CBD (Cannabidiol) : Everything You Need To Know

CBD Molecule

Everyone is talking about how cannabidiol (CBD) is full of medicinal benefits. Read below to learn about all of them and CBD is different from THC.

What’s the Buzz with Cannabinoids?

While THC is known as the cannabinoid that gets you high, cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has been shown to have a wide variety of medicinal properties. In this article, we review the importance of cannabidiol, highlighting its many therapeutic and medical benefits.

Read below to learn about the scientific benefits of CBD that has helped reignite the cannabis industry.

Looking for strains high in the cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD)? See our article showcasing the Top 9 High-CBD strains.

Looking for a shorter introduction to CBD? Check out this summary article.

How CBD Changed the Public Opinion of Cannabis

Undeniably, the stigma associated with cannabis is finally starting to change. While propaganda helped make the herb illegal nearly 80 years ago, remember that our lack of knowledge of the endocannabinoid system is what allowed for the disinformation to float to the top. When the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, THC, CBD, or cannabinoid receptors were yet to be discovered. As a result, none of the medicinal properties of cannabis could be scientifically proven.

Today is a different story. While we still have a lot to learn about how and why cannabis works the way it does, we have come a long way in the past 80 years. Many of the cannabinoids were discovered by 1964, and the CB1 and CB2 receptors were fully discovered by 1992.

In the past 25 years, we have come to discover that our bodies have a complex endocannabinoid system, which regulates a wide variety of physiological properties, such as pain, hunger, mood, and memory. Our bodies produce their own endocannabinoids naturally, so we finally realize that our bodies require cannabinoids.

CBD oil, which is non-psychoactive (i.e it doesn’t “get you high”) can be eaten, heated for vaping, dabbed, or applied topically. It is, perhaps erroneously, credited with the majority of the medical benefits of marijuana and is partially responsible for the pro-cannabis legalization sweeping the country.

The Undeniable Medical Benefits of CBD

Within the past decade, the public opinion of medical marijuana has become much more positive, primarily due to the realization of the medicinal benefits of CBD (and THC). Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary Weed showcased an enlightening story of Charlotte Figi’s struggle with epilepsy. Not only was conventional medicine utterly useless, CBD oil removed nearly all of Charlotte’s seizures.

CBD oil has helped many people who had no other treatment options.

After millions of Americans have seen the benefits of medical marijuana, it is difficult for legislators and voters to stay in the dark. While the plant is still federally classified as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value, recent polls show that 89% of the people believe that medical marijuana should be legal.

CBD’s Legality

After reviewing the legal status of marijuana throughout the 50 states, we find that not only do 26 states have a medical marijuana program, an additional 16 allow for possession of CBD oil for specified medicinal purposes. Remarkably, only 8 states currently do not allow for some form of Cannabidiol medication.

Consider how much we know about the medical benefits of cannabis and cannabidiol, given the fact that cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug with “no medical value”. If cannabis was Schedule 2, scientists could perform the proper clinical trials to learn the true effects of cannabis. Instead, pharmaceutical companies create synthetic cannabinoids that are legal, yet not as beneficial.

Imagine how much more we could learn if full legalization was granted. While it is great that so many states have implemented some form of legal medical marijuana, many of these programs do not cover enough patients and do not allow for easy (or any) access to the medicine. Full legalization would ensure that all patients could easily get access to the medicine that they need.

Next, we review the properties of cannabidiol to understand what it does, how it makes us feel, and its medical benefits. As we will see, THC is not the only cannabinoid in town.

How Does CBD Work?

Many of the cannabinoids were first discovered in the 1940’s, and the structure of CBD was found by 1963. A few more decades would pass before we started to understand how these cannabinoids function. It soon became clear that THC was the cannabinoid primarily responsible for psychoactive effects.

CBD acts on the body’s encdocannabinoid system.

