What Is Cannabidiol (CBD)? | Science, Therapeutic Potential & Legality

Cannabidiol (CBD) has gained a significant topic of interest in healthcare, drawing attention to its purported therapeutic properties and potential benefits.

As a derivative of the cannabis plant, CBD sets itself apart from its psychoactive counterpart, THC, by offering potential health benefits without the intoxicating effects.

What Is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring compound found in cannabis plants, primarily extracted from hemp. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not produce the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana use.

CBD's unique shape at the molecular level and the way it works with the body's endocannabinoid system are key reasons why it doesn't make you feel high.

Where Does CBD Come From?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, which includes both hemp and marijuana varieties. The hemp extraction process typically involves isolating CBD from the plant’s flowers, leaves, and stalks.

Common extraction methods include CO2, oil, and liquid solvent extraction (i.e. alcohol extraction).

CO2 extraction is considered the most advanced and safe method, while liquid solvent extraction, which uses alcohol, can be hazardous. Each method has distinct effects on CBD oil potency and quality.

Why Is CBD Different from THC?

Distinguishing itself from THC, cannabidiol (CBD) stands out as a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant with unique chemical properties and effects on the human body. While both CBD and THC share the same molecular formula, their different structural arrangements result in distinct properties. 

The table below highlights the key differences between CBD and THC:

CBDTHC
Non-psychoactivePsychoactive
Legal in most countriesIllegal in most countries
Therapeutic potentialCauses euphoria
FDA approved for epilepsyClassified as Schedule 1
Acts on brain cellsStimulates pleasure centers

The Science Behind CBD

Understanding the key components of this system sheds light on CBD’s effects and potential therapeutic benefits. Receptors, particularly cannabinoid receptors like CB1 and CB2, are key components in mediating the impact of CBD on various physiological processes.

What Are the Key Components of the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in mental health, affecting how we think and behave. It includes special receptors, CB1r and CB2r, and natural cannabis-like substances in our body that work with our nerve signal systems. This system's importance in brain function highlights its potential in understanding and treating psychiatric disorders.

In conditions such as anxiety, parts of the ECS, like the CB1r receptor, play a important role in controlling stress and anxiety reactions. Research into our genes, particularly changes in the CNR1 gene, shows a connection to how likely someone is to experience anxiety, suggesting that parts of the ECS could serve as markers for identifying risk. 

Moreover, imbalances in the ECS have been linked to depression and schizophrenia, where issues with the signaling of receptors like CB1r and CB2r are involved. With exploring these components, scientists  see the possibility of treating psychiatric disorders by adjusting the ECS.

How Does CBD Interact with the Body?

The interaction of CBD with the human body involves a complex interplay of various receptors and systems, facilitating potential therapeutic effects on a range of health conditions. 

It connects with the endocannabinoid system, which controls important body functions, and interacts with receptors that manage feelings of happiness and pain, like serotonin, dopamine, and opioid receptors.

How CBD is taken—whether placed under the tongue, swallowed, breathed in, or applied to the skin—affects how well it works.

The amount taken, how often it's used, and a person's weight all play a part in how effective CBD can be.

How Do Receptors Play a Role in CBD’s Effects?

Receptors in the human body according to the National library of medicine play an important role in mediating the effects of CBD on various physiological and psychological processes.

  • CBD primarily interacts with the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, which are part of the endocannabinoid system. This system helps regulate many body functions, including mood, pain, and appetite.
  • In terms of addiction, CBD's interaction with these receptors can help manage drug addiction by reducing the feelings of reward associated with drug use, making relapse less likely, and easing withdrawal symptoms.
  • Research also points to CBD's role in reducing opioid addiction behaviors. It does this by affecting various receptor systems beyond just the cannabinoid receptors, such as those related to serotonin, which can influence mood, stress, and pain.

CBD’s Therapeutic Potential

CBD’s therapeutic potential is a subject of growing interest, particularly regarding its effects on anxiety, pain management, and epilepsy treatment.

Ongoing studies are continuously revealing more about how CBD could play a significant role in different therapeutic areas.

Can CBD Help with Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are a major issue worldwide, challenging the effectiveness of current medication options.

According to some scientific studies, CBD can reduce anxiety in both early experiments and clinical trials. It works in a way that's similar to known anxiety medications, like diazepam, in animal tests.

It not only seems to ease symptoms in general but also works by increasing levels of a calming chemical in the brain and affecting how we process fear. Given the higher rates of anxiety disorders among women, it's particularly important to understand how CBD affects them differently.

Future studies aimed at understanding how CBD can effectively treat different types of anxiety disorders, finding the optimal dosages, and ensuring its long-term safety, especially in females, are essential. This research will help refine treatment methods and deepen our knowledge of how CBD interacts with anxiety and the nuanced differences between sexes.

