What is CBD?
CBD has been making a splash in the health and wellness world recently, thanks to a rapidly growing body of positive research into its far-reaching benefits and effects, but there is still quite a bit of confusion out there about what CBD is, what it isn’t, and how it works. Cannabidiol (or CBD for short) is a compound found in a plant called cannabis sativa; the plant that is most commonly associated with both recreational and medicinal marijuana.
It is classified as a cannabinoid compound, a group of substances that bind to certain receptors in the body and brain, with various effects. CBD is actually only one of more than 100 different natural cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. The process of making CBD oil for use in health and wellness begins with the extraction of this compound from the plant.
One of the most important things to understand right off the bat is that CBD is a non-psychoactive compound; in other words, it doesn’t get you high. The cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant that does get you high is THC, which is a separate compound.
Once we’ve understood CBD as being separate from the psychoactive compound THC, we can start to peel back the layers of what CBD does and how it can help with various health conditions and chronic illnesses. The big picture view of CBD is that it promotes homeostasis– or balance– within the body.
Cannabis has actually been used to relieve pain for millennia (1), but research into its benefits and effects, as well as the specific effects of different compounds found within the plant such as CBD, has been limited over the last several decades due to the classification of marijuana as a regulated drug. However, as we learn more and more about the therapeutic effects of CBD as well as its limited risks of side effects, the medical and scientific communities are largely coming around and opening their minds to its use.
What are the benefits of CBD?
Many of the benefits of CBD are due, at least in part, to its ability to reduce chronic inflammation (2), which contributes to autoimmune disorders, depression and mood disorders, neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and many other chronic illnesses. CBD also helps to reduce oxidative stress (an imbalance between unstable molecules called “free radicals” and the antioxidants that neutralize them), another common underlying cause of chronic disease in the modern world.
The following are some of the most exciting and promising uses of CBD in health and medicine:
Pain relief: Pain relief is one of the most popular uses of CBD, with a growing body of research backing up its effectiveness (3, 4, 5). CBD works on receptors in the brain and immune system that help to decrease pain and reduce inflammation (6). Research has shown that CBD can help to treat pain and muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis (7), improve quality of sleep and reduce pain and joint inflammation in those with arthritis, and decrease chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia. Unlike many pain medications, CBD has a very low likelihood of side effects and does not cause dependence, making it a great alternative to many of the riskier options on the market– and some studies have found that it works even better.
Depression & anxiety: CBD acts on brain receptors for serotonin (8), a crucial mood-regulating neurotransmitter, low levels of which have long been associated with depression and anxiety. It also helps to regulate levels of GABA, low levels of which may cause or contribute to anxiety. Studies have found that CBD can reduce general anxiety (9), pediatric anxiety (10), social anxiety (11), and OCD, and a number of animal studies have demonstrated both anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects with use of the compound (12, 13). Many individuals with mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and mood disorders find CBD oil to be helpful, and a welcome alternative to risky pharmaceutical options.
Cancer: CBD may inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells in breast, prostate, lung, colon, brain, and cervical cancers, among others (14, 15, 16, 17, 18). CBD also helps to relieve pain related to cancer, and reduce side effects of chemotherapy including nausea and vomiting.
Neurological & neurodegenerative diseases; psychosis: A number of studies have found that CBD can significantly reduce the occurrence of seizures in both adults and children with severe and treatment-resistant epilepsy (19, 20), as well as muscle spasms in those with MS. CBD also helps to reduce neurological damage caused by oxidative stress, and can help to prevent the neurodegeneration and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease in those who are genetically predisposed (21, 22). CBD may also help to improve quality of life for individuals with Parkinson’s disease (23, 24), reduce hallucinations for those with schizophrenia, help with substance abuse and addictions (25), and reduce psychosis (26).
Cardiovascular disease: CBD offers many benefits when it comes to preventing heart disease, including lowering blood pressure (27), reducing stress, and fighting inflammation and oxidative stress (28), all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and events including stroke, heart attack, and blocked arteries.
CBD may also be helpful in the treatment of leaky gut and IBS (31), for blood sugar regulation, and for healthy weight loss.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The many conditions and illnesses that CBD can help with are wide in range, and may seem unrelated. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of CBD help to explain the widespread benefits, but there is something else that really ties all of the benefits of CBD together: the endocannabinoid system (32).
In order to really understand the way that CBD works in the body, we have to explore this system. The endocannabinoid system is made up of compounds called endocannabinoids and their receptors found throughout the body, including in the brain. It is involved in functions related to sleep, pain, mood, and immune response (33), and its primary responsibility is maintaining internal balance, or homeostasis.
