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What is CBD? A Guide to All of the Wonderful Benefits of CBD

what is cbd

What is CBD?

There are numerous reports regarding the relief people are feeling from anxiety, depression, chronic pain, epilepsy, insomnia, acne, and other health issues when taking CBD. But what exactly is CBD and what does CBD stand for?

Two of the most prominent phytocannabinoids found naturally within the Cannabis Sativa plant are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Over 100 phytocannabinoids naturally exist within this plant, and according to scientists, most of these cannabinoids have yet to be determined [1,2].

CBD is the second most prominent phytocannabinoid, making up 40% of the plant itself [3]. 

What Does CBD Do?

To really understand what CBD does, we first need to touch on a system that is naturally present within our body, the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a communication signaling system built up of ubiquitous receptor cells and endogenous cannabinoids found within and throughout our body.

Understanding the ECS, and how it affects our body, has only recently been developed. In the 1990s Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist, along with NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) researchers William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus, successfully identified two major endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by our body: Anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. This led to the discovery of our Endocannabinoid system [4].

Today, scientists continue to research the ECS and the role it plays in our overall health. However, they have determined that the ECS not only impacts but helps regulate our mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, immune function, cognitive function, motor control, pain, memory, inflammation, fertility, reproduction, etc. In short, our ECS helps regulate homeostasis within and throughout our body — keeping everything as it should be [1,5,6].

The ECS is made up of three important components:

  • Endocannabinoids are what make up the ECS, and they activate the cannabinoid receptors.
  • Receptor cells are known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 and CB2 are the two definitive receptors that make up the endocannabinoid system. The CB1 receptors are found in the nervous system or central nervous system, which include the spinal cord and the brain. And the CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral system –– the nerves throughout the body that branch out from the spinal cord and brain. These carry signals from the brain to our limbs, skin, organs, lymph system, immune system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, and overall function.
  • Enzymes help break down the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids after they’ve been used [7].

So what does CBD do?

As a phytocannabinoid, CBD helps communicate a homeostatic balance within the body through our ECS. Its purpose is to indirectly allow the body to create more endocannabinoids, which then help the CB1 and CB2 receptors to be acted upon by our endocannabinoids that have naturally been produced. Basically, CBD indirectly promotes balance in our overall health, which ultimately helps us feel good [5,6,9].

Some people’s ECS may not function properly, resulting in an endocannabinoid deficiency. By consuming phytocannabinoids, such as CBD, CBN, CBG, THC, etc., the body is then able to create endocannabinoids that promote homeostasis [9].

How Does CBD Make You Feel?

Now that we know how CBD works within the body, another important question is, what does CBD feel like?

Many CBD users have reported a calm, relaxing feeling when CBD is consumed. However, chances are you may not feel much. CBD’s effects are subtle and can be low-key. Still, multiple studies have shown that CBD contains anticonvulsant properties, in that it can reduce seizures in a number of people with epilepsy. Other studies have shown CBD to be a wake-inducing substance when taken in lower doses. CBD is also a very powerful antioxidant. In fact, it’s more powerful than vitamin E and C.

CBD not only contains strong anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also been shown to help suppress inflammation by preventing the body from making the chemical that causes inflammation.

What is CBD Good For? 

To date, people have reported using CBD as a natural medicine for a number ailments:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Relieving moderate to chronic pain
  • Lowering stress and anxiety
  • Building immune support
  • Treating skin irritations
  • Promoting an overall healthy lifestyle 

How Long Does it Take for CBD to Work? 

How you consume CBD, and the condition you are treating, will determine how long it takes to have an effect on your body. However, each person is different and may react differently to CBD.

How Long Does CBD Stay in Your System?

In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover trial, CBD was administered orally to 14 patients with Huntington’s disease. For 6 weeks each patient was given 700mg of CBD each day. This study concluded that the levels of CBD averaged 1.5 ng/ml just one week after the last administration. Researchers noted that CBD was “virtually undetectable thereafter”, suggesting that CBD completely leaves the blood in just 3-5 days for most people, regardless of gender [28]. 

However, for those concerned about drug tests and THC, this is a different story.


