the hopes of improved disease symptoms, status, or even avoidance of future disease. (13)
Multiple disease states have been demonstrated to display alterations in the ECS, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, spinal cord injury, metabolic syndrome and obesity, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease, among others.
Here we will delve into the details of studies that have evaluated the possible use of CBD for those suffering from a variety of conditions and examine the effect of CBD on the health of these individuals.
Anxiety comes in many forms, with some suffering social anxiety, public anxiety when speaking, or generalized anxiety disorder, among a wide variety of other anxiety disorders. Human research into the anxiolytic effects of CBD has begun, with limited human studies. Those that have been conducted have found that CBD may benefit those with anxiety disorders.
In one such study, a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, the effect of CBD supplementation on public speaking induced anxiety was examined.
Before a real situation public speaking test, 60 healthy human participants were assigned to the following groups: placebo, 1 mg clonazepam, or 100, 300, or 900 mg CBD.
The study found that the 300 mg CBD reduced subjective anxiety measures post-speech, with no effect from the 100 or 900 mg CBD. These findings are similar to those found in numerous animal studies, where an inverted bell-shaped efficacy curve was found: too much or too little CBD was not correlated with less anxiety, while a moderate amount was.
A 2014 study by Chaga also found CBD supplementation to reduce the common anxiety side effects caused by THC, which may provide benefit for those who are prescribed medical marijuana but struggle with the side effects. (2)
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disorder that affects millions of people throughout the world. As of present, there are no human studies examining the effects of CBD on Alzheimer’s disease.
A preliminary study by Karl from 2012 suggests that the endocannabinoid system could play a significant role in Alzheimer’s treatment. (3) It also indicates that cannabinoids possess anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and antioxidant properties that may make it a compelling option for Alzheimer’s patients.
Multiple animal and preclinical studies have found cannabinoids to possess anticarcinogenic properties. In a 2013 review by Massi published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, the potential of CBD as an anticancer drug was examined. (13)
This study concluded that several studies have found CBD to exhibit pro-apoptotic effects, inhibit cancer cell migration, adhesion, and invasion, as well as demonstrate antiproliferative properties. In numerous preclinical and animal studies, CBD has been found to modulate tumourigenesis in several types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, glioma, and thyroid cancer. (4,13)
While much more research is needed on human subjects, these properties are promising and support the need for future research into CBD use for those with cancer and possibly for the prevention of cancer in those who are susceptible.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that cause inflammation in joints and surrounding tissues. While there exist numerous studies on animals as well as on humans with a combination of both CBD and THC, there are no human studies on CBD only and arthritis.
In particular, the drug Sativex, which is a 1:1 combination of THC and CBD, has shown significant promise as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
In a 2006 study conducted by Blake at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath, UK, researchers found that Sativex was able to provide a significant analgesic effect which reduced symptoms of the disease. This was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel group study of 5 patients over 5 weeks of treatment. (5)
The successful use of drugs like Sativex further reinforces the idea that different cannabinoids can work together to target specific ailments and illnesses, however, leaves much to be studied with regards to what individual compounds, such as CBD, are capable of.
Animal studies and those with CBD in combination with other cannabinoids, mainly THC, have found analgesic effects, however, these have yet to be studied extensively in humans. (8)
As for epilepsy, the efficacy of CBD is well documented and even approved as a treatment option in numerous states.
There have been numerous studies involving individuals with epilepsy that have demonstrated CBD supplementation to lead to reduced seizure frequency. Many of these studies were not placebo-controlled, however, in 2016, GW Pharmaceuticals announced positive results from multiple studies on Epidiolex, a plant-derived liquid form of CBD. (9,15)
In these studies, Epidiolex versus placebo was tested in randomized trials for patients with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LSG) and Dravet Syndrome (DS). There were 120 patients in the DS study and 171 in the LSG study.
In both, patients were split into either a placebo group or a 20 mg/kg/day for 14 weeks (DS) or a 10 mg/kg/day for 12 weeks (LSG) Epidiolex treatment.
Reductions in seizure frequency were significantly greater for both Epidiolex treatment groups when compared to placebo, with most of the reported side effects being of mild to moderate severity.
These positive findings led to approval by the FDA of Epidiolex for Fast Track and Orphan Drug Designations for DS, LGS, and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.
While research into CBD and its effect on this with Parkinson’s is still in its infancy, there have been limited human studies that have shown promise when it comes to CBD and Parkinson’s disease.
A 2014 study by Chagas from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil suggests that CBD oil may be a viable way to improve the quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s. (1)
In this study, 21 Parkinson’s disease patients were treated with either a placebo, 75 mg/day CBD or 300 mg/day CBD for six weeks. Following this period, those in the 300 mg/day CBD group showed the significant quality of life improvements as measured with PDQ-39.
