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What Is CBD?

Cannabinol, also known as CBD, is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the Cannabis sativa plant, which includes all varieties of hemp and marijuana plants.1 The fact that CBD is non-psychoactive indicates that unlike the well-known cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is found in marijuana, CBD doesn’t cause a “high." 

As medical and recreational marijuana is increasingly legalized in the U.S. and other parts of the world, researcher interest in the benefits of the Cannabis sativa plant has increased. This has resulted in a better understanding of how CBD can provide a range of health benefits. 

CBD is becoming an increasingly popular supplement and can be found in a variety of forms, including tinctures; capsules; lotions or salves; and in infused foods like honey, chocolate, and gummy candy. 

Despite its growing popularity, most consumers still know very little about what CBD is, how it works, and what is known (or unknown) about its benefits, safety, and limitations.


A Brief History of Cannabis sativa, The Endocannabinoid System, and Human Health

Throughout thousands of years of human history, Cannabis sativa has been a popular plant in traditional medicine. During most of this history, people did not know how cannabis worked or why it led to changes in the function of the mind and body in humans. 

Just 50 years ago, the first clue was discovered when tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was isolated and credited for the intoxicating effects of cannabis. However, it was't until the 1990s that scientists discovered that humans and all other mammals have a system now known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant may impact human health through their interaction with this system.2

The Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is made up of endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids, their receptors, and enzymes responsible for the breakdown and synthesis of endocannabinoids.3 

Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by the body as needed that bind to receptors in the ECS to help it execute its primary functions. There are two primary types of receptors in the ECS to which these endocannabinoids can bind: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the central nervous system. These receptors can produce long and short-term changes in neurotransmissions and also affect mood and sleep duration.4 

CB2 receptors are found throughout the peripheral nervous system, especially in immune cells and the gastrointestinal tract. When the body experiences inflammation, CB2 receptors work to restore homeostasis. CB2 receptors are also found in the skin, so an individual experiencing ECS dysfunction may show symptoms like psoriasis or eczema.

Once the endocannabinoids have carried out their functions through interactions with CB1 and CB2 receptors, enzymes break them down. The two main enzymes that carry out this process are fatty acid amide hydrolase and monoacylglycerol acid lipase.5

Manipulating different components of this endogenous system, such as by using other compounds that bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors, or ones that slow the enzymatic breakdown of endogenous cannabinoids can be used to remedy conditions that arise as a result of ECS dysfunction. 

CBD and THC are both phytocannabinoids, cannabinoids found in plants, and they can both interact with the ECS via different mechanisms to provide health benefits. The specific benefit of CBD relative to THC, though, is that it is able to exert these benefits without any psychoactive effects. 


Benefits of CBD

Research exploring how CBD impacts human health is new, and researchers are just starting to understand who may benefit from its use. Two common uses for CBD products is to help relieve aches and pains and to manage stress symptoms.

Relieves Pain

There have not yet been any human clinical trials examining the impact of CBD on pain; however, preliminary pre-clinical studies offer promising findings.

Researchers have discovered that oral CBD administration provides pain relief in rats.6 Another study found that topical CBD use in rats with arthritis led to improvements in measures of swelling and limb posture, which are used as a model of rat arthritic pain.7


Reduces Stress

In one placebo-controlled human study, researchers found that 300 mg of CBD attenuated public-speaking-induced stress scores more than placebo. This same study found no benefits from 100 or 900 mg doses of CBD, suggesting an inverted bell-shaped efficiency curve. This indicates that there is an optimal amount of CBD that’s effective, but more or less than this amount reduces efficacy.8


Should You Use CBD?

With CBD products available for purchase in all 50 states, many are curious if they should try these products. When answering this question, you'll want to consider efficacy, safety, and cost.

In terms of efficacy, it's important to see if there are any studies exploring how CBD has worked in animals or human trials examining your specific intended use. 

When it comes to safety, CBD is considered to have a favorable safety profile overall. This does not mean that there are no side effects, but those that have been found tend to be mild and are more common when megadoses are taken.

The final consideration is the cost of CBD. Many CBD products tend to be pricey: it’s not uncommon to pay $50 to $100 for a one-month supply, so you may want to consider doing a cost-benefit analysis to see if the potential benefits of CBD are worth the cost. 

Photo Credits: Elroi/, Mirolchan19/, 271EAKMOTO/, lifestylediscover/

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