What exactly is cannabidiol (CBD) and more importantly, what does it do? Those questions and more are at the heart of this comprehensive guide to one of the most fascinating and important compounds of the cannabis plant. Cannabis plants are chemical powerhouses that produce more than 400 different compounds. Not all of those compounds are unique to marijuana, of course, and appear in many other species of plants. That’s why marijuana can smell like pine trees or taste like fresh lemons. But of those 400 compounds, more than 60 of them are totally specific to the plant genus Cannabis. Scientists call these special compounds “cannabinoids.” However, not all cannabinoids are created equal. One of them, cannabidiol, or CBD, holds the key to the wide variety of medicinal and therapeutic effects marijuana offers.
The more we learn about CBD, the more it seems poised to revolutionize medicine as we know it. Find out why cannabidiol is so important and why you should care about it, especially if you consume cannabis.
CBD 101: The Fundamentals of Cannabidiol
Perhaps the only thing more complex than the biochemistry of cannabis is its pharmacology. The ways weed interacts with the human body are exceedingly intricate. And the truth is we don’t know as much as we should about those interactions—at least not yet.
Nevertheless, we do know some of the basics. So here’s your fundamental fact sheet about Cannabidiol.
One of the most crucially important qualities of CBD is its lack of psycho-activity. In layperson’s terms, this means that cannabidiol won’t get you high. Unlike THC, the cannabinoid with the legendary power of producing euphoric sensations, Cannabidiol is inert.
So when taken on its own, users experience none of the sensations of being stoned. And this is the single most important property of the cannabinoid from the medical—and legal—perspective.
All of the 60-plus cannabinoids unique to the plant genus Cannabis interact with our bodies thanks to a network of neurons called the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system runs throughout your body. And it’s loaded with receptors that bind to the cannabinoids you introduce to your bloodstream when you consume weed.
And it’s the chemical interactions of those bonds that create a wide and largely unknown series of responses in your body.
Without distorting the science too much, you could say that human beings are “hard-wired” for weed. The endocannabinoid system runs deep and touches all of the major systems of the body. And that’s why weed can do so many things for us, from altering and regulating moods to stimulating appetites and reducing pain.
And even though cannabidiol has no toxicity for humans—meaning, it doesn’t make you intoxicated (i.e. high)—it is highly reactive with the endocannabinoid system.
To put things as simply as possible, CBD makes things happen. When it binds to the endocannabinoid system’s receptors, it stimulates all kinds of changes in the body
Most of those changes are incredibly beneficial, and researchers keep uncovering real and potential medical uses for them.
We won’t bog you down with the technical minutiae of each of those changes. Instead, here’s a quick overview of the major studies and most promising findings about the medical importance of CBD.
Medical cannabis is quickly becoming the go-to alternative to dangerous and addictive prescription painkillers, like the opioids that are causing an epidemic of overdose deaths in the United States.
A lot of weed’s pain-killing power stems from its psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. But cannabidiol is also a potent pain reliever. 2015 saw the most important study to uncover the pain-relieving effects of CBD. In that study, researchers compared cannabidiol to morphine.
To their surprise, CBD worked well in combination with morphine and counteracted the latter’s risky side effects. This means cannabidiol can help treat acute pain conditions, along with more long-term benefits.
It sounds too good to be true. But indeed, pre-clinical trials have shown that cannabidiol has a powerful anti-tumor effect.
The most important study to reveal these powerful tumor-inhibiting effects came out in 2015. In fact, this study looked at a range of non-psychoactive cannabinoids, including, of course, cannabidiol.
In a landmark for medical cannabis research, this study concluded that “CBD slows the progression of many types of cancer, including breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer.”
How that works is pretty incredible. Cannabidiol actually makes it harder for cancer cells to grow. In some cases, this causes an increase in cancer cell death. No wonder stories abound about “miracle” CBD cures that shrink tumors.
Cannabis is widely-valued as a treatment for inflammation. Credit goes to both THC and CBD in that regard, but cannabidiol has some special anti-inflammatory properties of its own.
Specifically, cannabidiol binds with the endocannabinoid system to produce a response that reduces nerve inflammation. This is another of its “neuroprotective” qualities and a major reason why CBD is such an effective treatment for neurological diseases.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects nearly 8 percent of all American’s during their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from it. Finding an affordable, safe, and reliable treatment for PTSD would profoundly impact the lives of millions of Americans every year.
To that end, a pathbreaking 2013 study found that cannabidiol improved people’s abilities to forget their traumatic memories. These findings are incredibly important and could be relevant for figuring out how cannabidiol can treat other anxiety and stress disorders.