What Is CBD?
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
CBD (cannabidiol) products offer many potential health benefits, as millions of people around the world have discovered. Though generally safe, CBD does come with some potential risks and side effects.
Discover the benefits of CBD and learn how to integrate this powerful cannabinoid into your wellness regimen.
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What Is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is a cannabinoid (a natural chemical compound) found in the cannabis plant. CBD is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, after psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract.
CBD is generally considered legal in all 50 states, but there are some loopholes and exceptions to be aware of. Stay abreast of your local and state laws for the most up-to-date information about the legal status of CBD.
How CBD Works in the Body
CBD functions in multiple ways. First, CBD has a physiological effect on the body and can be used as a mood enhancer. While it is not intoxicating like THC, CBD does have mild psychoactive effects.
Unlike THC, CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors. CBD can, however, antagonize cannabinoid (CB) receptors in the presence of THC, which means that CBD can dampen THC’s ability to bind to CB receptors. CBD also modulates serotonergic transmission by binding to the 5HT1A serotonin receptor. It is this effect on serotonin receptors that is thought to give CBD its mood-improving, painkilling and anti-emetic (anti-nausea) effects.
Some people say that CBD gives them a broadly relaxed feeling described as less “on-edge” and more emotionally “even.” This relaxing feeling, combined with CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects, could help the cannabinoid treat pain and insomnia.
However, lower doses of CBD may actually make people feel more awake. This makes low doses of 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 endocannabinoid system (ECS) makeup, reduced anxiety throughout the day, and the actions of the relaxing terpenes like linalool, humulene, and myrcene. Higher doses of CBD (usually 50 mg +) are thought to have more sedative effects, so those taking CBD throughout the day may be more likely to feel sleepy at night if they’ve been dosing regularly. The presence of THC also adds to these effects.
How CBD and THC Interact
CBD could be seen as the opposite of THC, as CBD does not bind to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), and may block THC from attaching itself to CB1 receptors to some extent. This means that CBD dampens THC’s effects.
In addition, CBD can balance out THC’s effects, and the patient can then take advantage of THC’s medical benefits with less psychoactivity. At the same time, CBD and THC work well in partnership and together activate the entourage effect in the body.
However, cannabinoid pharmacology is complex, and some studies show that CBD may actually elongate (and possibly increase) the effects and potency of THC in the body. The fact that CBD may block the uptake of THC to some extent would logically suggest that the prescence of CBD actually blocks the metabolization of THC, meaning it sticks around in the body for longer.
The dose of CBD also matters. If high doses of CBD are taken with high doses of THC, then you will still get psychoactive effects, and the two may combine to increase sedative effects.
Some would say that equal doses of CBD to THC can balance out or negate the high. This is not entirely true, as a high dose of THC in one sitting (usually over 5 mg for a psychoactive effect, 10-20 mg for a more potent psychoactive effect) will likely have an intoxicating effect regardless of the amount of CBD in the product.
Benefits and Uses
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:
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Stroke
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 in 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. CBD also has neuroprotective effects, making it useful for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), neuropathic (nerve) pain, and other neurological diseases.
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Possible Side Effects and Interactions
The possible side effects of CBD are generally mild. When using CBD products, it is possible that you will experience:
- Dry mouth
In rare cases, you may experience diarrhea, constipation, or other gastrointestinal issues, but these side effects tend to be associated with high amounts of CBD.
Drug interactions with CBD are also possible. Consult with your healthcare provider before using CBD if you are on any medication, especially antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives (especially benzodiazepines like clobazam), and blood thinners like warfarin. Using CBD in combination with these drugs could diminish their effect or lead to other problems like bleeding and toxicity.
Dosages and How to Use
Dosing CBD and any other medication will always hinge on several factors. Your experience level, health goals, body composition, and general lifestyle all play a role in determining how much CBD you should use.
Novice CBD consumers may find relief with just five daily milligrams (mg) of the cannabinoid. People who have been using CBD for a while and are using it to treat severe neuropathic pain may require exponentially higher doses.
In general, lower doses of CBD are associated with more energizing effects, especially when combined with other cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and cannabigerol (CBG). Larger doses (50 mg or more per day) may have more sedative effects, especially if combined with cannabinol (CBN), THC, and terpenes like myrcene and linalool.
Other than tinctures, most people associate CBD oils with topical application. Indeed, applying CBD oil, cream, and gel to the skin may achieve your desired effect, especially with regard to minor muscle soreness. You may also ingest CBD in the ways that you would ingest marijuana, such as through smoking, edibles, and tinctures.
If you are new to CBD, you may like to start with topicals to see how your body reacts. Then, you may opt to progress to more potent ingestion methods, such as CBD tinctures and edibles.
Prescription Medications with CBD
At present, there is only one CBD-derived prescription medication that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved. Epidiolex is a groundbreaking treatment for severe forms of epilepsy including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. This CBD-based medication may be prescribed to individuals older than one year of age to manage epileptic seizures.
The Bottom Line: Is CBD Right for You?
The science behind CBD is 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).
What we do know is that CBD has been beneficial for many people seeking to manage diverse conditions. The best way to know if CBD is right for you is to try the cannabinoid under the supervision of your healthcare provider.
Consume CBD and other cannabis products safely with a medical marijuana card. Gain access to doctor-prescribed cannabis medicine by applying for your MMJ card through Leafwell today.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How does CBD make you feel?
Many people report feeling relaxed and mellow when using CBD. For this reason, CBD has become a popular treatment for anxiety and insomnia. Other people describe CBD’s effects as drowsy, which means that the cannabinoid is best-used in the security of your own home. No one can predict exactly how CBD will make you feel. Talk to your doctor about the right dosage and products for you.
Is CBD safe?
CBD is 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.
There is some research showing that administering high doses of CBD can cause liver damage, but these are experiements on mice, not humans. CBD may also desensitize the liver enzyme cytochrome P450 (CYP 450), which metabolizes many types of prescription drug (e.g. anti-zeizure or anti-depressant medications). Desensitizing CYP 450 can cause a buildup of other, improperly metabolized drugs in the body. This is rare, but it is something to be aware of, and you may need to taper your intake of other drugs. Those undergoing immunotherapy should also avoid cannabinoid treatment, as the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of CBD may interfere with immunotherapy.
Generally, however, CBD is quite safe and well-tolerated, although we still need more research on long-term usage. The main danger does not necessarily come from the CBD itself, but improperly produced CBD products that are mislabelled and/or contain contaminants.
What happens if you stop taking CBD?
CBD is not considered an addictive substance and may actually be helpful in treating other addictions. But you may experience mild withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using the cannabinoid. These withdrawal symptoms could include mood changes, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and other issues that you may have used CBD to manage.
The potential for withdrawal underscores the importance of speaking with your physician before starting or stopping any medication, including CBD. However, for most people, suddenly stopping CBD will not prove difficult or have any serious side effects. Compared to sedative or alcohol withdrawal, which can result in extreme anguish and even death, CBD withdrawal is mild if it exists at all.