Your definitive guide to CBD, the lesser-known cannabinoid with a significant impact.


Take a look inside the Cannabis sativa species, and you'll see a rich and diverse collection of chemical compounds. Some of these compounds we know very well, such as the iconic, high-inducing THC. But, there’s also the lesser-known cannabinoid, CBD, to consider. Why? Because CBD has several qualities that THC simply doesn't provide.

What Is CBD?

Both CBD and THC belong to a vast family of compounds (an estimated 113 in total), with each cannabinoid interacting slightly differently with the human body. And, although our knowledge is limited regarding the other cannabinoids, we're slowly learning more about the second most abundant one and the focus of this article—cannabidiol (CBD).

CBD is like a brother or sister to THC, but it doesn’t share the psychoactive properties of the latter. In other words, it won't induce a high like THC. Instead, it influences our body in dozens of other ways, many of which could potentially benefit our well-being. The two compounds do, however, share a similarity.

Does CBD Come From Hemp or Cannabis?

While the answer is technically both, the highest concentrations of CBD come from hemp, a subspecies of Cannabis sativa favoured by commercial industries. Thanks to modern breeding, and a touch of natural selection, hemp has a chemical structure rich in CBD and low in THC.

And, although hemp is the plant of choice when it comes to consumer products such as CBD oil, CBD supplements, and CBD cosmetics, cannabis isn't entirely out of the game. You'll just need to pick varieties bred specifically for their CBD content.

In fact, it is the cannabis industry’s quest for CBD-rich strains that has triggered somewhat of a revolution, especially in the last twenty years. High-CBD strains are finally becoming commonplace, the direct result of diligent breeders, and their manipulation of strains with CBD-dominant phenotypes.

For home growers, there’s no need to worry about crossing cannabis strains, or cloning mother plants rich in CBD. Instead, seed banks offer an abundance of choice. For example, RQS’ selection of CBD cannabis strains includes Solomatic, Purplematic and Joanne’s CBD, a strain high in CBD with almost no THC.

But, as we’ll find out, creating CBD-dominant strains isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. With cannabis, it always comes back to genetics. It's a plant's genetics that dictates how long it takes to flower, its resistance to disease. These genetics also control the cannabinoids and terpenes within.

Hemp

The Importance of Genetics

During the earliest stages of a plant's development, the ratio of cannabinoids is determined by biosynthesis of the cannabinoid precursor CBGA with a selection of enzymes. However, it can't bind with all three, and depending on which one CBGA binds with, determines whether a strain is CBD or THC dominant (or a mix of both).

However, as we've highlighted, cannabis plants are strictly controlled by their genetics. So, once nature has done the hard work for you, it's possible to cross similar CBD strains, or clone a mother plant, refining the concentration with every iteration.

Over the years, breeders have worked to perfect the process outlined above, selecting strains that display the correct phenotypes. Of course, there's still an incredible amount of experimentation taking place, but the number of CBD-dominant cannabis strains has already increased dramatically. It's also through manipulation of various CBD phenotypes that breeders can alter the ratio of cannabinoids inside cannabis, a subject we'll cover in more detail shortly.

But, getting hold of CBD is only part of one piece of the puzzle. To understand why this cannabinoid deserves your attention, we also need to know how it interacts with the body.

How Does CBD Work?

All cannabinoids work via a unique interaction with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). This vast network of receptors exists inside all of us, and is responsible for maintaining a balanced state. When our biological systems are balanced, our body is better equipped to deal with disease, disorder and the challenges of modern living.

To activate the ECS, cannabinoids bind with cannabinoid receptors (split into CB1 and CB2) located on cells throughout our body.

These receptors act as gatekeepers, proteins embedded in cells that direct chemical signals, telling them what to do and when to do it. However, they don't just act of their own accord. The action CB receptors take depends on their location in the body and the interacting cannabinoid.

Receptors are particular when it comes to which cannabinoids they bind with. The mechanism is like a lock and key—receptors only activate if they detect a cannabinoid with the right shape to match their lock. It's via these access points that cannabinoids can influence the body in a variety of ways.

The majority of CB1 receptors exist in the brain, digestive, and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are prevalent in our immune system. THC, for example, activates CB1 receptors responsible for balancing mood and motivation, hence the euphoric high. CBD, on the other hand, takes a less direct approach, as we'll discover.

