What is Cannabidiol (CBD)

What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

Cannabidiol has received lots of attention in recent years for its possible health benefits. As one of the many compounds found in the cannabis plant, cannabidiol remains slightly controversial.

Concerns about the legality of the substance have created occasional roadblocks for researchers and the general public. There is still a lot of misinformation and confusion about this compound.

You may want to know where it comes from, how it relates to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and what the research says about cannabidiol. After looking into the topic, here is everything that we currently know.

You can discover much more about THC in our article: What is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?

Where Does Cannabidiol Come From?

What is cannabidiol? Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid that comes from cannabis plants, a genus of flowering plants that many people widely recognize as marijuana. However, cannabidiol extracted for medicinal use tends to come from hemp plants.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis cultivated strictly for non-drug use, containing a minimal amount of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

CBD is one of over 80 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. It often gets overshadowed by another chemical found in cannabis called THC.

While THC possesses psychoactive properties, CBD contains antipsychotic effects[1]. This is one of the areas where researchers have spent time dissecting the possible medical benefits of CBD.

Is Cannabidiol Legal to Consume?

Part of the reason why researchers have struggled to fully explore CBD is the confusing legal status of the compound.

Medical marijuana is now legal in the District of Columbia and 33 US states[2]. Almost all 50 states have legalized CBD in some form.

The US federal government still classifies CBD as a controlled substance, the same as marijuana. However, the government is slowly changing its stance.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently eased their regulations related to CBD research. This has opened the doors to additional studies and CBD clinical trials.

Congress also recently passed an updated version of the Farm Bill[3] allowing farmers to grow hemp and sell hemp derivatives, including CBD. The bill also allows states to introduce their own regulations on CBD and hemp.

How Is Cannabidiol Extracted From the Plant?

To extract CBD from cannabis plants, manufacturers use one of several different extraction methods. The oldest form of extraction involves crushing and pressing the plant. These days, solvent extraction is the most used method[4] for extracting compounds, including CBD.

With solvent extraction, manufacturers use a liquid agent to separate a specific compound from an organic product. In some cases, two liquids act as solvents. The solvent dissolves the organic material, isolating the compound and the solvent.

After isolating the compound, distillation removes the solvent, leaving just the compound.

Companies and researchers have extracted cannabidiol and used the ingredient in a variety of delivery methods, including oil, pills, pastes, sprays, and salves.

The University of California at Berkeley scientists recently synthesized THC and CBD[5] for the first time. With synthetic pharmaceuticals, researchers can develop the CBD compound in the lab instead of needing to harvest hemp and extract the CBD.

What Is the Difference Between CBD and THC?

Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both found in the marijuana plant. However, they are entirely different compounds.

As mentioned, THC contains psychoactive properties. These properties are responsible for the “high” that people get when smoking marijuana.

CBD has the opposite effect, thanks to the way that it interacts with endocannabinoids.

In 2015, researchers explored the benefits of the antipsychotic properties in CBD for treating schizophrenia.

The human body produces endocannabinoids. These neurotransmitters affect your mood, pain tolerance, and mental function. Scientists understand that the endocannabinoid system also plays a role in increasing or decreasing the risk of psychosis.

When an individual suffering from schizophrenia receive THC, the effects on the endocannabinoid system lead to psychotic symptoms and cognitive impairment.

CBD may have antipsychotic properties that interact with brain activity patterns in areas affected by schizophrenia, helping to reduce psychotic symptoms[6].

The World Health Organization (WHO) also agrees that CBD and THC produce different effects on the human brain.

WHO stated that CBD shows no indications of dependency or risk of abuse. The organization also claims pure CBD creates no health-related problems[7].

Potential Medicinal Benefits of Cannabidiol

Businesses are already jumping to get into the CBD market. Currently, about 7% of US adults use or have tried CBD products. Analysts predict the CBD market to reach $16 billion by 2025[8].

To better understand the sudden interest in cannabidiol, I started looking at the latest research.

A wide array of universities, pharmaceutical companies, and research organizations are currently examining the medicinal value of this substance. Some of this research indicates that CBD may have far-reaching uses in the healthcare industry.

FDA Approves First Cannabis-Derived Medicine

Due to the progress made to understand the medicinal value of CBD, the FDA recently approved the first cannabis-derived medicine containing CBD[9].

Epidiolex is an oral solution intended for treating seizures in people suffering from severe forms of epilepsy. The FDA points out that this medication derives from marijuana, yet does not contain enough THC to cause intoxication or euphoria.

The FDA also discussed the potential benefits of CBD when these medications go through the proper evaluation process. The government agency remains committed to preventing the illegal marketing of CBD products.

During the clinical trials for Epidiolex, researchers found that the drug performs better compared to a placebo in reducing the frequency of seizures.

The patients also experienced very few side effects when taking CBD medication. The most widely reported issues included sleepiness, lethargy, and sedation.

CBD May Provide Pain Relief with Minimal Side Effects

Pain relief provides one of the most researched areas of CBD use. Numerous studies have explored the link between CBD and the cannabinoid receptors in the human brain.

According to research literature published in 2017, 15 out of 18 clinical trials found that cannabinoids provide an analgesic effect[10]. Keep in mind that these trials included the use of both THC and CBD.

Researchers found that the cannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors, resulting in increased activity of the neuroreceptors. This is the same effect that you get when taking traditional pain relievers.

The only reported side effects during these trials included minor nausea and vomiting related to the existing therapy that patients underwent.

Another study involving rats found that CBD may work as an anesthetic[11], reducing pain before surgery.

These are just a few of the examples that I uncovered that help illustrates the potential for CBD as a pain reliever.

Besides these studies, several countries have approved an oral spray called Sativex, which combines THC and CBD to offer pain relief to multiple sclerosis patients.

