CBD: Marijuana Without the High, But With All the Medicinal Benefits
Cannabis, more popularly known as “marijuana” or “weed,” is a plant that has been cultivated for thousands and thousands of years. Some say that it has been around for longer than mankind itself, having existed for more than 30 million years on the planet. Indeed, it is a hardy plant that can grow in the wild without human care. But, it is now being cultivated carefully and scientifically to produce specific strains suitable for the grower’s purpose. Some cannabis strains are great for medical applications; others for recreational use; and still others for industrial purposes, such as to make fabrics and textiles.
For people looking to use marijuana as medicine, their interest lies in a compound found in cannabis that is called cannabidiol, or CBD for short. This is a chemical that produces beneficial, therapeutic effects. Among other things, it brings relief from pain and nausea and it helps to reduce seizure activity in patients with epilepsy. It also helps to ease anxiety and improve neurological function. While doing all these, CBD doesn’t cause any psychotropic or mind-altering effect. It doesn’t make the person “high” or inebriated like he would be if he used illicit drugs or the psychotropic varieties of cannabis. CBD then is like a wonder drug that’s all-natural because it’s plant-based and that doesn’t have undesirable side effects.
The next sections of this article will tackle the medicinal properties of CBD at length. First, however, it is necessary to get to know the cannabis plant a little more so that you can understand CBD better.
Getting the Facts Straight: Distinguishing Hemp from Marijuana and THC from CBD
It is important to learn more about the cannabis plant and clarify some misconceptions that a lot of people have. One misconception that particularly needs to be set straight is that marijuana is a recreational drug and that people use it to get high. While that may be true, it isn’t true in all cases. Cannabis can in fact be used as a medicinal drug, and a very effective one at that. Here’s how:
The Types of Cannabis
There are three main varieties or types of cannabis plants. These are: Indica, sativa, and indica/sativa hybrids. When someone says Cannabis sativa, he is referring to a specific species of cannabis that is distinct from another species, such as the Cannabis indica. There are actually other cannabis species apart from these two, but those aren’t relevant to this discussion.
The Sativa and Indica plants are both considered cannabis (marijuana), but they differ in physical appearance and other characteristics. Cannabis indica is shorter, has broader leaves, and grows best in colder climates. It is said to have a sedating or relaxing effect on the person who takes it. In contrast, Cannabis sativa is taller, has narrower leaves, and thrives in warm climates. It generally produces an energizing effect in the person who uses it.
Both Indica and Sativa plants have different levels of psychotropic effects. This means that they affect the brain like mood-altering drugs do, in varying levels. But there is an exception, and that is hemp. The hemp plant is a variety of Cannabis sativa that isn’t cultivated to be used as a psychotropic agent or as “weed.” Hemp is grown almost exclusively for industrial purposes. It is used as raw material to make clothing, cosmetics, body oil and lotions, plastic, paper, construction materials, and fuel. It can also be used as human and pet food.
Thus, hemp and marijuana are not the same, but they do belong to the same Cannabis family of plants. You may be wondering then, what makes them different? The answer lies in their chemical composition.
The Compounds in Cannabis
All cannabis plants contain more than a hundred different chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Of these, the two most abundant compounds in the plant are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). These two are also the most well-known and well-researched because they give marijuana its unique properties. The main reason why people grow marijuana is to have access to these compounds.
THC is the chemical in cannabis that has the greatest psychoactive effect. It is what gives a person a high. As such, some people have come to jokingly spell out THC as “The High Causer.” Of course, THC stands for “tetrahydrocannabinol,” denoting the chemical composition of the compound. The informal moniker is also an accurate description nonetheless. THC does cause euphoria or bliss. Thus, people who want to get “stoned,” and people who want to use marijuana recreationally, prefer cannabis strains that have high THC content.