CBD was first discovered by Roger Adams, a plant chemist, who was unaware of this chemical compound and its therapeutic effects. Then, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam began testing CBD by isolating it in the 1960s, discovering it was completely non-psychoactive [6].

The formulas of THC and CBD look almost identical when drawn out on paper. However, they are two entirely different compounds altogether.

The Difference Between CBD & THC

As mentioned before, THC and CBD are phytocannabinoids that naturally exist within the cannabis sativa plant. The biggest and main difference between these two compounds is that THC influences a mind-altering effect, whereas CBD is completely non-psychoactive.

Another difference between CBD and THC is the way these compounds act upon the CB1 and CB2 receptor cells. THC directly stimulates and binds to our CB1 receptors which are found in the nervous system, primarily on nerve cells located in the brain and spinal cord. THC then influences and stimulates a psychotropic response within the brain, making the user feel “high”.

As we mentioned early, CBD indirectly allows the body to create endocannabinoids, which ultimately promotes homeostasis in the body. However, when CBD enters the body, it somewhat changes the way the CB1 receptors are structured. This slight change allows these receptors to be more receptive of our natural endocannabinoids, inducing a calm, relaxing effect [10].

Full Spectrum

“Full spectrum”, also known as “whole plant” or “full plant” extracts have the most cannabinoids and terpenes in the final product; not just CBD. This is because it's derived from the entire cannabis hemp plant. Though the focus is CBD, as it makes up 40% of the plant, other cannabinoids such as CBDA, CBC, CBG, THC, etc., naturally exist within the cannabis hemp plant as well.

For those concerned about the THC, keep in mind, there’s not enough THC in hemp-derived full spectrum CBD products to produce a high. Remember, CBD dominant products can counteract the mind-altering effects of THC. However, a small percentage of THC will remain in the bloodstream.

Full spectrum CBD includes:

  • Phytocannabinoids –– there are over 100
  • Flavonoids
  • Terpenes
  • Vitamins
  • Amino acids
  • Other beneficial compounds

When full spectrum CBD is consumed, it provides a synergistic entourage effect within the body [11].

What is The "Entourage Effect"?

This means the combination of phytocannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes that naturally exist within this plant, work more powerfully together than if any of these compounds were singled out and isolated [11].

In a recent study, researchers concluded that CBD combined with other compounds of the cannabis sativa plant were more effective than CBD isolate [12].

Does CBD Get You "High"?

As more CBD products flood the market, it's important to be aware of misinformation regarding CBD. Many people question whether or not CBD is like THC. The two couldn’t be more different.

Historically, the cannabis plant was widely known for its mind-altering effects. However, unlike the first prominent psychoactive cannabinoid THC, CBD is non-psychoactive –– it doesn’t make you feel high. In fact, when consuming greater ratios of CBD than THC, studies have shown CBD to counteract the mind-altering effects brought on by THC.

Can you fail a drug test due to CBD?

CBD alone, such as in a broad spectrum CBD product, will not result in a failed drug test. However, taking full spectrum CBD may result in a positive reading of THC.

As mentioned earlier, full spectrum CBD contains the full plant profile, meaning all the cannabinoids present in the plant will be present to some degree in the final product. 

Hemp-derived CBD products contain no more than 0.3% of THC, leaving open the possibility of testing positive for THC (marijuana) on a drug test [29].

Most drug testers are just looking for THC. Searching for CBD isn’t normal practice. It typically takes 1,000 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD a day to test positive for THC. However, some consumers have reported testing THC positive after taking as little as 120 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD a day [30].

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of regulation in oversight and enforcement when dealing with certain CBD products. For example, a number of CBD vendors were issued letters by the FDA, indicating that their products were misleading. Certain products contained almost no CBD at all, and others showed a larger amount of THC [31].

This is why it’s vital to know where your CBD comes from, how it’s extracted, and the quantity/type of cannabinoids present within the final product by viewing the lab analysis. Consuming broad spectrum CBD is a perfect alternative for receiving the benefits of CBD. 

CBD Benefits & Uses

Medical and scientific research have accumulated a significant amount of evidence showcasing the many health benefits of CBD.

