What is CBD? – The Ultimate Guide to CBD

Chances are you've heard about CBD (Cannabidiol), but what is CBD? This ultimate guide puts CBD under the microscope & answers why everyone is talking about this compound.

For decades, the cannabinoid compound THC has taken all the glory. Studies frequently focused on THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, as it is responsible for getting us high. Though THC isn't the only compound within cannabis. In fact, it's just one of over a hundred different cannabinoids which each have their own function. Though one compound has recently emerged on the tip of everyone's tongues; CBD.

CBD, or cannabidiol, has cropped up recently as a major contender in the health & wellness industries, assisting with seizures, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, anorexia and a long list of other ailments.

Though what exactly is it about CBD that works so well? We decided to find out.

What is CBD?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol and is one of the active compounds found within the cannabis plant alongside THC – Tetrahydrocannabidiol.

Unlike THC however, CBD has no psychoactive effects, therefore you won't get feel stoned from consuming it.

CBD can be derived from both the marijuana and hemp plant, though typically CBD will be extracted in the form of oil from hemp plants, as there is less THC and more CBD in hemp – to put it simply: more healing, less high.

The two most common ways to extract CBD from a Hemp plant are Ethanol and CO2 Extraction explained in more depth here.

Once extracted, the CBD is often then sold in various forms. Whether it be oils, vapes, edibles or creams, there's a way to consume CBD for everyone.

THC CBD Cannabis Industry

How does CBD work in our bodies?

A little known fact about the processing of CBD in the body is that it works by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors which naturally occur within the human body.

The Human body naturally produces cannabinoid receptors known as our Endogenous cannabinoid System – ECS for short.

In charge of our sleep patterns, how we regulate pain and how well our immune system functions, our ECS plays a large role in our daily life and can be split into two main receptors: CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors coordinate many of our day-to-day functions such as appetite, sleep, how we feel, our ability to remember and how we process pain.

CB2 Receptors, on the other hand, focus mostly on our immune & nervous systems.

While CBD doesn't bind with these receptors, it can influence them by activating certain receptors and inhibiting others, which in turn can create certain desirable experiences within the body.

Does CBD get you high?

CBD has also been found to exert effects outside the ECS and interact with opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors. These receptors can be located in certain areas of the CNS (brain and spinal cord), which is why CBD is often labeled as non-psychoactive is misleading – it is actually non-intoxicating. But why is it non-intoxicating when THC, another cannabinoid, is?

Well, THC directly stimulates the ECS by binding to cannabinoid receptors called CB1 receptors. Activation of these CB1 receptors not only has implications on homeostasis, it can also evoke feelings of euphoria, which can manifest as feelings of panic or anxiety for some consumers. As CBD exerts its effects indirectly and does not stimulate CB1 receptors, using this compound won't make you feel high, euphoric or anxious.

What is CBD oil?

As CBD has such a wide range of uses and benefits, there are numerous different ways in which it can be consumed. How you utilize this substance will be based on personal preference as well as how effective that particular product is in managing your condition. 

They don't all work in the same way and with so many different CBD products on the market, inconsistencies in quality and strength can be common, so make sure to do some research prior to purchasing.

CBD oil is the most common CBD product and the market and is seen as the most versatile. CBD oil is typically a liquid extract contained in small bottles with a dropper built in the lid. These are also known as tinctures. CBD oil can be applied sublingually (i.e. under the tongue) for fast absorption or alternatively, can be ingested either directly or via food and beverages. 

This oil can also come in capsule form (enclosed in a gelcap) where the onset of its effects will take longer but will also last for longer. Similar to this method of ingestion is CBD edibles. This refers to food and beverages infused with CBD and can take the form of gummies, chocolates and soft drinks amongst other things. CBD oils and edibles are typically used to treat pain, inflammation, anxiety and insomnia.

CBD can also be applied to the skin in the form of topicals such as lotions, balms, gels, sprays and creams. Water-based topicals are absorbed quickly while oil-based topicals are absorbed more deeply. Topicals are mainly utilised to treat localised pain, inflammation and soreness. Indeed, Leaf Nation covered this topic in great detail in an article on their site.

Vaporising CBD is another method that delivers fast-acting effects, which is handy for those consuming CBD for anxiety or stress relief. CBD vapes refer to pre-filled CBD oil cartridges which can be attached to e-cigarettes or vapes. There is even a growing range of cannabis strains on the market that specifically contain high levels of CBD and low levels of THC for consumers wanting all the benefits of cannabis without the high. ACDC and Sour Tsunami are just two examples of CBD-dominant strains with minimal concentrations of THC.