In addition to having a mind-altering effect, THC also causes relaxation, drowsiness, and, later on, fatigue. Another side-effect of THC is hunger, referred to as “the munchies” by marijuana users. On a more positive note, THC does have some medicinal applications, such as pain relief, muscle relaxation, and its antiemetic use (to ease nausea and vomiting).
In comparison, CBD is more medicinal and less psychotropic. It doesn’t cause euphoria or inebriation, but it provides a lot of medicinal benefits. It has been proven to help treat anxiety, epilepsy, and in some cases, even psychosis and cancer. It also has neuroprotective qualities, thus it helps to prevent or slow down neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, CBD, like THC, is also a potent analgesic or pain reliever.
As to be expected, hemp has very negligible amounts of THC. It is therefore impossible to get high from ingesting hemp products like hemp oil or hemp seeds. But hemp does have CBD content and it is, in fact, a good source of CBD oil.
Sativa plants tend to have higher CBD content relative to THC, while Indica plants tend to have more THC than CBD. There are a lot of hybrids combining the Sativa and Indica strains resulting in varying proportions of CBD and THC. As mentioned, people who want to get high will want to use high-THC cannabis, while those who don’t and wish only to derive certain medicinal benefits will prefer the high-CBD varieties.
- There are different varieties of cannabis and not all of them are cultivated or used for recreational purposes.
- A compound in cannabis called CBD or cannabidiol has many medicinal uses. As this compound does not cause a high, it can be used purely for its therapeutic value.
How Cannabinoids Affect the Body
There are cell receptors and molecules in the human body that makeup what is called the endocannabinoid system or ECS. What this system does is to help regulate key functions of the body, such as mood, sleep, hunger, appetite, pain perception, memory, motor control, immune function, reproduction and fertility, homeostasis, and so on. THC and CBD affect this system of the body, thus influencing those mentioned functions by either weakening or boosting them.
The cell receptors in the ECS are like little “locks” found on the surface of cells. The “keys” that open those receptors are chemicals called agonists. When an agonist binds to a cell receptor, unlocking it, a message is relayed to the cell, giving it a specific instruction to carry out. The instruction can be to stimulate hunger, to boost immune function, or to cause the person to feel happy.
Many receptors are found in the brain and the central nervous system, while others are found in the gastrointestinal tract, on immune cells, and in the peripheral nervous system. There are receptors even on the surface of our skin.
Certain chemicals from the food that people eat can act as agonists that bind to the cell receptors in the ECS. As such, different foods can have different effects on the body: some can cause sleepiness while others can cause the opposite and make you feel energized; some foods boost your immune function and memory; other foods make you feel sated and happy; and so on.
In addition to chemicals from food, the human body also produces its own supply of chemical agonists that strongly influence the ECS. These naturally-produced agonists are called endocannabinoids.
Apart from food chemicals and endocannabinoids, THC and CBD from cannabis also work as agonists that influence the ECS. THC binds to receptors directly, particularly to the receptors that are located in the brain and central nervous system. This is why THC has a very strong psychotropic effect. On the other hand, CBD affects the ECS indirectly, not by binding with the cell receptors, but by increasing the amount and activity of the body’s natural endocannabinoids. This is the reason why CBD doesn’t produce a psychotropic or mind-altering effect on the body. This is also why CBD isn’t “jarring” to the body. It has a gentle and natural, yet potent, effect on many bodily functions, hence it has great therapeutic value.
The Medicinal Properties of CBD
CBD has many beneficial uses as the chief ingredient in medicinal marijuana. Its primary medical applications are the following:
- CBD is an anti-inflammatory chemical that helps to ease pain and reduce swelling, fever, and other symptoms of inflammation in any part of the body. CBD also has tumor- and cancer-fighting properties.
- CBD is an antiemetic agent that has the ability to reduce, if not eliminate, nausea, and vomiting. As such, it is especially helpful to cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. CBD helps in controlling nausea and vomiting that are inevitable side effects of chemotherapy.
