It’s a bird, it’s a plane, actually it’s CBD, but if you’ve been living on planet Earth at all during the last few years you’ve undoubtedly heard the cannabinoid touted as a holistic Superman.
Not sure what it is, what it does, or how to use it? In this article we’ll break down the nuts and bolts of this in/famous cannabinoid to eliminate the guesswork for you as much as possible. There will always be mixed information and a little trial and error involved in getting to know a new plant ally, so let this intro be your guide.
What does CBD do?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is found in cannabis and hemp plants (more on that distinction later), and has been shown to be a promising ally in the management of chronic pain, debilitating autism symptoms, and in the reduction inflammation (good news for autoimmune and arthritis sufferers). There is also strong scientific evidence to support its efficacy in treating drug-resistant seizure disorders such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).
People with anxiety have also touted the relieving benefits of CBD since the early days of advocacy movements. Because of its slightly sedative, regulatory impact, it can help cut through the white noise and assist in accomplishment of daily and nightly tasks otherwise inhibited by anxiety, including both falling and staying asleep. Multiple Sclerosis patients may experience reduced muscle spasticity with 1:1 CBD:THC products, and in the first study evaluating CBD use in PTSD patients, 91% experienced reduction of symptom severity after two months of treatment with CBD.
CBD isn’t considered psychoactive. If your product contains no THC, a standard 10mL dropperful (or however many mL your particular bottle provides) is unlikely to cause a floaty feeling unless the milligram dose is very high. CBD also works synergistically with THC, so if you live in a state where THC is available medicinally or recreationally, you may wish to try a product with a little THC to help it along. It doesn’t have to be much, and it’s not usually noticeable (for those trepidatious about THC, no shade). Look for something in the 20:1 CBD:THC range if you’re able and willing to give it a go.
How does it work?
We’ve talked before about the endocannabinoid system, but it’s important enough to warrant a quick refresher. It’s a network of neuromodulator chemicals and their receptors which runs throughout the body and helps human beings stay healthy by regulating appetite, pain, mood, and memory. This system interacts specifically with cannabinoids, which can be derived from plants that work symbiotically with the body (phytocannabinoids, of which CBD is one), or derived endogenously (meaning the body makes certain of these compounds itself).
Every system is different, and every plant is different. Not only do strains produce varied responses based on their constituents but every person will react differently to varying levels of cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBC, CBN, and CBG, as well as terpene profiles. CBD is not classified as psychoactive, but about 5% of people report feeling a little funny after taking it.
Therapeutic doses tend to be small, try a few drops or a dropperful and increase slowly from there. Note that when it comes to whole plant or “full spectrum” medicine, even a little bit will immediately get to work lowering pain and inflammation and that overdoing it hasn’t been shown to diminish its medicinal function. Contrast that by purified or single-molecule CBD (also known as CBD Isolate), and you find that you need much more product to achieve the same effects, but that too much dramatically decreases efficacy. If you want to hedge your bets, whole plant is the move.
What does Pharma think of CBD?
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, of the leading 150 pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S., 118 are derived from natural sources including plants, fungi, and bacteria, with 74% derived from plants.
Plants have long been the inspiration for Western pharmaceutical drugs, so it was likely that at some point, Big Pharma would hop on the CBD wagon. Epidiolex, an oral pharmaceutical containing purified CBD manufactured by GW, was approved by the FDA in November 2018. This is the first cannabis-derived CBD drug to be rescheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which usually considers cannabis a schedule 1 narcotic, a classification that among other things indicates the plant has no medicinal use. If this fact prompts readers to skepticism regarding the motivations behind cannabis’ illegality, it should—according to Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana by Michael Backes, there is written evidence of cannabis usage as medicine dating back to ancient China almost 5,000 years ago. Backes and other scholars date cultivation of cannabis for various purposes including medicine to upwards of 12,000 years ago. Interested readers can learn about the colonial and capitalist histories making cannabis illicit in the U.S. in books like Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational, and Scientific, by Martin A. Lee, and Marijuana: A Short History, by John Hudak, found in TAK’s bookstore.
