Celebrating CBD

Non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis is celebrated Aug. 8 throughout the country. Ngaio Bealum breaks down the medicinal uses for humans and animals alike.

illustration by Kate mitrano

Happy National CBD Day! Some of you are probably thinking: Why would anyone want to celebrate Crazy Baby Daddies? Relax. The CBD discussed here is, indeed, something to celebrate.

CBD is short for “cannabidiol,” and it’s one of the hundreds of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. For the longest time, scientists and cannabis users figured that THC was the only chemical compound in cannabis worthy of study.

But in the past few years, CBD has been touted as a wonder drug for just about any ailment—arthritis, insomnia, anxiety, depression and everything in between. CBD is recognized as a miracle cure by many in the cannabis community. There are even CBD products designed for pets.

Last year’s farm bill made legal CBD derived from hemp plants (“hemp” is a cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC, according to the government), and the marketplace has grown exponentially with CBD shops opening all over the country. Major companies such as Ulta Beauty are even getting in on the CBD surge. The cosmetic giant announced in March that it plans to carry a new CBD skin-care line.

So how does CBD work and why is it so popular? Good question. CBD is mostly known as an anti-inflammatory. According to Jahan Marcu, chief science officer for the International Research Center on Cannabis and Mental Health, “CBD can inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds. The body will inflame [a fancy way of saying cause to swell up] an area as a way of quarantine and to supply the region with nutrients.”

Inflammation is usually painful—think of a swollen ankle or arthritis. CBD disrupts the body’s signals to inflame, which can provide pain relief. Marcu says the latest research shows that CBD also travels to the brain “through serotonin, adenosine and ion channels, so conceptually CBD hits targets similar to anti-anxiety drugs and caffeine.” This is why some people praise CBD as an antidepressant.

“CBD is not a very potent molecule,” Marcu adds. “It is mild sauce compared to anti-anxiety medications and caffeine. Adults require hundreds of milligrams to be able to overtly ’feel’ anything.”

Indeed, it is probably the lack of any major psychotropic effects—CBD doesn’t make people “high” like THC does—that makes CBD so popular.

There are a few states that have CBD-only medical cannabis laws on the books, much to the consternation of scientists such as Clint Werner, author of Marijuana Gateway to Health: How Cannabis Protects Us from Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease—and a proponent of “whole plant” cannabis therapeutics.

“I think the entire CBD craze is out of hand,” he says. “Largely based on greed and profiteering coupled with ignorant wish-it-were-so CBD delusions and a euphoranoia [irrational fear of a high] concerning THC. We did not rediscover medical marijuana because of CBD. THC is the cannabinoid with the broadest range of therapeutic actions. A blend of differing ratios of THC and CBD [the entourage effect] will probably prove helpful for some ailments, although some will be found to need zero CBD, in my opinion.”

Still, Werner and Marcu agree that more studies are needed.

“We need a dedicated research and development program to figure out which cannabinoids in what forms and combinations work best for which ailments,”’ says Werner, who envisions scenarios where people can have cannabis compounds tailor-made for their specific needs.

Meanwhile, Marcu laments the frustrations of trying to study a federally illegal plant. “We have a ways to go before the products being consumed can legally and openly be studied … which is particularly disturbing given the circular reasoning that we need more research to proceed with regulating cannabis,” he says.

If someone wants to try CBD products, it is probably best to purchase them at a licensed dispensary. There are plenty of fly-by-night CBD companies online willing to sell fraudulent products containing “hemp oil,” but little if any actual CBD. Licensed dispensaries carry products that have been thoroughly tested, ensuring that a person actually gets what they’ve paid for. Folks can find CBD-infused candies, gummies, capsules and even high-CBD cannabis strains such as Harlequin, Blues Chaser and Charlotte’s Web.

Since CBD isn’t psychoactive like THC, it may take some time to notice if CBD is having any beneficial effects. Give it a week or two and see how you feel. And a few words of caution: Anyone taking prescription medications should definitely talk to their doctor before jumping on the CBD bandwagon.

Marcu shares this advice: “Start low. Go slow. If you are taking other prescription drugs, you may want to proceed with caution. CBD is metabolized by the same family of liver enzymes as commonly prescribed drugs. Adverse drug interactions are not very groovy.”