You’ve probably heard the health claims: CBD will help relieve stress. It’ll help you sleep. It’ll even boost your mood. If there’s an ailment, it’s likely CBD has been offered up as a possible remedy.
How can three little letters have such a big health impact? And how do you know whether CBD products could benefit you? It can be difficult to suss out what’s fact from fiction in order to make the right health choices for yourself.
In this INTEGRIS On Your Health blog post, we dive into the science of CBD: what it is, how it works and how you can incorporate this product into your wellness routine — if you and your doctor agree that’s the best plan for you.
What is CBD?
Before we tackle what CBD is, you should first understand cannabis itself — perhaps known more familiarly as hemp or marijuana. Both are derived from the cannabis plant (part of the Cannabaceae family) and are used to make CBD.
Cannabis is used to produce cannabinoid drugs, with “cannabinoid” referring to every chemical substance found within the cannabis plant that joins the cannabinoid receptors of the body and brain (all part of the endocannabinoid system, or ECS). This interaction with receptors is how cannabinoids produce their effects. The ECS affects biological functions such as eating, anxiety, learning, memory, reproduction, metabolism, growth and development.
You know the acronym CBD, now what does it stand for?
Cannabis contains more than 80 biologically active chemical compounds (cannabinoids). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most commonly known compounds in cannabis.
THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana that produces a “high.” CBD products only contain trace amounts of THC, which is why they produce no high. THC and CBD have an inverse relationship, meaning the more THC a plant has, the less CBD, and vice versa.
Marijuana is bred to contain high levels of THC and therefore has less CBD. On the other hand, hemp generally contains a lot of CBD and very little THC.
A few other terms to know if you’re brushing up on your CBD knowledge are terpenes and flavonoids.
- Terpenes — Found in CBD, these aromatic oils bind to receptors in the body. They’re responsible for the distinct smell and flavor of CBD products and are thought to increase CBD’s healing properties.
- Flavonoids — Found in CBD as well as nearly all fruits and vegetables, flavonoids are a group of phytonutrients serving as cell messengers. Flavonoids give plants their pigmentation, filter UV rays, attract pollinators and prevent plant diseases. The specific flavonoids found in CBD, called cannaflavins, are found nowhere else in nature and are thought to have an array of medical benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and neuroprotective effects.
The entourage effect of CBD
Some researchers believe terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids work in tandem with one another in what they’ve coined the “entourage effect.” Discovered in 1980, the entourage effect theorizes the three create more potent therapeutic and psychoactive effects together than they do on their own. Like most CBD claims, this doesn’t have enough scientific research behind it to make it definitive, but it is backed by lots of anecdotal evidence from cannabis enthusiasts worldwide.
Keep in mind, most CBD products are not FDA approved. Research on CBD is still early for all but one condition (rare, severe forms of epilepsy). That’s even more reason to consult your health care provider if you plan to work CBD products into your wellness plan.
Types of CBD products and how to use them
How you administer CBD products depends on the type of product you’re using, and the administration method dictates the effects you feel from the product. Here’s a rundown of some popular CBD products and how they’re administered.
CBD oil is an extract from cannabis plants that contains high levels of cannabidiol. CBD oil can be ingested via vapor, as from a vape pen with a cartridge full of CBD oil. It also comes in small dropper bottles that help you measure dosages from .25 mL to 1.0 mL to take orally — more specifically sublingually, or under the tongue.
You typically place the oil under your tongue and hold for 30 seconds before swallowing. This sublingual method allows the CBD to bypass the digestive system and liver metabolism. That means the compounds avoid being broken down by enzymes and reach the bloodstream more quickly.
The taste of the yellow-hued liquid is often described as earthy or grassy. If the taste doesn’t sit well with you, a chaser or rinse of water or another drink should easily cleanse your palate.
Generally, there are three types of CBD extract.
- Full spectrum extract — The unadulterated oil from the plant, which contains trace amounts of THC.
- Broad spectrum extract — This extract retains compounds in the plant but attempts to remove THC.
- Isolate extract — This type removes everything that isn’t cannabidiol, creating an extract that is nearly all CBD.
You might be wondering, “Aren’t CBD oil and CBD tincture the same thing?” Not exactly. Though they are both derived from hemp, the difference between the two comes down to the alcohol arrangement. Generally, CBD tinctures are made from high CBD strains of hemp, with 60 to 70% alcohol.
In the case of CBD, a mixture of alcohol and water is used to extract compounds from the cannabis plant. On the other hand, some tinctures use glycerin, vinegar or oil as the solvent, but those may lack the potency of tinctures produced with the water-alcohol extraction method.
CBD tinctures can also be ingested by mixing them in food due to the tincture’s alcohol base. The possibilities for incorporation into food are numerous: You might see recipes for CBD smoothies or even chocolate chip cookies with a quick internet search for CBD recipes. You can even pick up a copy of a CBD cookbook at your local library or independent bookstore. Companies are also marketing products with CBD incorporated in them, like seltzers and sodas.
