More people in the wellness world are turning to CBD for its powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects, but just as many are confused about the nature of the compound. The basics are simple enough: CBD is derived from hemp and marijuana plants, but unlike THC, it’s completely non-psychoactive (meaning it won’t make you high). Years ago, the therapeutic properties of CBD were brought to light when a little girl, Charlotte, went from having hundreds of seizures a week to virtually none after dosing with the substance. It’s since gained a cult following, with thousands of parents taking medical tourism trips to Colorado to experiment with the plant’s healing powers.
Recently, though, CBD has exploded onto the scene, transcending the world of the seriously ill to the wider sphere of people who just want to feel better. While it’s become almost commonplace, appearing in elixirs at trendy restaurants, in beauty products, in artisanal chocolates, and even in your friendly neighborhood bookstore with our health editor’s book CBD Oil Everyday Secrets—questions about the product still abound. Is it actually legal? What healing properties does it actually have? Is it safe for anyone to take? Is it possible to overdose on it? We reached out to Joel Stanley, the CEO of CW Hemp, and Heather Jackson, the CEO of cannabinoid research nonprofit Realm of Caring, to separate myth from fact.
How is CBD different from marijuana?
HJ: Marijuana is a slur or slang term referring to a cannabis plant containing high levels of THC. Cannabis with less than 0.3% THC is legally considered hemp. In addition to THC, the cannabis plant can produce over 100 unique chemicals called cannabinoids, one of which is CBD. While marijuana causes intoxication, CBD by itself does not. Any type of cannabis, whether high-THC or low-THC, can be bred to produce high levels of CBD.
JS: Put simply, while marijuana and hemp are both plants of the same species, Cannabis Sativa L., hemp is different in that it contains only minute levels of the cannabinoid THC, which is the one that produces a psychoactive effect. Marijuana is high in THC, while hemp is high in non-psychoactive compounds like CBD. Hemp and CBD are also legal federally, while marijuana is legal only in certain states
What are the physiological health benefits of CBD? The list of benefits (from inflammation to cancer) seems almost too good to be true.
HJ: Cannabidiol (CBD) is a “smart” molecule, an adaptogen, a regulator, and a modulator. CBD acts in a comprehensive and dynamic fashion, depending on the situation and location in the brain or body. There is a plethora of physiological benefits. CBD will generally act to promote homeostasis (i.e., balance), situationally reducing inflammation, decreasing blood pressure (if it is too high), “killing” cancer cells through various apoptotic and anti-angiogenic mechanisms, just to name a few examples. Colloquially, some researchers have even referred to CBD as the “boy scout molecule,” meaning it always does the right thing in any given situation. Research has revealed upward of 50 mechanisms of action; CBD is a “multi-target” therapy that can do many things, as opposed to an analgesic pain medication, which reduces pain and nothing else. CBD can do many things in many different situations.
One of the most common uses of CBD is for anxiety and insomnia. Has it been studied to actually make a difference for that? How does it work?
HJ: Research reveals a close and dynamic relationship between CBD, the central nervous system, ECS (endocannabinoid system) and various neurotransmitters. Although CBD is not intoxicating, it can positively affect mood, acting on serotonin receptors (5HT1A), regulating GABA (involved in anxiety) and glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter), and more! It not only acts on the ECS and respective receptors, especially CB2 but also affects the systems that control the aforementioned neurotransmitters. CBD has, again, a plethora of psychological benefits; research has revealed antidepressant, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and general mood-regulating effects.
JS: We were very surprised to hear from our own consumers, through a survey on the CW Hemp website, that anxiety was the No. 1 reason people order our product. For this reason, we are not only engaged in research with universities concerning serious neurological disorders but also now for PTSD and anxiety.
How is CBD actually interacting with the brain and body? Are we totally sure that it’s safe to consume?
HJ: Although CBD interacts with many receptors found in the brain and body (CB1, CB2, 5HT1A, TRPV channels, other G coupled protein receptors etc.), it mainly interacts throughout the brain and body via the Endocannabinoid system. The ECS is a system of receptors found in the brain and body (bones, GI, skin, organs etc.). The ECS is intriguing and important because it is the body’s “master regulatory system.” It communicates and interacts with virtually all other bodily systems (CNS, organs, autoimmune system, GI tract etc.) to keep the body in a healthy state, i.e., homeostasis. While research is advancing rapidly, it has already implicated the ECS as a crucial component of health; it is a system that is active, to some extent, in almost all disease states. Since CBD, and cannabis in general, targets this ubiquitous system through various mechanisms of action, cannabis has potential applications for many diseases.
JS: Now that research is moving forward all over the world, we believe that new evidence leading to greater understanding of mechanisms of action will be published almost weekly for the next several decades. This is an exciting time for the discovery of the many benefits of this misunderstood plant. It is also important to note that significant research has already been done on the safety of various cannabinoids, including CBD. Thus far, the safety/toxicity profile for CBD appears to be more in line with everyday foods and vitamins rather than being accompanied by the daunting side effects of many conventional drugs.
