What is CBD? Benefits, Uses, & Effects of Cannabidiol

Area 52
October 22, 2021 | Blog

Cannabidiol (CBD) is largely responsible for breaking the trail on the thriving cannabinoid industry. It’s the most popular (legal) cannabinoid, by far.

Despite being derived from cannabis like THC, CBD has a distinct set of effects, uses, and legal considerations governing its use.

This guide serves as an overview of CBD, covering the most popular ways people use it, information legality, and a rundown of the most common side effects you should be aware of.

What is CBD?

Illustration of CBD Chemical Structure

CBD is a cannabinoid, a catch-all term for a family of chemical compounds found in cannabis plants that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Cannabinoids all share some fundamental chemical similarities, namely that they’re composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen in long, complex chains. The specific chemical structure gives each type of cannabinoid a unique profile of pharmacological effects.

As a consumable product, CBD is often sold infused in gummies, oils, or topical creams.

Each delivery mechanism has slight differences in absorption time, but otherwise, they generally produce the same effects. Choosing a type of CBD product over another ultimately comes down to cost, availability, and personal preference.

Is CBD Natural Or Synthetic?

CBD is a phytocannabinoid, which means it is a naturally occurring cannabinoid produced by cannabis plants.

In contrast, synthetic cannabinoids are molecules that don’t occur in nature and can only be manufactured in a laboratory setting.

Advances in chemical knowledge and technology have led to the discovery of cannabinoids that are not produced by cannabis plants but are classified as cannabinoids due to their chemical structures. Without modern chemistry, synthetic cannabinoids would not exist.

Some people get confused about whether CBD is natural or synthetic when they hear that CBD can be made in a laboratory. The critical point to remember is, while chemists can artificially create CBD, there is no chemical difference between CBD extracted from cannabis plants and CBD created in a lab [1].

CBD, the molecule, is naturally occurring.

How Is CBD Made?

CBD Oil with Hemp Plants

So how do companies make CBD products? Most manufacturers extract CBD directly from marijuana or hemp plants using supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction.

CO2 extraction is a common technique used to extract essential oils from plant matter to add scent to perfumes or flavors to food additives. Other common solvents used to extract CBD from cannabis plants include ethanol, butane, and hexane.

In practice, most CBD manufacturers extract CBD from hemp plants for legal reasons (more on that in a bit). However, some companies have turned to direct synthesis using complex chemical techniques. These methods are expensive, which prohibits widespread adoption.

The synthetic creation of CBD is largely restricted to the research sector, so most of the CBD available for sale and consumption is extracted from hemp plants rather than being synthesized.

Is CBD Legal?

Yes! CBD is legal at the federal level in the United States.

Some states have more restrictive policies governing the sale and use of CBD, but it remains available in all 50 states.

Most states restrict legal CBD products to contain less than 0.3% THC for recreational — that is, non-medical — use. You should check with your state legislature for details about your local CBD laws.

CBD became federally legal in the United States under the 2018 Farm Bill for the cannabis industry, which stated that hemp-derived CBD products were legal for recreational use. The legal distinction between hemp and other cannabis plants established in the 2018 Farm Bill opened the door for growing hemp in the United States and is largely responsible for CBD’s surge in popularity [2].

CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

Illustration of CBD vs THC Chemical Structure

Even though CBD and THC are both produced by cannabis plants, they have different chemical structures, pharmacological effects, and use cases. The biggest difference between CBD and THC is that CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it won’t alter your headspace or make you high.

CBD and THC also differ in how they’re typically used. THC users tend to gravitate towards smoking products like bongs and vape pens or edible products, while CBD users overwhelmingly prefer oil or gummies.

What Are The Effects of CBD?

Most CBD users describe it as having an overall relaxing effect, which explains its popularity as a treatment for mild anxiety. CBD is also commonly used as a sleep aid, with many users reporting subjectively better sleep quality when taking CBD before bed.

CBD is a promising pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory candidate, according to people that use it. In some cases, chronic pain sufferers say that CBD is the only treatment they’ve tried that allows them to manage their pain enough to lead a normal life without using prescription painkillers, which are often highly addictive.

Addiction management is a less common use for CBD, although some anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD may reduce cravings for addictive substances like tobacco, alcohol, and opiates.

Are There Any Side Effects to Taking CBD?

CBD sounds too good to be true in many ways. It’s legal, non-addictive, and relatively safe, so what’s the catch? Research suggests that there is no catch, but there are some mild side effects to be on the lookout for.

Some people report feeling lightheaded and dizzy after taking CBD, and others experience headaches and nausea. In rare cases, some people may experience dry mouth or “cotton mouth.” Other less common side effects of CBD use include fatigue, diarrhea, and decreased appetite.

These side effects are all relatively uncommon, and the chances of experiencing them while taking a normal dose are slim. Large doses and prolonged, frequent use of CBD could increase your chances of experiencing these unwanted side effects. The best defense against side effects is taking smaller doses and limiting your weekly use to four or five days.

Importantly, research suggests that CBD in normal doses — usually under 50 mg — is relatively safe and non-toxic, although long-term use might produce some unwanted side effects [3].

How Does CBD Work?

Endocannabinoid System

CBD interacts with the human body through the endocannabinoid system.

There are two primary receptor types that make up the endocannabinoid system, the imaginatively named cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2).

CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system and are what facilitate the psychoactive properties of THC.

CBD doesn’t interact strongly with either CB1 or CB2 and instead makes its presence felt indirect. The exact mechanism for CBD interaction with the endocannabinoid system is a matter of ongoing research, but the leading theory posits that CBD inhibits several enzymes responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids.

There is also some evidence that CBD binds to dopamine and serotonin receptors and interacts with TRPV1 receptors, which play an integral role in the body’s pain and inflammation management infrastructure [4].

Will CBD Get You High?

No. CBD is not psychoactive and therefore won’t get its users high.

THC alters its users’ headspace because it binds to CB1 receptors located in the nervous system. CBD does not interact with CB1 and therefore has no mind-altering effects.

Just make sure you’re using products that contain less than 0.3% THC by weight. It also helps to check the total THC content of the products you’re using. Sometimes there’s enough residual THC to have a psychoactive effect if you take CBD products in high enough doses.

Key Takeaways: What is CBD?

Much of CBD’s popularity is the direct result of the 2018 Farm Bill — which removed CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids from its Schedule I status.

All 50 states and the United States federal government list CBD as legal, with relatively few limitations.

Clinical research on CBD is still in its relative infancy, meaning any support for CBD as an effective treatment must come from anecdotal evidence. While that may sound concerning, the anecdotal support for CBD’s efficacy is overwhelming and puts its utility on firm ground.

There are relatively few side effects associated with using CBD, and most users say they’ve never experienced any side effects whatsoever. People who experience side effects are usually taking larger doses or have been taking CBD consistently over a long period without taking breaks. Experienced users suggest limiting your weekly CBD use and taking lower doses if you’re concerned about unwanted side effects.

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