Sometimes you have to go back to basics. This article answers one main question: ‘What is CBD’? CBD stands for cannabidiol and this article is an introduction to what it is, how it works and how it can be used.

Leafwell believes it is important to educate medical marijuana users and you’ll find plenty of information in our blog back catalogue. If you want to know more about cannabidiol (CBD) and how it works, you can check out our “How Does CBD Work?”, which will explore this subject more fully. We also recommend checking out “What is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)?” and “What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?” in order to get a fuller understanding of how THC, CBD and the ECS works. Here, we will keep it as short, sweet and simple as possible, without leaving too much out.

Download Free Guide to CBD

What is CBD?

CBD or cannabidiol is a cannabinoid (a natural chemical compound) found in the cannabis plant.

Cannabidiol (CBD) chemical formula. C21 H30 O2.
Author: Harbin. Source . Public Domain picture.

How Much CBD is There in Cannabis?

CBD is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, after THC. It accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract.

What Effect Does CBD Have?

CBD has a physiological effect on the body and can be used as a mood enhancer. While it is not psychoactive in the same way as THC, CBD does have a non-typical form of psychoactivity.

Some say that CBD gives them a broadly relaxed feeling. Less “on-edge” and more emotionally “even”. This relaxing feeling, combined with CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects, could help it treat pain and insomnia.

However, for some people, higher doses of CBD may actually make people feel more awake. This makes sense, as CBD is a CB1 receptor antagonist to some extent (more on this below), so will likely not have the same sleepy effects that THC has.

This makes CBD useful for relaxing during the day, but not necessarily at night. People attributing sleepiness to CBD could be experiencing this effect due to their own individual ECS makeup, reduced anxiety throughout the day, and the actions of the relaxing terpenes like linalool, humulene and myrcene.

How Does CBD Work?

CBD could be seen as the opposite of THC. CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), and in actual fact blocks THC from attaching itself to CB1 receptors. This means that CBD dampens THC’s effects.

  • CBD affects the following receptors and enzymes in the brain and body:
  • Serotonin receptors (partial agonist, meaning CBD binds and activates serotonin receptors) – treating anxiety, depression, PTSD and nausea.
  • Vanilloid receptor (TRPV1) – this is a receptor in the body that acts as an internal thermometer. CBD desensitizes this receptor, which is also involved in the transmission of pain signals.
  • Mu- and delta- opioid receptors -changing the way they process pain signals.
  • COX-2 enzyme – CBD desensitizes this enzyme, making it a potent anti-inflammatory. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen work in a similar manner.
  • Cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme – found in the liver, CBD desensitizes this enzyme. CYP450 also processes many other drugs, such as anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), meaning anyone using medications in the benzodiazepine class will need to taper their use when using CBD.

Although CBD is a CB1R antagonist, it does not bind to the receptor very well. The way CBD seems to work is by subtly influencing the way THC and the endocannabinoid anandamide bind to CB1 receptors. Using the strict definition, CBD would seem to be closer in action to a negative allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor.

An allosteric modulator is a compound that binds to a cannabinoid receptor in an indirect way, changing the way it processes signals (instructions) receptors receive. Allosteric modulators could be seen as a sort of volume control, being able to turn up or turn down the volume on signals. A negative allosteric modulator turns down the volume; a positive allosteric modulator turns up the volume. Here’s how CBD’s complex pharmacology seems to affect THC:

  • THC, no CBD = Very psychoactive, but short-lasting – duration about 30 mins – 2 hours; after-effects lasting 1 – 2 hours more.
  • THC, some CBD = Psychoactive, longer-lasting, usually more tolerable than THC alone – duration about 1 – 4 hours; after-effects lasting 2-3 hours more.
  • Equal THC to CBD = Some psychoactive effect, but usually tolerable and allowing people to remain functional. Duration of effect can be 4-6 hours.
  • High CBD, low CBD = May have some mild psychoactive effects. Very tolerable. Duration of effect could be similar to above, of around 4-6 hours.
  • High CBD, no or extremely little THC = No major psychoactive effect. Extremely tolerable. Depending on dosage, can last from 1 hour to around 4 hours.