How can someone tell if they have high-quality CBD? Is there a particular dosage or amount of active compounds to look for?
HJ: The only way to verify you have quality CBD is if your product is third-party tested for contaminants and active ingredients. There should be a batch report available detailing each category. It is best to get CBD extracted from therapeutic (cannabinoid-rich) hemp, as opposed to cannabinoid-deficient industrial hemp, because it will be less likely to contain contaminants. It is also best if the product is manufactured in a registered lab that follows cGMP standards and AHPA guidelines. The Realm of Caring has a public resource that covers all of the quality concerns that a customer should have.
What effects can a person expect upon immediately taking CBD? What effects could they expect after a week, a month, or a year?
JS: The effects vary based upon the condition of the person taking CBD. Some people report the alleviation of conditions that have more visible symptoms, such as seizures, while others report a feeling of general wellness, such as sleeping better or lower stress levels. Each person is different and will have a unique response to any new botanical supplement. It is important for people to be objective in observing the effects in order to find the right individual dose and whether CBD can be helpful.
If someone has a bad reaction to marijuana, would you recommend they stay away from CBD?
JS: If “bad reaction” means that the psychoactive effects of marijuana were undesirable, then the person should not fear the same with CBD, as it is not psychoactive. If a person thinks they had an allergic reaction to marijuana, they should consult a physician before trying a hemp product. It is a plant and, while it has not been reported to my knowledge, allergies to cannabis could exist.
HJ: There are many factors to consider, such as where and how the plant was grown, how the product was processed and manufactured, and the route of administration used. Someone could have a sensitivity to a regional allergen, plant nutrient, herbicide, pesticide, mold, mildew, or other contaminant in a marijuana product that could be absent in a different CBD product. It is important to use caution with any new product that you have not used before. Though most report the intoxication from marijuana to be euphoric, some find it to cause great discomfort. This factor is not a concern with low-THC CBD products.
Can CBD be addictive? If someone takes it daily, will they build up tolerance? Will they have any negative reactions when they stop?
HJ: CBD, does not fit the traditional definition of a drug in the sense that it does not BIND to a specific receptor/receptor set in the brain. Repeated binding to specific receptors is what produces habituation, tolerance, addiction that is associated with many drugs both legal and illegal, including opioids, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Because CBD modulates and regulates instead of simply binding, it does not produce addiction, habituation, tolerance, or reinforcement. Rather than requiring periodic increases to regain efficacy, once a person reaches “saturation,” or their “subjective therapeutic dosing level,” they can stay there and in some cases even decrease to a maintenance dose. Furthermore, because CBD is nonaddictive and does not bind to receptors, it is safe to cessate use immediately or “cold turkey” without the fear of withdrawal side effects. Finally, even though withdrawal effects are absent, if one discontinues the use of CBD, of course symptoms could return if CBD was previously helping.
Is there a difference in potency between CBD derived from hemp and CBD derived from marijuana?
JS: There is no difference in potency of CBD derived from hemp or CBD derived from marijuana. If you have 10 percent CBD in a hemp plant and 10 percent CBD in a marijuana plant, the only difference is the amount of THC in those plants. The hemp plant containing at or below 0.3 percent THC and the marijuana plant containing greater than 0.3 percent THC. While the different levels of THC or other cannabinoids might make the effects seem different, the potency of CBD is the same. It’s also important to note that there are differences in potency between hemp-derived CBD products. Some CBD companies use hemp that is meant for fiber or seed production and is not high in CBD. This is because the manufacturer must process far too much plant material to derive small amounts of CBD. This is not the case with CW Hemp, as the Stanley Brothers created the first high-CBD hemp variety, which is used in all CW Hemp products. To my knowledge, these proprietary genetics are still the highest in CBD concentration of any marijuana or hemp variety.
Is it possible to overdose on CBD? If so, what happens?
HJ: You cannot take enough CBD to kill yourself or damage organs. This is not practically possible. First, let’s discuss the LD-50 rating of cannabis, which is 1-20,000-40,000. This is the ratio between a therapeutic and lethal dose. Comparatively, the LD-50 for aspirin is 1:20. Two aspirin will take away a headache, 40 aspirin will kill 50 percent of the people who take that many. To cite a silly example, try to imagine someone smoking 40,000 joints in one sitting. Literally, it is not practically possible to imbibe enough CBD/cannabis to kill yourself. Even with THC, you will fall asleep first. However, you can take “too much” CBD and experience sedation, appetite loss, or diarrhea (CBD is a stool softener). In short, cannabis compounds are some of the least toxic substances known to man. With this being said, you can still take “too much” and have an unpleasant experience, but permanent damage to the body or death are both out of the question.