What Is CBD (Cannabidiol)? 9 Benefits & How It Works for Our Body

cannabisArticle Written by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC March 29, 2019

By now, you’ve probably heard about the many benefits of CBD oil and maybe you have considered using products containing the cannabis compound. But you may be wondering — what is CBD, exactly?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about CBD and how it affects the human body. Considering the endocannabinoid system was only discovered 25 years ago, we are just beginning to learn about cannabidiol and its abilities.

But so far, the research is promising, which explains why so many people are becoming interested in using this thousand-year-old natural remedy for their own health needs.

What Is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most abundant component of the Cannabis sativa plant species. It’s one of over 100 phytocannabinoids that have been identified in cannabis and hemp plants.

Unlike THC, the main constituent in cannabis, cannabidiol does not induce intoxicating effects. This lead scientists to originally believe that CBD was an inactive compound, but eventually, it was discovered that CBD initiates multiple actions in the central nervous system and even has an influence on the effects of THC.

CBD is gaining a lot of attention lately because of its many health benefits, from its ability to relieve anxiety and pain, to its neuroprotective effects.

How does CBD make you feel? For one thing, it doesn’t make you feel high. Instead, it has calming and warming effects on the body. It interacts with receptors throughout the body to keep your endocannabinoid system in balance. This is what allows for cannabidiol’s positive effects on your brain, heart, immune system and more.

How Does Cannabidiol Work With Our Body?

Cannabidiol works within the body by mimicking the effects of compounds called “endogenous cannabinoids,” or “endocannabinoids.” Scientists have discovered that there are cannabinoid-like chemicals inside the body that respond with receptors that make up the endocannabinoid system, a recently discovered body system that may be the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining our health. We naturally synthesize these chemical compounds and they modulate receptors throughout the body.

What does this have to do with CBD? Remarkably, CBD and other cannabinoids also interact with these receptors. When we ingest CBD or apply it topically, it activates receptors in the nervous system, immune system, gastrointestinal tract and in many of our major organs.

This is what gives CBD its ability to positively benefit our mood, neurological function and heart health — just to name a few.

The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a biochemical communication system in the body that was discovered about 25 years ago, when scientists were researching how THC affected the body. In their research, they uncovered a complex network of cannabinoid receptors that effect cells throughout the body, including the central nervous system.

We now know that our body naturally synthesizes what’re called endogenous cannabinoids, which are chemical messengers that interact with these receptors. But ingesting or applying cannabinoids found in cannabis, like CBD and THC, has the same effects.

Receptors in our nervous system and immune system react to cannabis compounds and produce specific effects that can benefit many bodily processes.

Scientists have discovered that “endocannabinoid system dysfunction” can lead to major health problems, including chronic pain, arthritis and mood disorders. But using compound like cannabidiol can be extremely helpful for keeping this important system in balance.


CBD and THC are both compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant species and can be extracted to make hemp and cannabis products. There are hundreds of other compounds in cannabis, but these two get the most attention (at least for now) because of their many therapeutic qualities.

But when it comes to CBD vs. THC, most people tend to ask the same question: which one is better?

Here’s the thing — CBD has been misrepresented as a non-psychoactive agent, when it fact, it’s very psychoactive. This is what allows CBD to improve symptoms of anxiety, stress, mood disorders and cognitive dysfunction. However, the psychoactive effects caused by CBD do differ from those caused by THC, in the sense that CBD is non-intoxicating.

Larger amounts of THC can lead to unwanted psychoactive effects, like paranoia, but studies show that in smaller amounts, THC is also very beneficial for issues like depression, pain, nausea, headaches and insomnia. This is especially true when it’s used in combination with CBD, causing what’s called the “entourage effect.”

CBD Isolate vs. CBD Full Spectrum

If you’ve been checking out CBD product labels recently, you have probably noticed that some say “CBD isolate” and others are “full spectrum CBD.” So what’s the difference between CBD isolate vs. full spectrum CBD?