What is CBD isolate?

CBD isolate, as the name suggests, is pure CBD that has been refined into an extract via the removal of all the other compounds found within full-spectrum products. CBD isolate comes in the form of a powder or crystals that are colorless and odorless

This composition is usually ingested either directly or by adding it to your food. If you're looking for the most efficient method of absorption, then apply the CBD isolate sublingually (i.e. underneath the tongue).

Like other cannabinoids, CBD is lipophilic (binds to fats). This property makes CBD unsuitable for mixing with water and other non-fat drinks. Although you can still put CBD in these beverages, it will not dissolve fully and can leave clumps of powder or crystals behind.

THC CBD Cannabis Industry

How do you take CBD & what does CBD do?

Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands for years, so it's no surprise CBD has its benefits. In fact, as both the anecdotal and clinical evidence piles up, it seems there's almost no problem that a bit of CBD can't fix.

Though there are many ways to skin a cat and many ways to ingest CBD.

You can consume CBD in the form of gummies, tinctures or oils, you can smoke it, wear it as a topical or even buy CBD Patches. Each method of ingestion will lead to slightly different results so it's worth doing a bit of research to find out which method suits you.

Below we've listed some of the benefits to CBD use.

Opioid THC CBD Cannabis Industry

CBD for Pain & Addiction

Pain is the leading reported health issue worldwide, listed as the number one reason for Australians and Americans to seek medical assistance.

Typically, those who experience chronic pain are prescribed pharmaceutical painkillers, which can have their own unwanted side effects. One of the most prevalent negative side effects of painkillers, specifically opioids, is addiction.

In America, over 2 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers, leading to over 100 deaths a day. Australia is beginning to see similar issues arising, with the deaths from opiates almost doubling in the past decade.

CBD, on the other hand, has been found to mitigate chronic pain with fewer of the harmful side effects found from opiate use.

Studies in rats have shown that CBD effectively causes analgesia – pain relief – by interacting with several proteins in our Endo-cannabinol System.

And because CBD doesn't activate our endocannabinoid receptors directly, the chances of habit-formation or addiction are much less likely.

The anti-addictive properties of CBD were summarised in a report by the World Health Organisation which found that "CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential."

Pretty neat, huh?

Studies like this show the potential for CBD-based therapies to replace or assist existing pain treatments, which in turn may lead to a decrease in substance abuse.

In fact, CBD works so well for pain relief that many athletes are now turning to the substance to help them recover from injuries.

THC CBD Cannabis Industry

CBD for Anxiety & Insomnia

Alongside chronic pain, anxiety is becoming a rising issue in the modern world.

Listed in many countries as the leading cause of mental illness, the World Health Organisation estimates that globally 264 million are suffering from an anxiety disorder, up 15% from the previous decade.

In America, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 5 people, and Australia has more than 2 million suffering from anxiety.

Typically anxiety is treated through therapy, coupled with prescriptions of anti-depressant drugs such as Xanax of Diazepam.

Studies show, however, that those with anxiety tend to suffer for years before attending therapy.

And without therapy, those suffering from anxiety are left with no choice but to take anti-anxiety drugs, which aren't much of a sure-fire solution themselves.

50% of all anxiety sufferers who take anxiety medication report experiencing no benefits at all, and much like pain medication, anti-anxiety drugs can often lead to addiction.

Meanwhile, studies involving CBD have shown that the substance has considerable anxiolytic effects, reducing symptoms of anxiety, with others showing that CBD actually changes the way the brain responds to anxiety.

Those who suffer from anxiety can often suffer from insomnia too, which is another area CBD can help.

Those with chronic insomnia found a 66% improvement in their sleep after just one month of CBD use.

THC CBD Cannabis Industry

CBD for Epilepsy

Some of the greatest interest surrounding CBD revolves around its ability to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, specifically among children.

Approximately 3% of Australians will suffer from epilepsy, with children comprising a majority of that percentage.

Current medication for epilepsy has a 70% success rate, which also means that nearly one in three people won't respond to the medication.

CBD is showing a lot of potential when it comes to treating epilepsy, specifically in the rarer cases of childhood-onset epilepsy.

Increasingly we're seeing CBD products hit the market which is having great effectiveness at improving epilepsy symptoms, such as MGC Pharmaceuticals CannEpil hitting the UK market, and GW Pharma's Epidiolex, a product which has achieved a 48% reduction in seizures.

CBD for Cancer

Now we're not saying that CBD can cure cancer, but… some studies have shown CBD to have pro-apoptotic and anti-proliferative actions in different types of tumours – simply put, CBD has been shown to prohibit the growth and spread of certain types of cancer.