What Conditions Could CBD Be Helpful For?

Just as with any cannabinoid, CBD could be useful for a broad range of health problems. Perhaps the most promising areas are neurological conditions such as:

Other areas where CBD has shown promise include:

When you look at the underlying cause of many of the above conditions, you will see that inflammation plays a big part of them all. CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects, combined with its capability of affecting multiple receptor sites and the fact that it is extremely well-tolerated by the human body, are what make it useful as a medication for so many health problems.

Cannabis and CBD could help reduce opiate consumption. By Haleigh’s Help. The study this graphic is based on can be seen here.

What’s So Special About CBD?

Here at Leafwell, we’re very interested in the power and potential of CBD and have helped patients obtain access to medical CBD which has been used to great effect. And we think we’re just in the early stages of discovering the true medical value of CBD.

CBD is not as psychoactive as THC, and could have significant therapeutic effects in its own regard. Although THC can actually help increase CBD’s medical benefits via the entourage effect (the combination of the cannabinoids, smells and flavors that make cannabis medicine), it is not necessarily needed in huge amounts. In fact, CBD can balance out THC’s effects, and the patient can then take advantage of THC’s medical benefits with less of the psychoactivity! Here’s the

CBD is also generally very well tolerated by the human body, and you cannot overdose by using CBD alone. This makes it potentially very useful for reducing or replacing the need for opioids, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, sedatives, anxiolytics (anxiety-beating drugs), NSAIDs, and other medications that could be addictive and/or harmful when used in high doses.

What is Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)?

CBDA is called the acidic counterpart to CBD, and is what CBD is before it loses a CO2 molecule (called “decarboxylation”) to age or heat. CBDA’s chemical formula is C22H30O4.

Before CBDA is formed, there is cannabigerol (CBG), which is the parent cannabinoid. The enzyme CBD synthase changes CBG to CBDA.

CBDA could have therapeutic effects of its own, and is thought to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. However, there is much debate surrounding how effective acidic cannabinoids are, but for now we will not look too deeply at this argument for simplicity’s sake.

Chemical structure and formula for cannaigerol, CBG.
CBG skeletal structure. Chemical formula C21H32O2. Cannabigerol (CBG) is the parent cannabinoid to both CBD and THC.

How Many Cannabinoids are There in Cannabis?

The cannabis plant contains up to 150 cannabinoids. The big six cannabinoids are:

The cannabinoid that is also a terpene, beta-caryophyllene, could also be seen as a seventh big cannabinoid.

Using CBD in combination with these cannabinoids, as well as terpenes like limonene, pinene, humulene, myrcene and many others (there are around 220 terpenes in the cannabis plant), can change how it impacts the body.

What is CBD’s Chemical Formula?

CBD’s chemical formula is C21H30O2.

What Else Should I Know About CBD?

You should know that CBD is not the “medical” part of cannabis, and that both THC and CBD can be used medically.

You should also know that CBD combines with different cannabinoids and terpenes, and different combinations mean that CBD will behave in different ways. Combining it with terpenes like linalool, myrcene and humulene may give CBD more sleepy effects. Combined with high amounts of limonene, pinene and beta-caryophyllene, CBD becomes more awakening.

The science behind CBD is quite complex, especially when we are combining it with other compounds in the cannabis plant. The fact is, nobody knows the precise ins-and-outs of how CBD works for a variety of different conditions, at least not yet in full (we certainly have some good information so far). Until research on the cannabis plant is made possible via legalization or rescheduling, the question of “How does CBD work?’ will officially be answerable.

Check out our table of cannabinoids and terpenes if you would like a handy guide.

Free Infographic Guide to Cannabinoids
Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Join our community and get exclusive updates and deals!

Leafwell medical marijuana card

Not Sure If Cannabis Can Help You?

Let us know what you are looking to use medical cannabis for, and we will point you in the right direction.

Contact our support