It’s worth noting that this study was conducted on a very small scale with only 21 participants and was not placebo-controlled, leaving the need for larger, placebo-controlled studies to test these results. Regardless, those who are suffering from this degenerative condition may find relief with CBD treatment.
Considering its potential to help those suffering from the different conditions and diseases above, it’s no wonder why so many are opening their eyes to cannabidiol. Keep in mind; there are still plenty of other conditions which CBD may be able to help and countless more that researchers have yet to study.
Research into exactly how CBD works is still ongoing, however, we understand much more than we did just twenty years ago.
One way in which CBD works is by binding itself to receptors that live within many of the cells inside your body. In nearly every tissue of the body, you’ll find cannabinoid receptors. These receptors work together to serve larger functions, and collectively, these receptors, the endocannabinoids that act on them, and their enzymes are known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The endocannabinoid system is a massive network of cell receptors, and they serve a wide range of processes within the body. These receptors are seen in particularly high concentration in the central nervous system and immune cells.
Some of the primary functions that the ECS is responsible for include immune response, homeostatic regulation, stress recovery, and neuroprotection.
The ECS plays a vital role in our general well being. Many researchers have theorized that a deficiency of endocannabinoids can lead to a variety of different conditions including nausea, pain, and inflammation. This deficiency can also trigger side effects associated with drugs and treatments like chemotherapy.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why our bodies have an entire system in place that seems to be affected by cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Believe it or not, the human body produces compounds known as endocannabinoids that are very similar to the phytocannabinoids that occur naturally in hemp plants. The prefix endo means ‘inside,’ which is fitting since these are cannabinoids that occur naturally inside our bodies.
The cannabinoids that are present inside of cannabis act as agonists. An agonist is any chemical that attaches itself to a receptor inside the body. Once it attaches to the receptor, a biological response is produced.
Since these cannabinoids are so similar to compounds which already occur inside the body naturally, they can interact with the cell receptors of the ECS to produce a response.
This is only one way in which these external cannabinoids impact our ECS and bodies. We are still unsure of the exact processes involved in the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids, but our understanding continues to grow with the research that is being conducted on CBDs.
We’ve covered how CBD affects the body by binding with different receptors within the endocannabinoid system, but what exactly are those receptors?
Cannabinoid receptors belong to a class of cell membrane receptors called the G protein-coupled receptor superfamily. These receptors are activated by three different types of compounds: endocannabinoids, which are naturally produced inside our bodies, plant cannabinoids, like the ones contained in marijuana, and synthetic cannabinoids, like HU-201.
Presently, we know about two different cannabinoid receptors in the body. Preliminary research suggests that there may be more than two receptors, but for now, we’ll cover the two we know about definitively. These two receptors are known as CB1 and CB2.
Researchers at Cambridge University discovered the CB1 receptor in 1990. The CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system are predominantly found in the central nervous system. While these receptors in the brain and throughout the central nervous system can bind with several different compounds that are found in cannabis, THC has a particularly strong affinity for the CB1 receptor.
Considering that these CB1 receptors are mostly located within the central nervous system, it helps explain why THC has shown promise for those suffering from pain, nausea, and mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
In 1993, the CB2 receptor was discovered, shortly after the discovery of the CB1 receptor. Unlike the CB1 receptor, the CB2 receptors are primarily located throughout the immune system, and in the tissues of several different organs. They’re also located throughout the central nervous system, although in much lower concentrations than CB1 receptors.
CB2 receptors are found in great concentration throughout the gastrointestinal system and immune cells, where they are involved in the regulation of our inflammatory response.
Beyond the way that CBD engages with the different cannabinoid receptors of the body, there exist additional ways in which CBD interacts with the body. CBD plays a role in the reactions of the vanilloid, adenosine and serotonin receptors of the body as well.
While all of these receptors are affected in some capacity by CBD, these interactions are not understood in as much detail as the interaction of CBD with the ECS.
While CBD on its own appears to be beneficial for many, research suggests that the efficacy of CBD can be improved when combined with other cannabinoids, such as THC or the other phytocannabinoids found in cannabis. This action is known as the entourage effect, and it describes the idea of different cannabinoids working together in concert to affect the body in the desired way.
This concept is the basis of the movement towards whole plant medicine, where the entirety of the plant is used benefit those suffering from a variety of different ailments more efficiently.
There exist a large number of products on the market that contain little to no THC while still containing the whole array of plant compounds found in Cannabis sativa plants, from the other cannabinoids to terpenes, waxes, phytonutrients, amino acids, minerals, and much more. These products utilize the whole array of natural plant compounds in the hopes of an entourage effect, and with no psychoactive effect from THC, are more versatile than products that do contain THC.