Not only this, but many cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy will turn to the relaxing effects of CBD to relieve the negative physical effects of chemo.

CBD for Acne

At an annual value of $1 Billion per year in the United States alone, acne is one of the most common skin conditions faced by individuals.

Recent studies on CBD as a viable acne solution have found that CBD can significantly decrease ones sebum levels.

Using a cream made of 3% Cannabis seeds for 12 weeks, participants found their sebum levels (the substance that produces pimples & cysts) safely and significantly decreased.

CBD is now increasingly popping up in the Acne & Skincare industry as a result.

THC CBD Cannabis Industry

CBD for Hair Care

For many of the same reasons that CBD may be effective in treating acne, it may also help promote healthy hair and prevent baldness.

A healthy scalp often requires healthy levels of sebum, as too much sebum can lead to issues like psoriasis, dermatitis, dandruff, and even baldness. Early studies have shown that CBD use can help regulate sebum levels, which may suggest that CBD could play a powerful role in keeping hair looking healthy and full.

This concept of using CBD for haircare is extensively covered in a comprehensive post found here.

Pet CBD Cannabis Industry

CBD for Animals

You might be surprised to hear that CBD is great for pets too, with many companies now releasing canine-specific CBD ranges such as Charlotte's Web.

The reason for this is that both cats and dogs have their own endogenous cannabinoid system, or ECS like we do.

Dogs that suffer from any of the above issues such as seizures, anxiety, arthritis, cancer or lack of appetite can be given hemp-based or CBD-based snacks and feel an improvement in their symptoms.

Wellness CBD Cannabis Industry

CBD for Wellness

Wellness has become the third wheel to the Recreational and Medical Cannabis Markets, and CBD is the buzz-word of Wellness.

CBD works excellently as a pharmaceutical cure for many of our ailments, though to enter the pharmaceutical field, companies have many hurdles to overcome.

Research, development and clinical studies are needed for validation and entrance into the Medical market, which simply isn't viable for all who wish to create CBD products.

As as result, many companies are entering the CBD market in a different way – Through the Wellness Industry.

The Wellness Industry now sits at three times the size of the pharmaceutical industry, and while there may not be a wealth of research to back up many of the products within this industry, that's not to suggest the products don't work.

Brightfield estimates the US CBD wellness industry will be valued at an enormous $22 Billion by 2022 – And with the amount of new players entering the CBD-wellness game, it's no surprise.

Charlotte's Web has released skin creams, balms and CBD for dogs, and athletes are turning to Hemp-based CBD protein to reduce inflammation and fatigue after their exercises.

We also wrote an article last year on Elixinol, a global producer of hemp CBD-based dietary & skincare products.

And most recently Green Growth Brands have partnered with Abercrombie and Fitch to release their CBD bath-bomb range.

Despite a lack of clinical research in the Wellness sector of the cannabis industry, we're seeing more and more companies crop up with CBD-based wellness products which may suggest the proof is in the pudding.

Pete Evans THC CBD Cannabis Industry

Advocates of CBD

Scientists and medical cannabis consumers aren't the only ones who are excited about cannabidiol and its potential. As CBD becomes legal in more parts of the world and the research behind the claims becomes more concrete, we're witnessing increasing numbers of people advocating for its use medicinally.

Amongst these advocates are numerous high-profile individuals who have used their platform to promote the benefits of CBD and how it has impacted their life. Actors such as Jennifer AnnistonGywneth Paltrow and Seth Rogen have all endorsed the use of CBD for conditions such as pain and anxiety, while Michael J. Fox's use of CBD for symptoms related to Parkinson's disease is well-documented.

Other heavyweights who have entered the CBD market are Mike Tyson and Dan Bilzerian. Mike Tyson recently created his own 40-acre 'cannabis resort' in California, while Dan Bilzerian has started up his own CBD company called Ignite. Closer to home is Pete Evans, who has been a vocal supporter of CBD use, especially when prepared with food. No surprises there as cannabidiol is explicitly paleo.

This strong public support for CBD will only boost its reputation, facilitating research incentives, and the creation of new products. Currently, in Australia, CBD can only be purchased with a prescription and isn't available over-the-counter. Access to CBD in the future will hopefully improve as we conduct more research on how to utilise the compound to its full potential while minimizing any unwanted effects.  For all we know, we could be on the brink of something big with cannabidiol and the implications could shape the global cannabis industry.

You can also check out our exclusive interview with Zelda Therapeutics, one of Australia's leading pioneers when it comes to CBD research.

Although it's early days, it looks like CBD may be the magic pill that actually works.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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