 
THC-A
THC
THC-V
CBN
CBD-A
CBD
CBC-A
CBC
CBG-A
CBG
Analgesis
Pain relief
 
THC
 
CBN
 
CBD
 
CBC
   
Anti-inflamatory
Reduces inflamation
THC-A
     
CBD-A
CBD
 
CBC
CBG-A
CBG
Anoretic
Suppresses appettite
   
THC-V
             
Appetite stimulant
Stimulates appetite
 
THC
     
CBD
       
Antiemetic
Reduces vomiting and nausea
         
CBD
       
Intestinal anti-prokinetic
Reduces contractions in the small intestine
         
CBD
       
Anixolytic
Relieves anxiety
         
CBD
       
Antipsychotic
Tranquilizing, used to manage psychosis
         
CBD
       
Antiepileptic
Reduces seizures and convulsions
THC-A
 
THC-V
   
CBD
       
Antispasmodic
Supresses muscle spasms
 
THC
 
CBN
 
CBD
       
Anti-insomnia
Aides sleep
     
CBN
 
CBD
       
Immunosuppresive
Reduces the efficacy of inmune system
         
CBD
       
Anti-diabetic
Reduces blood sugar levels
   
THC-V
   
CBD
       
Neuroprotective
Prevents nervous system degeneration
         
CBD
       
Antipsioriatic
Treats psoriasis
         
CBD
       
Anti-ischemic
Reduces risk of artery blockage
         
CBD
       
Anti-bacterial
Kills or slows bacteria growth
         
CBD
CBC-A
CBC
 
CBG
Anti-fungal
Treats fungi infection
           
CBC-A
   
CBG
Anti-proliferative
Inhibits cell growth in tumors/cancer cells
THC-A
     
CBD-A
CBD
 
CBC
 
CBG
Bone stimulant
Promotes bone growth
   
THC-V
   
CBD
 
CBC
 
CBG

CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

Although we said all cannabinoids interact with the human body via a lock and key mechanism, CBD's interaction is a little more complicated.

Cannabidiol does not have much binding affinity to either of the two known cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it exerts its influence by supporting the entire ECS, improving how the system operates and regulating the production of beneficial enzymes.

It's believed to have a suppressive effect on the enzyme FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) which is a molecule responsible for breaking down and destroying anandamide (AEA).

This suppressive reaction with CBD means that more anandamide will stay in your system, and for extended periods too. This matters because AEA is an internally produced chemical that exerts a positive influence on eating, sleeping, pain relief, and more.

But, while CBD doesn't care to bind with CB1 or CB2 receptors, that doesn't mean it completely bypasses the lock and key mechanism we highlighted earlier. There are a handful of G-protein receptors located in the central and peripheral nervous systems that interact with CBD. There is also the TRPV-1 (transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V-1) that reacts to CBD. The TRPV-1 receptor is known to mediate pain perception, inflammation and body temperature, but the potential of this interaction remains under investigation.

The Entourage Effect

So far we've covered how cannabinoids exert their influence, and how CBD takes a slightly different approach via its impact on enzymes and niche receptors. What we haven't discussed, however, is their collaboration.

Although THC and CBD have very different effects and interaction methods, there is one characteristic they share. When they work together, their respective abilities are enhanced. In fact, the entourage effect is a phenomenon that, theoretically, applies to all cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.

This is why products like full-spectrum CBD oil have become so popular. While CBD works well on its own, many believe it only reaches its true potential when THC and other cannabinoids/terpenes/flavonoids are there too. After all, why else would all those compounds be together in the same plant?

CBD:THC Ratio

The interaction between CBD and THC is a phenomenon that's caught the eye of breeders and cannabis lovers alike. Why? Because it's possible to alter your high by adjusting the ratio of CBD and THC you’re taking in, gaining benefits from both cannabinoids.

Maybe you want a strain you can smoke throughout the day that won't dampen productivity or motivation. Thanks to advancements in cannabis breeding, it's entirely possible to find that ideal flower. For those with a lot on their plate, strains that feature high levels of CBD and minimal levels of THC (25: 1) fit the bill perfectly. You'll still gain the advantages of the entourage effect, but the experience is devoid of any psychotropic side effects.

CBD

However, keep tweaking the ratio of CBD and THC, and you can explore a whole other set of effects. A ratio of 8:1 or 2:1, naturally, will deliver a much stronger hit of THC. You’ll end up feeling the euphoric effects, and there’ll be some psychotropic sensations, but CBD being the dominant force helps balance the overall high.

