CBD, or cannabidiol, has become more mainstream over the past few years, and for good reason.
Hemp-derived CBD delivers this sense of calm with a negligible amount of THC—the psychoactive compound in some cannabis strains.*
These trace levels of THC in hemp (< 0.3% by U.S. law) mean that it should not make you feel high.
But unless you've tried hemp CBD yourself, it might be hard to imagine what it does feel like. So, we asked experts and real users for some insight.
How CBD works.
"The ECS is an important physiological system involved in controlling and maintaining human health, and cannabinoids like CBD interact with the ECS at two known receptors: CB1 and CB2," Perlman tells mbg.
CB2 receptors oversee the peripheral nervous system, aka all the nerves outside the central nervous system (think organs, limbs, and skin).
That's the high-level distribution of these receptors, but in reality it's more nuanced: CB1 and CB2 receptors are much more broadly located in the body3 (not surprising, given the widespread role of the endocannabinoid system in overall health and wellness).
As mbg's vice president of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, "While CB1 is concentrated heavily in the brain, you'll also find this receptor in the peripheral nervous system, GI tract, liver, reproductive organs, heart, and muscles. Similarly, while the CB2 is famous for its presence in the peripheral nervous system, it's also expressed in the spleen, immune cells, testes, and even the brain. So, not as black and white as originally thought."
Perlman explains that the ECS utilizes receptors (CB1 and CB2 and others) throughout the body "to regulate signals from and to our brains."
So where does the hemp phytocannabinoid CBD come in?
According to Sheetal DeCaria, M.D., a double board-certified integrative pain physician with Revitalized Med Center, there are three subtypes of hemp CBD options out there—full-spectrum hemp, broad-spectrum hemp, and CBD isolate—and the main difference between them is the presence (or absence) of other naturally occurring plant compounds within the extract.
"If a CBD product contains several other naturally occurring cannabis plant extracts, such as other cannabinoids, it is full-spectrum CBD," DeCaria explains.
Full-spectrum CBD may also include up to 0.3% THC, while broad-spectrum CBD is usually entirely free of THC.
CBD isolate is just that, CBD, the singular phytocannabinoid from hemp, meaning it contains no other cannabis plant compounds.
Ferira adds, "If you want a CBD product closest to the native hemp plant—the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, etc.—look for a full-spectrum oil or extract."
While our bodies generate their own endogenous cannabinoids, plant cannabinoids (aka phytocannabinoids), such as CBD, "can also work on our own ECS," resulting in a variety of beneficial effects that support balance and homeostasis in our body.*
These hemp cannabinoids have been shown to improve stress4, uplift mood, and promote sleep quality5, DeCaria tells mbg, adding research suggests that "CBD's health benefits may be greater when multiple compounds from the cannabis plant—like those found in full-spectrum formulas—are used together. However, large-scale studies are still limited."*
Its main claim to fame is its reputation for promoting feelings of calm, and many people take it to overcome the stressors of everyday life.*
Case in point, a cross-sectional study of CBD users7 published last year in the Journal of Cannabis Research found that of the 387 current or past-CBD users who completed an online survey, 42.6% took CBD for self-perceived anxiousness.*
It also found that 42.5% of participants also reportedly used CBD to improve their sleep.*
Forty-eight participants also reported an improvement in their sleep.* (However, it is worth noting these results fluctuated throughout the trial.)
What it should feel like, according to experts.
Each person is a unique entity, so one person's experience with CBD might look and feel completely different from another's.
But while the effects of hemp CBD might feel different from one person to the next, medical doctor at USA Hemp Clara Lawson, M.D., guesses that part of the reason CBD is so popular is it allows consumers the opportunity to reap the health benefits of the Cannabis sativa hemp plant without feeling intoxicated or "high." "Typically, it makes users feel calmed and relaxed,"* Lawson tells mbg.
When taking CBD, Perlman adds that users may feel a noticeable reduction in feelings of anxiousness, increased alertness, and improvement in sleep quality (potentially because of that stress reduction).*
What it feels like, according to real experiences.
Now that the experts have relayed what CBD is supposed to feel like, we reached out to a few people who have taken CBD to tell us what it actually feels like.
Unsurprisingly, their experiences were unique, but for anyone interested in trying hemp products for themselves, their insight might be helpful in persuading you one way or another.
"My heart feels calmer."*
"I have been using [CBD] for stress and anxiousness for about 3 years now! With a few drops, it actually works within 10 minutes. My heart feels calmer. It doesn't make me sluggish or drowsy, which was a bonus! I'd like to say it lasts for a few hours, so by the time it runs its course, I've already calmed down and moved past the problem I was facing."*
"My body feels relaxed, and my mind feels sweet."*
"If I'm navigating extra anxiousness, it shows up while I'm lying in bed. I take [CBD drops] and I love how they make me feel. I take it at night, about 20 mins before I go to sleep. This helps not only guide me to sleep but helps me sleep soundly throughout the night. Initially, upon taking, my body feels relaxed, and my mind feels sweet. It's a strange word to use there, but it's exactly how it feels. Like I can rest, like all is well. Things are sweet and calm."*
"I just feel calmer."*
"I use [CBD gummies] that take about an hour to kick in—which is tough because I would want to take them before bed to chill before I sleep, but it is what it is. I just feel calmer after taking it. It's nothing major, but it's an overall sense of calmness."*
"I don't feel anything."
"I take [hemp-derived CBD] the night before I have a big event and need to be rested. But I have to make sure I can get at least 8 hours of sleep because sometimes [the CBD] can make me groggy. I don't take it if I know I have to get up early. As for how it makes me feel, I don't feel anything. It knocks me out. Half the time I don't even remember falling asleep."*
The bottom line.
If you're interested in trying hemp CBD, to see how CBD feels in your body and whether or not it could help relieve some of your day-to-day stress,* talk to your doctor to find out if the herbal remedy is right for you—as it does have the potential to interfere with medications.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.