What Is CBD?

4 Min Read

Ever since the federal government passed the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation which removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act so it is no longer illegal, and therefore not subject to enforcement by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, it seems that CBD—a hemp plant extract—makes the news in some fashion every day. But what exactly is CBD and why is it constantly showing up in your news feed?

What CBD is

CBD stands for cannabidiol and is just one of many cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant. Some of the other cannabinoids or chemical compounds found within the hemp plant include:

Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), Cannabidivarin (CBDV)

But perhaps the best known of all the cannabinoids is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Though this active ingredient also comes from the marijuana plant, it is very different than CBD.

CBD vs THC: what's the difference

One of the main things that set CBD apart from THC is the effect it has on the brain. Specifically, although THC is well-known for its psychoactive effects and giving users a feeling of being “high,” CBD does not have this impact on cognition.

That makes CBD products easier to use without compromising safety during everyday activities that require a fair amount of focus and concentration, such as driving a car or caring for your children.

Is CBD legal?

CBD is also different from THC from a legal standpoint, most notably when the CBD is extracted from the hemp plant. What does this mean?

When CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, it is legal because hemp is now legal in the US. Furthermore, by law, hemp cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC.

Yet, if you look at the amount of THC (which is still illegal) that is in medical marijuana, it isn’t uncommon for users to be exposed to anywhere from 5 to 20 percent THC. [1]


How CBD works

To understand how CBD works, it helps to first understand a little bit about the human body’s endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system is a system that every person has, regardless of whether they use cannabis or take cannabinoids. Essentially, it is a system that helps regulate processes related to a variety of activities, such as sleep, mood, appetite, memory, and reproduction. [2]

This regulation occurs based on interactions between two key endocannabinoids manufactured within the human body (anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglyerol) and cannabinoid receptors, the latter of which are referred to as CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.


CB1 and CB2 receptors on the human body


CB1 receptors are located in your central nervous system and the CB2 receptors can be found in your peripheral nervous system (the nervous system which exists outside of your brain and spinal column), which includes the cells in your immune system.

When you take CBD, it interacts with these same receptors. How does this interaction benefit the human body?

Health benefits of CBD

Clinical trials have found that many users experience positive health benefits after taking CBD oil or other CBD products. One of the most notable is pain relief.

CBD for pain relief

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately one in five Americans (20.4 percent) struggle with chronic pain conditions. Additionally, roughly 8 percent have what is called high-impact pain, which is pain that has “limited life or work activities on most days or every day during the past 6 months.” [3]

Yet, an article published in the journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management indicates that cannabinoids often help with “difficult to treat pain.” [4] In fact, in an online survey of 2,409 CBD users, relief of chronic pain and arthritis or joint pain (which is common with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis) were the main reasons people choose to use CBD. [5]

Anxiety, depression and CBD

The next most common condition leading users to try CBD were two mental health conditions that far too many people struggle with: anxiety and depression.

In fact, anxiety is the most common type of mental disorder in the United States according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which adds that it often goes hand in hand with depression. [6]

A review of the literature indicates that, though its therapeutic effects need to be studied more closely in future research, taking CBD can sometimes help with a variety of anxiety disorders, some of which include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. [7]

Another study expands on this further by stating that cannabidiol has “great psychiatric potential, including uses as an antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like compound.” [8]

CBD and better sleep

If you struggle with getting and/or staying asleep, taking CBD just might help. How?

According to the American Sleep Association, CBD can help enhance your sleep in a couple of different ways. [9]

First, CBD works by interacting with specific receptors that positively influence your natural sleep and wake cycle.

Second, since CBD can help pain and anxiety, it puts your body in just the right state where it can get adequate sleep.

