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WHAT IS CBD?

Introduction

Plants have existed on our planet long before the first human beings. Plant varieties are grown in our home gardens, consumed as food, and have been used as a medicine for thousands of years.  Cannabis is no different. Cannabidiol (CBD) occurs naturally in the cannabis plant. You’ve likely heard an athlete or celebrity entertainer promote CBD for its many benefits. However, CBD education is needed. CBD remains largely misunderstood and many unknowns exist. Read more for the objective facts about what CBD is and how it provides natural benefits to our personal health and wellness. 

 

Cannabis

The Cannabaceae family are a small group of plants known for flowering properties and includes hops used to brew beer, among other plants.  The cannabis genus is a subgroup that is a flowering herb with seeds that can be harvested once per year and is very easy to grow - it is a weed!

The Cannabis plant group has 3 species within it:

  • Sativa - Growing upwards of 20 feet tall, it’s the tallest and strongest of the family holding the most industrial benefits. The stalks can be used for clothing, bags, and biofuel and also holds medicinal benefits. Typically the Sativa plant has high amounts of CBD and low amounts of THC. 
  • Indica - These plants grow 3 to 6 feet tall, are short and dense and have little industrial use but many medical benefits. There is a debate amongst scientists about the difference between the Indica and Sativa plants. Born out of India, the Indica plant has high amounts of THC and low amounts of CBD. There is some debate amongst scientists that Indica is a sub-species of Sativa plants. 
  • Ruderalis - This species is a very dense, short, and thin stature. Because the Ruderalis plant is autoflowering (it does not need light to photosynthesize) and is very strong, it is often cross-pollinated with the Sativa plant to provide greater industrial benefits. Born out of Russia, Ruderalis has high amounts of CBD, but the taste is harsh so it is formulated as a Cannabis Sativa variety. 

So what is marijuana and hemp? We will get further into the details on this. For initial context, hemp and marijuana are both are derived from Cannabis Sativa. The distinction between hemp and marijuana comes down to the amount of THC within the plant. THC is responsible for the mind-altering high associated with marijuana.

Cannabis Family Tree

*Quick Hit* Did you know the more CBD in a plant, the less THC? And vice versa? Historically, marijuana flowers in the 1960s and 1970s contained smaller amounts of THC and more CBD. During the War on Drugs and due to consumer demand, product formulations focused on producing maximum amounts of THC. This lead to more THC by product weight, but almost zero CBD. Hemp plants produce minimal amounts of THC naturally and this lead to the rediscovery of CBD's myriad of medical benefits. If only the plant had been legal to research during this time! Today, cannabis growers and formulators have the capability to breed plants with more or less THC (or other cannabinoids).

Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring compounds found in the mammalian bodies (that includes us humans) and in the cannabis plant. When they are produced in the mammalian body, they are called endocannabinoids. When they occur in plants the cannabinoids are then called phytocannabinoids. At the time of this publication, more than 120 phytocannabinoids have been discovered within the cannabis plant. 

The two most prominently discussed phytocannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC is responsible for the psychoactive “high” experienced when consumed. CBD, or cannabidiol, can help with a wide variety of symptoms but does not cause an intoxicating experience when consumed. The more common phytocannabinoids include CBN, CBG, CBC, and THCv, THCa which have varying effects that help with inflammation, seizures, appetite, sleep, among others. Refer to the chart below for a more comprehensive overview of the different cannabinoids and their varying effects that science has been shown to impact.

Cannabinoid Effect Infographic

Hemp Plant Anatomy

Hemp

Hemp is a legal term for any Cannabis Sativa plant with less than .3% THC content. Industrial hemp is derived from the hemp stalk which can be stronger than steel and used for rope, textiles and even hempcrete. This composes 2/3 of the plant weight and has little to no medicinal benefit. Hemp flowers play host to CBD and the medicinal benefit of the plant. With less than .3% THC there is no intoxicating high associated with Hemp. However, be careful when consuming full-spectrum CBD oil with trace amounts of THC that could show up on a drug test. Hemp plants can grow up to 20 feet tall and the ideal environment of warmer climates in the Northern Hemisphere. There are three main parts of the plant: the flower, the stalk and the seeds which each serve different purposes (see Hemp Plant Anatomy image).

