Cannabidiol or CBD is currently the subject of a virtual explosion of research. It is extracted from hemp, the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis is probably better known as marijuana, but not all cannabis is the same. Cannabis used to “get high” is bred to have high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Cannabis used for medicinal purposes is often bred to have higher levels of CBD, which does not have psychoactive properties, i.e. CBD does not get you high. These are two of the better-known compounds called phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids that come from plants) contained in cannabis—there are at least 111 known phytocannabinoids in cannabis, and only about 10% of these have been investigated through research. We are just beginning to understand the many actions, effects and medicinal applications of the phytocannabinoids contained in cannabis. Because research on cannabis has been restricted until very recently, much of what we do know is a new discovery. For example, the receptors for our own endocannabinoid system were only just discovered between 1988 and 1993. This system is still not fully characterized, and most medical schools have yet to incorporate this information into their curricula.
But phytocannabinoids are not the only beneficial compounds in cannabis, which has over 400 identified chemical compounds. There are also terpenoids (or terpenes), phenols and flavonoids (a subcategory type of phenol). Terpenes are found in many plant essential oils, which function as defense and support mechanisms for plants and are often beneficial for humans as well. Phenols and flavonoids are also found in many plants and are famously antioxidant and antimicrobial. These compounds are known to have preventative action on infections, degenerative diseases, inflammation and allergies. The phytocannabinoids, terpenes and phenols have been shown in numerous studies to have synergistic and complimentary functions; and, for this reason, the whole plant extract is often much more effective than just CBD isolate.
Humans and, indeed, other animals, have an endocannabinoid system. We make molecules in our bodies with properties like THC and CBD. Receptors for our own internal cannabinoids are found throughout the neurological system (including the central nervous system, the autonomic system and the peripheral nervous system), the endocrine system and all the other organ systems. This system has a critical role in reestablishing balance when there is injury or illness and in regulating disease. There is a complex interaction between this system and other systems in the body that regulate and express hormones, cytokines (molecular signals), immune activity, endorphins, bone metabolism, connective tissue metabolism, cell healing and regeneration, growth factors, nerve cell inflammation and pleasure molecules. This system has profound effects on inflammation, pain, anxiety, mood, immunity, well-being, pleasure, weight, bone building/osteoporosis, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, this system has anti-tumor effects on many types of cancer.
The fact that we have an endocannabinoid system is the reason THC, CBD and other phytocannabinoids affect us. Other molecules, including some terpenes, also interact with our endocannabinoid receptors. CBD does not work directly on endocannabinoid receptors; but rather, prevents the rapid metabolism of our own endocannabinoid molecules, thus allowing them to remain in action for a longer period. Medical cannabis interacts with our endocannabinoid system, but also with our immune system (especially in the transformation from acute to chronic inflammation), our endorphin system, our vanilloid system (involved in the transformation from acute to chronic pain), our endocrine and neurotransmitter systems (involved in mood, anxiety and pain) and our PPAR-Gamma (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma) system. PPAR-Gamma is a receptor of the cell nucleus, mainly found in fatty tissue, colon and certain types of immune cells. This system has effects on sugar metabolism, fat metabolism, fat storage, the type of fat tissue differentiation, and therefore on obesity and diabetes, but also on atherosclerosis and cancer.
Common uses of CBD are as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce pain. One of the more remarkable properties of CBD is that it changes the physiology of chronic pain and brings relief to many who have struggled for years with chronic pain. It has also been very useful in helping people get free of opioid addiction, particularly since chronic pain is often the lead-in to opioid addiction.
CBD is outstanding at reducing anxiety; it is an excellent aid for sleep and has been used for PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Another remarkable property of phytocannabinoids is that they have no lethal dose in standardized testing. Even very high doses of CBD are well tolerated. It is important to be aware that, just like any medicinal substance, phytocannabinoids can interact with other medications and can potentiate or lessen the effects of other medications. Choosing to use CBD products is ultimately a personal decision. If you choose to use CBD products, it is important to be aware of where and how they are produced in order to source a high quality product. Look for a producer that has full control over the entire process from growing, harvesting, extracting to production and packaging. Look for an organic product that has been obtained using CO2 extraction, a safe botanical oil extraction method using a clean, non-toxic solvent. And look for a product that has been independently tested with publicly available results to confirm purity and potency.