- CBD is an anticonvulsant that reduces or prevents seizures. It is useful in particular to young patients who have epilepsy. Many case studies have shown that CBD works very successfully on pediatric and juvenile patients with epilepsy that isn’t treated successfully using conventional medicine.
- CBD has antioxidant properties. It thus helps to cure or reverse neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. There is also evidence that shows that CBD helps to delay the effects of aging.
- CBD is an antipsychotic agent that helps persons with mental health problems. CBD is especially useful in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
- CBD reduces the psychoactive effects of THC. THC also has potent medicinal benefits, mainly as a painkiller and as a treatment for depression. But if used alone, THC will cause undesirable psychotropic side effects. Hence it is mixed with CBD to reduce its mind-altering or inebriating effect. In this case, CBD acts as a so-called “negative modulator” for THC.
Given these therapeutic uses of CBD, it is very helpful in the treatment of the following disorders:
- Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2)
- Pediatric/juvenile epilepsy and related pediatric conditions
- Auto-immune disorders such as lupus
- Neuro-degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
- Motor disorders
- Fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain
- Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive (OCD) disorder
- Nicotine addiction
How CBD Works to Ease Pain
Perhaps the most common reason for prescribing medicinal marijuana is for pain relief. Both THC and CBD are excellent analgesics, but studies show that CBD is most effective specifically in the treatment of chronic and neuropathic pain. It isn’t as effective in treating acute or short-term pain, but it can also be used for that.
CBD reduces pain by working on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), as already mentioned earlier. CBD boosts the levels of the body’s natural endocannabinoids, which in turn act on cell receptors that regulate how the body perceives pain. This is a perfectly natural process that has no side effects, unlike the use of synthetic painkillers like NSAIDs that can lead to ulcers, stomach bleeding and other unwanted side effects. Even long-term use of CBD for pain relief isn’t likely to cause any problems to the body, according to scientific studies.
Further studies also show that CBD boost the function of certain receptors in the body called glycine receptors, which are located in our spinal column. The inactivity of these receptors can cause chronic pain. Because CDB activates and boosts their functioning, it works as an effective remedy for chronic pain.
The different types of pain that CBD treats effectively include those that are related to arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and a rare disease called allodynia. A person who has allodynia is highly sensitive to touch and pressure, such that normal skin contact can cause him to feel pain. Pain relief for this condition is difficult, but CBD (combined with THC) has proven effective in this area where conventional medicine has failed.
How CBD Helps Treat Anxiety and Depression
Another common application of CBD is for anxiety reduction. This cannabis compound has helped a lot of people suffering from anxiety-related conditions, including:
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Social phobia
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Depression (mild to moderate cases)
A large segment of the population is affected by these anxiety disorders as well as by depression, and so it is easy to see the potential benefit of CBD in helping cure these mental disorders, if only more people would use it. At present, the conventional treatment is with the use of pharmaceutical drugs, such as anxiolytics like Prozac and Valium. These, unfortunately, do not always work and they have undesirable side effects. Some of them are also addictive. In comparison, CBD is safe, natural, effective, and has zero side effects.
Again, CBD reduces anxiety and depression by influencing the body’s endocannabinoid system. This helps to regulate your mood, among many other functions. In addition, research has shown that CBD improves the functioning of serotonin receptors, and this directly improves the person’s mood and emotions. CBD also plays a positive role in the neurogenesis of the hippocampus region of the human brain. In people who are suffering from depression or anxiety, the hippocampus is smaller than average. The treatment of these mood disorders can be brought about by the regeneration and growth of new neurons in this brain area, a process that is called neurogenesis, which the use of CBD promotes.
How CBD Helps in Cancer Treatment
CBD can help cure cancer in different ways. First, CBD is an antiemetic that helps cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to have fewer and less severe symptoms. Nausea and vomiting are considerably reduced in patients who take CBD as supplementary medicine.
