CBD: The Superstar Cannabinoid
Even if you’ve never tried cannabis in your life, you’ve probably heard about CBD in the last few years - this mysterious molecule has been touted as a treatment for everything from seizures to cancer, and has shown up in consumer goods of all kinds as more and more companies try to cash in on the meteoric rise of this wonder-drug. But what is the truth about CBD? What can it actually do, and what claims are unsubstantiated? It’s easy to be skeptical of CBD with all the buzz surrounding it, but it truly is a wonderful health and wellness supplement, unique in its ability to effectively manage a wide range of medical conditions and ailments when used correctly and at the right dose.
We recently added a video to our FAQ Page discussing CBD products entitled “What You Should Know about Hemp CBD”, and we felt the topic was important enough to warrant a deep dive here on the blog. In this article, we’ll look at the real science behind CBD’s medicinal properties as it is now understood, we’ll break down some of the myths and misinformation that have come with CBD’s quick rise from the shadows of prohibition to mainstream fame, and we’ll give recommendations for sourcing CBD products, dosing, and ways in which CBD can enhance your life.
Part 1: The Science of CBD
If you haven’t read our blog post on the human Endocannabinoid System, we highly recommend starting there for a great introduction to the science behind how cannabis compounds interact with our bodies. But the quick overview is this - your body has a system of signaling receptors and chemicals, called the Endocannabinoid System or ECS, that influence the regulation of your routine bodily functions, making sure that they occur at the proper frequency and intensity. When these basic bodily processes get out of balance, it manifests as disease; unchecked inflammation causes everything from arthritis to autoimmune disease to digestive issues, unchecked sensory nerve firing causes chronic pain and migraines, unchecked motor nerve firing causes seizure disorders and muscle spasms, and the list goes on.
CBD is able to indirectly influence these signaling pathways by down-regulating processes that are running haywire and closing the floodgates, or up-regulating a pathway that is not running when or as strong as it should, both of which allow the body to return to a baseline functionality. CBD’s ability to assist the body in maintaining homeostasis, or biological equilibrium, likely explains why it has shown so much efficacy at combatting chronic health issues in early trials - by flipping the switch on the signaling pathway that is causing the discomfort, CBD effectively controls the signal cascade through the body and alleviates the symptoms at the very beginning stage of the bodily process. Rather than targeting a unique mechanism only acting in the tissues involved with a distinct disease, or acting only on tissue that is already damaged by disease, CBD works on the most basic signaling action used throughout the human body, making its applications much more broad than a medicine developed for a single disorder. In fact, CBD might make an excellent daily wellness supplement to prevent the occurrence of disease by supporting the healthy function of the endocannabinoid system, but more research is needed in this area.
Part 2: CBD Myths and Misinformation
So now that we have a feel for the basic science underlying CBD’s scientifically-backed medicinal benefits, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin - the misinformation being spread about CBD. There are several myths and unsubstantiated claims being passed around the media as more people start talking about CBD. Let’s clear up some of the most glaring ones here:
CBD is “Non-Psychoactive” - to be far, this one isn’t so much a myth as it is a slight misstatement. What most people mean when they say that CBD is “non-psychoactive” is that it will not get you “high” like THC. While it is true that CBD does not produce the potent euphoric mental effects that THC does, CBD does still interact with our nervous system and can produce noticeable changes in cognition and bodily feeling. In fact, CBD can produce a low-grade “body high” that might feel similar to a low dose muscle relaxer to some users. So it is important to make the distinction that CBD is not considered “psychotropic”, or likely to cause potent mental impairment like THC or other psychedelic drugs, but it is in fact lightly psychoactive and may impact the nuance of how you feel mentally and physically at varying doses. If you’re new to CBD, as with any cannabis product, start at a manageable dose and pay close attention to how you feel after consumption before increasing your dose.
