A Beginners Guide To All Things CBD
CBD or Cannabidiol, is an active part of the marijuana plant called a cannabinoid. You have probably heard of at least one other cannabinoid: THC. There are 113 different cannabinoids, and we’re starting to learn more about how they each make marijuana so magical. Let’s take it from the top in this noob guide to CBD.
THC gets most of the attention, and it has a lot of support and many health benefits. There’s just one small problem that keeps the public at large from falling head over heels: it gets you stoned. Believe it or not, that still carries a cloud. We know it’s true that people use the flower for pain relief, and to treat all kinds of serious diseases. Still, many who are just looking for medicine consider getting high off THC an unwanted side-effect.
CBD is different; it’s more of a low-key natural cure, like St. John’s wort or essential oils. It doesn’t leave users open to lazy pot head jokes, so it has a real chance to reach general use. CBD could bet the part of the cannabis plant that tips the scales and shift the medical paradigm. Right now, it may be too associated with its psychoactive cannabinoid cousin, though. The reputation that THC has given marijuana has left CBD in a cross roads with the legal system.
What’s The Difference Between CBD and THC?
CBD and THC molecules are pretty identical, and they both have a long list of health benefits. So what’s the difference? For a lot of us, the difference between these two became recognizable when we first started to choose cannabis strains. When I began smoking, there were two options: real bad and real good. Dirt weed and indoor, respectively. With the rise of medical marijuana and the internet, consumers can find out about way more options way earlier. You may have come to know the difference between the two major strains: Sativa and Indica. Sativas are known more for their high-functioning cerebral quality, while indicas developed a reputation for deep couch lock. Keep an eye out for an upcoming piece on strains that goes more into these.
These strains have been cross-bred for a long time but the first differences were in their CBD and THC contents. THC was responsible for the highs, and CBD, depending on the ratio, augmented the intensity of those highs. Sativa naturally had a higher CBD content, so it was known for being less intense. Because we’re kind of an intense culture, for a long time high THC content was what we aimed for. So CBD levels remained low.
Now, as we learn more about the body’s natural endocannabinoid system, CBD is coming back in a big way. Strains like Charlotte’s Web were the first to be bred for a low THC and high CBD ratio. Profiled by CNN’s Sanjay Gupta years ago, Charlotte’s Web rose to fame by successfully treating children’s seizures. It became very clear very quickly that CBD offers huge health benefits, without the high.
So, CBD won’t get you high?
Then what does it do?
Hmm, let’s see… It’s an anti-anxiety, antiemetic, anticonvulsant, antipsychotic, antioxidant, anti-tumoral, anticancer, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory. It treats Alzheimer’s, protects (I talked more about this here) and repairs neuron damage. CBD provides pain relief, treats PTSD and opiate addiction. It helps with energy regulation, autoimmune disease, autism, neuropathy, reproductive function and appetite. It’s an actual lifesaver for pediatric epilepsy and cancer patients. Many of its benefits have been proven against placebo in double blind studies, the most rigorous scientific controls
It’s also kind of special for what it doesn’t do. You can give it to your dog, or your kids, because it’s not psychoactive and has no addictive effects. Many of the effects of CBD are holistic and similar to the effects of lifestyle changes like exercise and proper diet. People report calmer, clearer minds and “just feel better” in general. As far as CBD’s clinical research benefits are concerned, most of them are related to the body’s miraculous Endocannabinoid System.
The Endocannabinoid System
Endocannabinoid literally means the cannabinoid within. This system is a highly developed part of our biology that links back to our ancient chordate ancestors. Scientists researching how marijuana affects the body found that cannabinoids alone acted on two specific receptors, namely CB1 and CB2. So we had this system, and these receptors, but it wasn’t until the 90’s that we found the missing pieces. A whole slew of cannabinoids were found that were produced inside the body. These endocannabinoids showed the ECS to be a vast biological communication network. The ECS controls all cell communication through every tissue and organ in our bodies. It doesn’t get any more important than that.
So you can start to see why marijuana has become such a huge focus of research: we’re made for it! We have cannabinoid receptors all over. CB1 receptors highly populate our central nervous system. CB2 receptors are mostly in the immune system and spleen. Scientists know now that these endocannabinoids, like Anandamide (literally named after bliss), are responsible for maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis couldn’t be more important. Disease is simply a loss of homeostasis. It’s crazy how fundamental cannabinoids are to our health.
THC, CBD and other cannabinoids are phytocannabinoids, which means they come from plants. Marijuana has been around for all of recorded human history, and we have receptors for cannabinoids all through our bodies. It’s likely that humans evolved to take in these plant medicines to maintain our health. Plant cannabinoids can not only correct dysfunction, they are known to supercharge the effects of the cannabinoids in our body. When getting high isn’t center stage, It makes sense that the result would be “I just feel better”.
Because CBD acts differently than THC, its exact mechanisms are less understood. Unlike THC, which fits the CB1 receptor perfectly, CBD has a wider range and different bag of tricks. CBD doesn’t really bind to your body’s cannabinoid receptors all that well. It works more on other receptors in the body, like the serotonin receptor, vanilloid, orphan and nuclear receptors. I know–there are some weird receptor names.