CBD isolate means that the cannabidiol products contains only CBD and no other cannabis compound. It’s been processed further than whole hemp extracts, isolating CBD to a create a purified form of the compound.

Full spectrum CBD products include CBD and all other compounds found naturally in the plant. This means other cannabinoids (including trace amounts of THC), terpenes (which give the plant a distinct smell and flavor) and essential oils are all present.

CBS isolates used to be touted for their purity, but as more research is conducted, we are finding out that full spectrum CBD may provide even greater therapeutic potential. This is because the compounds found naturally in hemp or cannabis have a synergizing effect when they are used in combination.

9 CBD Benefits

1. Relieves Pain
Cannabis-based medicines that are made with CBD have proven to be efficient in reducing chronic pain, as indicated by a conclusive review and meta-analysis published in Pain Physician.

One study involving rats with arthritis showed that topical application of CBD reduced inflammation and pain without side effects.

And research conducted at Northwestern University indicates that using cannabidiol leads to both the inhibition of pain pathway signaling through CB1 receptors and anti-inflammatory effects through CB2 receptors. This gives CBD the ability to relieve many forms of pain, including joint, muscle, nerve and cancer pain.

2. Improves Movement Disorders
Studies have shown that cannabidiol may be effective in improving symptoms of movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and dyskinesia. These debilitating conditions are linked to oxidative stress and neurodegeneration, two causes that can be inhibited by CBD.

3. Improves Anxiety and Sleep
Studies show that CBD has anxiolytic effects. In mice, CBD administration improved emotional responses and reduced panic. Scientists found that this was caused by CBD’s ability to interact with serotonin receptors and “hippocampal neurogenesis,” which is the generation of new neurons in the brain.

And a recently published large case series conducted in Colorado shows that when 72 adults with anxiety and poor sleep began using CBD, 57 of them (79.2 percent) experienced improved anxiety symptoms within the first month. And 48 patients (66.7 percent) had improved sleep scores.

4. Improves Psychosis and Bipolar Disorder
Animal models show that CBD has beneficial effects comparable to clozapine (an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia) when used to improve symptoms of psychosis. This is possible because of CBD’s ability to affect neuronal activity in the brain.

One study found that 14 days of CBD administration in rats increased brain-derived biomolecule levels and provided protection against oxidative damage in the brain. Because oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of bipolar disorder, researchers believe that CBD may be useful as a treatment method.

5. May Help to Fight Addiction
Some studies show that CBD can reduce heroin-seeking behavior. One study on mice found that CBD injection administration was able to normalize changes seen after stimulus cue-induced heroin seeking. Researchers suggest that based on their findings, CBD may be a potential treatment for heroin craving and relapse.

6. Reduces Inflammation
Many CBD benefits are associated with its anti-inflammatory effects. CBD is able to influence the immune system and has been shown to benefit diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. CBD also helps to reduce neuroinflammation, thereby benefiting people with neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies show that CBD can help to reduce the development of diabetes and has positive effect on hyperglycemia. Researchers believe that this is due to CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

And cannabinoids, including CBD, have shown initial promise as therapy for a number of skin conditions that are caused by inflammation, including acne, atopic dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

7. Has Anticancer Effects
Several studies have found that CBD has anticancer effects, and it has shown to reduce tumor metastasis.

According to a review published in Cancer Medicine, many cannabinoids, including phytocannabinoids CBD and THC, have shown the ability to inhibit proliferation (reproduction of cells), metastasis and angiogenesis (development of new blood vessels) in a variety of cancer models.

8. Reduces Seizures
A 2018 review conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Epilepsy Center indicated several studies showing improvement in seizure symptoms and seizure frequency after cannabidiol treatment. In one study, taking 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day was more effective than placebo at reducing seizure frequency by 50 percent. And CBD has proven to be more effective than placebo at achieving complete seizure freedom.

Researchers found that while CBD is overall well tolerated, the most common side effects are diarrhea and sedation, with sedation being much more common among patients taking sedative medications, like clobazam.