Originally marketed as a treatment for LGS and Dravet syndrome in patients 2 years old and older, the FDA has expanded Epidiolex’s indications to include Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) as well as Dravet and LGS in patients one year and older. There is also CBD in GW’s first ever prescription drug containing both THC and CBD, derived from cannabis, known as Sativex in Europe and Nabiximols in the U.S. Side effects of Epidiolex include allergic reaction and unusual sleepiness, especially at higher doses, as well as sleep problems, diarrhea, liver damage, suicidal ideation, and weight loss. To be clear, where cannabidiol is concerned, the 2019 Forbes editorial reporting an alarming link between CBD and liver damage, has been debunked for pseudoscience.
Recall that research demonstrates that whole plant medicines—unlike Epidiolex which hosts purified CBD separate from the rest of the plant—preserves synergistic relationships between the various chemical constituents of cannabis (of which there are hundreds) and significantly increases efficacy. (Note: Sativex/Nabiximols does include a range of cannabinoids and terpenes.)
What caused the CBD Craze?
You know that thing where a promising yet under-researched compound meets an eager and unregulated market? Yeah, that thing. Loose and/or changeable standards about what claims can and can’t be made about CBD has yielded a PR fantasy in which product labels boasting a catalog of benefits read like they were written by a Sotheby’s auctioneer.
In addition to slippery marketing, the plethora of available forms of CBD, from inhalants such as flower (the plant matter itself) and vapes; to ingestibles such as oils, tinctures, edibles, capsules, and gummies; to topical oils and lotions; make shopping for CBD products exciting and imply that consumers should be getting it any way they can.
There’s no such thing as a panacea. Upgrading one’s home apothecary to suit shifting health needs, updated research, plant synergies, and availability of products is always a good idea.
What’s the future of CBD?
It’s impossible to forecast this exactly. Research is promising but ongoing, market regulations fluctuate, and issues of tracking and compliance are evolving. Most importantly, the House votes September 21, 2020* whether to legalize cannabis at the federal level, in an historic and overdue measure. Depending on what happens after that, or with the Senate to follow, things will look different—though not immediately.
In the meantime, there are things we can do now to increase equity and ethics in the cannabis marketplace and beyond, of which CBD products are a part. Put pressure on legislators to release incarcerated persons for crimes associated with possessing or selling cannabis and to expunge cannabis convictions. The War on Drugs was and is a smokescreen for racism via institutionalized slavery. Let’s get some justice wherever we can.
*This vote has been postponed until after the elections.
Is Hemp the same as CBD?
Not quite. The words cannabis and hemp, though often used interchangeably, actually denote two species of plants in the Cannabaceae family (which, fun fact, also includes species of hops and hackberry trees). Hemp is the fiber-producing, low-no THC content variety in which CBD is the primary phytocannabinoid. This is the version your favorite quarantine pants are made from, and it’s also used to make products such as soaps, rope, and jewelry.
Drug cannabis contains the phytocannabinoid THC in varying levels. As medicinal markets developed and expanded since the late 1990s, new strains were invented with increased levels of THC to meet consumer demands. If you live in a state where cannabis is medicinally or recreationally legal, you might see flower strains at your dispensary listed as containing up to 27% THC. Any more than that is likely a hoax (there has to be some plant matter in the plant matter), so be wary of big claims.
How to get started?
How do you select the right plant/-derived medicine? Whether you’re seeking an ingestible, flower, or topical, there are a few main criteria to look for in a CBD product. Organic, sun grown (where possible), whole plant products pack benefits to the environment and the biggest healing wallop. Many manufacturers are transparent about their testing practices and publish results for each product batch as it hits the shelves. Bear in mind that if the product is unsealed, as in the case of flower, there’s a possibility that it can pick up an unwanted microbial, pest, or mycotoxin somewhere along the distribution chain, so favor dispensaries and apothecaries with good hygiene who are open to discussing the ways they keep their products (and you) safe. Be wary of budtenders who handle flower with bare hands (redundant during COVID) or who store flower in large, loosely sealed containers, as foreign agents are apt to make a new home in your goods before they even get to you. Similarly, keep your products tightly sealed and away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. Treat them the same way you would with any other herbal ally or organic material.