One of the ways CBD does affect cannabinoid receptors is by allosteric modulation (memorize this phrase to look cool at parties hehe). It doesn’t bind to the CB1 receptors, but it does change the shape of the receptor, affecting how THC binds. It’s in this way that CBD is able to augment the psychoactive properties of THC.
Usually the communication for neurons is one-way: from the presynaptic neuron to the postsynaptic neuron. Endocannabinoids can travel in the reverse direction, giving feedback to the presynaptic cell. This is crucial for restoring balance when homeostasis is lost. In the example of tissue damage, applying a CBD salve to the area relieves pain and promotes healing. Through the ECS, cannabinoids are able to say: “Okay, we get it! Don’t send so many pain signals!” More importantly, they stabilize the immune response to stop producing more inflammatory substances.
This is different from how NSAIDs and other pharmacy options treat illness. Acute inflammation is an appropriate healing response; chronic inflammation means something has gone awry. Cannabinoids know the difference. CBD gives more feedback, for more pain relief. This is just increasing the natural healing response. Restoring the balance relieves the symptoms.
Better Together: The Entourage Effect
It’s clear that endocannabinoids naturally work together and have a balancing effect on the body. In keeping with the theme of balance, some researchers developed the theory of the entourage effect. The idea is that natural, whole plant mixtures preserve the complete benefit of phytocannabinoids. The argument is that each component works as part of a whole to help all parts at the same time. It’s possible that this allows them to stop adverse effects of illness, and better relay healing messages.
Since we know that CBD plays a role in how THC works, there’s proof of their combined effects. In cancer research, it’s been shown that THC and CBD work together in different ways to kill cancer cells. Anecdotally, any user of the synthetic THC marinol will tell you they prefer the whole plant. Nutritionists’ preference for whole foods over processed foods may point to this as well. Some marijuana breeders swear that a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio is best for health benefits.
There are 113 cannabinoids in marijuana, mostly unstudied. That’s a pretty big entourage.
Is CBD Legal?
This question is hard to answer, but I’ll try though…And of course you know, I’m not a lawyer (though I do love me some Law and Order!). Anyways…Spoiler alert: Nobody really knows. If you live outside the U.S, it may be regulated as a dietary supplement. Inside the U.S, things have gotten more complicated just this past year. So let’s hop in our time machine…Back in 2014 the Farm Bill was signed into law, allowing industrial growing of hemp, as distinct from marijuana. This provided CBD sellers with access to high quality domestically produced flowers with a significant percentage of cannabidiol. The CBD business was still growing steadily in the wake of FDA concerns about labeling in 2015. But then a new drug code was established by the DEA in 2017. This expanded the existing law, under which marijuana was considered a Schedule 1 substance, to include all extracts. That means every cannabinoid derived from the plant could be as illegal, federally, as THC.
So, pretty bad news. Schedule 1 is the highest level of prohibition any substance can reach in the U.S. It’s ironic really, frustratingly so, that marijuana is scheduled this way at all. Some may still say that it’s an unsafe drug, or has a high abuse potential. No thinking person today can say it has no medical use. It’s just impossible to come to that conclusion while claiming to be informed. It’s even more ridiculous now that the hundreds of non-psychoactive components in the plant now fall under the same illicit umbrella.
Well, it’s important to remember that the 2014 Farm Bill is a law which protects hemp production. The DEA is tying itself in knots with legal inconsistencies. They’re trying to get the Controlled Substances Act from the 1970’s to apply to CBD, but not to industrial hemp. The federal law has always used the somewhat stigmatizing term “marihuana” to refer to illegal marijuana. This has traditionally meant the flowers and seeding parts of the plant, with a focus on the amount of THC content. Under the Farm Bill, hemp is distinguished from marihuana when it contains less than .3% THC by dry weight. It’s very likely that the Farm Bill supersedes the DEA’s more recent rewritten codes.
There are many negative effects of this legal limbo, mostly for pharmacists and researchers. The DEA’s statements are probably meant to have a chilling effect. This stalls not only the momentum of businesses selling CBD, but also those studying its therapeutic effects. Fortunately, there are ongoing lawsuits at the federal level to resolve these issues.
The federal law is mostly in place to enforce civil penalties. Individual possession and distribution laws will still vary state by state. The only state laws specifically referencing CBD aren’t trying further criminalize it, they’re allowing for medical use.
So you can still buy it?
Oh yeah. One of the weird things about isolating these individual molecules is that it’s hard for laws to keep up. If there’s a profit to be had, loopholes will be found. We’ve seen this with synthetic THC spice blends, and even with other schedule 1 drugs like LSD and MDMA. Scientists will find a way to slightly change molecular compounds to get around regulations and keep ahead of the feds.
The problem here is the amount of subterfuge they have to employ, which can cloud the info for consumers. In the case of designer psychoactive drugs, that can be seriously dangerous. Fortunately most well known CBD vendors operate from a nutraceutical perspective, and provide as much info as they reasonably can. It’s not uncommon for the product labels themselves to be pretty sparse. Whether it’s an effort to avoid laws, or simply because there aren’t regulations requiring they list ingredients, I’m not sure.
