What is CBD? Benefits & Scientific Evidence: What you should know about Cannabidiol

Cannabidiol, which is commonly known as CBD, has become increasingly popular over the past years. But although online shops and CBD products are popping up every week, many people still don’t know what CBD is. Here we will explain what it is and what it does.

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The definition of Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol is one of the hundred chemicals that are present in the Cannabis Sativa plant, which is often called hemp. Some of these chemicals are also referred to as cannabinoids, and each has a different interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body.

What does “CBD” mean?

CBD is the abbreviation of cannabidiol, which is one of the 113 cannabinoids present in the hemp plant. CBD is a phytocannabinoid and amounts to up to 40% of the plant’s extract.

Cannabidiol’s molecular formula is C21H30O2, and it presents as a crystalline non-intoxicating cannabinoid. This means that unlike its cousin THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), it doesn’t cause psychotic effects on whoever consumes it.

This cannabinoid can be consumed orally, and although there is still a long way to go when it comes to scientific research on its applications, it’s often used for its properties as an:

  • Analgesic;
  • Anti-inflammatory;
  • Antineoplastic;
  • Chemopreventive

What is a cannabinoid?

The Cannabis Sativa plant, or hemp, has been used for millennia, and over the years the scientific research has increased to try and discover its true properties.

Through this research, 113 cannabinoids have been isolated from the plant’s extracts. Cannabinoids are natural compounds or chemicals that can be found in the plant.

As mentioned above, CBD amounts to up to 40% of the plant’s extract, however, there are plenty of other cannabinoids that have particular properties:

  • Cannabigerols (CBG);
  • Cannabichromenes (CBC);
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC);
  • Cannabinol (CBN);
  • Cannabinodiol (CBDL);
  • Cannabicyclol (CBL);
  • Cannabielsoin (CBE);
  • Cannabitriol (CBT).

One of the ways cannabinoids tend to be classified is through their psychoactive effects. CBD, CBC, and CBG are known for not making people high, while THC, CBN, and CBDL have varying degrees of psychoactivity.

Chemical composition of the CBD molecule

The chemical formula of CBD is C21H30O2, and it’s a non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid (a cannabinoid found in plants), that works together with the ECS.

The ECS interacts with endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are naturally present in the body), and the most studied are anandamide and 2-AG.

Endocannabinoids interact with the CB1 receptors (mainly present in the central nervous system) and CB2 receptors (found in peripheral tissues) with the goal of achieving homeostasis: the internal balance of the body.

CBD doesn’t bind directly to these receptors, but it does aid them in reaching their purpose by interacting with molecular targets: receptors, enzymes, and ion targets.

CBD allows the body to increase the levels of anandamide, which allows the body to have a better chance of keeping itself in balance.

Short story of CBD cannabidiol

Although the cannabis plant has been known and used for millennia, cannabidiol was only discovered in the 1940s. To understand how far we’ve come in terms of medical applications of this compound, it’s important to know the history behind the research that led to its discovery.


What is CBD hemp?

Cannabis is an herbaceous and flowering plant that can be classified into three varieties:

  • Cannabis sativa;
  • Cannabis indica;
  • Cannabis ruderalis.

Cannabis sativa, in particular, is often referred to as hemp. It's indigenous to Eastern Asia, being used as source material for fabric, paper, food, oil, medicinal applications, and religious and spiritual practices.

The hemp plant can be differentiated from the Indica and Ruderalis variety by the way it looks, as it's taller and has long and thin leaves.

When it comes to its application, the hemp plant is often bred to have a higher CBD:THC ratio, which means that it doesn’t have any psychotropic effects.

Hemp cultivation in the world

As we mentioned above, the hemp plant is originally from Eastern Asia, however, nowadays its production is spread out throughout the world.

The industrialization of hemp cultivation has increased over the years for a series of reasons:

  • It’s a fast-growing plant, just like bamboo;
  • It has numerous applications (fibre, seed oil, food, clothing);
  • It’s used for medicinal pharmacology.

Being a sturdy plant, it can be grown outdoors, indoors, or in greenhouses. Each of these cultivation methods has its pros and cons.

In most countries, industrial cannabis that can be used to produce CBD products can only have 0.2% to 0.3% THC, which means that these plants have been bred to meet these requirements.

Confusions between hemp and marijuana

People often think that hemp and marijuana are different species of plants, however, scientifically they are the same: cannabis.

The main difference between what is called hemp and the plant that is called marijuana is the amount of THC that can be found in its components.

Legislation has advanced and many countries are now legalizing the use of hemp extract, however, these extracts can only have a maximum level of THC.

This means that legally speaking, plants that have a higher percentage of THC content tend to be called marijuana and therefore are illegal. At the same time, if the plant has low THC content, it’s called hemp.

