CBD has exploded onto the wellness scene and become almost commonplace—but questions about the product, which is said to have powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects, still abound. Is it actually legal? What healing properties does it actually have? Is it safe for anyone to take? 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: 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. 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.
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 health benefits of CBD?
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. Research1 has found that CBD generally acts to promote homeostasis (i.e., balance), situationally reducing inflammation and decreasing blood pressure (if it is too high), just to name a few examples.
Can it help with anxiety and insomnia?
HJ: Research reveals2 a close and dynamic relationship between CBD, the central nervous system, ECS (the endocannabinoid system) and various neurotransmitters. Although CBD is not intoxicating, it can positively affect mood by acting on serotonin receptors3 (5HT1A), regulating GABA4 (involved in anxiety) and glutamate5 (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.
How does CBD actually interact with the brain and body?
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 states6. Since CBD, and cannabis in general, targets this ubiquitous system through various mechanisms of action, cannabis has potential applications for many diseases.
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.
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: It is important to use caution with any new product that you have not used before. 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.
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.
Can CBD be addictive?
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. 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 stop 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.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.