CBD for Pain Relief

Researchers believe that phytocannabinoids such as CBD, CBC, and THC are more effective, non-abusive antinociceptive mechanisms –– they block the sensation of pain [13].

In multiple studies, CBD has helped block the pain in a number of conditions. Additionally, CBD has also helped reduce withdrawal symptoms and narcotic abuse altogether.

In a study conducted in 2013, patients suffering from severe pain were given hydrocodone. Researchers noticed that the patients no longer needed the narcotic when they consumed cannabis [14].

CBD for Cancer

A number of studies indicate that CBD effectively helps in inducing apoptosis –– a programmed cell death.

In one study, the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) was increased with CBD in leukemia cells. From this study, researchers believe CBD could potentially be an anti-cancer agent for selective cancers, such as leukemia [15]. 

CBD for Inflammation

CBD is most widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

In one study, CBD was administered to patients suffering from Ulcerative Colitis (UC). The study concluded that CBD not only reduced the inflammation caused by UC, it also reduced further damage being done to the intestines. From this study, scientists suggested that CBD could potentially be an alternative treatment for digestive diseases [16]. 

CBD for Arthritis

Speaking of an anti-inflammatory, CBD has shown remarkable benefits for people suffering from arthritis. Surprisingly there are over 100 different forms and types of arthritis. Some may develop due to injury, or old age, while others may emerge suddenly. Whatever the case, arthritis is painful and often times treated with over-the-counter meds or prescription drugs, all of which have harsh side effects.

The Arthritis Society supported a study in which researchers, for the first time, noticed how effective CBD was in preventing pain and inflammation in animal models with Osteoarthritis. They also noted that CBD, when applied topically, relieved arthritic symptoms with no side effects recorded [17,18]. 

CBD for Skin Care

The arthritic study helps with our next benefit, skin care. As the largest and most porous organ, our skin endures a lot. From environmental toxins, to creams, perfumes, and foods, our complexion can say a lot about our health. Multiple studies have shown the positive benefits CBD has on the skin. 

Aside from its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD is a powerful antioxidant. One study concluded that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties help prevent sebaceous glands from reproducing. In turn, this normalizes the production of lipids or fatty acids, resulting in healthier skin [19]. 

CBD for Anxiety & Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Recent research has discovered that phytocannabinoids such as CBD can help signal our natural endocannabinoids and reduce depression. In a 2009 study, scientists found CBD to be effective in cases where depression caused high levels of stress. This study indicated CBD as an antidepressant-like compound [14].

In another study, animal models with anxiety and depression were given CBD. Researchers noticed significant and positive results in the models, suggesting that CBD performs much like an antidepressant with anxiolytic-like properties [20]. 

As the empirical data continues to pile up, people are discontinuing their antidepressants and anxiety medication for CBD.

CBD for Insomnia

Studies have shown that taking CBD for sleep issues can increase the total sleep time when taken before bedtime.

In one study, wistar rats were split into four groups and administered different doses of CBD. The study indicated the groups of rats that received 10 and 40 mg/kg experienced an increase in sleep as opposed to the group that received the placebo. Researchers noted that “systemic acute administration of CBD” helps in developing more sleep throughout the night. However, researchers suggested that higher doses of CBD could potentially cause insomnia [21].


CBD is known to help in mental cognition, and from anecdotal evidence, CBD has helped reduce hyperactivity. However, there’s still much research to be done to understand the different types of neurotransmitters, their roles, and how CBD affects them. 

Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell if CBD helps in treating ADHD, as far as science-backed medical studies go.

CBD for Epilepsy & Seizures

Focus on epilepsy and the seizures they cause have been at the top of the list for most scientists. A number of prescription drugs are prescribed to epileptic patients all around the world, with most developing a resistance to them. However, children and adults around the world are experiencing tremendous relief with CBD treatment. So much so, that GW Pharmaceuticals began clinical trials of CBD.

Their recent study involved patients diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes –– a form of severe epilepsy. For 14 weeks patients were administered CBD. Researchers concluded a significant decrease in the amount of seizures per patient. The results proved just how effective CBD is in treating these diseases [22].