*Quick hit* Did you know industrial hemp can be used to create textiles such as bags and clothing? Hemp requires ample sunlight but far less water than cotton. Hemp is not very comfortable to wear, but can be mixed with cotton to optimize water usage. Just don't expect any CBD contents or medical benefit in hemp textiles. 

Marijuana

Marijuana is technically a marketing term that differentiates Hemp vs Marijuana THC Contentmarijuana from hemp based on the amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) present in the plant. The Cannabis Sativa and Indica species are both capable of producing flowers with more than .3% THC. This amount of THC will begin to introduce the intoxicating high when consumed. 

Apart from the industrial benefits of the sativa plant, the primary use for high THC cannabis is for medicinal purposes. THC benefits are numerous, but not limited to pain management, muscle spasms,  nausea, and appetite stimulation. There are many ways to consume THC from inhalable flower to edible foods. There is an ongoing debate about the difference between Sativa and Indica plants and the associated effects of these plants. Relief Scout believes the terpene and flavonoid profile shape the effects, regardless of the plant species. 

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CBD

CBD stands for cannabidiol and is one of the most prominent phytocannabinoids within the Cannabis plant for medicinal purposes. CBD benefits are wide ranging because of its ability to aid in homeostasis - or balance - in the body via the endocannabinoid system (more on this in a bit). There are receptors in our body designed perfectly to fit the molecular structure of CBD. Just like a lock and key. CBD regulates the nervous system that controls pain, nausea, seizures, anxiousness, memory, nerve activity, and more. 


While there is a great deal of information coming out about CBD, there is a great deal of confusion about if CBD is legal in the United States. The fact is, a Hemp CBD product containing less than .3% THC is federally legal for interstate commerce according to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This does not include Marijuana (more than .3% THC) that remains a Schedule I drug. Prior to 2018, Hemp CBD was also a schedule I substance that prevented research from occurring. Fortunately, Israel and countries in Europe completed fascinating research during this time to progress our understanding of cannabis. There are now 9 federally funded studies about the CBD compound in the United States and including CBD effect, side effects and the interaction with the endocannabinoid system.

 

CBD Oil vs Hemp Oil infographic

CBD OIL

CBD Oil is the form CBD comes in after it is extracted from the hemp flower. CBD oil is produced because it is the easiest and healthiest way to consume CBD. Technically CBD can come in many forms. CBD Oil is extracted and processed into a bottle, capsule, softgels, salve or edible. As opposed to a hemp flower that can be inhaled.

HEMP OIL

Hemp Oil and Hemp Seed Oil are extracted from the stalk or seeds of the hemp plant that only have trace amounts of CBD. While CBD is not present in an observable amount, hemp oil and hemp seed oil still holds health benefits like being high in protein and helping with skin health.

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Terpenes and Flavonoids

An important, and often overlooked component of CBD based products, are the terpenes and flavonoids. Whether you know it or not, you are familiar with terpenes because they give trees its piney smell and orange its citrusy scent. Interestingly, terpenes protect the plant from invasive species and then transform just before harvest to determine the smell and effects the cannabis plant - in addition to fruits, vegetables, spices, and botanicals. In fact, you have terpenes in your home garden right now! Different terpenes cause different effects and have a direct impact on why one CBD product may have a different effect than another:

CommonTerpenes_Graphic_v1

Flavonoids are responsible for providing CBD its color, odor, flavor and some beneficial effects. The key is how terpenes and flavonoids, along with cannabinoids work together. Isolated, these critical ingredients are far less effective. This phenomenon of plant compounds working together in concert is known as the "Entourage Effect." The cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids present in a full-spectrum product will work synergistically to create a more powerful experience than what they can produce on their own. For example, CBD or terpenes like limonene (found in lemons), can balance out the anxiety producing “high” many people feel when consuming too much THC. 

