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CBD Basics: What is CBD?

CBD has quickly earned the title of THE buzzworthy natural wellness product of the decade, but there are still concerns surrounding the safety and legality of CBD. Many may be wondering how CBD got to be so popular in the mainstream and what the science has to say about its effects on the human body. But let’s start with the basics — what the heck is CBD anyway?

CBD Basics

CBD is short for cannabidiol, a chemical compound naturally found in the cannabis sativa plant. CBD is just one of many naturally-occurring chemicals found in the cannabis sativa plant, in addition to Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound known to produce the “high” effect when cannabis is consumed.

Although cannabis sativa produces both of these compounds, CBD and THC affect different receptors in the brain and thus have opposite effects. Because CBD is non-psychoactive, it does not produce a high like THC, and CBD can even neutralize or lessen the psychoactive effects of THC. However, both compounds have been shown to elicit therapeutic responses in the body. For this reason, CBD has become a popular option for those who wish to reap the benefits of this naturally-occurring compound without the psychoactive effects.

CBD can either be derived from hemp or marijuana. While hemp and marijuana are taxonomically the same plant, there are several important differences. Hemp is generally cultivated for industrial purposes or to extract CBD oil, while marijuana is typically cultivated to produce flowering buds that contain high amounts of THC and is typically smoked to produce a psychoactive effect or “high.” But because hemp and marijuana are biologically similar, the CBD molecule is generally the same whether it's extracted from hemp or marijuana

However, the legal status of hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD differ greatly. According to federal law, hemp must contain less than 0.3% of THC and is legal in all 50 states; therefore, hemp-derived CBD also must contain less than 0.3% of THC and is also federally legal. However, CBD derived from marijuana is only legal in states where marijuana is legal and may contain more than 0.3% THC.


CBD Science

At a molecular level, more than 100 phytocannabinoids have been discovered in the cannabis plant, including THC and CBD. Phytocannabinoids are plant-derived (exogenous) cannabinoids that are produced by the glandular trichomes of the cannabis sativa plant. Female plants produce a fragrant amber-colored resin that contains cannabinoids.

While phytocannabinoids are produced by plants (exogenous), endocannabinoids are produced inside the mammalian body (endogenous). Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout the human body and are believed to be more numerous than any other receptor system.

In this way, the human body is actually hard-wired for CBD. The endogenous cannabinoid system, otherwise known as the endocannabinoid system, is actually considered to be the most important physiological system involved in establishing and maintaining human health

Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body in the brain, organs, connective tissue, glands and immune cells. Two cannabinoid receptors have been identified by scientists: CB1, which is predominantly found in the nervous system, connective tissue, gonads, glades and organs, and CB2, predominantly found in the immune system and associated structures. Phytocannabinoids, like CBD and THC, can elicit therapeutic responses by binding to these endocannabinoid receptors.

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system and its therapeutic benefits has significantly advanced our collective understanding of its effect on health and disease. In fact, this discovery has major implications for nearly every facet of medical science to date.

CBD Research

CBD research has come a long way in the last 50 years. Marijuana prohibition sidelined therapeutic research for decades, but with mounting pressure for federal legalization, scientists are beginning to delve into the therapeutic effects of CBD and other cannabis-derived products.

Research from government-funded agencies, physicians and anecdotal accounts from patients highlight CBD’s potential as an alternative treatment for an impressive range of ailments: from chronic pain to autoimmune diseases, neurological conditions, metabolic syndromes, neuropsychiatric illnesses, gut disorders, addiction and even skin diseases. 

Research centers across the U.S. and abroad have demonstrated CBD’s therapeutic effects. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found substantial evidence that cannabinoids may help alleviate chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and symptoms of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. 

A 2010 study by scientists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany, demonstrated that CBD stimulates the growth of new brain cells in adult mammals, suggesting the “pro-neurogenic effects of CBD might explain some of the therapeutic features of CBD-based compounds.”

Although cannabis has been erroneously dubbed a “gateway drug” for decades, research suggests CBD may actually help curb opioid dependency. CBD has been shown to reduce cravings and anxiety in heroin-abstinent individuals, suggesting that CBD can potentially alleviate clinical symptoms associated with the continued cycle of addiction.

In addition to these studies, several clinical trials are underway to determine the long-term therapeutic effects of CBD and cannabis-derived products.


CBD Legality

While marijuana is legal in some states and illegal in others, hemp (and hemp-derived CBD) is legal in all 50 states. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 erroneously classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 Drug with “no currently accepted medical use.” However, increasing evidence that speaks to the therapeutic benefits of CBD and other cannabis-derived products has compelled individuals from across the board to speak out and advocate for federal change so that these products are available to those who need it most.

In doing so, many state legislatures have even side-stepped federal prohibition by permitting the use of marijuana and other cannabis-derived products with physician approval for certain medical conditions. In a total of 36 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, medical marijuana is both legal and publicly available with a physician’s recommendation.

The 2018 Farm Bill also reclassified hemp as an “agricultural commodity” and is no longer considered a Schedule 1 Drug under the Controlled Substances Act like marijuana is. But now that hemp-derived products have gained legal status nationwide, advocates across the board are turning their focus to federal marijuana legalization.

The junction where we stand with federal marijuana legalization is as interesting and dynamic as ever. Individuals from across the board — those suffering from disease, those who have been incarcerated for marijuana possession, and those who wish to see more longitudinal research — are banding together in a collective effort to promote legalization so that everyone can benefit. In doing so, our collective understanding of cannabis and cannabis-derived products continues to increase so that more and more people can have access to and explore its therapeutic benefits.

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