Soon after this study, the first plant-derived, synthetic-free, cannabinoid-based drug, Epidiolex, was approved by the FDA — a monumental step in making CBD more accessible to the public.

CBD for Migraines

Studies have shown that CBD contains powerful “anticonvulsive, analgesic, antiemetic, and anti-inflammatory effects –– a promising class of compounds for both acute and prophylactic treatment for migraine pain [23].”

Researchers have also suggested that an endocannabinoid deficiency may lead to a number of ailments, such as severe migraines.

However, CBD’s anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties suggest that CBD helps in blocking pain and inflammation, while helping the body create more natural endocannabinoids to treat this debilitating condition.

CBD Products 

As more empirical data develops and anecdotal evidence surfaces, people everywhere are reporting their own personal stories of how powerful and beneficial CBD really is. And those interested in trying CBD will be surprised at the amount of products available on the market today.

CBD products include:

CBD Oil & Tinctures

For starters, CBD oil or tinctures are consumed sublingually –– held under the tongue. The CBD absorbs straight into the bloodstream by the tissues under the tongue. This form of consumption allows CBD to bypass the digestive system and liver. Depending on how much CBD is consumed and the symptoms it’s treating, sublingual consumption typically takes anywhere from 15-45 minutes to affect the body, and lasts as long as 3-4 hours [24,25].

CBD Edibles, Pills & Capsules

This form of consumption usually takes the longest to affect the body. CBD edibles, pills, and capsules, must first get metabolized through the digestive system and then filtered through the liver. A lot of factors come into play here, as each individual's metabolism, digestive system, and liver function varies. For some, their metabolism may be fast, while others may function at a slower rate.

Consuming edibles on a full stomach is also an important factor. The body must first metabolize, digest, and filter the what’s already in the stomach. It typically takes up to 1 hour or longer for CBD to take effect in the body through this form of consumption. If taken on an empty stomach, some people may feel effects in as little as 30 minutes. Effects usually last anywhere from 1-3 hours [26].

CBD Topicals 

Whether you choose a rub, salve, cream, or lotion, CBD topicals are a great way to target localized pain. In fact, CBD rubs and topicals are great for back pain, muscle aches, arthritis, skin irritants, cuts, sores, etc. Depending on the strength, applying a generous amount could take effect in as little as 15 minutes, while some topical users have reported effect time to be an hour. CBD salves and other topicals usually last up to 5 hours [24].

CBD Dosage

When discussing the proper dosage of CBD, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. From metabolism, weight, and diet, to health conditions, genetics, and tolerances, everyone is uniquely built.

Yet, the question still remains, how much CBD should I take?

Neuroscientist Nick Jikomes at Leafly stated that, “With substances that bind to a lot of different receptors, like CBD, there’s often a sweet spot around a mid-sized dose. That means you can’t necessarily expect the substance to be twice as strong if you double the dose –– in fact, you might see the opposite [32].”

Depending on the what you’re treating, CBD dosage can range from low amounts to high. For example, people struggling to stay awake throughout the day may benefit from very small amounts of CBD, while others battling anxiety may benefit from a middle dosage. Increasing the dosage could produce less effective results. As for people diagnosed with epilepsy and seizures, taking a high dose of CBD helps in regulating the neurotransmitters and the electrical activity going on in the brain. Basically, different doses achieve different outcomes for different people and their conditions.

Unfortunately, there is no recommended dosage set in stone for CBD consumers. Relying on former studies and personal experiences are all we have when it comes to the amount of CBD that has helped others. This is why it's important to listen to your body when consuming CBD. Starting at a slow and low dosage is best, while gradually increasing the amount to achieve your symptom relief. Recording your daily experience may help you attain the proper dosage that works best for you.

CBD for Pets

As popular and beneficial CBD is for humans, it’s surprisingly very beneficial for pets as well. Multiple studies have shown CBD to be a great natural medicine for our furry friends struggling with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Moderate to chronic pain
  • Inflammation
  • Cancer
  • Digestive problem, etc.

For pet owners new to CBD, it’s important to start slow and in administer low doses. Monitor your pet and see how well they tolerate CBD, and always keep your vet in the loop when adding a new supplement to their daily routine.

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