The Ultimate Introduction to CBD
Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, has made great strides over the past few years in earning the praise of health and wellness enthusiasts, as well as members of the medical community. While the industry continues to wait for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide needed guidelines on the sale and marketing of this new consumer product, consumer excitement and the resulting boom in sales, have proven more than just a passing trend.
If you're one of the millions of people who are new to the world of cannabis, you may have some questions before deciding whether or not CBD is right for you. In this 'Ultimate Introduction to CBD', we'll provide you with in-depth answers to frequently asked questions like, what is CBD, where does CBD come from, what types of CBD are available for purchase and how to determine the best CBD product for your needs. Let's get started...
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating chemical compound produced by the Cannabis sativa plant. It is commonly found within cannabis oil, which is contained by trichome resin glands found on the surface of cannabis flowers. The cannabis plant produces more than 110 known unique chemicals called cannabinoids, of which CBD is one. The term cannabinoid describes a unique class of organic chemicals, all of which feature similarities to the active components of cannabis.
In nature, Cannabis is one of the richest sources of cannabinoids, although it is far from the only one. Other plants [and animals], such as kava, chocolate, and black pepper, can produce different types of cannabinoids, all of which stimulate the Endocannabinoid System (ECS - discussed in more detail in ‘How does CBD Work’ below), a large cell-to-cell communication network found in humans and other vertebrate animals.
Where does CBD come from?
Before discussing CBD itself, let’s first explore a brief history of the cannabis plant. While the earliest written record of cannabis use appears in ancient China (~6000 B.C.), the most direct evidence can be found in scripts closer to 2700 B.C. in early editions of the Pen Ts’ao Ching. Throughout the ages, we find many examples of cannabis being used [by multiple cultures] for its perceived restorative and medicinal properties.
Fast forwarding to more modern times, the use of cannabis-derived medicines began to fade in the early 20th century, thanks to the advent of more modern medicines to treat pain and other common conditions. By the late 1930s and early 40’s the war on cannabis was well underway, and the cultivation of the plant was deemed illegal.
In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was passed; making the mere possession of cannabis illegal. The new law listed cannabis (both hemp and marijuana), as a Schedule I substance with ‘no medicinal benefits and a high risk of dependence’.
Just over a quarter century later (1996), California led the way on legalization of cannabis for the treatment of certain medical conditions, despite the federal ban. Over the past 40 years, there has been an explosion of credible medical research into the benefits of cannabis as a whole. CBD itself, has quickly gained acceptance around the world as a viable tool for supporting overall wellness.
While it hasn't stopped scientists from searching for new sources, CBD can be found in its highest concentration and almost exclusively within cannabis. The type of CBD consumers purchase in-store or online is actually formed when a raw cannabinoid, known as Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDa), is broken down through a process called decarboxylation.
Decarboxylation happens when CBDa is aged, heated or both. Exposure to heat, oxygen and other environmental stressors breaks down the CBDa molecule and changes its structure, resulting in cannabidiol, or CBD.
Today, thanks to consumer adoption and availability of quality products, research into CBD’s effects on the human body is nearing a tipping point. Modern technology has even provided new methods of refining and isolating CBD; increasing the bioavailability of the cannabinoid through technologies like nanoemulsions, which make CBD water-soluble, thereby increasing its potency and/or its level of absorption.
How do I use CBD?
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to introducing CBD into your system. What makes CBD so unique is that, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, it is available to consumers in all 50 states in a variety of consumption methods and product types. This can be beneficial, albeit overwhelming at first, to consumers who want to use CBD for medicinal purposes. Let’s discuss a few of the most common product types, how they’re commonly used, and some of the pros and cons of each.
One of the most well-known CBD products available for purchase and consumption is the cannabis flower. Only the female cannabis plants produce a high concentration of cannabinoids and those buds that contain mostly CBD, and very little THC, will be marked "CBD-dominant".
The cannabis flower can be smoked, vaporized or cooked in food. The typical onset timing is between 5 and 30 minutes (if inhaled) and effects can last for 2-6 hours.
The CBD-dominant flower contains more active chemical constituents than any other product type available. In comparison to other products, it also contains higher concentrations of THC and other minor cannabinoids. The presence of these additional cannabinoids creates the highest potential for activating the Entourage Effect; making the flower one of the more effective CBD products. It’s also the least processed product, which makes it a viable option for users searching for cannabis that has undergone minimal modifications.
On the negative side, high-CBD flowers tend to have a higher concentration of THC, which can lead to an intoxicating effect on the user. Also, the downsides of smoking are well noted and many of the key impacts on the lungs are still prevalent in cannabis smokers. High-CBD flowers are also not typically sold in commercial retailers in the United States, with the exception of states that have legalized both medical and recreational use. More often than not, hemp CBD flowers are typically used to manufacture other CBD products such as oils and tinctures.