9. Promotes Cardiovascular Health
Research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology points out that preclinical data supports a positive role for CBD treatment in heart conditions.

Studies show that CBD has direct action on isolated arteries, causing vasorelaxation, it protects against vascular damage caused by high glucose levels and inflammation, it protects against tissue damage caused by type 2 diabetes, increases blood flow in animal models after stroke and reduces the cardiovascular response after stress.

CBD has also shown to influence the survival and death of white blood cells, white blood cell migration and platelet aggregation, which can lead to blood clots.

Many studies evaluating cannabidiol’s role in cardiovascular health are conducted on animal models, so more human studies are needed to understand the full extent of CBD’s benefits for the heart.

CBD Products

The CBD industry is booming and many new products are hitting the market. This means that consumers have a lot to choose from, but it can also add to the confusion about what products are best for their health goals. Here’s a simple rundown of the CBD products that are available today:

CBD Oils: CBD oils are usually the most potent and unprocessed form of cannabidiol. During the extraction process, CBD oil is removed directly from the flowers, stalks and seeds of the hemp plant. In full spectrum CBD oils, you are getting all compounds that are found naturally in the plant, including cannabinoids (with very small amounts of THC), terpenes and essential oils. You can usually find CBD oils in a bottle with a dropper so that it can be placed under the tongue and swallowed. You can also use CBD oils for DIY recipes made with cannabidiol. This is one of the easiest ways to control your CBD oil dosage.

CBD Tinctures: CBD extracts can be found in tincture form. Technically, a tincture has CBD that’s been extracted with alcohol or another solvent, and they are generally less potent than CBD oils. When using a tincture, you place the CBD extract under your tongue with the dropper.

CBD Capsules: CBD capsules are available as a convenient way to take the cannabinoid orally.

CBD Powders: CBD powder can be added to water, juice, tea or a smoothie. This is another easy way to take CBD orally and it allows you to control the dose.

CBD Topicals: Topical creams, lotions, salves, gels, rollers and sprays containing CBD are commonly used to alleviate pain and inflammation.

CBD Edibles: Edibles, like gummies and chocolates, containing CBD are popular because they’re easy to use on the go.

CBD Vape Oil: Using CBD vape oil requires using a vape pen or e-cigarette. This isn’t recommended for beginners, as it usually contains higher concentrations of CBD and makes it more difficult to control the dose.

CBD Side Effects

Clinical trials show that there are few, generally mild CBD side effects, including fatigue, irritability and nausea. A “tolerance” for CBD does not seem to occur over time.

CBD may raise the levels of certain medications in your blood, such as coumadin, a blood thinner. If you are taking any medications, talk to your doctor about possible interactions.

When choosing a CBD product, make sure to purchase from a reputable company that provides a certificate of analysis and lists all ingredients on the label. You also want to choose an organic CBD in order to avoid ingesting pesticides and other harmful chemicals that can lead to unwanted side effects.

Is CBD Legal?

Is CBD oil legal? This is one of the first questions people have about the cannabinoid, which makes sense because there’s still so much confusion about cannabis and hemp regulations.

Since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD products derived from hemp can be sold and used legally. Because these products are derived from hemp, they contain no or trace amounts of THC.

Hemp farmers and manufacturers have to follow strict guidelines to remain compliant, so it’s best to purchase any CBD product from a reputable company that uses organic hemp.

Final Thoughts About Cannabidiol

What is CBD? CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most abundant component of the Cannabis sativa plant species. Both cannabis (also known as “marijuana,” a historically racist term) and hemp are part of the Cannabis sativa species.
CBD interacts with receptors in the endocannabinoid system to benefit many body systems, including your central nervous system.

Both CBD and THC have psychoactive effects, allowing them to improve conditions affecting the brain, but CBD is known for its non-intoxicating properties.

CBD has a range of health benefits, from relieving anxiety and improving sleep, to fighting chronic pain and reducing seizures.

There are many CBD products on the market today — with tinctures, capsules, powders and topical solutions being the most popular.

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Article Written by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC March 29, 2019

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