Most of the growers in the 60’s and 70’s were illegally supplying recreational users who wanted to get as “high” as possible. We see that this triggered the popularization of high-THC low-CBD strains. Over 99% of the strains that we find today simply do not contain the levels of cannabidiol that many believe cannabis should have.

CB Receptors

While the euphoria of THC is caused by activating the CB1 receptor, cannabidiol has no effects on the receptor, making it non-psychoactive. Most people believe that cannabidiol gains most of its properties through binding to the CB2 receptors, which are located mostly in the immune system throughout the body. As research progresses, it is clear that cannabidiol’s pharmacology, or method of interaction, is much more complicated.

CBD blocks THC

While cannabidiol has low affinity for the CB1 and CB2 receptors directly, cannabidiol acts as an antagonist to CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists, such as THC. While this does counteract some properties of THC, it also exacerbates others.

Cannabidiol also has been shown to inhibit an enzyme in the liver, which extends the duration of effects from THC. We will elaborate on how CBD counteracts many of the negatives associated with THC.

There is evidence suggesting that Cannabidiol has additional brain signaling mechanisms besides CB2 receptor activation, which includes activation of the 5HT(1A) receptor, responsible for regulating serotonin levels. CBD and THC also modulate two opioid receptors.

Additionally, CBD has been found to be an antagonist of the GPR55 receptor, which may eventually be categorized as the CB3 receptor.

CBD and Anandamide, Adenosine

cannabidiol also suppresses the enzyme FAAH, which breaks down the endocannabinoid anandamide. As a result, cannabidiol increases the amount of anandamide throughout the body, which binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The vanilloid receptor, or TRPV-1, is also stimulated by cannabidiol. This helps mediate inflammation and neuropathic pain perception.

Cannabidiol activates the adenosine receptors, which causes regulation of dopamine and glutamate. This gives cannabidiol some of its anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic properties which we will eventually discuss. Some of its anti-cancer effects come from the activation of peroxisome proliferator activated receptors, or PPARs.

adenosine

This graphic, by The Oatmeal, depicts how caffeine from coffee interacts with Adenosine receptors. It turns out that cannabidiol might be acting in a similar fashion, allowing for it to promote wakefulness and a slew of other medical benefits.

 

As you can see, the multiple mechanisms in which Cannabidiol interacts with our body is quite complicated. We cannot simply say that CBD gets all of its medical benefits from CB2 activation. To make things more complicated, we see that Cannabidiol also changes how THC interacts with our bodies.

For example, CBD does not directly bind to the CB1 receptor. However, CBD blocks THC’s interactions with the CB1 receptor, while inhibiting FAAH, thus allowing more anandamide to activate the CB1 receptor. We see that understanding exactly how CBD affects the CB1 receptor now depends on the amounts of THC and anandamide within our bodies. Also, recognize that the endocannabinoid system is highly complex, so other factors are involved as well.

How is CBD Produced?

The metabolic pathways used to create THC and CBD are quite similar. First, the cannabis plant produces CBGA, which eventually can be catalyzed to form either CBDA or THCA through the enzymes CBDA synthase and THCA synthase.

Once CBDA is formed, it will turn into CBD after heat is applied. This explains why we must ignite or cook our cannabis to get optimal effects, as the same applies for THCA and THC.

Effects of CBD

Since cannabidiol is non-psychoactive, the effects are quite subtle, if noticeable at all. There is a lot of misconceptions about cannabidiol and how it is supposed to make you feel. I have heard a lot of people say that CB1 receptors are in the brain, and CB2 receptors are throughout the body, so THC causes a head high and cannabidiol causes a body high. In reality, it is not this simple.

I have also seen a few people expect to have Cannabidiol give them a body numbing or strong pain killing sensation. While CBD may have some painkilling abilities, do not expect to feel the couch-locked high associated with heavy indicas. That’s another misconception, high-CBD strains are not necessarily indicas.

