Ask 10 people today about their thoughts on cannabis, and then prepare to listen to 10 different answers. Despite being part of a national dialogue for decades, the controversy over this plant still leaves many of us with more questions than answers.
Hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) oil is an increasingly prevalent ingredient in supplements and wellness products on the market, but there’s plenty of confusion about what this compound really is. How is CBD connected to marijuana, and will it improve your health? Most importantly, is it legal?
What is CBD Oil?
One of humanity’s oldest crops, hemp (Cannabis sativa) was first cultivated as a textile fiber around 8000 B.C. in Iran and Iraq. Part of the plant’s appeal is how easy it is to grow, as hemp requires little water and few (if any) pesticides. Today, it’s raised on an industrial scale and used for manufacturing biofuels, health foods, organic body care products, and plastic composites.
Contrary to popular opinion, hemp and marijuana aren’t the same. While both originate from Cannabis sativa, centuries of selective breeding have produced dramatically different crops. To be considered marijuana, a cannabis plant must contain at least 0.3 percent of the mind-altering tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound. More typically, marijuana contains a THC concentration of 5 to 30 percent. In contrast, hemp plants legally must contain 0.3 percent THC or less, and it is from hemp that most CBD oil is derived.
THC and CBD are two of the more than 70 named chemical compounds found in cannabis that — along with other more obscure compounds — are collectively known as cannabinoids. CBD alone can constitute up to 40 percent of hemp plant extracts. Specialized extraction methods can pull a pure or highly concentrated form of CBD oil that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, terpenes, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds. For this reason, CBD oil is often taken orally through nutritional supplements, capsules, and even chewing gum, and it has also developed into a variety of wellness products that allow it to be absorbed through the skin.
THC, CBD, and the Role of Cannabinoids
How did CBD oil earn its reputation as a wonder product for health? The secret lies in the cannabinoids. These chemical compounds are naturally found in your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and are consumed as phytocannabinoids through plants we eat, such as flax, chocolate, and carrots. These compounds help manage regulatory processes, including sleep cycle, mood, and appetite.
Different cannabinoids work by attaching themselves to either CB1 or CB2 receptors in your body. THC attaches specifically to CB1 receptors, which control coordination, movement, mood, cognition, appetite, and memory formation. This explains why it alters consciousness and produces a chemical high.
In contrast, CBD affects CB2 receptors, which are predominantly involved in regulating pain and inflammation throughout the immune system. While it was once thought that CBD targeted these receptors directly, the consensus today is that the compound triggers the body to create its own cannabinoids that attach there instead. Regardless, the result is the same: CBD works to reduce physical pain and inflammation without affecting your mental abilities in the ways THC does.
Will CBD oil give you a high? Not without ample amounts of THC present. THC is marijuana’s most famous ingredient, and when its psychoactive compounds are broken down by heat (either through smoking it or cooking it down into food), it provides that popular high. Unlike THC, CBD won’t change your mental state or create feelings of intoxication.
Is CBD Oil Legal?
Understanding the legality of CBD oil in the United States is far from simple. Legislation regarding the substance differs at the state and federal levels, and marijuana laws are rarely straightforward, even in the states that have legalized it.
The legality of different cannabis products often comes down to whether the THC concentrations in the original plant material classify it as hemp or marijuana. Currently, 34 states have laws that allow the cultivation of hemp for commercial, research, or pilot programs; 47 states (all except Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota) support the sale and use of hemp-derived CBD oil on at least a prescription basis. Eight states currently allow the recreational use and purchase of marijuana-derived CBD products, which include the mind-altering THC.
The process of purchasing the oil or acquiring a prescription varies by state. If CBD extracts are made from agricultural hemp and contain less than 0.3 percent THC, then the odds are good that they’re legal to use and purchase where you live. But do your research carefully, as these rulings and their interpretations are regularly and rapidly changing.
Medicinal Benefits of CBD Oil
Considering the controversy over its legality, is CBD oil still worth pursuing? Researchers seem to think so. Decades of scientific studies show that CBD oil interacts with the body through a variety of biological processes that can reduce inflammation, boost relaxation, improve sleep, and more.