For those who dislike the taste of CBD oil or who don’t enjoy vaping, CBD gummies offer a one-two-punch of candy-like consistency and fun flavor options. The options for flavors, colors, shapes and concentrations are numerous. CBD gummies are gaining popularity among CBD users because they’re discreet, easy to ingest and often have an enjoyable taste.
CBD lotions and creams are applied topically to the skin to treat inflammation. That could be anything from body aches and knots, tightness, cramping and even skin irritation, such as burns or dryness.
If you’re looking to relieve any of these symptoms, you might come across lotions for menstrual cramps that feature relaxing scents such as vanilla, or lotions that incorporate ginger, capsaicin and grapefruit and claim to boost circulation. This is one area of CBD that has some serious overlap in the “self-care” industry as well.
Softgels and liquid- or powder-filled CBD capsules allow you to administer CBD without any tastes or smells. Taken like any other hard (non-gummy) vitamin or pill, these capsules are a quick and easy way to consume CBD. Those who prefer this method often tout the capsule’s portability and the fact you don’t have to worry about daily measuring.
CBD capsules typically appear in a round or an oval shape, 10 to 15mm in diameter. Although you can find some vegan and vegetarian-friendly capsules, the capsule’s shell is often made from bovine gelatin.
What are the benefits of CBD and are they proven?
Many CBD users say the products help with anxiety, insomnia, arthritis pain, nausea, depression, migraine headaches and more. You might have even talked to friends and family members who take CBD and rely on it for relief against those ailments, or you’ve talked to friends and family who’ve tried CBD and disliked it or felt no effects or relief whatsoever.
So, why would something help one person and not another? And are the benefits of CBD even proven?
That’s the tricky part about CBD. Although various CBD products have now been around for years, research into the effects of CBD is still flimsy. According to expert medical interviews, “the best evidence of CBD’s potential for other conditions comes only from pre-clinical or animal trials, which provide some indication that the substance may reduce inflammation, anxiety and psychotic symptoms in the short term.”
“Anecdotal evidence from patient testimonials abounds when it comes to CBD and the treatment of insomnia, pain and in easing recovery from addiction,” the study reported, “but the evidence in these areas is even more shaky, or entirely lacking.”
What researchers can say with near certainty is CBD is safe for use, as they found no evidence of a “high” or addictive properties. In fact, CBD didn’t cause side effects severe enough to discontinue treatment, even at high doses, as concluded in the clinical trial that led to the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex, the severe epilepsy treatment.
If you’ve tried CBD products and felt no effects, here are a few reasons why that could be.
- Low product quality — Remember, the FDA does not regulate the ingredients in CBD products, so unless you’re buying from a pharmacy or state-licensed marijuana dispensary, you can’t be certain about product quality or potency.
- Incorrect dosage — It’s easy to miscalculate your dosage and take too little, or too much, CBD. It’s recommended to start at the lowest dosage and work up; however, some people never find the sweet spot that works for them.
- Physical and psychological health — Some research suggests women are more sensitive to cannabinoids and may experience pain relief through CBD more easily than men. Since men tend to be larger than women, it could explain why they need more CBD to feel an effect.
- You’ve developed a tolerance — Although this is rare, some long-time users do find they’ve developed a tolerance for CBD and they need more and more to find the relief they once felt at a lower dosage.
- You’re not using a full-spectrum product — Remember, full-spectrum CBD (believed to be the most effective) is the unadulterated oil from the plant, which contains trace amounts of THC.
- You haven’t given the product enough time to work — CBD products could take weeks of daily use to show any effects, so patience could be key. Others might experience some positive effects, perhaps minimizing pain by 50%, but they wish to minimize by 100%. In some cases, that 50% pain reduction might be the best the person can get from a CBD product.
While it may be safe for use, it may pose a risk for those who are subject to random drug screenings for their job or those undergoing a drug screening for a new job. Because the ingredients in CBD are unregulated, you can’t guarantee you’ll know exactly what’s in your tincture, oil or gummy. If a product has more THC than you expect, this could show up on drug screenings, and employers may not accept an explanation of CBD as the cause.
Doctors may have differing opinions on the efficacy of CBD, but nearly all will agree you shouldn’t forgo a medication in favor of CBD without talking to your physician first.
Where can you buy CBD products?
CBD products require no prescription and can be purchased at INTEGRIS pharmacies, CBD dispensaries, and even online. What’s important to remember is any time you buy something off the internet, you might not get the amount of CBD you think you’re getting. It’s wisest as a consumer to consult with a physician and purchase anything you consider “medicinal” through your preferred pharmacy.
State-licensed marijuana dispensaries are also a safe option, as those products are more closely regulated and tested for purity.
So, should you take CBD?
The bottom line? If you can’t determine, with certainty, what’s in the product you’re using or intend to use, don’t use it. Consult your physician and explore your options surrounding CBD and other products. While there are several clinical trials being conducted regarding CBD now, we’re still far away from having definitive proof of its effects on our health and well-being.
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