A more recent trend in the consumption of both hemp and marijuana, vape cartridges are the pre-filled components of vape pens. Similar to other inhaled products, vape cartridges are preferred by many consumers due to their quick onset of relief; between 5 and 30 minutes. The quick relief occurs due to the direct absorption of CBD molecules into the bloodstream via the lungs.
Other benefits of this new-age product include discreteness, portability, and the fact that they produce far less odor than flower, which makes them preferable for out-of-home use.
The biggest drawback to vape cartridges is safety. The CBD oils that are used within these products are highly processed and can often contain chemical contaminants. Additionally, they may also be made using inexpensive hardware that may not be able to safely stand up to the heat required to convert oil into vapor. With vape cartridges, possibly more so than any other CBD product, it is important to ensure you purchase your cartridges from reliable sources that have batch-tested their products by third parties.
As one of the oldest forms of preparing plant-based medicines, tinctures have been produced and marketed to consumers for generations. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, one could find cannabis tinctures within US medical texts, but this product became a rarity after cannabis prohibition began in 1937.
The process for manufacturing tinctures is through the infusion of cannabis flower [or concentrate] into a solvent base, which typically contains alcohol, vegetable glycerin, or oil, used to separate the active cannabinoids, resulting in a cannabis oil. The cannabis oil is then combined with a carrier oil such as medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT).
They can be taken orally or used topically, are typically made from full spectrum Hemp extract and are fairly fast acting (up to 2 hours). Needing only to dispense a drop or two, tinctures are easy to use and one of the easiest products to use when trying out appropriate dosages for effectiveness.
Unfortunately, many tinctures fall short when it comes to taste and, in comparison to inhaling CBD, will take [sometimes much] longer for the user to feel the effects. Furthermore, many consumers find difficulty in identifying the accurate serving size with the dropper and often don't follow instructions to hold the oil under the tongue for upwards of 90 seconds. This instruction is given to try to absorb some of the active cannabinoids sublingually before saliva quickly washes the oil to the stomach, where it will be processed with the potential to lose active cannabinoids.
Tinctures also require more stringent storage protocols, typically needing to be stored in a cool, dark place out of direct sunlight. This makes the form factor quite difficult when it comes to portability, as they tend to only be sold in bottles with droppers for application.
Quickly becoming a fan-favorite amongst first-time CBD users, the edible category is also one of the most saturated. Similar to any other herbal extract, CBD can be infused into foods and beverages for consumption. Some of the more common edibles include gummies, chocolates and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages like bottled water and even beer.
Edible CBD products are consumed orally and enter the bloodstream through the digestive tract. It takes time for the human body to digest foods and beverages, so onset of effects will be considerably longer than an inhaled product (up to 2 hours), especially after eating.
Similar to tinctures, taste is often an issue with edibles; especially when using a full spectrum extract. There also tends to be a double-edged sword with edible products. While the amount of CBD in each edible is typically clearly marked, when CBD is taken infused in foods and beverages in oil form, there tends to be an issue with bioavailability; the body’s ability to use what is consumed. Therefore, the effects each individual might feel will vary drastically, and in some cases, the majority of CBD that has been consumed will be excreted without any effects.
One of the newest form factors available to consumers is water soluble cannabiniods. This can either be sold independently, or more regularly, infused into products like ready-to-drink beverages.
Cannabidiol oil is a hydrophobic (water-hating), buttery substance that is not able to dissolve and incorporate into water, like alcohol or sugar.It can, however, be made water soluble if it's put through a nanoemulsion process, which breaks the oil down into particles small enough for your body to absorb (~15-40 nanometers).
For reference, the human body typically won’t absorb particles that are greater than 80 nanometers in size, and most CBD products test in the 150-1500 nanometers range. This results in a negative impact on the bioavailability of some of the most popular and convenient forms of taking CBD including capsules, tinctures, topicals, and edibles.
So even though you are technically ingesting water soluble CBD orally, the particles do not need to be broken down by the stomach, and therefore enter your bloodstream almost immediately. This increases the bioavailability and provides the user nearly instant results, in many instances with much smaller dosages.
On the negative side, like with any new product, there are some kinks to work out in water soluble technologies and many of the products do not fully dissolve into liquid, or pre-made products will not stay homogenous. If this is the case, some of the active cannabinoids can be lost on the side of the glass, for example. Make sure when trying these products, especially in beverage form, to stir them well.
Gaining quick traction with big box retailers, as well as with dispensaries, topical CBD products are one of the fastest growing segments of consumer packaged goods in the world. There are a wide variety of products to chose from including infused balms, creams, shampoos and conditioners, lotions, and even cosmetic products like facial masks.
