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CBD has been exploding in popularity for improving general health and well-being, and relieving a variety of ailments from chronic pain and headaches to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and other ills. In addition to supplements and skin creams, it’s being added to cakes, donuts, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, teas, coffees, beer, cocktails, and even dog treats. And consumer demand is driving research—the number of trials is approaching 200.
Short for “cannabidiol,” CBD influences the endocannabinoid system, one of the many systems in our bodies. In addition, some other plant substances (herbs) and omega-3 fats also influence this system -in favorable ways.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
“The endocannabinoid system maintains balance in the body; it keeps a lot of things in check,” says Aditi Das, PhD, professor and researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Endocannabinoids are molecules that we produce internally, and we have receptors for them throughout our bodies, mostly in the nervous and immune systems. Levels of these beneficial molecules vary among individuals.
“Super-happy people have more endocannabinoids and less-happy people have fewer endocannabinoids,” says Das. “People who have high endocannabinoids can tolerate pain better.”
Our natural endocannabinoid levels are influenced partially by our genes and partially by nutrition, says Das, and she’s started to decipher the food connection. Her animal research shows that omega-3 fats provide building blocks for our internal production of endocannabinoids.
How CBD Works
CBD contains cannabinoids. These molecules aren’t identical to our internally produced endocannabinoids, but they interact with our receptors in the same way. The net effect is the same as our bodies producing more endocannabinoids.
Human trials of CBD have found that it can help relieve anxiety, insomnia, schizophrenia, and epileptic seizures. In dogs, it’s been shown to reduce arthritis pain. However, anecdotal evidence shows many more benefits (see “Why People Use CBD,” below), sometimes being effective enough to replace opioids as a pain reliever.
Other Plants with Similar Effects to CBD
Certain plants contain beta-caryophyllene (also known as caryophyllene), which is a different substance that, like CBD, interacts with endocannabinoid receptors. Cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, lavender, oregano, hops, and rosemary are among such plants. Echinacea is another source of caryophyllene that also contains alkylamides, substances that work in a similar way.
Some supplements, which may be described as “phytocannabinoids,” combine CBD and some of these herbs. Others contain no CBD but a combination of herbs with similar effects to CBD (i.e., they help support endocannabinoid health).
How to Use CBD and Similar Herbs
There is no specific recommended dose of CBD, but 2–3 mg can often produce noticeable benefits. It may take anywhere from minutes to a few hours to detect an effect, with sublingual CBD being fast-acting, creams taking up to several hours, and pills being somewhere in between. There is no set dose for herbal combinations, other than those suggested on product labels.
Individual reactions to CBD vary a great deal, so the only way to find the best dose is by experimenting, starting at a low dose and increasing gradually as needed. If symptoms improve with a lower dose and then worsen at a higher dose, cut back.
Studies of CBD have used doses ranging from 160 to more than 1,000 mg daily, which can produce side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, reduced appetite, and drowsiness.
Why People Use CBD
A survey of more than 2,000 American adults currently using CBD, led by the Center for Medical Cannabis Education at the University of California, San Diego, found that general health and well-being was the goal in nearly 40 percent of cases. Among the rest, these were the most common reasons for CBD use:
- Chronic pain
- Arthritis or other joint pain
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- Migraines or other headaches
- Epilepsy or other seizure disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lung conditions such as COPD
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
No “High” from CBD
CBD can be extracted from the hemp plant (“industrial hemp”) or from marijuana. Confusion arises because both plants are part of the Cannabis family. Regardless of the source, CBD doesn’t produce a “high.”
The euphoric effect of marijuana comes from a distinctly different åplants and products derived from them cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC—an insignificant amount. However, high doses of hemp-derived CBD could lead to a failed drug test. Traces of CBD stay in the human body for 4–5 days, and sometimes longer.