CBD A Practical Explanation
“I see CBD everywhere and I’m hearing about it all the time. But I don’t know what it is or what it does.”
I hear words to that effect almost daily. Not surprising given my line of work but the first part of that sentence is at odds with the second part, right? Usually, we understand the ubiquitous parts of life. Or, at least we think we do. I don’t really understand how the internet or my cell phone work. But I know how to use them both.
And that’s probably good enough for most of us. If I did understand the internet backbone what would I do with that? Nothing. But I do need to know that clicking on strange emails in my spam folder is a bad idea.
So it is with CBD. It doesn’t really matter to us that most cannabinoids are 21-carbon compounds. I’m not knocking knowledge. I really would like to have a perfect understanding of computer networks and the biology of plants but there aren’t enough hours in the day.
The goal here is to provide a practical understanding of CBD so you can deal with it in your own life and make informed decisions. You can dive much deeper into every aspect of this article. That’s what the links will help you to do.
This elephant is best eaten in parts.
Part 1 – Hemp v. Marijuana
They’re different plants. Really. One’s not just the weak, low-THC, poor cousin of the other. They’re actually different plants. The confusion comes from the fact that they’re both cannabis sativa plants, scientifically speaking. (Some people take the view that marijuana is cannabis indica. It’s more properly thought of as a subspecies of sativa.) They’re different species of the same thing.
That’s not as strange as it might sound. The huge Great Dane and the Toy Poodle are both canis familiaris. The giant steer Knickers over in Australia and a small dairy cow in a field in Wisconsin? Both bos taurus.
Great Danes and Poodles have some things in common: four legs, two ears, barking. Not a lot more. Hemp and marijuana have some things in common also but they’re defined by their differences. Hemp is tall and thin. Marijuana short and bushy. Hemp has thin leaves. Marijuana has broad leaves. Hemp has long, strong fibrous strands. Marijuana does not.
Because of these differences, the plants are cultivated for dramatically different purposes. Hemp has many commercial uses which derive from its long fibers and abundance of seeds. Cloth, paper, oil, building materials and literally thousands of final products are made from hemp. Hemp is possibly the most versatile, useful, profitable and sustainable plant cultivated.
Part 2 – CBD v. THC
The most important difference for our purposes is that hemp is high in a compound called cannabidiol, aka CBD, while marijuana is high in a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC. These words are clearly part of what generates confusion. They’re long, unfamiliar to us and similar sounding.
This difference is important because THC creates the “high” feeling you get from marijuana, while CBD does not create that feeling. THC is considered “psychoactive”, CBD is not. This fact is critically important in understanding the source of the confusion between hemp and marijuana. Back in the 20s and 30s hemp got swept up in the drive to demonize and outlaw marijuana.
The marijuana people smoked in the 60s had maybe 5% THC by weight. Some of today’s “wheelchair weed” strains can be as high as 35%. That happened due to selective breeding.
Again, this really shouldn’t be so surprising. Modern wheat is different from the wheat that was grown just a hundred years ago because it has been bred to increase yield per acre. Intense focus on one characteristic resulted in a different plant. There’s a raging debate about the impact this may have on human health. There isn’t a raging debate about whether the plant is different.
Industrial hemp (the variety our products use) has only trace amounts of THC. Less than .3% by weight. You would have to smoke staggering amounts of hemp to get high.
Part 3 – Where Does CBD Come From
Hemp. All of our CBD products come strictly and exclusively from industrial hemp grown in the US. In Kentucky to be exact. Kentucky used to be one of the largest producers of tobacco. Now it’s one of the largest producers of CBD. That’s definitely a step in the right direction I think!
CBD is gotten from the hemp plant through the process of extraction. There are a number of methods of extraction and each has its pros and cons. Our CBD is obtained using the CO2 (carbon dioxide) method. This method is very efficient and results in a clean product.
While the specifics of the process are much more complex, essentially what happens is CO2 is passed through the hemp under very specific and controlled conditions. The temperature and pressure of the CO2 are maintained at levels designed to maximize the yield achieved. As the CO2 passes through the hemp, it extracts the oils from the plant.