Unlike other CBD products, topicals do not affect the entire body. Instead, they work locally in the area to which they are applied. In today’s cannabis market, CBD topicals are becoming more popular for their therapeutic potential, as well as their antioxidant and potential anti-aging properties. CBD has become a very popular addition to beauty and skincare products by brands both big and small.
For anyone leery about ingesting CBD products, topicals serve as an excellent alternative. They work locally on the surface of the skin and in most cases do not enter into the bloodstream (unless specifically formulated to do so. While this serves as the biggest pro for topical use of CBD, it’s also the main downside. The skin tends to absorb a very small percentage of active ingredients in lotions, balms and salves, making it difficult to experience the full effects of CBD when used topically.
How does CBD work?
In order to understand how CBD works, we must first understand the concept of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).
CBD, much like its more commonly known cannabinoid cousin THC, interacts with our body in a variety of ways. Its main role is to mimic, and augment the effects, of compounds within our bodies called endogenous cannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are part of a homeostatic physiological regulator, in less scientific terms the system keeping everything in the body just right, called the ECS. The ECS was technically discovered by accident, by a team of scientists working to understand how THC affects the body, who stumbled upon this important element of human health.
The Endocannabinoid System is a complex system of cannabinoid receptors (CB1, CB2, TRPV1), endocannabinoid molecules (AEA & 2AG), and metabolic and catabolic enzymes (FAAH & MAGL) that the body depends on for maintaining homeostasis.
Discovered in the mid-90’s, everything our body experiences, like mood, appetite, digestion, and sleep are all regulated by your Endocannabinoid System. This discovery has led to the advancement of human understanding of health, wellness and disease. It has major implications for nearly every area of medical science and helps scientists understand how and why THC, and subsequently CBD and other cannabinoids, are such versatile compounds.
It is important to note that CBD is merely a molecule, not a magic potion. However, studies have shown that people suffering from general ailments to serious diseases could potentially benefit from legal access to a wide range of cannabis remedies; and not just low-THC or no-THC products. There is compelling evidence showing that CBD alone may not always do the trick and that CBD tends to work best when used in combination with a full spectrum of phytocannabinoids, known as the Entourage Effect.
How do I know what CBD is best for me?
It seems like new CBD companies are popping up [daily] nearly everywhere you look. As we’ve discussed in this article, you’ll find a broad range of products, dosages and consumption methods to choose from. So how do you know what CBD is best for you?
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that every person is unique and will respond to CBD differently. When it comes to dosage levels, we highly recommend the low and slow method. Start with a low dosage at first and see how your body reacts. Once you begin to have a better understanding of your body’s response, slowly increase the dosage until you find the lowest possible dosage that provides your desired effects.
No matter what dosage you end up taking, or method of consumption you decide to try, you should always ensure you’re consuming a quality product. The best way to ensure the quality of your CBD is through third-party laboratory testing. In order for a CBD product to be licensed, it must first be batch-tested prior to sale. This process requires laboratory technicians test multiple samples from a particular harvest to determine things like cannabinoid content, terpene content or the presence of any heavy metals, pesticides, microbials, or residual chemicals.
There are three stages in which testing should be performed prior to final product testing:
Soil testing is done prior to planting seeds to ensure no heavy metal buildup or toxins exist within the soil, which the plant will undoubtedly absorb. Cannabis sativa is a biological sponge soaking in everything, good or bad, from the soil and air.
The second stage of testing happens after a crop has already been harvested. The harvested plants are tested for pesticides, heavy metals, molds, bacteria, and other contaminants prior to being used for extracting usable cannabinoids.
The final stage of testing is done after extraction. This stage is critical because hemp and cannabis extracts have the highest risk for contamination, due to the concentration that happens throughout the entire extraction process.
We also recommend looking for products that can be tracked ‘from seed-to-sale’ and that come from plants grown in a highly controlled environment. Controlled environments, such as a greenhouse, can protect the plant from absorbing potentially harmful elements from the soil, which alleviates initial risks to the end consumer.
When it comes to quality assurance, transparency by the brand is pivotal. We recommend always checking a product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA) before purchase. This certificate shows the cannabinoid content of the product and indicates that it contains safe or non-detectable levels of contaminants; as determined by the FDA and/or local governments. COA’s can typically be found on a product’s packaging via a QR code or by visiting a brand’s website.
While it may require some research on your part, ensuring you purchase a quality product will put you on the right path for discovering the CBD that’s right for you.
While there is much that has been learned over the past quarter century, there is still much more research that needs to be done on the uses and potential benefits of cannabis-derived products, such as CBD. The industry is complex and, at times confusing, but in the years to come we hope to see stabilization through governmental regulation and standardization.
There you have it. The Ultimate Introduction to CBD. You are now armed with the fundamental knowledge necessary to get started on your quest for CBD Wellness.