How Effective Is CBD for Pain Management?

Studies have shown that cannabidiol (CBD) exhibits potential in providing relief from various types of pain, particularly neuropathic pain, by modulating the endocannabinoid system. The effectiveness of CBD for pain management, especially chronic pain relief, is a subject of ongoing CBD research. CBD’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system may lead to improved pain management, inflammation reduction, and potentially improved sleep quality.

While CBD shows promise in alleviating pain, further studies are essential to ascertain its importance and efficacy fully. We advise consulting with a healthcare professional before incorporating CBD into your pain management regimens.

What Role Does CBD Play in Treating Epilepsy?

CBD plays a significant role in treating epilepsy by offering a new approach to managing seizures, especially in cases where traditional treatments fall short. Its therapeutic potential comes from its unique mechanisms of action on the brain:

  1. CBD's Mechanisms: CBD interferes with the actions of LPI (lysophosphatidylinositol), a compound that can increase neuronal excitability and lead to seizures. It does this by blocking LPI's ability to interact with GPR55, a receptor implicated in epilepsy. 
  2. Innovative Treatment Approaches: By targeting the production of LPI or altering its conversion into 2-AG (another compound that affects brain activity), new strategies for seizure control are being explored.
  3. Research Collaboration: Studies, such as those conducted by NYU Langone and other institutions, delve into how LPI and GPR55 contribute to seizures. 

The Legal Landscape of CBD in Europe

The legal landscape of CBD in Europe is complex and varies notably across countries, impacting the availability and regulation of CBD products.

It is important to understand legal status of CBD across European countries because laws vary concerning extraction methods, THC content, and the types of CBD products allowed.

How Has Legalization Affected CBD Availability in Europe?

The legalization of CBD in Europe has led to a shift in accessibility, with varying degrees of acceptance and regulation across different countries. 

  • CBD availability has expanded due to relaxed cannabis regulation in certain European countries.
  • Some regions have established specific laws governing the sale and distribution of CBD products.
  • The harmonization of CBD regulations across European nations remains a complex issue.
  • Compliance with international drug control conventions influences CBD accessibility in Europe.

What Should You Know About CBD’s Legal Status?

The EU Novel Food Regulation has had a significant impact, acknowledging CBD as a novel food and necessitating EFSA registration for CBD products.

Updates in 2021 and 2022 have seen non-synthetic CBD recognized as an INCI ingredient, allowing its use in skincare formulations.

Looking ahead to 2023, the EU Common Agricultural Policy will introduce new regulations for hemp imports, raising the THC threshold to 0.3% and providing grants to farmers meeting these criteria.

Specific EU countries like Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom have varying THC content thresholds and regulations governing the possession, cultivation, and sale of CBD products.

What Are the Different Types of CBD Products?

CBD products come in various forms, each offering unique benefits and administration methods. When selecting the right product, it's key to understand the main differences between Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and Isolate CBD.

  • Full Spectrum CBD: This type contains all the natural compounds found in the cannabis plant, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), although usually in very low quantities (less than 0.3%). The presence of various cannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils means full spectrum products can offer what's known as the "entourage effect," where these compounds work together to raise the therapeutic effects of the plant.
  • Broad Spectrum CBD: Broad spectrum products also contain a range of cannabinoids and compounds found in the cannabis plant, but THC is typically removed. This makes it a good option for those who want the benefits of the entourage effect without any THC in their system.
  • Isolate CBD: Isolate is the purest form of CBD, with nearly 99% purity. It's processed to remove all other cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant compounds. This form is best for individuals who want to ensure there's no THC in their product or who may be sensitive to other plant compounds. Isolate may not provide the entourage effect, but it allows for precise dosing.

What Are the Guidelines for CBD Dosage?

When considering CBD dosage guidelines, individualized dosing is critical for the best effects. We prepared a few tips for you:

  • Consider personalized dosing based on individual responses and needs.
  • Consult with a healthcare professional.
  • Consider factors like body weight, body chemistry, and the specific condition being treated.
  • Be mindful of safety considerations, especially when combining CBD with other medications.

Keep in mind, that factors such as CBD concentration, product type, and potency impact the effectiveness of the dosage. 

Are There Any Side Effects of Using CBD?

While CBD is generally considered safe, there are potential side effects to be aware of. Common side effects include drowsiness, gastrointestinal issues, dry mouth, and nausea. Specific side effects may include intensified drowsiness when combined with sedating medications, stomach upset, and liver problems.

The FDA warns of increased liver enzyme risks with CBD usage. Safety concerns also extend to interactions with other medications.

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