Second, CBD reduces the pain caused by cancer-damaged nerves, called neuropathic pain.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, recent scientific research has shown that CBD helps to slow down the growth, and even cause the death, of cancer cells. What happens is that CBD causes an increase in the synthesis of a chemical called ceramide. Without getting into very technical terms, what ceramide does is to manage the life and death of cells, referring to cancer cells in this case.
When the ceramide level is high, cell death (called apoptosis) happens. When the ceramide level is low, the cell is healthy and will continue to live. CBD promotes ceramide growth and activity, which causes the death of cancer cells. But for this to happen, CBD has to be taken consistently and steadily, over a period of time, to cause sufficient amounts of ceramide to accumulate and kill cancer cells.
How CBD Helps To Control Seizures
Among the most documented and publicized cures of CBD involves young children suffering from epilepsy. One famous study included a number of children who struggled with a special kind of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. This is a rare disease characterized by untreatable and prolonged seizures.
Where conventional medical treatment has failed, CBD has shown very positive results, by significantly reducing the number and intensity of the seizures that the children experienced. This isn’t to say that CBD is good only for treatment-resistant seizure disorders. CBD works effectively to help reduce all types of seizures, but its efficacy in pediatric epilepsy is especially noteworthy.
To explain how CBD helps to keep seizures under control, it is necessary to refer back to the ECS system of the body. This regulates, among others, motor activity. This helps the body to maintain homeostasis (a stable and balanced internal environment). A healthy and fully functioning endocannabinoid system helps to correct and eliminate any anomalous condition in the body, particularly in the brain, that causes the seizure activities.
More specifically, CBD influences receptor agonists in the brain to correct aberrant neurotransmitter activity that produces the muscular convulsions which manifest as seizures. The net effect of this process is the same effect that anticonvulsant medicines have on the neural activity in the brains of patients who suffer from seizures.
Interestingly, while the fact that CBD can treat seizures is only recently being introduced to the modern world, it has been long well-known among practitioners of ancient Chinese traditional medicine. Old Chinese medical texts, as well as Indian and Persian ones, list the marijuana plant as a potent cure for epilepsy and seizure conditions. In fact, in these texts, marijuana is regarded as a near-miraculous cure-all that can help with a wide variety of ailments, including toothaches, migraine, asthma, digestive problems, and menstrual irregularities.
How to Take CBD
There are many ways to take in CBD and experience its therapeutic benefits. The most common ways are:
- Through inhalation, by smoking CBD-rich strains of marijuana. A pipe or joint is used, in the same manner as that of smoking pot traditionally. The CBD is inhaled and directly absorbed into the lungs and then into the bloodstream. The medicinal effect can be experienced in a matter of minutes afterwards.
- By “vaping,” using a vape pen or a similar device. This means vaporizing cannabis to release the active ingredients through heating, without forming any smoke. The effect is also instantaneous like in smoking, but vaping is considered safer because it does not irritate the lungs.
- By eating food laced with cannabis: cookies, brownies, candies, cakes, etc. This is best for the treatment of chronic conditions, because the effect lasts longer than when cannabis is taken by smoking or vaping.
- By taking cannabis oil in capsule form. There are already companies that process cannabis in capsules and market them as a more convenient way of getting your dose of CBD.
- By using CBD oils or lotions, topically applied. This is ideal for treating skin conditions, including skin infection and inflammation, and body pain. It is effective because cell receptors of the ECS are also located on the surface of our skin.
Other ways to take CBD are:
- By drinking herbal cannabis as tea, juice, or liquid extract.
- By using cannabis tinctures, in which marijuana is dissolved in alcohol solvent and then placed under the tongue.
- By using sublingual sprays, also applied under the tongue. Concentrated cannabis is often used in these formulations. Sometimes it is mixed with another ingredient such as coconut oil.
It is best to discuss with a doctor how best to take CBD including including instructions on how long you can take it and in what dose. He will also be the one to properly recommend which strain or variety of cannabis to use. This would most likely be with preference to those with a high CBD and negligible THC content.