Differences between CBD and medical cannabis

With the surge of CBD products and the customer’s claims that it helped them with ailments, many people believe that CBD is the same as medical cannabis. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Medical cannabis is very similar to recreational marijuana, the main difference being that it’s used for medical purposes. With this in mind, it’s possible to understand that medical cannabis often has a very high THC content. THC is the cannabinoid that is responsible for the sensation of being high.

Oppositely, CBD is a cannabinoid that doesn’t have psychotropic effects. Although it can be present in cannabis-based medicine, such as Epidolex, it’s different from medical cannabis.

cbd scientific

How can CBD be extracted?

CBD is used in numerous products, such as edibles, drinks, vape juices, and even oils. But in order to use this cannabinoid in these products, it’s necessary to extract the compound from the plant itself. In this section, we explain the different extraction methods.

Extraction with supercritical CO2

One of the most commonly used extraction methods of CBD is carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction. Supercritical CO2 extraction produces a clean and safe product, which is often called the purest. Once CO2 reaches its supercritical state, it can be easily manipulated and bound to the CBD molecule.

One of the main advantages of using this extraction method is that the producer has total control over the process. It can also be recycled and reused, and it will evaporate from the extract once the CO2 gas is at room temperature. This means that there are no residual ingredients in the final product.

Extraction with chemical solvents

The use of chemical solvents to extract CBD from the plant is a common practice. It involves using a liquid solvent, such as butane, ethanol, or hexane, through hemp in order to extract the cannabinoids.

One of the main advantages of this extraction method is that it's very affordable, which allows for easy scalability in terms of industrial production. Nevertheless, there is a slight possibility that some remnants of the solvent remain in the extracted oil, which can become dangerous for the consumer.

Even though some companies still use this extraction method, we recommend that you give preference to safer processes that ensure that there are no contaminants in the extracted CBD.

Extraction with vegetal oils

Those who want to extract CBD from hemp plants at home can do so through the vegetable oil extraction method. One of the most commonly used oils for this process is olive oil.

This process is relatively safe, as long as you ensure that you are using the necessary protection against heat, as you have to use an oven to increase the temperature of the oil and hemp. Although it's an easy DIY extraction method, it's very difficult to know what the final product will be like and what the CBD content of the oil is after the process.

How does CBD work? The scientific studies conducted

Cannabidiol is still an understudied molecule, but some scientific studies have shown that it can be very helpful in certain situations:

  • Pain management: studies have proved that consuming CBD can help reduce chronic pain and reduce inflammation;
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression: a study conducted in Brazil showed that ingesting CBD can help decrease anxiety;
  • Alleviate chemotherapy-related nausea: using CBD can also help decrease vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy;
  • Reduce acne: due to its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD may be able to decrease visible acne.

Along with these studies, much further research is still being conducted to truly understand what are the potential benefits CBD can have in the human body.

What is the Entourage effect?

As explained above, the hemp plant has hundreds of cannabinoids and each has different properties. This means that when you're consuming hemp extracts, you'll benefit from all of these unique properties. One particular aspect of these cannabinoids is that their properties may change when in the presence of other cannabinoids, and this is known as the entourage effect.

With this in mind, it's possible to understand that consuming a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum product will have stronger and possibly more beneficial effects than just consuming CBD isolate. In fact, some studies have shown that even a small percentage of THC, such as 0.2%, will have a positive impact on people who consume CBD-rich products.

The potential benefits of CBD

Studies have shown that CBD has a positive effect on pain management, handling inflammation, decreasing anxiety, among other properties. But, what additional potential benefits can CBD have?

As mentioned, CBD is still an under-studied compound. This means that although many studies are still underway, it’s impossible to say for sure if this molecule truly is as beneficial as you see in the media.

Nevertheless, many studies have given us some positive news:

  • Handling drug addiction: a studies' review from 2015 has shown that CBD seems to be quite promising in helping people with opioid, cocaine, and psychostimulants addiction;
  • Managing chronic pain: scientists believe that CBD helps reduce chronic nerve pain through the binding process with glycine receptors in the brain;
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease: a study from 2017 suggests that consuming CBD may decrease blood pressure, and consequently decrease the possibility of developing heart disease;
  • Anti-seizure: one of the most commonly spoken-about benefits of CBD is related to seizures, particularly when it comes to people who suffer from Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

The information above gives us some hope for future research and allows us to understand what people can expect from consuming CBD products. You can learn more about CBD benefits in our dedicated article here.

The potential side effects of CBD

The World Health Organization has released a report in 2018 where it states that CBD doesn't cause dependence, and it has been found to have relatively low toxicity. Moreover, the same report states that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile. Reported adverse effects may be as a result of drug-drug interactions between CBD and patients’ existing medications.”

