Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the 111 known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and is the second best-known and studied cannabinoid behind THC. All cannabis strains contain both THC and CBD, among other cannabinoids, but the psychoactive effects come from THC.
CBD is non-psychoactive. Therefore, unlike THC, you will not get high from CBD alone. However, CBD is thought to influence the high from THC by moderating its effects.
CBD and cannabis-based medicine came to the national forefront thanks to the Colorado-based Stanley Brothers, their non-profit, Realm of Caring, and their tincture, Charlotte's Web featured in the Dr. Sanjay Gupta CNN documentary Money In Weed.
CBD is produced by all cannabis plants, including industrial hemp. Although the hemp plant only contains trace amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, hemp produces an abundance of CBD. CBD is found in the oil of flowering hemp plants.
The therapeutic effects of CBD are thought to be more pronounced when combined with other cannabinoids and plant compounds in what has been coined the “entourage effect.”
The theory of the entourage effect states that the combination of multiple cannabis compounds produce results that would not be realized by the individual compounds alone.
Since 1971 the world has recognized two types of cannabis, regular cannabis or marijuana and hemp which is distinguished as having lower THC content. Both hemp and cannabis produce oils with valuable, medicinal properties:
Hemp - Cannabis plants that are referred to as hemp are hardy plants that have been traditionally grown for the production of seeds, fibers, and oils, as well as for the medical benefits of their non-psychoactive cannabinoid, CBD. Hemp plants produce negligible amounts of THC.
Cannabis - Cannabis plants that are not considered hemp may be referred to as marijuana or simply cannabis and are grown primarily for the THC-rich, psychoactive oils in their flowers.
The generally accepted international definition of hemp was developed by the Canadian scientist Ernest Small in 1971. While acknowledging it is impossible to scientifically distinguish strains of cannabis from those of hemp, he set forth the following arbitrary threshold: cannabis plants with more than 0.3 percent THC are marijuana, those with THC content below that amount are considered industrial hemp. This 0.3 per cent THC rule has been adopted and become the de facto standard for distinguishing hemp plants globally.
In 1988, Dr. Allyn Howlett at St. Louis University School of Medicine discovered that THC was binding with receptors that were prevalent throughout the human body. These receptors were termed "cannabinoid receptors." Research into the purpose of the receptors resulted in the identification of two cannabinoids; Anandamide and 2-AG. These were termed “endogenous cannabinoids” because they are produced internally by our bodies.
Because these cannabinoids are produced internally in the human body, or endogenously, the network of receptors and binding agents was termed the “endocannabinoid system.”
Additional research concluded that cannabinoids produced outside the human body, or "exogenously," such as the CBD and THC from cannabis, mimicked the body’s endocannabinoids and similarly bind with the receptors in our endocannabinoid system. Further, researchers found the binding of cannabinoids with receptors in the endocannabinoid system influence pain, nausea, appetite, motor learning and the strength or weakness of signals between cells.
While scientists have since sought to unravel the details of the endocannabinoid system and its implications for cannabis-based medicine, CBD has gained a great deal of attention as recent studies indicate that CBD has tremendous potential as a treatment for numerous diseases and medical conditions. Research is in the early stages, but the medical benefits of CBD are thought to be provided either alone, with THC, or in concert with some of the plant's other cannabinoids in the above-mentioned entourage effect.
Despite CBD’s not being a psychoactive cannabinoid, recent research indicates that it does provide numerous medical and health benefits. These include its use as an anti-inflammatory agent and its ability to treat seizures.
Before 2013, most attention regarding the medical benefits of the cannabis plant was focused on THC. Since 2013, CBD has generated media attention and the interest of healthcare providers and patients because it has proven effective in reducing epileptic seizures in some children.
Some CBD research has also indicated it can be effective in the relief of nausea, anxiety, inflammation and convulsions. Some preliminary studies indicate that CBD may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Changes to CBD Legality in the United States
Non-psychoactive varieties of cannabis, commonly referred to as hemp, were outlawed in much of the world at the same time the psychoactive form of the plant was banned.
Unfortunately for the fans of CBD, the federal government was very clear on the question of legality of CBD. Although the hemp plant only contains trace amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, the US government considered it to be the same plant as marijuana, and thus CBD was considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, just like marijuana.
As the DEA reiterated in December of 2016:
In the United States, CBD is classified as a Schedule I Drug, whether derived from industrial hemp or marijuana. This has always been the case since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970.
The 2014 Farm Bill defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana. But the Farm Bill did not actually legalize industrial hemp. It did, however, carve out a temporary exemption from the Controlled Substances Act for certified hemp farmers and producers in states that have legalized industrial hemp with the proviso that their efforts must be linked to a state university research program.
However, just as with medical and adult use of cannabis in states that have reformed their laws, producing and processing industrial hemp and CBD can also be legal (subject to the specifics of individual state laws).
As of 2018, there were numerous CBD-based formulations available in the US derived from American grown industrial hemp.
In 2018, with the passage of the 2018 US Farm Bill, the prohibition of hemp and hemp products was eliminated from our laws. Thus allowing for hemp to be legally cultivated in the United States and for the sale of hemp products to be legal as well. However, some hemp products such as some hemp oil products will be subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.
Cannabis oil high in CBD can be made into a vape liquid just like the high-THC oil can. You can make vape liquids that contain pure CBD or any combination of CBD with THC.
It is best to remove plant waxes from the oil in a process called “winterization.” The winterized oil can then be thinned with terpenes (plant-derived oils) to achieve the proper consistency for use in a vape cartridge. The oil can be loaded into a vape cartridge, absorbed by the cartridge’s wicking action and vaporized by its heating element just as in any e-cigarette.
Tinctures are liquid concentrates which were historically produced through alcohol extraction methods. Today they are also produced using other methods, including CO2 extraction.
Tinctures are typically used as medicine or to provide other health benefits and are ingested by consuming the liquid and/or placing under the tongue (sublingually).
Before the US government moved to ban cannabis from use in the United States in 1937, cannabis tinctures were a very common form of medicine found in most doctors’ bags.
The use of CBD tinctures for specific medical conditions gained credibility, as mentioned above, as a result of Charlotte's Web being featured in the Dr. Sanjay Gupta CNN documentary.
Tinctures are easily made by combining cannabis oil with MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides), which is refined coconut oil in liquid form. This colorless, flavorless oil mixes completely with cannabis oil. The cannabis oil combined with the MCT can be winterized or non-winterized.
Cannabis oils including the plant fats and lipids can easily penetrate the skin when combined in a medium and applied to a film specifically designed for transdermal application. Considerable expertise, lab equipment, and materials are required to manufacture a pharmaceutical grade transdermal patch. Generally, a non-winterized oil works well as the plant waxes help the oil penetrate the skin.
Cannabis oil is a hydrophobic molecule meaning that it is not water soluble. The challenge in making a beverage infused with cannabis is in getting the active oil dispersed in the liquid and for the oil to remain dispersed over time. There are various techniques available for doing this including forms of emulsion using sonic energy to break oil into very small droplet sizes.
Any part of the cannabis plant can potentially be put into a tablet or capsule. Commonly you will find tablets and capsules with plant material or extracts which have the active compounds including THC and/or CBD.