As a side note, the boiling point of CBD is 365 °F (180 °C), so if you are vaporizing, make sure the heater is set to at least a few degrees higher than this.

Now that we know what cannabidiol is not, what can cannabidiol do for us? Besides the numerous medical benefits, it interacts with THC in a synergistic manner.

THC vs. CBD

Three of the biggest negatives of cannabis comes from THC’s ability to induce anxiety and paranoia, cause psychotic outbreaks, and impair short-term memory. Interestingly enough, Cannabidiol has been found to help with all of these, making THC and CBD a perfect match. Perhaps this was first noticed when African strains devoid of cannabidiol seemed to cause psychosis more frequently.
A study looked at the THC and CBD levels contained in the hair of many patients; the patients with only THC were more likely to have psychotic symptoms than those who had both THC and CBD present. This led to research that suggests that cannabidiol on its own has antipsychotic properties.

A review of the antipsychotic properties of cannabidiol reveals that a clinical trial has shown the effectiveness of cannabidiol as an antipsychotic. While these preliminary results are suggestive, a large randomized study would be needed to allow for patients to receive treatment with cannabidiol.

The anxiolytic properties of cannabidiol have been studied since as early as 1990. Today, there is a vast amount of preclinical evidence showing the anti-anxiety benefits of cannabidiol.

CBD’s has multiple mechanisms to combat many of the negatives associated with THC, including anxiety and paranoia.

Anxiety associated with public speaking could be helped with CBD. Also, cannabidiol enhances extinction learning, which allows us to decrease our habitual response to previous stimuli. This could help decrease fear and anxiety, as anxiety is often created by some initial stimulus that trains us to react in a specific way.

For example, getting shocked through our finger might greatly alarm us at first, but over time we would learn that the stimulation may not be as bad as we originally thought. To forget our initial fear of the shock is a type of extinction learning, and cannabidiol is found to help with fear extinction in humans.

CBD helps fight fear conditioning
When you experience a significant event, your memory system binds all aspects of the event into one whole. It will later “reactivate” that experience any time a portion of the whole event enters your mind. For example, if you have a memory of your boss yelling at you in your office, like in the above figure, then anytime you think of the office, your boss will come along for the ride and vice versa. Cannabidiol can help “extinguish” these types of memories so you can go back to thinking of your office without having the negative experience with your boss coming to mind.

While the anti-anxiety effects of cannabidiol have been noticed in clinical trials, the exact mechanism is just starting to be understood. We previously mentioned that cannabidiol activates the 5HT(1A) receptor, which regulates serotonin levels. Serotonin is known to regulate our mood and overall happiness. Unsurprisingly, it has been shown that cannabidiol’s anxiolytic effects are mediated through activation of the 5HT(1A) receptor.

Cannabidiol has been shown to inhibit the paranoia and memory impairment caused by THC. It’s almost as if THC and CBD were meant to be together.

If recreational users were to start smoking cannabis with a higher CBD-to-THC ratio, it seems likely that less incidents of paranoia and psychosis will occur in the future, ultimately making cannabis a safer substance.

Medical Uses of CBD

Epilepsy and CBD

Increasing anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD helps with epilepsy for over 50% of patients, and some surveys stating that it helps as many as 85% of patients. As the FDA currently has no approved treatment options for Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy in children, it is important for us to determine the true medical value of CBD oil.

With such staggering numbers, the scientific community is challenged to discover the mechanisms in which cannabidiol interacts with our bodies. While double-blind clinical trials involving humans is the only definitive proof that many doctors will accept, researchers hope that studying cannabinoid interactions within rats will provide enough incite.

CBD oil may be the only available treatment option for patients with Dravet’s syndrome.

A study found that inducing epilepsy in rats changes the way that the CB1 receptors are expressed throughout the hippocampus. This research suggests that cannabinoid regulation may be a good treatment option for epilepsy. Check out our article on treating epilepsy with cannabis, where we provide the evidence from over 20 scientific papers. There is now no doubt that cannabinoids are as effective, if not more effective, than current epilepsy treatment options. We were even able to compile specific references about how CBD can help with epilepsy.