Where to buy CBD
Obviously this is still easiest to do in an area where marijuana is legal for recreation or medicine. If you plan on using any THC blended CBD products, this is the only safe and legal way to get it. If CBD is sourced from marijuana plants, it’s treated like marijuana and state law applies. This kind of CBD, it cannot legally leave the state where it was purchased. If you’re lucky, your local vape or smoke shop might carry CBD oil. Outside of legal or medical states, in the wake of the new DEA code, that may be unlikely.
Your best bet these days is to check Green Collar’s Menu for high CBD products. There are so many companies online offering to ship to all 50 states that you might be spoiled for choice. A little research is recommended, many websites provide product reviews and list the top vendors. The sellers themselves will often have FAQ’s which can fill you in on their particular product details. At the very least, you’ll want to know the accurate CBD content and how much THC is in the mix. Good retailers will offer and even encourage you to seek batch certification from them. This can give you the opportunity to see exactly how much of each cannabinoid the product contains.
Find out how it’s made
Low THC, hemp derived CBD is sourced from either overseas or domestic hemp crops. Hemp from Europe and China is most abundant and often the cheapest. One thing to consider is that hemp is a phytoremediator. This means that the plant can be used to remove toxins from contaminated soil. I’ve even heard that they planted hemp in Chernobyl to filter the radiation. If you aren’t sure where it came from, it might be better to avoid it rather than risk toxicity.
Often the products that use overseas sourcing are selling something called isolate. It is actually illegal to import the flowers, which is where most of the CBD in hemp comes from. To get a high enough concentration of CBD, the molecules are chemically separated. The best quality hemp is grown in the U.S. As long as the THC content stays below .3% by dry weight, the entire plant can be used. The biggest producers are Colorado and Kentucky, though other states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Vermont are coming up quick.
Because it’s an unregulated industry, knowing exactly what you’re getting requires some diligence. Major vendors lab test their products at least once per batch. In the absence of detailed labeling, they’ll provide amounts of cannabinoids present, but you may have to ask for it. This is especially important for accurate dosing when using CBD as a medicine. The best testing methods are gas or liquid chromatography. Because GC (Gas Chromatography) bombards the compound with heat, it’s not as accurate as HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography).
How do you use CBD?
CBD can be used in all the diverse ways people use marijuana. Though, if you’re in an area where marijuana is illegal for medical or recreational use, your options may be limited. You can use it as an oil or tincture, flower, shatter, dab, wax, resin. You can cook it into brownies, chocolates and gummies. It can be taken in capsules, patches, concentrates, suppositories–you name it. You can even get isolates in a raw powder or crystal form.
If you’re using it by itself, for therapeutic purposes, using an oil or tincture is best. There is no set dosage, and no known level of CBD toxicity, but more is not necessarily better. Being able to measure the amount you ingest is a huge step toward using it as medicine. I recommend you mix it with coconut oil, as that helps with absorption, and flavor.
If you take it orally, the fastest route is under the tongue. This is called the sublingual method. You’ll begin to feel the effects in 15-30 minutes. The CBD travels through the GI tract, is metabolized in the liver, then enters your brain through the bloodstream. If you take it orally by capsule, concentrate, gummies etc. it can take around 90 minutes, but will last longer. Typically around 6 hours instead of 4.
The fastest way to feel the effects is through inhalation, smoking or vaping. This is almost instant, the same as if you were smoking or vaping THC. The CBD will enter through the lungs rapidly diffusing through the alveoli into the bloodstream and straight into the brain. Topical application by use of a salve also works within minutes. This is great for local pain relief.
Will CBD make me fail a drug test?
There’s no reason to test for CBD specifically. So, if you’re getting tested, you will only have to worry about THC content. Taking CBD with any THC content is a risk. If you think you might be drug tested, avoid products that use the whole plant or natural extraction methods. Though there is only a slim chance of testing positive with small THC amounts, it probably isn’t worth it. Take care to ask for lab verification from sellers if you’re buying isolates, to make sure there is no THC.
Food or Drug
One of the big things affecting the future of CBD right now is how it will be classified. The bad news is that pharma industry lobbyists are spending millions trying to make CBD require a prescription. GW Pharmaceuticals developed the first major CBD drug Epidiolex. They want it to be a drug, because they spent a fortune on research and trials. Some less than trusting types believe the latest DEA move was motivated by conspiring with “big pharma”.
The good news is, regardless of classification, CBD is likely here to stay. Charlotte’s Web CEO and CBD advocate Joel Stanley says it would be “like locking oranges and vitamin C into pharmaceutical only”. It’s ridiculous, it grows out of the ground. As legal marijuana trends continue, a pharma monopoly is unlikely.
Even if the worst does happen, it’s so useful you’ll find it everywhere. It could become the new aspirin or tylenol. It probably should be the go-to drug that everyone has in their medicine cabinet. A recent survey of HelloMD’s community found that 42% stopped using traditional pain relievers completely, preferring CBD.
It helps that you don’t have to get high to feel the benefits.
Though that should be okay too 😉