CBD is a “miracle cure” for every disease - Since we’ve never before seen a naturally-occurring compound with such a wide range of medical applications as CBD, some have been tempted to label CBD as a near-magical “cure” to every disease and disorder out there. Try this experiment - open up Google, type in any disease you can think of, add “CBD” or “cannabis” at the end, and search. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll find someone online touting cannabis, its extracts, or high-CBD cannabis products as the cure for the ailment and recommending that sufferers drop traditional medicine in favor of this treatment. This is dangerous advice, as we are still very early in our research of cannabis and CBD for medical treatment, and while anecdotal evidence may be promising in some areas, we cannot ethically recommend discontinuing established medical protocols wholesale in favor of such a variable and mysterious new compound. While CBD is a still a great treatment option to try due to its wide potential applications and very low risk of negative side-effects, going into a treatment plan with the expectation that you will be completely cured by a single compound is almost always a recipe for disaster and disappointment. Consult with medical professionals before discontinuing any prescribed treatment plan, and find trustworthy resources for cannabis education before embarking on a CBD medicine journey to make sure it’s right for you and your needs, and that your expectations are set appropriately.
CBD is fully legal because of the 2018 Farm Bill - this myth is difficult to untangle due to the current legislative “gray area” in which CBD finds itself. The federal government may indeed have legalized hemp with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, but isolated CBD or CBD products, especially those sourced from cannabis rather than hemp, are a bit less clear on legality at the moment, and there have been recent news stories of people being detained and facing consequences for possessing them. The FDA has indicated that CBD cannot be added as a supplement to food items, so companies currently manufacturing those products may soon find their business model outlawed if regulatory thoughts do not shift there. Some people in non-cannabis states also believe that using a hemp-based CBD product will protect them from ingesting THC and failing a drug test, but these products are legally allowed to contain trace amounts of THC - meaning that even if you don’t experience a “high” from them, you could still test positive for THC afterward and face serious consequences. Knowing the specifics of your local laws on CBD and cannabis, and erring on the side of caution, is always advised.
All CBD Products are the Same - we’ll unpack this myth in greater detail in the next section, but the idea that all CBD products are exactly the same - whether hemp or cannabis-derived, full-spectrum or isolate, purchased in-store or online - is leading many people to doubt CBD’s effectiveness unfairly. The source material, whether the product is full-spectrum or isolate, the ethos of the company making the CBD product, the extraction method used to create the product, and the final CBD dosage per container/serving all directly impact the experienced effects and medical effectiveness of a cannabinoid medicine. Due to the gray area in which CBD regulations currently reside, many unscrupulous companies have started marketing snake oil products as CBD medicine that do not contain the amount of CBD they say they do (or even any CBD) or may contain unknown amounts of pesticides, heavy metals - lots of impurities that you would not want in your medicine or wellness supplement. The best thing to do is research the company and product thoroughly prior to purchasing to make sure that you’re getting a high-quality, lab-tested CBD product that contains the compounds and concentrations it advertises.
Part 3: What to Consider When Sourcing CBD Products
In keeping with that final myth, let’s look at the factors that you should take into account when you’re looking to purchase a CBD product for any application, be it medicinal or supplemental. The main categories of product consideration are Source, Extraction Method, Dosing, and your Use Case.
Source - plant and processor : As we touched on in Myth #4, doing research to properly vet the company producing your CBD product is paramount. If you’re in a legal cannabis state, the best method is to purchase from a company that is state-licensed to make THC cannabis products. These producers are held to high manufacturing and purity standards that CBD-only manufacturers are not yet subject to, so they are less likely to produce a product with inaccurate CBD concentrations or impurities as it would jeopardize their THC product business in the process. If you don’t have access to CBD products from a state-licensed producer, ensure that you are doing extensive research on the company you’re considering purchasing from - reach out to them directly, ask about their ethics and testing protocols, get a feel for the tone of their communications. If they give you a bad or shady vibe, are not willing to send you accurate lab results, or do not respond to your requests for information, you probably do not want to purchase from that company.
The source material used to create your CBD product, be it drug cultivar cannabis or low-THC hemp, is also important. Although “craft hemp” producers like Frogsong Farm and Oregon CBD Seeds are now starting to breed excellent hemp plants with more robust chemical matrixes of secondary compounds than the industrial hemp of the past, cannabis-derived CBD products are still more likely in today’s market to have a wider range of these compounds like terpenes and minor cannabinoids that encourage Entourage Effect-based medicinal efficacy. If you’re not familiar with the Entourage Effect, it is a principle that states that whole-plant medicine with the full spectrum of primary and secondary compounds found in the plant will produce a more robust, potentially more effective bodily response than an isolated molecule like pure CBD. This consideration leads us into our second category - extraction or infusion method.
