What Is CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol is being used in everything from topical creams to daily supplement pills. But even though CBD has been used as a medicinal cure for thousands of years around the world, it’s still shrouded in mystery. We tell you what it is — and what it isn't.

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You’ve probably heard of—and wondered about—CBD (cannabidiol), a constituent of the hemp plant that’s being used in everything from topical creams to daily supplement pills. And even though CBD has been used as a medicinal cure for thousands of years around the world, it’s still shrouded in mystery—and fears that it will make you high, or that it’s not safe for kids.

What CBD Is and What It’s Not

1. CBD oil is not pot.

CBD oil comes from the hemp plant, which is in the same plant family as marijuana. But it’s not pot. “CBD is like marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin,” says Alex Corren, founder and CEO of Hempower Nutrition, Inc., in Boulder, Colo. CBD is made from a type of hemp that’s very low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the component that’s responsible for marijuana’s mood-altering effects. The hemp plant has been used for thousands of years for building materials, textiles, and food products like hemp seed and hemp oil—which is not the same as CBD oil (more on that below).

2. CBD products won’t make you high.

Unlike medical marijuana products, which contain large amounts of THC, CBD products are not psychotropic, meaning they don’t cause the euphoric feeling associated with marijuana. Most contain miniscule amounts (less than 0.3 percent) and some are completely THC-free, Corren says. CBD won’t impact drug tests, and it’s safe enough for children. In fact, CBD came to national prominence with the discovery of its ability to halt seizures in children with drug-resistant epilepsy. And while both THC and CBD are considered phytocannabinoids, they interact with the body in very different ways. THC works by directly binding to cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2). CBD does not bind to these receptors, but instead interacts with the endocannabinoid system; more on this below.

CBD products are not psychotropic, meaning they don’t cause the euphoric feeling associated with marijuana.

3. CBD impacts a body system you probably didn’t know you had.

CBD works by interacting with the endogenous cannabinoid system or endocannabinoid system (ECS), a body-wide collection of cell receptors that play a fundamental role in the function of the nervous and immune system. The human body produces its own endocannabanoids—the highest concentration is in mother’s milk. CBD works with the body’s own systems, blocking or reducing the breakdown of naturally occurring endocannabanoids.

4. CBD is not the same as hemp oil.

CBD oil is different from hemp oil and hemp seeds found in grocery and natural food stores. Hemp oil is derived only from hemp seeds, and does not contain appreciable amounts of cannabidiol; CBD products, on the other hand, are made from the whole plant, not just the seeds. There are thousands of varieties of hemp, and the cultivars used for CBD oil contain significantly higher concentrations of cannabidiol. 

5. CBD is legal—sort of.

CBD is legal, but because of issues related to growing hemp, the production process exists in a regulatory gray area. Growing hemp in the United States for commercial purposes is prohibited, and is restricted to research and pilot projects. So hemp that’s used to make CBD products (and hemp oil, and hemp seeds, and hemp clothing) in the United States is usually imported from other countries—primarily Eastern Europe, where hemp has been grown for the last 40 years. However, because “pilot project” is a loosely regulated concept, Colorado and other states are increasingly beginning to cultivate hemp. CBD, at any rate, is legal in all 50 states.

5. CBD oil is highly refined—in a good way.

The hemp extract used to make CBD oil comes from cultivars that are already higher in cannabidiol. To further concentrate the active components, that material goes through a solvent-free extraction process that involves CO2 or other methods, in a manner similar to the production of essential oils. The extracted oil is then tested for contaminants and toxins like heavy metals, and for cannabinoid content.

How CBD Oil Works

CBD dosage is important.

Effective doses vary widely, based on severity of symptoms and the balance or tone of an individual’s endocannabinoid system. Generally, though, doses start at 12 milligrams and may go as high as several hundred milligrams. Start small, and increase dosage gradually until you find what’s right for you. The form is also important; the body can’t efficiently absorb oil-based CBD forms; look for water-based CBD products for the best bioavailability.

CBD really works.

Dozens of studies are proving out the ability of CBD to stop seizures, calm anxiety, reduce inflammation, ease depression, and soothe chronic pain. “CBD has the potential to be the most important wellness ingredient in the last 50 years,” says Corren. “It could be compared to the role of probiotics in gut health. CBD is important for nervous and immune function, and in the same way probiotics aren’t just for people suffering from digestive disorders, CBD is not just for sick or hurting people. It’s for anyone who wants to be proactive about their long-term health.”

What Conditions Are Treatable with CBD?

  • Epilepsy. Many studies (and reports from CBD users) have confirmed CBD is effective in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures in both children and adults.
  • Arthritis. CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can reduce symptoms of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, without side effects; it’s effective both orally and topically.
  • Cardiovascular health. A number of studies have shown CBD can protect the heart by lowering blood pressure and reducing damage caused by heart attacks and strokes.
  • Depression. CBD can exert antidepressant activities within minutes of consumption, possibly by impacting levels of serotonin, the brain’s feel-good chemical.
  • Anxiety. A number of studies show CBD can treat a wide range of anxiety issues, including general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Cancer. As an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, CBD can reduce the risk of cancer, and can slow or halt tumor growth in existing cancers.