Finally, you have cannabis strains with equal parts CBD and THC. While we recommend these for those well versed in the effects of THC, it's the ultimate combo of two cannabinoids with a powerful influence over the ECS. By consuming both in equal measure, your well-being benefits equally too—it's all about balancing the ratio of CBD and THC to your needs.

Royal Queen Seeds has an exclusive range of CBD cannabis seeds, each specifically bred to contain higher than usual CBD levels, and a balanced ratio of THC and CBD. Tatanka Pure CBD, for example, has between 9-14% CBD, which is much more than the typical cannabis strain. With several feminised and autoflowering high-CBD strains to choose from, it's never been easier to enjoy CBD at home.

What Are the Effects of CBD?

With the background to CBD established, including how it works, and where it comes from, we can finally move onto what the cannabinoid does, and its potential influence.

Because it encourages the whole ECS to work more efficiently, CBD has the potential to affect dozens of physiological processes.

To be clear: nothing we’re describing below has been proven, and many more studies are needed to confirm the hypotheses presented. We absolutely don’t recommend using cannabis as a substitute for your regular medicine. In fact, if you’re already dealing with health issues, you should ask your doctor before trying any form of cannabis.

Sleep

Sleep is a vital process that gives our mind and body the ability to recover from the day. Unfortunately, sleep is also one of the things many humans tend to neglect, mostly because of our access to entertainment and the stress of our 24/7 society.

Early preclinical research suggests[1] CBD could be a powerful tool in getting a more restful night's sleep. While the cannabinoid does not appear to act as a sedative, it's believed to encourage a healthy sleep/wake cycle via various mechanisms. Supporting our body's natural circadian rhythm can not only help us fall asleep quicker but more deeply too.

CBD

Relaxation

Unfortunately, tension and uneasiness are never far away in today's modern society. And, to make matters worse, tackling anxiety is not straightforward—how and why it occurs differs from one person to the next.

However, one similarity between all instances of anxiety is the role of 5-HT receptors and the neurochemical serotonin. Nicknamed the happy chemical, serotonin has a direct effect on anxiety through its activation of these receptors and is usually released during physical activities such as exercise or sex.

Encouragingly, researchers have uncovered that CBD also interacts with 5-HT receptors, modulating serotonergic transmission. The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain[2] conducted an animal study of neuropathic pain. It concluded that "repeated treatment with low-dose CBD reduces anxiety through 5-HT₁ₐ receptor activation". They went on to add that these results "support the initiation of clinical trials" for CBD-based treatments.

CBD

Muscle Recovery

Although inflammation is often portrayed in a negative light, it's a crucial mechanism. It helps our body tackle infections and repair damaged tissue. The latter is especially important not just for athletes, but anyone who wants to stay healthy. Developing stronger muscles reduces the risk of injury, and helps keep us active and on our feet.

However, for us to develop a healthy inflammatory response, we first need a robust immune system. But, for all the good our immune system does, sometimes it gets confused, especially if it's working overtime to repair damaged tissue. It can end up attacking healthy cells rather than toxic ones, which is bad news if you’re trying to promote muscle recovery.

Fortunately, a team working for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research[3] found that CBD can help modulate our immune response, refocusing the attention of regulatory cells. In other words, it could keep your immune system, and most importantly, your recovery, on track.

CBD

Counteracting THC

When working alongside THC, CBD is believed to negate some of the anxiety that THC causes. CBD appears to also influence the excitatory effects of THC by delaying the onset of the high and how long it lasts.

Specifically, a randomised placebo study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology[4] found that post-THC paranoia was reduced in the group that received an oral dose of CBD. A combination of both CBD and THC could provide a multifaceted approach to well-being while limiting potential side effects.

CBD

Epilepsy

Perhaps one of the most encouraging areas of study is that of CBD's impact on epilepsy—specifically Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Both are severe conditions that mainly affect children, and those affected with the worst cases can have hundreds of seizures a day.

In 2018, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a synthetic version of CBD called Epidiolex. The drug is proving highly effective, significantly improving the quality of life for children living with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

There are, of course, differences between a purified version of CBD, and the natural version extracted from hemp. However, The Journal of Epilepsy Research[5] concluded that although data was limited, the evidence supporting CBD's treatment of seizures was encouraging.

CBD

Does CBD Have Any Side Effects?

With such a long list of potential benefits, CBD seems almost too good to be true—surely there must be some side effects to worry about? A comprehensive review[6] by the World Health Organisation (WHO), asked the same question, taking an in-depth look at all of the current research on CBD.

