What Does CBD Do?

4 Min Read

When the U.S. Congress first passed the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994, there were only approximately 600 manufacturers of dietary supplements, offering the public an estimated 4,000 products. [1]

Today, that market has grown to the point where it now brings in $115.06 billion in revenues annually, and it is expected to continue to increase at a 7.8 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) by the year 2025. [2]

Research provided by Reports and Data, a boutique market intelligence and strategic consulting firm, reports that approximately $1.04 billion of the current earnings are from CBD products in particular.

Additionally, this particular category of dietary supplement is anticipated to account for more than $16 billion in sales by the year 2026, representing a CAGR of 27.7 percent, or more than triple all dietary supplements combined. [3]

This massive increase in CBD products is largely due to the passing of The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018—more commonly known as “The Farm Bill”—which essentially removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act by the federal government. [4]

This action reduced manufacturers’ concerns of being prosecuted by the Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA), thereby opening the door to increased sales of CBD products.

But it has also left many consumers wondering what makes CBD so desirable as a dietary aid. To begin to understand the answer to this question first requires knowing a little bit about CBD and what it does.

CBD basics

CBD stands for cannabidiol and is a chemical compound found within the hemp plant. Though some refer to hemp plants and marijuana plants interchangeably, science experts clarify that there is one notable difference between the two, and that is the amount of THC each type of plant contains.

THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol and is the active ingredient that is responsible for creating the psychoactive effects most often associated with the use of recreational or medical marijuana.

Specifically, while the marijuana and hemp plants are the same with regard to visual appearance and smell, the hemp plant contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, whereas the marijuana plant’s THC content is much higher, usually falling somewhere between 5 and 20 percent. [5]

As a result, the side effects of CBD extracted from the hemp plant are non-intoxicating, making them unlike the effects typically received from cannabis products that can be purchased at the dispensary in areas where marijuana is currently both medically and recreationally legal, which includes states such as California and Colorado.

With that point clarified, it becomes much easier to understand that CBD is simply one of many cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant. But what are cannabinoids?

 CBD: a cannabinoid

Cannabinoids are defined, in part, as “a type of chemical in marijuana that causes drug-like effects all through the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system.” [6] The way they work is by interacting with the body’s own endocannabinoid system via CBD receptors.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) explains that the goal of the human endocannabinoid system is to help the body maintain a certain level of homeostasis. Additionally, though we’re just now learning more about this particular system, it has actually been present for more than 500 million years and can be found in all vertebrates, which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, and more. [7]

In the human body specifically, cannabinoid receptors can be found not only in the central nervous system, but also in various organs, cells, blood vessels, and other soft tissues according to the UCLA.

And when cannabinoids interact with these receptors, it can positively impact basic bodily processes, some of which are related to pain management, mood regulation, immune system function, sleep, stress, and metabolism, amongst others. These interactions have been scientifically proven to provide a number of health benefits.

Health benefits of CBD

Harvard University shares that the strongest evidence supporting the health-promoting effects of CBD products pertains to two of the most cruel childhood epilepsy syndromes: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut, neither of which usually respond to common anti-seizure prescription medications. [8]

On June 26, 2018, for the first time ever, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex, a epilepsy treatment drug containing CBD. This FDA-approved medication is planned to be used in the treatment of both rare and severe forms of epilepsy, which includes both Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. [9]

Harvard goes on to say that additional studies have found that CBD can also be helpful with regard to anxiety and insomnia. Case in point: a large case series published in 2019 in The Permanente Journal found that 79.2 percent of participants reported a decrease in anxiety within the first month of taking CBD. Another 66.7 percent indicated that their sleep improved over the same amount of time. [10]

Another scientifically supported benefits of using CBD, according to Harvard, is in the treatment of not only chronic pain, but pain that has traditionally been difficult to treat. Several studies confirm this, with one study published by Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management indicating that a variety of randomized clinical trials have linked cannabinoids with pain relief from medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and peripheral neuropathic pain. [11]

Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recognizes the health benefits of CBD as, on July 20, 2015, Nora Volkow, the organization’s director, shared that she had previously testified before the Senate about CBD and how “the preliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.” [12]

In addition to the conditions already discussed, Volkow shared that CBD may help in the treatment of a variety of disorders related to the nervous and immune systems, psychiatric disorders, and metabolism.

So what does CBD do?

To sum it up, CBD is a cannabinoid that works by interacting with the body’s own endocannabinoid system to maintain homeostasis on multiple levels related to total health and wellness.

Available in a variety of forms—which include CBD oils (which are sometimes called cannabis oils or hemp oil) and tinctures—both human studies and animal studies have confirmed that this particular cannabinoid has the propensity to help treat and manage a variety of medical conditions.


[1] “Dietary Supplements: A Framework for Evaluating Safety.” NCBI Bookshelf. Accessed Jun 27, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK216048/

[2] “Dietary Supplements Market Size Analysis Report by Ingredient (Botanicals, Vitamins), By Form, By Application (Immunity, Cardiac Health), By End Use, By Distribution Channel, and Segment Forecasts, 2019-2025.” Grand View Research. May 2019. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/dietary-supplements-market

[3] “Cannabidiol (CBD) Market to Reach USD 16.32 Billion By 2026.” GlobeNewswire: Reports and Data. May 06, 2019. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/05/06/1817668/0/en/Cannabidiol-CBD-Market-To-Reach-USD-16-32-Billion-By-2026-Reports-And-Data.html

[4] Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. House of Representatives. Dec 10, 2018. https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181210/CRPT-115hrpt1072.pdf

[5] Shipman, M. “Is Hemp the Same Thing as Marijuana?” Phys.org. Feb 15, 2019. https://phys.org/news/2019-02-hemp-marijuana.html

[6] “NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed Jun 27, 2019. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cannabinoid

[7] “Human Endocannabinoid System.” UCLA Health. Accessed Jun 27, 2019. https://www.uclahealth.org/cannabis/human-endocannabinoid-system

[8] Grinspoon, P. “Cannabidiol (CBD) – What We Know and What We Don’t.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. Aug 24, 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476

[9] “FDA Approves First Drug Compromised of an Active Ingredient Derived from Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy.” FDA.gov. Jun 26, 2018. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-drug-comprised-active-ingredient-derived-marijuana-treat-rare-severe-forms

[10] Shannon, S. et al. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente Journal. 2019; 23: 18-041. Doi: 10.7812/TPP/18-041. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/

[11] Russo, E. “Cannabinoids in the Management of Difficult to Treat Pain.” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management. Feb 2008; 4(1): 245-259. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503660/

[12] “Researching Marijuana for Therapeutic Purposes: The Potential Promise of Cannabidiol (CBD).” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Jul 20, 2015. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2015/07/researching-marijuana-therapeutic-purposes-potential-promise-cannabidiol-cbd