Some of the most prominent benefits of CBD oil include:
Natural pain relief: Pain relief is the most common use of medical marijuana in the United States. Though CBD oil won’t make much of a difference in severe pain, such as a broken bone, it’s considered safe and effective for dulling chronic pain and relaxing muscles. Many people use it as a replacement for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including Advil and Aleve, to reduce the risk of compromising their kidneys.
Epilepsy treatment: Thanks to its anti-seizure properties and low risk of side effects, CBD oil is considered a promising treatment option for epilepsy, especially in children. However, studies claiming this effect have been small, randomized, and anecdotal, and further research is needed.
Neuroprotective properties: Because of the way CBD oil impacts neural receptors, evidence shows that it can benefit those with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and strokes. The oil seems especially helpful for preventing early-stage Alzheimer’s patients from losing their ability to recognize faces. Further evidence shows CBD oil may also be useful in treating mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia.
Acne prevention and solution: Because inflammation triggers acne, there’s evidence that the cannabinoids in CBD prevent your skin from breaking out. Research shows that CBD can slow down production in the sebaceous glands to stop the skin from overproducing oil.
Reduction in withdrawal symptoms: Early evidence reveals that CBD oil might help people quit smoking. One study of cigarette smokers who wished to quit showed that the participants who used an inhaler with CBD compounds experienced less-severe cravings for nicotine and smoked fewer cigarettes overall than those in the placebo group. A similar study found that the oil might be effective against opioid abuse withdrawal symptoms.
Natural cancer fighter: Research indicates that CBD might work as an anti-cancer agent by moderating inflammation, blocking cancer cells from spreading throughout the body, and causing them to die quickly. The National Cancer Institute states that CBD oil might be useful for suppressing cancer symptoms as well as the side effects from treatments.
Prevention of anxiety disorders: Research shows that CBD oil might lead to calming effects for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, general anxiety, panic disorders, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to initial reports, the oil can reduce symptoms of anxiety with fewer side effects than conventional medications because it naturally increases the brain’s levels of serotonin.
Reduced risk of type 1 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune system attacking cells in the pancreas, which leads to chronic inflammation. Research shows that CBD might ease this inflammation and better control the body’s response to the condition, keeping those afflicted in better health.
How to Use CBD Oil
Ready to give CBD oil a try? The way it should be used depends on the quality and concentration of your oil and what you’re trying to treat. Some CBD products need to be mixed into food and drink, while others come as creams to be massaged into your skin. Still other CBD products come in capsules to be taken as a daily supplement. Below are some of the most popular forms this potent oil can take.
- Capsules: CBD capsules are a simple way to incorporate CBD into your diet. Most pills can be taken daily, and offer 25 milligrams or less of CBD.
- Concentrates: Designed to deliver a dose up to 10 times stronger than other CBD products, concentrates are typically taken via a dropper bottle in small amounts under your tongue.
- Crystals: Isolated pure CBD crystals provide a versatile option for adding the compound to recipes or dissolving it into drinks. The crystallization process removes fats and lipids, leaving only the cannabinoids.
- Sprays: At about 1 to 3 milligrams of CBD per serving, CBD sprays are typically the least concentrated form of the compound commercially available, making them an easy, flexible option, especially for new CBD users. You can spray servings directly into your mouth as needed.
- Tinctures: These strong CBD concentrations are meant to be taken just a few drops at a time. The longer you let the tincture sit under your tongue before swallowing, the stronger the benefits. It’s also possible to add a dropperful of CBD tincture to hot water for an instant tea.
- Topicals: Lotions, salves, serums, and balms can all contain CBD oil to improve their effectiveness for treating chronic pain, acne, and other health symptoms.
Before you turn to CBD oil for every ailment, keep in mind that few long-term studies have been conducted on its safety, and the compound hasn’t yet been thoroughly tested on children. Consequently, the United States Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved CBD for any medical treatment at this time.
For this reason, talk with your doctor or dermatologist before beginning to experiment with CBD products. A health care professional can also direct you to reputable brands and help you understand what dosage is best for your situation.
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Lydia Noyes is a full-time freelance writer and former homesteader in Central Appalachia. Today, she’s working with her husband to start a small farm in southwest Michigan. You can find her online at First Roots Farm.