After looking through the available data, WHO stated the following:

  • CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.
  • Reported adverse effects may be the result of drug-drug interactions.

They also reported some adverse effects from CBD. However, even these appear mild, and they seem to dissipate quickly.

Possible side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness

It's important to remember that the majority of these side effects were recorded in studies where the administered dose was significantly higher than everyday scenarios. That being said, CBD does affect everyone slightly differently, so it's important to start with a low dose until you become accustomed to its effects.

Another substantial side effect highlighted by the WHO was the possible interaction between CBD and existing medications. Evidence suggests CBD can interfere with the breakdown of specific medicines, and you must consult with a doctor or physician if that applies to you. The interaction may not cause any problems, but your doctor will be able to give you case-specific advice.

Is CBD Psychotropic?

Despite its links to the Cannabis sativa species, CBD is not psychotropic, although it may be considered psychoactive. The confusion on this issue usually stems from its association with THC. Although CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, the way they interact with the body differs significantly, and so does their effects.

THC produces a high because of its affinity for CB1 receptors in parts of the brain linked to mood and motivation. This unique interaction is why cannabis remains prohibited in much of the modern world. CBD, on the other hand, doesn't show an affinity for the same CB1 receptors. Instead, it works behind the scene to support the entire ECS, and does not produce psychotropic side effects as a result.

Can You Develop a Tolerance to CBD?

Another common question is whether repeated use of CBD leads to tolerance, and a need to consume increasing amounts to feel the same effects.

Again, to answer this, we have to refer to the experts on the matter— WHO. As part of their 2018 review, they also identified that "CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential", going on to add "there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems". There's still a lack of long term studies (CBD research is fairly new), but the evidence is encouraging.

Methods of Consuming CBD

The potential of CBD appears vast, but not nearly as comprehensive as the products available. CBD's lack of toxicity has led to a broad range of options, each with unique advantages and disadvantages.

CBD Oils

CBD oils placed on or under the tongue remain the most popular way to enjoy the compound. Thanks to the olive, hemp and MCT oils that carry it, the absorption rates are quite high. CBD is naturally hydrophobic (repels water), so the body has a tough time absorbing it without the help of a carrier oil.

Swallowing it won’t work too well, and you’ll need more to obtain the desired effects. If you take it sublingually (under the tongue), though, it’ll get absorbed into the mucus membrane and hit your system directly.

Smoking CBD

Smoking CBD benefits from a much higher bioavailability compared to other consumption methods. Bioavailability is an important concept because it's an indication of how much and how fast CBD reaches its target area—the bloodstream.

In this case, active CBD reaches the bloodstream incredibly quickly, thanks to capillaries in our lungs. As such, you'll feel effects in as little as 15 minutes, but the trade-off is they won't last as long compared to CBD edibles or oils.

CBD-rich cannabis strains, of course, also contain a variety of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. You'll not only get the potential entourage effect benefits, but experience a diverse range of flavours and tastes as well.

CBD

Vaping CBD

Provided you invest in a decent vaporiser, vaping has some significant benefits over smoking. First, vaporisers don't burn what you’re smoking, so you reduce the risk of harmful substances entering your lungs.

Second, the bioavailability of vaping is just as good as smoking (if not higher), and people tend to ask fewer questions if you pull out a vaporiser, compared to a joint.

CBD

CBD Edibles

Cannabis edibles may have started as cookies and brownies, but now that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This interest in edibles is not without good reason, either. Cannabinoids like CBD have a natural taste, and although it isn't bad, per se, it's not for everyone. Making CBD-infused edibles is a handy way of masking the flavour without losing out on the benefits.

Consuming CBD edibles also changes the way we feel its effects. Onset is delayed (takes up to an hour), but effects last much longer. This makes them ideal when you can't quickly top up on CBD and need longer relief.

CBD

Dabbing CBD

You'll need a dab rig and a few other tools to match, but dabbing is the ultimate experience for seasoned CBD users. We say ultimate because it provides a highly concentrated dose that isn't recommended for newcomers.

By flash vaporising CBD concentrate (CBD isolate, CBD wax, and CBD shatter), you'll experience incredibly pronounced effects in seconds. Carrying a dab rig around isn't at all convenient, but for some, the potency will be a worthy compromise.

CBD

CBD Tinctures and Sprays

CBD tinctures are very similar to CBD oils, but you take them sublingually.

Supplements taken under the tongue don't have to contend with our digestive system. Instead, they enter the bloodstream directly thanks to tiny capillaries in the mouth. If you need quick relief, CBD tinctures take effect in as little as 15 minutes.