As mentioned above, CBD is one of over 100 different types of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBD and other cannabinoids found in plants are called “phytocannabinoids” (meaning that they are produced by plants). These act similarly to endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are produced naturally within our bodies), and interact with our endocannabinoid system. So when we consume phytocannabinoids like CBD, we are essentially supplementing the body’s natural supply of these chemicals, and helping to enhance the system’s natural effects.
Raw or Heated? Understanding Decarboxylation
The raw form of cannabidiol produced by the cannabis plant contains an acid group. In this raw form, it is called CBD-A, with the “A” referring to “acid”. When preparing to make CBD oil, the compound generally goes through a slow heating process that results in the acid component burning off, leaving us with CBD. This chemical process is called “decarboxylation”, and it may happen naturally over time, or it may be initiated by makers of CBD oil.
If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about “activated” CBD, this is what they’re referring to: when the raw form of CBD goes through the decarboxylation process, it activates a number of components and benefits of cannabidiol not available in its original form.
Although the effects are very different, it is this same process that occurs with THC, the component of the cannabis plant that gets you high. The raw form, THC-A, must be heated in order to unlock its psychoactive effects.
The decarboxylation process changes the CBD compound in a number of ways, and although much of what it does is activate previously unavailable components and benefits, it may also remove certain beneficial elements. Both raw and decarboxylated (heated) CBD have their advantages, and may be recommended for different ailments or purposes. Generally speaking, decarboxylated CBD is best for faster relief of acute pain or symptoms, while the raw form may offer more benefits for treatment of chronic conditions. The raw form of CBD also seems to have a stronger effect on the receptors that influence production of mood-boosting serotonin. Some products are available that combine both forms of CBD in order to offer a wider range of benefits.
Terpenes are compounds found in all plants that give them their smells and flavors, and act as part of their natural defense systems. Several thousand varieties of terpenes exist, and to date, more than 100 different kinds have been found in cannabis.
As it turns out, these different varieties of terpenes offer their own therapeutic benefits to humans, including mood-boosting and relaxing effects. Depending on the type of terpene and the quantity, they may help to enhance the benefits of CBD, offer complementary effects, or both (34). There is an art and a science to developing (and choosing!) CBD oils, and terpene profiles are a major component.
Why We Use Bluebird Botanicals
Because CBD oils (just like dietary supplements) are not regulated, it’s important to choose a company with verifiable quality control standards, including extensive third party testing, so that you know what you’re getting. In my clinic we have started carrying Bluebird Botanicals products for this and a number of other reasons.
Bluebird’s products are made from hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant that is low in THC. All of their products are hemp extracts containing CBD. They make a number of different varieties with their own unique benefits, but they are all made using environmentally friendly farming and extraction methods, high quality control, and transparency.
Bluebird uses an extraction method that yields what’s called a “full-spectrum” hemp extract, meaning that it contains a number of other beneficial and complementary cannabinoids in addition to CBD, as well as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, ketones, terpenes, and other natural molecules.
The Bluebird Botanicals product line includes “Classic” oils that contain activated hemp extract and 250+ mg of cannabinoids per fluid ounce; concentrated CBD oils with 6x the regular concentration; and a “Complete” formulation that includes an equal amount of both raw and decarboxylated CBD compounds and various therapeutic terpenes. They also offer a “Signature” blend with added frankincense and black cumin seed oil, which complement and enhance many of the benefits of CBD. The benefits of frankincense include boosting immune system function, reducing stress, and helping to fight cancer as well as the side effects of chemotherapy, and the benefits of black cumin seed oil include reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, and reducing high blood pressure.
Bluebird seeks out high quality raw ingredients, and uses hemp that is grown organically and sustainably, and that is specifically bred to contain high amounts of beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids. They use environmentally friendly extraction methods and adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices. All of their products are tested by third party labs both for potency and cannabinoid & terpene content and for pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and other toxins.
How To Use CBD Oil
CBD oil is intended to be ingested orally. The right dosage (number of drops) varies from person to person, and is best discussed with your practitioner. Your starting dosage may be increased or decreased over time depending on the results. Your oil should always be stored at room temperature.
Prescriptions are not required for CBD oils containing less than 0.3% THC.
CBD is considered to be safe for most people and is generally well-tolerated. Side effects are possible, and may include nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, anxiety, or appetite changes. If side effects do occur, they are generally mild and short-term, and are usually resolved by lowering the dose, but it’s best to consult with your practitioner if you experience any adverse reactions. You should also consult with a practitioner if you are taking any medications or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Wondering if CBD may be right for you? Request a consultation.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tried CBD and how it’s worked for you.