Currently, GW Pharmaceuticals is undergoing clinical trials of Epidiolex, a pure cannabidiol extract designed to treat pediatric epilepsy. GW has released successful results from Phase 3 of their study, and now they look to get Epidiolex approved by the FDA.

Neuroprotective and Anti-inflammatory Benefits of CBD

Like many of the cannabinoids, cannabidiol has been shown to have many neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it a great treatment option for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. When investigating the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol, it was found that cannabidiol also is quite protective against glutamate neurotoxicity, which causes excitotoxicity, or nerve cell damage/death. Excitotoxicity may occur due to spinal cord or brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawals, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, and hypoglycemia.

Research shows that cannabidiol provides neuroprotective effects, such as modulating oxidation stress and inflammation, through activation of the CB2 and 5HT(A1) receptors. It is reassuring to learn that cannabidiol has anti-inflammatory properties from more than one mechanism, making cannabidiol quite versatile.

In 2006, cannabidiol was shown to inhibit a protein signal that causes a buildup associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, we have reviewed the medical benefits of treating Alzheimer’s disease with cannabis in some detail. Evidence suggests that THC and cannabidiol may help with treating Alzheimer’s disease.

CBD protein buildip

Protein buildup in the fibers of neurons is one of the suspected causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Cannabidiol can actually prevent this protein from being produced

In Europe, many multiple sclerosis patients are prescribed nabiximols, or Sativex, a pharmaceutical blend of THC and CBD. This medicine helps with the severity of spasticity, a condition that causes the muscles to continuously contract.

Research has shown that THC and CBD help regulate neurotransmitters that are affected in patients with MS. A successful clinical trial of Sativex showed that about 75% of MS patients saw improvements from the cannabis-based medicine. CBD topicals may also have therapeutic effects.

Evidence also shows that THC and CBD help treat Parkinson’s disease, or at least in simpler animal models of the disease. While there are currently no neuroprotective treatments for Parkinson’s disease, cannabidiol has been shown to improve the quality of life of patients with the disease.

Excessive alcoholism causes neurodegenerative effects in the brain. The antioxidant properties of cannabidiol have been shown to protect against these neurodegenerative effects.

Cancer Treatment with CBD

One of marijuana’s most beneficial medical properties is its ability to inhibit cancer cell growth in a wide variety of cancers, including breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancer. Not only does cannabis help with many of the negative symptoms of chemotherapy, such as pain, hunger, and nausea, but it also can kill tumor cells in some instances. For information on many of the different types of cancer that cannabis can help with, check out our article on cannabis cancer treatment.

CBD cancer

Cannabidiol and other cannabinoids can actually fight cancer cells directly

While the best cancer medication most likely should contain THC and CBD, many researchers look to study the anti-cancer effects of cannabidiol alone, since it is non-psychoactive. We now understand that cannabidiol has multiple molecular pathways that exhibit anti-tumor effects in gliomas, a type of brain tumor that is difficult to treat.

Cannabis cures cancer? Here’s everything you need to know.

Also, CBD activates the PPARs, which are also activated by the omega-3 fatty acid. While PPAR activation has anti-cancer effects, it also sometimes promotes cancer. It remains unclear how much of CBD’s anti-cancer effects come from PPAR activation.

Other Medical Benefits of CBD

With opioid addiction becoming a huge problem, many hope that medicinal cannabis will help with this epidemic. While THC is more of a painkiller than cannabidiol, research suggests that cannabidiol has synergistic benefits with morphine. Hopefully, cannabinoids and opiates can provide greater benefits together than they could alone. This allows the patient to take less of either medication, reducing the negative side effects. Research also shows that Cannabidiol inhibits the reward-facilitating effect of morphine.