Now you have a liquid with CBD and other elements taken from the plant itself. In addition to the cannabinoids, this liquid will contain terpenes, oils, waxes, lipids, proteins and other plant material. This liquid will be further refined to produce the various products the manufacturer wants to make.
Part 4 – Cannabinoids
CBD and THC are both cannabinoids (sorry, more jargon). Understanding cannabinoids is essential to understanding CBD.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that act on the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies to alter the release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, in turn, regulate many physical and psychological functions such as heart rate, sleep, appetite, concentration, heartbeat and breathing. Very important chemicals in our bodies.
There are three types of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids; those occurring naturally in our bodies, phytocannabinoids; those occurring in plants and synthetic cannabinoids which are made in the lab.
The part of our bodies where cannabinoids do their thing is called the endocannabinoid system or ECS. A fairly recently discovered and increasingly understood system, the ECS has different types of receptors which work with different cannabinoids. CBD and THC have primary attractions to different cannabinoid receptors.
The different chemical structure of each cannabinoid means they will each have a different effect on our bodies. A good example is the high produced by THC. Go smoke a joint or talk to someone who just has. Then ask yourself if cannabinoids affect our bodies. Whatever else is going on, the cannabinoid THC definitely has the effect of making us high. Precisely how this works is well beyond the scope of this article.
The cannabinoid CBD thankfully has different effects on our bodies. As I mentioned above, the ECS is relatively newly “discovered” and less well understood than other bodily systems. The fact that research involving marijuana, and to a lesser degree hemp, has been severely limited by our anti-drug laws means that this is an emerging field of study. The studies that have been done seem always to be shrouded in hedged bets and qualifications.
The potential therapeutic benefit of CBD in certain areas has are becoming pretty clear in the research:
- Psychotic Disorders
- Stroke Rehabilitation
- High Blood Pressure
- Liver Injury
There isn’t the kind of research to support CBD as there is for, say, penicillin, but the idea that its benefits are speculative or strictly anecdotal just isn’t true. In our own lives, CBD has been very helpful and we take it daily.
The CBD Marketplace and Growing Confusion
It’s safe to say that the sale of CBD is booming. It’s also safe to say, unfortunately, that not every product out there is marketed in the clearest way possible. Of course, the confusion referred to above, especially about the nomenclature in the field, doesn’t help.
Here’s a list of some common products and terms and what they mean.
CBD oil – This is CBD in an oil sometimes called a “carrier” oil because it carries the CBD. You’ll also see the term MCT oil. That stands for medium-chain-triglyceride and is often simply coconut oil.
Hemp oil – This is oil made from hemp seeds. Think of it as you would olive oil.
CBD hemp oil – Aaah, now it gets interesting. This could be an abundance of caution on the manufacturer’s part wanting to make it perfectly clear that their CBD is made from hemp. Or, it could be CBD using hemp oil as the carrier. Read the label closely.
Cannabis oil – I’ve seen this used to describe almost everything. This could be hemp oil, CBD oil, the un-processed liquid derived from extraction, THC oil or a mix of a number of things. Read the label closely.
500 mg – Most bottles of CBD oil list the milligrams of CBD they contain. Read the label to make sure that the amount of CBD, as opposed to other cannabinoids, is what you are getting 500 of.
Full spectrum oil – An oil which has other cannabinoids in addition to CBD. Again, read the label to make sure you’re getting what you think you are.
Entourage effect – The idea that all of the cannabinoids working together creates the most effective experience.
Isolate – This is pure, 100% CBD obtained through further processing. It is isolated from all other items derived through the extraction process, hence the name.
This article is not intended to provide exhaustive coverage of the topics addressed. The goal is to provide enough for you to make sense of the CBD market in your own life in a meaningful way. Click on the links to go to some deeper resources. If you do some research (assumption: you’ll do it on the internet) you’ll find a wide range of conflicting sources. Just like everything else on the internet.
I hope this helps and I’d love to hear what you think in the Comment section below.