Extraction Method: The process that is used to capture the CBD from the starting plant material and get it into the final product is directly tied to the effects that a product will produce. As stated above, “full-spectrum” CBD extracts will contain the full matrix of secondary compounds including THC, CBD, minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other molecules that research hasn’t even discovered yet. On the flipside, “isolate” or “distillate” CBD products are refined in such a way that only the pure CBD molecule, or CBD and a small amount of THC, remain in the final product. These products can still be very effective, but will not produce the same Entourage Effect-supported benefits as full-spectrum products.
There is a sub-set within full-spectrum products that is coming into prominence as more people become interested in CBD medicine - these are “broad-spectrum” CBD products. A broad-spectrum product seeks to provide the benefits of the Entourage Effect while removing the psychotropic and widely illegal THC molecule, giving those who do not want to get high or who fear a drug test a potentially viable cannabinoid medicine option. However, It is imperative that a purchaser do their due diligence to ensure that the company is taking every measure to ensure that no THC remains in the final product and has lab tests to verify this, as even small processing errors could allow residual THC to remain in the product and lead to a failed drug test. Extraction method impacts more than the Entourage Effect qualities of a CBD product - it also directly effects the dose needed to gain relief from that product.
Dose: So why does the extraction method impact the required dose of a CBD product? Because CBD and THC, as well as terpenes and minor cannabinoids, work synergistically to produce a multiplicative effect - meaning that a small amount of CBD with an equal amount of THC and some secondary compounds like terpenes can have a therapeutic effect that is magnitudes greater than a much higher dose of pure CBD only. You may notice the same effects from 50mg of CBD taken with some other cannabis compounds that you do from 200-300mg of pure CBD. In many cases, an equal concentration of THC and CBD provides the most medically effective treatment, and even a 20:1 ratio is typically more effective than pure CBD. Keep this fact in mind when using CBD products with different extraction methods, as an equal dose of a full=spectrum and isolate product will likely produce noticeably different effects. It’s vital that you do some self-experimentation with different doses, extraction methods, and ratios of CBD:THC (and other secondary compounds if using full-spectrum products) to determine for yourself what dose and product type works best for your particular needs.
Use Cases: Though we previously stated that CBD is not a miracle cure for every disease, and that is certainly the truth, we will gladly concede that it does seem to be uncommonly effective for helping to treat an astounding variety of disorders and diseases. Hard research has shown CBD to be a powerful seizure reduction agent, and this same mechanism can make it helpful for treating lots of spasmodic disorders. CBD has chronic pain and inflammation reduction properties, so using it for muscle recovery after exercise or injury is a great choice, as well as to mitigate symptoms from arthritis and inflammatory skin conditions. Emerging research suggests that both THC and CBD have anti-proliferative properties, meaning they can curb the unchecked reproduction of cells and may be helpful in fighting tumor growths both benign and cancerous. CBD is also an attractive medical treatment option because unlike so many other traditional drugs, there are almost no negative side-effects from CBD consumption, and you cannot overdose to the point of death on either THC or CBD. In fact, although high concentrations of THC can certainly cause uncomfortable feelings like paranoia and nausea, CBD doesn’t seem to have these same drawbacks. For these reasons, if you’ve been considering trying CBD for a medical ailment or wellness support, it is very low risk to give it a try and see what it does for you. Just be sure that you’re following the advice of this article to ensure that you get a quality product, that contains the CBD and secondary compound concentrations it advertises, from an ethical producer who is operating with your health and well-being in mind.
We hope this guidance on the newest “superstar cannabinoid” has helped inform your CBD purchasing decisions, and empowers you to make great choices for your health and wellness. If you’d like to see our Founder/Owner Wayne Schwind dive into the details around CBD, be sure to check out our FAQ Page for the accompanying video “What You Should Know About Hemp CBD”, which includes a helpful infographic on key cannabis terms used throughout our educational resources. If you’re interested in diving into the business and legislation around the ever-changing CBD landscape, listen to our recent CBD-focused episodes of the Periodic effects Cannabis Business and Science Podcast.