Cannabidiol has been shown to be an antagonist of the GPR55 receptor, which may help bones keep their strength. Patients with osteoporosis may find benefits from cannabidiol.

We have also previously discussed the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol may help with arthritis. We also cite the studies that suggest arthritis is reduced by CB2 activation. It seems clear that patients notice a significant decrease in symptoms when consuming cannabis.

Cannabidiol may also help patients with diabetes, is an antidepressant, and has antibacterial properties. cannabidiol has anti-psoriasis properties to protect skin, making it a great ingredient for topical applications. Also, it has been studied to treat intervertebral disk degeneration.

We recently wrote an article discussing how cannabis can help with Crohn’s disease and IBD. It appears that cannabidiol’s activation of PPAR may be one mechanism in which cannabidiol helps with IBD.

Considering all of the medicinal benefits of cannabidiol, one would expect a plethora of side effects. So far, cannabidiol has been shown to be non-toxic, and it does not change any physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Strains High in CBD

See our list of high CBD strains, here

The vast majority of strains produced commercially have THC percentages above 20%, yet CBD levels under 1%. Some landraces have been found to have lower THC levels and nearly identical levels of THC and CBD. Today, any strain with more than 4% CBD is considered to be a high-CBD strain.

While it is often difficult to find high CBD strains, WoahStork is making it easier with the Strain Genie. Simply by clicking on the activity group Medicate, you will be shown a list of high-CBD strains. We also will show you which dispensaries near you have those strains and allow for online ordering.

Popular high-CBD strains include Charlotte’s Web, Cannatonic, Harlequin, ACDC, and Sour Tsunami. We also featured an article on the top 9 high-CBD strains.

CBD oil is also quite common, often coming as either 100% CBD or a 1:1 ratio of THC : CBD. For example, CannaKids offers a CBD Honey Oil product, which remarkably adds the terpenes back into the mix. Sativex, a pharmaceutical offered by GW Pharmaceuticals also has a 1:1 THC : CBD ratio.

Much information from the internet on CBD oil can be misleading, as many will try to claim that legal hemp oil contains significant amounts of CBD. While growing hemp remains federally illegal, the FDA has approved hemp oil for consumption, as long as the oil is extracted from the seed or the stalk. Cannabidiol cannot be extracted from the seeds, and the stalk contains very little CBD. Most of the cannabidiol is contained within the leaves or flower, which is still illegal. Therefore, any legal hemp oil product that tries to claim that it has significant amounts of cannabidiol is lying to you!

The Future of CBD and Cannabis

Inevitably, as more patients learn about the medical benefits of cannabis, more high-CBD strains will be developed and enter the mainstream. Today, top dispensaries are certain to have a variety of high CBD options.

Here in Los Angeles, I am always impressed by the selection of high-CBD strains at The Higher Path. Currently, they have ACDC and Canna-Tsu in stock, both of which are high in CBD. You can check out these and their other high-CBD products here, including tinctures, sprays, oils, and edibles.

Recreational users also have something to gain from cannabidiol, as CBD fundamentally changes the way that THC interacts with our brain and body. Even for recreational users who have never tried a high CBD strain, I highly recommend it. While cannabidiol is non-psychoactive, it has been proven to counteract many of the negative aspects of THC.

Try starting with a strain that contains fairly equal ratios of THC and CBD, such as Cannatonic. While the high may not be as strong or potent, the overall experience may be more calming and enjoyable.

Since high-CBD strains are difficult to find, I like to stock up on a strain with mostly CBD, such as ACDC, whenever I can. Since ACDC has almost no THC, I prefer to blend ACDC with my favorite high-THC strains, giving me the ability to dial in the perfect THC-to-CBD ratio. Since it is difficult to find a high-CBD strain with a specific terpene profile, I tend to pick a high-THC strain with the terpenes that I prefer. This way, I don’t have to worry as much about finding a high-CBD sativa or high-CBD indica.