What is CBD?
12th March 2019
It’s the three letter acronym on everyone’s lips right now; on social media, in the news, in online forums. But what is CBD all about and why exactly has it got so many people talking?
Well, when you read about CBD, the first thing you will learn is that it comes from the cannabis plant. Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a chemical compound found mainly in the flowers of the plant and it has begun to be extracted for its potential uses and benefits.
You often hear of the words ‘cannabis’, ‘hemp’ and ‘marijuana’ thrown in together, both regarding CBD and in a topic of its own. The distinguishment between the three is that cannabis (or cannabis sativa) is the overarching name of the plant which has two primary species; marijuana and hemp. Both of the different varieties contain the CBD compound, however hemp contains a much higher amount, hence why it’s usually the chosen plant for producing CBD oils, capsules and balms.
For many years, people have been aware of the health benefits of the cannabis plant, due to the way it reacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system (a clever system responsible for everything from appetite to sleep to movement). However, cannabis remains illegal in most parts of the world (including here in the UK) because of the psychoactive qualities that people experience when smoking or eating it.
Although cannabis remains illegal to grow, use or distribute, CBD is 100% legal. The key difference between the two is that CBD is just one compound found in the plant, which can be extracted and sold. But it’s not the only chemical compound found in cannabis and among many others, the other major player is THC. The THC is what keeps governments from legalising the plant as a whole, because it’s the part responsible for the ‘high’ associated with cannabis.
The way that both cannabis and CBD react with your body is by attaching to your CB1 and CB2 receptors, found in all parts of your body but namely in your brain. By attaching to these, they can enhance, reduce or change certain functions that your body naturally carries out. But when talking about cannabis (rather than CBD), the THC that it contains attaches to the receptors in your brain and has psychoactive effects.
It’s important to distinguish the difference between cannabis and CBD as although they have the same origins, CBD products’ lack of THC mean they don’t have that same effect on you and are legal because of this. You don’t have to have zero THC though in order to still be allowed it. In the UK, regulation states that CBD products must contain less than 0.2% THC in order to be sold. Because of this, a lot of companies are choosing to leave a tiny trace of THC in their products, along with some of the other compounds of the cannabis plant, as it’s been proven that they can enhance each other's effectiveness. CBD products like this are known as ‘full spectrum CBD’, but you can also get CBD-only ones, if you would prefer no THC at all.
The reason that CBD is being hailed as the next best natural health supplement is because of the way it works in harmony with your endocannabinoid system. This internal system marries up your digestive system, immune system, and respiratory system, as well as a number of other functions in your body.
The endocannabinoid system is a 3 stage process, made up of receptors, cannabinoids and enzymes. Just like the ones found in cannabis, your body produces its own cannabinoids that are responsible for functions that your receptors deem necessary. So if your receptors sense that you are too hot, cannabinoids will be produced to cool you down. And then enzymes will complete the process by breaking down the cannabinoids and stopping the function from going too far (ie. stops you from being cooled down so much that you end up cold).
This process is the same with almost all functions in your body, from appetite to digestion to mood to sleep. Not only does your endocannabinoid system react to internally-produced cannabinoids, but they also react to external ones like CBD. So any function that your body is capable of producing on its own (like pain, anxiety and sleep), CBD can enhance or counteract by attaching itself to your CB1 and CB2 receptors.