When it comes to medications that may have a negative interaction with CBD, these include antidepressants, opioids, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and antihistamines. Medications that are contraindicated to be taken with grapefruit should also be avoided, as is the case of atorvastatin, lovastatin, simvastatin, among others.

Certain studies have also shown that depending on the quantity of CBD you're ingesting, you may feel one or more of the side effects below:

  • Changes in appetite;
  • Mood swings;
  • Anxiety;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Dizziness;
  • Drowsiness;
  • Dry mouth;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting.

The severity and type of these side effects may vary from one person to another. In case you feel any side effects after consuming CBD products please contact your doctor.

CBD has also been shown to increase live enzymes which is something that may be troublesome for people who suffer from liver disease. Make sure that you always ask your doctor for their advice before consuming CBD.

Is CBD a drug?

Depending on where you live, CBD in itself is not a drug. In most countries where CBD has been legalized, products with a THC content of less than 0.3% or 0.2% are considered legal and therefore not a drug. For instance, if you’re doing a drug test, CBD will not show up in the results because these tests are not screening for this molecule.

Can you get high using CBD?

Some people are afraid of using CBD products as they believe they will feel the sensation of being “high” because they're using cannabis products. The truth is that CBD isn’t a psychoactive compound, and won’t have any effect on your brain other than possibly making you feel less anxious.

The high associated with the marijuana plant is caused by psychotropic cannabinoids, the most popular being THC.

Even when consuming products with a small percentage of THC, such as those that are considered legal in the European Union (less than 0.2% THC) and the USA (less than 0.3% THC), you won’t have any psychoactive effects because the THC content is so low.

CBD vs. THC: What are the differences?

The two main cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant are CBD and THC, and because they are often mentioned together, people think that they are similar.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. THC, also known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the cannabinoid associated with the psychotropic effects of consuming cannabis. At the same time, CBD has anti-psychotropic effects and helps people regulate the sensation of feeling high.

Although using CBD products with a small content of THC is beneficial, due to the entourage effect we mentioned above, these won’t have any psychoactive effects on you.

Is CBD really legal?

The answer to this question depends on several factors. Firstly, CBD has been legalized in many countries and regions, however, it remains illegal in others.

We recommend that you consult our dedicated country pages to learn more about the legislation on CBD products in your country.

It’s also important to consider that even if you live in a country where CBD is legal, such as Australia, the way you buy CBD may not be legal. For instance, importing CBD from abroad or travelling with CBD may be problematic.

Make sure that you read the regulations in place of the location where you reside before purchasing CBD.

How can CBD be used?

CBD has numerous applications, however, the bioavailability of each way of use is different. Bioavailability is the amount of CBD that can be absorbed by your body and varies according to the ingestion method. Below we’ll dive a bit deeper into the different ingestion methods.

What are the different CBD products?

As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to ingest your CBD:

  • Orally: which can be done by eating or drinking CBD-infused products or by placing CBD oil directly under your tongue;
  • Inhaling: through smoking, vaping, vaporizing;
  • Topically: by using CBD-infused creams, ointments, lotions.

Depending on the type of ingestion method you prefer, there are plenty of products available:

There is also an increasing number of CBD products for pets, which have been specially formulated to be used in mammals.

Please consult a doctor (or vet) before purchasing and using CBD products.

Full-spectrum, Broad-Spectrum, Isolate, what are the differences?

When browsing CBD shops you’ll notice that products can be made with different types of CBD: isolate, broad-spectrum, full-spectrum. Each type of product contains a different combination of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Simply put, the differences between these products are:

  • Full-spectrum: contains CBD as well as all other naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes, including THC;
  • Broad-spectrum: the same as full-spectrum, except it doesn’t contain THC;
  • Isolate: this type of product contains only CBD and doesn’t contain any additional terpenes nor cannabinoids.

As we explained, due to the entourage effect, CBD products that contain additional cannabinoids may have more beneficial properties than CBD-isolate.

Final thoughts: What to look for in the CBD lab-tests?

CBD producers and companies that are reputable often display the test certificates issued by third-party laboratories on the product’s page. These test results indicate the different components of the cannabinoid profile.

With this in mind, if you’re interested in a broad-spectrum product and you check the test result to see there is THC, then you know there is something wrong.

The level of terpenes of the product should also be showcased in PPM (parts per million). The terpene profile indicates the fragrance, aroma, or taste of the product.

Test results also showcase the levels of heavy metals, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, or lead, which should be within healthy limits.

Medical disclaimer

The information displayed on this website shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before buying and consuming CBD products, as they know your medical history and have information about any prescription medication you may be taking. We do not take any responsibility for your purchase.

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Guide written by MiisterCBD™.

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