Collectively, the 3 main elements responsible for the entourage effects of Hemp CBD are:

  • Cannabinoids: Primarily CBD. Secondarily, CBN, CBG, CBDA, among others to complement primary effects
  • Terpenes: 200+ unique scents that shape the overall effects of CBD
  • Flavonoids: ~20 unique compounds that give CBD it’s color, odor, flavor, and benefits

It is still under debate, but studies suggest that products that are full or broad spectrum, could have a 2-4x greater effect than when the cannabinoid is consumed in isolation. This is why different CBD products affect us in different ways. Different brands and product lines have varying terpene profiles where some may be better for soothing aches and pains, while others may be better at driving people into a sedated state to aid with sleep.

More research needs to be done to more predictably identify the effects between cannabinoids and terpenes, but it’s this element of being a CBD consumer that gets easily overlooked and minimized.

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CBD and the Human Body

Now that we have discussed what the Cannabis plant is and how hemp, marijuana, and all aspects like cannabinoids and terpenes fit into it, it’s important to understand why and how CBD can have therapeutic effects with the human body. 

ECS Infographic Teaser

The human body is comprised of systems that have a job responsible for making our bodies function properly. The respiratory system allows us to breath, the digestive system allows us to digest the food we eat, and the muscular and skeletal systems allow for us to maintain our physical posture. 

While we have known about these systems for a very long time, it  was only in 1992 that the endocannabinoid system was discovered by Dr. Mechoulam. Its role is to maintain balance throughout the systems in our body. Without the endocannabinoid system keeping all of our other systems in check, we would spike fevers, experience panic attacks, we would not be able to regulate our digestion among many other things.

The endocannabinoid system (or ECS) works with receptors spread throughout all of our bodily systems. These receptors job is to absorb cannabinoids and there are two types - CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors

CB1 receptors are primarily on the cells in the brain and central nervous system. THC primarily interacts with these receptors. CB2 receptors are found in peripheral organs, especially cells associated with immune system, which CBD primarily interacts.

Breaking down the complex systems of our bodies is no easy task, so we like to “the lock and key” as an easy analogy to help summarize the relationship between cannabinoids and the receptors of the ECS. When CBD interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, it acts as the key to unlock the lock (receptor) that opens the pathways that can lead to homeostasis within the body.

Because cannabinoids are found within both the cannabis plant (phytocannabinnoids- phyto meaning “plant”) and within our bodies (endocannaboids  - endo meaning “within”), the idea is if we are deficient in one of our cannabinoids in our body, we could supplement with cannabinoids found within cannabis to get us back to equilibrium.

Homeostasis & CB Receptors

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So if hemp and CBD hold so much value, why has it been illegal for more than half a century? It boils down to a complete misunderstanding and one of the most successful propaganda campaigns the world has ever seen. Negative stigmas set by propaganda against Mexican immigrants, prohibition by powerful leaders invested in competing natural resources, and the War on Drugs put hemp and marijuana under the same umbrella of a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are defined by the federal government as a substance chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, and are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. This misunderstanding hindered any research to be done until 2014 where hemp was furthered research and later made federally legal in December of 2018. 

As discussed earlier - there is a distinct difference between hemp and marijuana. Hemp has less than .3% THC, and marijuana comes in at more than .3%THC. Legality across the united states swings mainly on this difference. Some states have legalized full recreational use for all cannabis (high THC included), others don’t even allow high THC cannabis to be available for medicinal purposes and everything in between. Hemp (cannabis with less than .3% THC) and CBD are federally legal, but the law allows each state to run a hemp program to determine regulations unique to each individual state in the US. 

With the rediscovery of CBD in the 21st century we have an evolved understanding of cannabis. No longer a taboo drug, conversations about cannabis are happening everywhere from office water coolers to waiting rooms of doctor’s offices. The fact these conversations are happening is a small victory in the evolution of cannabis and CBD will play a big part in bringing cannabis back to medical books and facilities.

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