Until the recent explosion in demand for CBD, marijuana producers concentrated solely on producing high THC strains designed to provide a profound psychoactive experience. After all, that’s what marijuana users were paying for at the time.
Now, a surprising array of different CBD products are being produced by growers everywhere. Hemp plants are higher in CBD and lower in THC, making them ideal for the production of CBD products.
There are a variety of CBD products out there, so understanding the differences can help you to purchase the best product for you.
Tinctures are created by suspending the active ingredients within another substance, usually alcohol and other oils. This is known as liposomal hemp oil, which is made by companies like Elixinol. Usually, these tinctures are taken sublingually (under the tongue) for the desired effect. It is important to remember to allow the liquid to sit under your tongue as directed as small molecules can be absorbed this way and avoid some of the breakdowns that occur during digestion.
Dosage for these typically ranges between 25mg and 1000mg depending on the individual’s needs and condition.
You can find flavored and unflavored tinctures. CBD has a very earthy, slightly bitter taste, that many users want to avoid. Added flavors can help with this.
CBD concentrates are one type of tincture, in which the CBD is found in a much more concentrated dosage. Usually, someone new to CBD is recommended to start low and build up, and some will find that they prefer higher CBD dosages, which makes concentrates ideal.
CBD oil is also available in pill form, which is a desirable alternative for many people who prefer to steer clear of the unpleasant taste associated with some tinctures and concentrates. CBD capsules give the added benefit of being easy to transport and are often in the same form as other supplements taken, making it an easy habit to form.
These capsules are taken just like any other pill, and they’re especially popular among people who take a daily regimen of pills, to begin with.
Hemp products have long been prized for their positive effects on the skin, so it was a no-brainer to make CBD available in a topical form. These creams, salves, lip balms and ointments are a popular way to target specific trouble areas. One such product is the CBD Cool Stick by Wildflower.
Hemp oil infused soaps are also used to help promote clear and healthy skin. They contain natural fats and ingredients to gently nourish and moisturize while cleaning. There are several CBD soap products available by companies like Ananda Hemp and Wildflower.
CBD sprays are usually taken topically and often similarly to tinctures, with many instructing for the sprays to sit under the tongue to boost bioavailability.
An increasingly popular method of ingesting CBD these days is with a vaporizer. CBD oil is available in a disposable vape pen cartridge that’s attached to a vaporizer battery. The battery heats the oil to release the CBD into a vapor which the user inhales. Considering the popularity of e-cigarettes, it’s no surprise that the number of people vaporizing CBD oil has grown as well. There are several companies capitalizing on this trend such as Happy Buddha with their Lotus Vape Pen.
Studies have also found smoked CBD to be highly bioavailable, avoiding the breakdown that occurs during digestion.
Another popular method of taking CBD is through edibles. Edibles provide users with a tasty way to enjoy the benefits of cannabidiol. There are many varieties of edibles available, often designed to taste like popular candies, chocolates, or desserts.
CBD oil does not get you high. Unlike THC, which has a psychoactive effect that produces a noticeable high for the user, CBD is non-psychoactive.
Many CBD users cite a feeling of calm after taking their daily dose of CBD, however, this varies from person to person. Some find it easier to relax, while others may report an improved feeling of alertness.
The fact that CBD products don’t produce a high is music to the ears of those that use CBD oils and other products for their various ailments. This includes the parents of young children, as well as anyone who wants to avoid supplements or drugs that may cloud their ability to work, drive, or go about their day-to-day tasks.
With all of the science that supports the use of supplemental CBD, it is likely only a matter of time before its use is completely legalized. However, the present classification of CBD in the United States is a bit foggy.
The Controlled Substances Act classifies all cannabis-related products as a schedule I substance and is considered to have no accepted medical value. The DEA further clarifies their position on CBD by adding that until a CBD product can be produced without the presence of other cannabinoids, like THC, it will continue under the same schedule.
However, this stance is contradictory to the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) which legalized the production of industrial hemp in a pilot program that was open to select farmers. This program allows the farmers to grow and process hemp plants and sell the products they’ve made.
Since CBD is present both in hemp plants as well as marijuana plants, products containing CBD can be created by hemp farmers per the Farm Bill. These products are sold legally as dietary supplements. Like all dietary supplements, they are unregulated by the FDA, which has helped to create an industry that’s rife with snake oil.
Meanwhile, CBD that comes from marijuana plants is still illegal in many states throughout the country.
There are countless legitimate companies producing quality CBD products, so be sure to do your due diligence and only add in a supplement that is what it claims to be.
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