What is CBD oil exactly?
You’ve probably heard about CBD and maybe even considered trying it for migraines or to help with anxiety or chronic pain. But what is it and why is it so popular?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is one of hundreds of different components, called cannabinoids, found in cannabis plants. Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants, known scientifically as Cannabis sativa. However, marijuana and hemp are different varieties of the plant and are quite different in the compounds they contain. (Humans naturally make their own version of cannabinoids too, called endocannabinoids.)
The best known of these plant-based cannabinoids are CBD and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which targets and binds to certain receptors in the brain to give you a high. Hemp is a cannabis variant that is essentially THC-free.
So, does CBD get you high? No, and it’s not considered to be addictive. It seems to bind to multiple target sites, thereby affecting several body systems.
How do you use it?
Extracts of CBD – either from marijuana or hemp – are sold as an oil or in tinctures. Low dose CBD – no more than 150 mg per day – is now available over-the-counter at pharmacies in Australia as of 1 February, without a prescription.
However, while pharmacies are now allowed to sell it over-the-counter, don’t expect to find any in your local for at least six months, as no CBD oils have been given the green light for sale yet, with manufacturers now racing to get their products out the door.
You can also get CBD via a transdermal patch, capsule, nasal spray, gel or other form of extract, however these require a doctor’s prescription in Australia.
Some claim to contain pure CBD extract; others are either full-spectrum (CBD plus other compounds, including THC) or broad-spectrum (CBD and other compounds, but not THC).
CBD oil can be extracted from the flowers of hemp or marijuana plants using several methods. Extraction with supercritical carbon dioxide – a high-tech, expensive process in which the gas is turned into a powerful solvent under high pressure – results in a product that’s free from residues, unlike hydrocarbon extraction, which can leave butane, propane, and other potentially toxic compounds in the mix. Alcohol or oils can also be used to make CBD extracts.
What is CBD oil used for?
Some people hoping to add a little spring in their step (via better sleep, reducing anxiety, or easing muscle soreness) might drizzle a little oil into their smoothie or latte. They might also spot treat with a dab of CBD oil for pain in problematic areas. In the past several years, scientific published papers have researched how the compound might help with a spectrum of medical conditions, including anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, inflammatory bowel disease and fractures.
“Scientists have been studying other constituents in the marijuana plant besides THC, and there has been an emerging interest in the medical community for a while,” says Ryan McLaughlin, assistant professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience at Washington State University.
How does CBD work?
No one’s really sure. “It’s astonishing that there’s still no real consensus on how CBD works,” says McLaughlin. “One thing we do know is that it doesn’t work through the same receptors as THC, and, in fact, seems to have the opposite effect.”
THC mainly binds to a certain type of receptor (known as CB1) in the brain. But with CBD, he says, “there seems to be a lot of complex targets” – which means CBD may act on multiple pathways throughout the body.
From anecdotal evidence in humans and from animal studies, CBD appears to affect the way we experience pain, inflammation and anxiety. “Scientists have identified a number of receptors in the nervous system where CBD acts,” says Orrin Devinsky, MD, professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry at NYU Langone. “It’s established that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties and can increase activity at some serotonin [the feel-good neurotransmitter] receptors.”
What the science says
When it comes to CBD oil, science does not have much to say as far as humans are concerned – at least not yet. The vast majority of high-quality studies have been on animals. Even the oil’s effect on pain – something that CBD oil is popularly used for – isn’t proven.
“The studies available are small or not well designed,” says Dr Devinsky. “There’s a lot of religion out there, but not a lot of data.”
Dr Devinsky’s research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, is beginning to provide that much-needed data in the field of epilepsy research.
In a 2018 landmark multinational randomised double-blind study for a treatment-resistant form of the condition, subjects taking an oral solution of 20 mg CBD per kilogram of body weight for 14 weeks, along with standard treatment, experienced a 42 percent reduction in seizures. Those taking 10 mg CBD per kilogram of body weight saw a 37 percent decrease; patients who got a placebo saw a 17 percent decrease. The mechanism hasn’t quite been worked out yet, Dr Devinsky says, though there’s some evidence that a receptor known as GPR55 may be critical for the anti-seizure effect.
Side effects of CBD oil
As Dr Devinsky points out in his research, side effects, at least in therapeutic doses, can include fatigue, diarrhoea, and a dry mouth, among others.
In low-dose CBD, these side effects are possible, not probable, and often resolve once the body has gotten use to the oil, so the advice from the experts is to start slowly and build up. It is also recommended to take CBD oil with food.
CBD is also considered safe to drive on, as it doesn’t make a person feel ‘stoned’ when consumed in isolated form.
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Springer Link: “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders”
Frontiers in Pharmacology: “In vivo Evidence for Therapeutic Properties of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Alzheimer’s Disease”
SAGE Journals: “Cannabidiol as an Intervention for Addictive Behaviors: A Systematic Review of the Evidence”
NCBI: “Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease”
ASBMR, “Cannabidiol, a Major Non‐Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in Osteoblasts”
The New England Journal of Medicine: “Effect of Cannabidiol on Drop Seizures in the Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome”
JAMA: “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online”