The same goes for CBD sprays. The inside of your nose contains hundreds of small blood vessels, so CBD has a direct route to your bloodstream.

It's also possible to find CBD tinctures in a range of flavours, making them a little more appealing than oils. That being said, you lose out on the secondary benefits offered by carrier oils, so the decision comes down to personal circumstances and what is best for you.

CBD

CBD Topicals, Transdermal Patches, and Suppositories

CBD topicals are straightforward to use (simply rub into the skin) and suitable for all manner of skin types. Rather than entering the bloodstream, active ingredients focus solely on receptors at a local level, helping to soothe, moisturise and protect the skin.

Transdermal patches take things one step further. By blending CBD with certain drugs, it's possible for the cannabinoid to permeate the skin and enter the bloodstream. These patches work in the same way as a nicotine patch, providing a slow release of active ingredients.

If you want to take active absorption a step beyond transdermal patches, then consider CBD suppositories. They offer a (potentially) higher uptake of CBD, while also being incredibly discrete. Be warned though, the bioavailability of CBD suppositories remains under review, and it's not known exactly how effective they are.

CBD

How to Dose CBD

Every CBD manufacturer provides a recommended dose, but they’re just that— recommendations. It's essential to know that there is no ideal dose of CBD, and how much you should take is based on factors including:

  • Metabolism
  • Body fat
  • Product strength
  • Health issues

There are, however, some general guidelines you can follow until you find the dose that's right for you.

  • Start with a low-concentration CBD oil: Stick to a low-concentration oil for at least two weeks. It'll give you time to get accustomed to the effects and deal with any potential side effects.
  • Take CBD once or twice a day: Although most recommendations state "up to three times a day", try it once or twice at first. Again, this gives you time to find what works for you.
  • Stick to the same routine for at least two weeks: CBD takes effect very quickly, but give yourself at least two weeks to get acquainted with your routine.
  • Wait to combine CBD products: It's entirely possible to combine different CBD products, but again, stick to the same routine so you can adjust the effects accordingly. There's nothing wrong with eating some CBD edibles in the morning, then vaping CBD flower in the afternoon.
  • Speak to your doctor: We can only speak generally, but your primary care doctor can give case-specific advice. If you're using CBD to address a particular condition, they may have valuable insight on a recommended dose.

Microdosing CBD

Microdosing is a viable strategy that works well with CBD because it counteracts one of the compound’s main disadvantages. See, the cannabinoid has a very short half-life (the length of time it remains in the body), so regular consumption is a must if you want to make the most of its influence.

The key to microdosing is taking small, frequent doses. However, just like regular dosing, you'll need to experiment with different routines to find what works for you. If it's convenient to do so, try splitting your daily intake of CBD into smaller portions throughout the day.

CBD For Pets

With the basics of CBD in humans covered, it makes sense to turn attention towards our feline and canine companions. Why? Because just like us, both cats and dogs have an endocannabinoid system. In turn, they could experience some positive effects from CBD.

Most of the data regarding CBD's effect on pets remains anecdotal, but there are a handful of in-vivo studies to go on. Possible effects appear similar to those in humans, with CBD influencing their brains, along with their nervous, immune and digestive systems.

Be careful, though; not all CBD products are suitable for pets. Both cats and dogs are much more sensitive to the smaller compounds found in hemp (terpenes and flavonoids). As such, pet-focused CBD products have these elements removed to make them pet-safe, while regular CBD oils do not.

The legality of CBD remains a contentious issue. In most of the modern world, CBD is legal to buy and use, but there are restrictions. CBD products must be derived from hemp and contain no more than 0.2% THC (Europe). The legal limit of THC is slightly higher in the U.S. (0.3%), but you get the idea—restrictions vary depending on where you live, and it's a difficult situation to navigate.

You must check with the local authority in your home nation before trying CBD. In most cases, it'll be fine, but it doesn't hurt to double-check. You should also source CBD from a trusted supplier, avoiding any that don't independently test their products. Without confirmation of what, exactly, is in every batch of CBD, you won't know if there's an issue until it's too late.

External Resources:
  1. The effects of cannabinoid administration on sleep: a systematic review of human studies https://www.med.upenn.edu
  2. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  3. Immune Responses Regulated by Cannabidiol https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  4. SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research https://journals.sagepub.com
  5. Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Hard Evidence at Last? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  6. CANNABIDIOL (CBD) https://www.who.int
Disclaimer:
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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