Studies Find Possible Benefits of CBD for Cancer Patients

Relief from cancer-related symptoms was one of the first benefits that led to the push for medicinal marijuana, paving the road for CBD research.

In one study involving 177 cancer patients that did not respond to traditional pain relievers, most patients experienced less pain after taking a CBD or THC extract[12].

A second study found that a combination of THC and CBD may reduce nausea[13] and vomiting before chemotherapy.

These studies indicate that CBD may offer relief from mild nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy and other cancer-related therapies. However, as with most of the research, the results are not conclusive due to the limited size of the trials.

CBD May Help Alleviate Anxiety and Depression

The next area where CBD shows promise as a medicine is the treatment of anxiety and depression. Patients that suffer from these conditions typically receive pharmaceutical drugs that contain a wide range of possible side effects, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction

In some cases, the medications can even promote the condition that it attempts to treat. Individuals have been known to experience increased depression and suicidal thoughts after taking certain antidepressants.

There are also studies that indicate some of these medications are addictive[14] and increase the risk of substance abuse.

CBD may provide a safer method for treating anxiety or depression. In one study, researchers gave a group of 24 patients suffering from social anxiety disorder either a placebo or 600 mg of CBD before a public speaking scenario. The group that received CBD experienced less anxiety[15] and discomfort.

Researchers believe that CBD interacts with serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, leading to the benefits of treating anxiety and depression.

Research Suggests That CBD May Protect the Brain

Most of the CBD research discusses the way that the cannabinoid interacts with the brain. Through this research, scientists have found that CBD may protect the brain.

One study examined the use of CBD to slow the neurodegeneration connected to Alzheimer’s disease[16]. Researchers found that CBD protects against neurotoxicity in the brain and improves cell viability, slowing the progression of the disease.

As mentioned, CBD may offer an effective treatment for other neurological diseases, such as epilepsy. Compared to placebos, CBD works better for reducing seizures[17] in patients suffering from epilepsy.

CBD May Help Protect the Skin Against Acne

While most people think of acne as a problem that adolescents face, adults can also suffer from bouts of zits and pimples. In fact, 9.4% of the global population suffers from acne[18]. CBD may provide relief.

One study found that CBD may contain anti-inflammatory properties[19], which is one of the issues that lead to acne development. Inflammation causes the body to produce excessive sebum.

The oily secretions lead to greater acne breakouts. By fighting the inflammation, adolescents and adults may experience less acne.

If CBD truly contains anti-inflammatory properties, it may offer even greater use in the medical world besides treating acne.

Doctors consider inflammation the common factor in a wide variety of health issues[20], including:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis

Inflammation is a natural response to attacks on the body. When the body overreacts, inflammation can lead to negative health consequences and make it harder to treat existing illnesses.

Fighting this inflammation may offer relief and better outcomes during treatment.

What Are the Side Effects of CBD?

After examining the latest research, I did not find a long list of side effects of CBD. Most of the studies that I listed included minor mentions of mild side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Sleepiness
  • Increased appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea

Keep in mind that in most cases only a small group out of each sample size reported the side effects.

CBD and other products derived from marijuana may bring potential risks to pregnant women and their babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report cautioning pregnant women against using marijuana due to the potential for developmental effects on babies[21].

Another study found a potential link between CBD and increased permeability in the placental barrier[22], increasing the risk of exposing the fetus to substances that the mother ingests.

Other than potential health risks to pregnant women, CBD does not appear to possess any major side effects.

Please refer to our article Potential Side Effects of Using CBD for more important information.

Last Thoughts on Cannabidiol

What is cannabidiol and is it safe? CBD is one of the many compounds found in cannabis plants.

According to the latest research, CBD may provide a wide range of possible health benefits, including many of the benefits previously linked to medicinal marijuana. However, unlike marijuana, CBD does not contain THC.

It may help treat seizures, offer pain relief, reduce anxiety and depression, and even help prevent acne.

The only common side effects reported during most of the studies include sleepiness and increased appetite. Some individuals also reported nausea. However, many individuals reported less nausea after taking CBD, as with the cancer-related tests.

These studies and reports are still based on small groups of subjects instead of the correlation of dozens of reports involving thousands of patients. This means that it is hard to evaluate the full benefits and side effects without additional research. As the federal government eases restrictions on CBD and more businesses look to profit on the compound, we can likely expect a lot more studies in the coming years. These future studies combined with current research may shed more light on the medicinal value of CBD.


Expand for Content References

[1] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1439/cannabidiol

[2] https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/qa/what-us-states-have-legalized-medical-marijuana

[3] https://www.consumerreports.org/cbd/cbd-may-be-legal-but-is-it-safe/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5905184/

[5] https://www.businessinsider.com/first-lab-made-marijuana-thc-cbd-startups-demetrix-2019-2

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25667194

[7] https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/5.2_CBD.pdf

[8] http://fortune.com/2019/02/25/cbd-cannabinoids-market/

[9] https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-drug-comprised-active-ingredient-derived-marijuana-treat-rare-severe-forms

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5922297/

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5478794/

[12] https://www.jpsmjournal.com/article/S0885-3924(09)00787-8/fulltext

[13] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/47643079_Preliminary_efficacy_and_safety_of_an_oromucosal_standardized_cannabis_extract_in_chemotherapy-induced_nausea_and_vomiting

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/

[15] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Cannabidiol-Reduces-the-Anxiety-Induced-by-Public-Bergamaschi-Queiroz/17bd4862969fcb771d901332d408456de18d7d05

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5289988/

[17] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1611618

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25597339

[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25061872

[20] https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Inflammation_A_unifying_theory_of_disease

[21] https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/3/e20181889

[22] https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(13)00828-4/fulltext


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