CBD: How It Works, Why It Works, and Why It’s Everywhere

Legal CBD offers symptom relief for a number of conditions

You may have noticed that products containing the cannabinoid CBD are everywhere these days, not just in dispensaries and recreational-cannabis shops. Websites selling CBD products for people and pets abound; in fact, some veterinarians now carry CBD dog treats in their offices. Bath shops sell CBD-infused lotions and body scrubs, and cosmetics companies offer entire lines of CBD makeup and facial cleanser. Walk into any head shop, and alongside the bongs, pipes, and rolling papers, you’ll find CBD vape cartridges advertising insomnia relief on the package.

What is CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is one of the two primary cannabinoids in cannabis flowers. The other one, THC, or tetrahydrocannabidiol, is the one that gets you high. Unlike THC, CBD is legal in all 50 states. CBD products can help harness the healing power of cannabis without the high, and without the fear of prosecution. The reason CBD doesn’t have the same psychoactive effects as THC is that it doesn’t bind to the body’s cannabinoid receptors.

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How does CBD work?

When THC binds with these receptors in the brain, it leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s reward system. This is what causes the euphoric high you get from smoking, vaping, or eating cannabis.

THC is an agonist, meaning it binds to a receptor and causes a cascade of effects in the body. For example, you might notice that along with making you feel high, cannabis makes you feel physically relaxed – this is what the term “couch lock” refers to.

CBD, on the other hand, is an antagonist, which means that when it binds with an receptor, it blocks the reuptake of fatty-acid neurotransmitters – in this case, the body’s natural endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system influences the immune and cardiovascular systems, and helps to regulate mood, memory, digestion, intraocular pressure, and appetite, among other body functions. When the endocannabinoid system is off balance, the entire body is affected. CBD can help restore that balance.

Side effects of CBD

Because an imbalance of endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, can have negative effects on mood, some people turn to CBD is for relief of anxiety and depression. Doctors normally prescribe antidepressants and other psychiatric medications to treat these illnesses, and those medications save some people’s lives. However, others find that they can’t tolerate the side effects, which can be significant. For example, benzodiazepenes such as Xanax and Ativan, which are used to treat anxiety disorders, are physically addictive. Although CBD isn’t a cure-all, it’s a non-addictive alternative; like antidepressants, CDB helps block serotonin reuptake in the synapses. If you’re already taking psychiatric medication, or if you’re experiencing a major depressive episode, consult your psychiatrist about whether CBD might be right for you.

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How can CBD help?

A strain of cannabis called Charlotte’s Web, which has a 30:1 ration of CBD to THC, has been proven to reduce or stop seizure activity in children with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, two rare and severe forms of childhood epilepsy. Charlotte’s Web oil proved to be so effective that the FDA recently approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex for treating seizures in children.

CBD can also alleviate nausea and loss of appetite, which is particularly beneficial to patients with cancer, who often suffer these symptoms as a result of chemotherapy. Studies show that cannabinoids may stop the spread of cancer itself, and may in fact inhibit the growth of malignant tumors.

Given this information, CBD may seem like a panacea, but because prohibition has prevented medical studies of cannabis for so long, scientists are just beginning to uncover its true therapeutic potential. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience examined the efficacy of CBD as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and found it worthy of further study. Patients with PTSD often report relief from traumatic memories when using CBD in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Best ways to use CBD

There are a number of ways to use CBD, ranging from the usual vaping, smoking, and eating to topical preparations. CBD-infused massage oil can help relieve muscle soreness, or you can apply a transdermal patch to the site of a sprain or pull. The ability to use CBD discreetly is one of the reasons it’s so popular. You can’t always find a place to smoke a joint, but you can wear a patch under your clothing without anyone knowing.

When purchasing CBD products, be aware that some are derived from industrial hemp rather than marijuana. Although both hemp and marijuana are part of the cannabis family, hemp is federally legal, and marijuana isn’t. Industrial hemp, however, doesn’t contain THC, so it isn’t regulated to the same standards as the cannabis you purchase in dispensaries and shops. Also, the lack of THC in hemp-derived products means you don’t get the benefit of the entourage effect, in which cannabinoids work together to enhance one another. This is why many patients prefer 18:1 strains (18 parts CBD to one part THC), which don’t make you feel stoned, but enhance the effects of CBD.

Medical and recreational cannabis must meet much stricter production and testing requirements than hemp. Therefore, the only way to know for sure that CBD products are safe and effective is to buy them from a dispensary or shop in a state with legal medical and/or recreational cannabis. This is especially important if you want to vape CBD oil, as it may be amended with other, harmful ingredients. It’s cheaper to produce CBD from industrial hemp than marijuana, but you get what you pay for. Always purchase vape cartridges from a knowledgeable budtender, who can assure you of their purity by showing you their test results. This is the only way to know that the CBD you purchase has actual therapeutic benefits.

Sum it up...

Growers recognize the demand for a product that offers symptom relief without the psychoactive effect, and they’re constantly developing new strains. A few of the existing high-CBD, low-THC strains are Ringo’s Gift, ACDC, Sour Tsunami, Harlequin, and hybrids such as Harle-Tsu. Because different people have different reactions to any given strain, don’t give up if you don’t notice any immediate effects. With a little professional guidance and experimentation, you’ll find the strains and products that best meet your needs.