What Is CBD? The Complete Beginner's Guide

What is CBD

The number of people using CBD in the UK is growing at a remarkable rate. 

A recent study revealed there are 1.3 million regular CBD users in the UK. With another 6 million people that have tried it in the last year.

So, what exactly is CBD?

In this article we’ll dig into everything you need to know about CBD. Helping you to make an informed decision about trying it.

We’ll cover:

  • What exactly is CBD?
  • How does CBD work?
  • What is CBD good for?
  • How to take CBD?

Let’s jump straight in.

WHAT IS CBD?

CBD, aka cannabidiol, is a phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It’s safe, legal and gaining huge popularity as a health and wellbeing supplement.  

Phytocannabinoids like CBD are unique to the cannabis plant. And more than 120 of them have been discovered to date. These phytocannabinoids are the main drivers of cannabis' effects on humans (and animals).

CBD is a major phytocannabinoid (or 'cannabinoid' for short). Meaning it's found in large quantities in the cannabis or hemp plant. Another major cannabinoid is THC, short for Tetrahydrocannabinol (easy for you to say! ?).

THC is what makes us feel ‘high’ or ‘stoned’ when ingesting of cannabis. 

CBD and THC are both widely studied by scientists across the globe. And both have shown to have significant therapeutic properties.

HOW DOES CBD WORK? 

In the early 1990’s scientists discovered that cannabinoids like CBD and THC were able to interact with specific receptors in our bodies.

This, in turn, led to the discovery of similar compounds that our bodies were already making. These compounds are now known as 'endocannabinoids'.

(endo- : within humans & animals ??‍♀️?, phyto- : within plants ?). Yes that's right, our bodies produce cannabinoids too! 

The first ever endocannabinoid was discovered in 1992. It's named anandamide, which is derived from the Sanskrit word for “bliss”. A big reference to the feelings of happiness and mental wellbeing that it stimulates!

There’s more:

The discovery of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in humans was only the beginning. These initial breakthroughs led to the groundbreaking discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). A vast network of receptors that we now know plays a significant role in the everyday health and wellbeing of human beings.  

The ECS is thought to play a key role in homeostasis, the process by which the body self-regulates and maintains internal conditions, allowing it to function optimally.

And, whilst it's still at the preliminary research stage, it's thought the ECS helps to regulate things like our mood, appetite, energy level, immune activity, blood pressure, bone density, glucose metabolism and even how we experience pain, stress, anxiety and more!

Put simply:

Our endocannabinoid system has far reaching effects on nearly every area of our physical and mental beings. The consequence of it not working properly is, in a word, disease.

So, it stands to reason that something that can interact with (and nourish) our ECS would have an array of therapeutic benefits... Enter cannabis and its army of phytocannabinoids!

So, how does CBD work then?

Whilst the chemical structures of THC and CBD are almost identical, the subtle difference between them has a big effect on how they’re able to interact with our endocannabinoid system.

THC is able to perfectly bind with both our "CB1" and "CB2" cannabinoid receptors. And by binding to the CB1 receptor, THC mimics anandamide (remember that one, the ‘bliss’ molecule), and that makes us feel 'high'!

CBD on the other hand, cannot directly bind to CB1 receptors (which is why it doesn't make us high). But it does inhibit the enzyme that is known to break down anandamide, called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAHH). By inhibiting FAAH, CBD helps to sustain anandamide levels in our bodies for longer. 

This is just one way in which scientists have discovered CBD can interact with our ECS. They're discovering plenty of other ways too.

And it's this ability for CBD to interact with our ECS that's got health and medical professionals very excited!

WHAT IS CBD GOOD FOR?

This is one of the most common questions people ask us - what is CBD good for?

In short:

People use CBD products to help with a variety of health issues including anxiety, stress and chronic pain. It’s also used in skincare products and as a supplement to aid sleep. Additionally, there's an FDA-approved CBD medicine, called Epidiolex. Epidiolex treats two severe childhood epilepsy disorders - Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

It’s important to remember we’re still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about CBD.

That said, there’s already a huge amount of anecdotal and preclinical evidence for its benefits. And, as the appetite for research into cannabis and CBD continues, we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of CBD (and other cannabinoids) in the coming years.

Some of the more impressive and well-researched benefits of CBD include: 

1. DECREASES INFLAMMATION

CBD’s anti-inflammatory qualities are impressive and well-documented. Meaning it offers the potential to treat a range of conditions and symptoms in which inflammation is an issue. Debilitating and painful conditions like arthritis and IBS, or skin conditions like acne could see significant improvement thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD. 

A study from 2019 found that CBD was able to reduce inflammation in the human gastrointestinal tract by affecting a range of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory markers. This study highlights CBD’s potential as a future treatment of gastrointestinal inflammatory conditions such as IBS.

Other studies have also demonstrated the potential of CBD to reduce inflammation in the pancreas and in arthritis and acne patients. 

2. DECREASES PAIN

Another potential benefit of CBD is pain relief. While more research is needed into the exact effects of CBD on pain, it is thought that one way that CBD may reduce pain is by increasing serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can lower your pain perception and result in an analgesic effect. 

One meta-review found that CBD use resulted in a 30% reduction of pain. However, this study also included the use of other cannabinoids and more targeted research into the pain-relieving properties of CBD alone are needed before major conclusions can be drawn. 

3. ALLEVIATES ANXIETY 

CBD may have a beneficial effect on your mental health. Research shows that CBD has demonstrated an ability to decrease cortisol levels and increase serotonin levels. This is important as cortisol is a stress hormone, and serotonin is commonly used to treat mental health conditions like anxiety and depression

In one study, CBD oil was given daily to teenagers with social anxiety disorder for four weeks. The study found that CBD oil significantly reduced measured anxiety symptoms and concluded that CBD could be useful in the treatment of social anxiety. 

HOW TO TAKE CBD?

So now you know what CBD is and what it can do, but how do you actually take it?

As it stands, CBD can be introduced to your body in many ways. 

Most commonly it is added to a ‘carrier’ oil, like hemp seed oil or olive oil, to make CBD oil drops that are applied under your tongue. Or CBD capsules that can be taken like normal tablets.

For convenience, brands are also adding CBD to food and drinks to make things like CBD gummies, CBD chocolate and CBD tea & coffee.

If vaping is your thing then there’s a wealth of great e-liquids, carts and vape pens that now include CBD. Vaping is one of the most effective ways to consume CBD, with a bioavailability of up to 70%.

And if you want to take advantage of CBD’s skincare benefits then you can try CBD balms, gels and creams.

For more info on taking CBD, and some insight into which format is best for you, check out our article on taking CBD.

THE BOTTOM LINE 

CBD is one of the primary cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. 

While there are many bold claims and lots of misinformation about CBD, there's also plenty of good quality research supporting CBD’s medicinal benefits. As it stands, CBD seems to be particularly effective for reducing pain, inflammation and anxiety. 

With a variety of ways to consume CBD, its impressive health benefits, and its high safety profile, CBD is worthy of its current popularity and likely to be something we're hearing a lot about for years to come.