Additional medical conditions

Other major medical conditions that research has found to respond favorably to the use of CBD include:

  • Epilepsy. One 2017 study published in the Journal of Epilepsy Research reported that, though CBD’s direct impact on epilepsy needs more research, when compared to THC, CBD “shows a better defined anticonvulsant profile in animal models.” [10] This is especially true with regard to patients with rare and severe epileptic conditions such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, offering both a reduction in seizure activity. In fact, in June of 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first-ever CBD-containing drug Epidiolex for these two difficult-to-treat forms of childhood epilepsy. [11]
  • Parkinson’s disease. The Parkinson’s Foundation shares that roughly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each and every year, with more than 10 million people across the globe currently living with this disorder characterized by slow movements, tremors, rigid muscles in the arms and legs, and balance and gait issues. [12] However, research states that CBD is a “promising compound” when it comes to the treatment and/or prevention of this type of disease, and it works through its “antipsychotic, anxiolytic [anti-anxiety], anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects.” [13]
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Some animal studies have also found that taking CBD can potentially help reverse the causes of the impairments commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Among them are neurotoxicity, neuroinflammation, oxidative damage, and altered cholesterol homeostasis. [14]
  • Cancer. The National Cancer Institute explains that patients have used medical cannabis for thousands of years, with several studies finding that the cannabinoids within CBD oil and other products have antitumor effects and analgesic properties, while also reducing nausea and vomiting and stimulating appetite [15]. The latter is helpful since many cancer treatment methods, such as chemotherapy, often promote both.
  • Multiple Sclerosis. 2018 research published in Frontiers in Neurology reveals that approximately 66 percent of people with multiple sclerosis currently use cannabis to treat the symptoms of their disease, some of which include pain, spastic muscles, fatigue, inflammation, and even depression. [16] Together, this helps improve their mobility, thus also enhancing their quality of life.

CBD products options

When it comes to the use of CBD products, there are a number of different options.

CBD type or form

The first option is in regard to the type of CBD as this cannabinoid is available in a variety of forms ranging from CBD pills or gummies to vape oils to CBD oils and tinctures.

While part of choosing the best form for you likely has to do with the manner in which you normally prefer to take your dietary supplements, the type of form also impacts bioavailability, or how well your body is able to use and absorb the CBD.

For instance, if you take the CBD sublingually—which basically involves buying a CBD oil tincture and using a dropper to place it under your tongue—your body will use about 12 to 35 percent of the CBD, an amount that is “significantly higher” than if you take your CBD orally. [17]

Full spectrum CBD vs CBD Isolate

The second option when choosing a CBD product is that you can select either a full spectrum CBD or a CBD isolate. What’s the difference?

Full spectrum CBD references a product that, in addition to containing CBD, also has other health-promoting ingredients found within the marijuana plant, which includes other cannabinoids, terpenes (the aromatic oils), and flavonoids.

Together, these extracts create a synergistic effect designed to enhance your total health and wellness on a multitude of levels.

CBD isolate, conversely, contains only one cannabinoid: CBD. Therefore, while it still offers some healthful properties, it is somewhat less powerful than a full spectrum option.

CBD's potential side effects

Although most CBD oil users typically report no negative side effects when taking this hemp extract, some have experienced diarrhea and fatigue and others report a change in appetite. [18]

If you take prescription medications, it’s also important to note that the CBD may negatively interact with them. [19] Namely, the medications at risk of interacting are those that are metabolized by the same enzymes as CBD.

Therefore, you’ll want to check with your primary care physician before trying CBD to ensure that it can’t potentially hurt you given your specific health and conditions.

Will taking CBD cause a positive drug test

Because CBD comes from the marijuana plant, many users are concerned about whether this substance will cause a positive on a drug test.

According to workplace compliance experts, because CBD products are not yet regulated, it may, but mainly because consumers can’t necessarily rely on product labels that say a product has less than 0.3 percent THC.

The reason for this is because, unlike other dietary supplements, CBD products are not yet regulated by the FDA. So, in cases such as these, where a product is mislabeled, it is possible that the THC will show up on a drug test.

This outlines the importance of choosing a reputable, manufacturer that sources its high-quality hemp inside the U.S.A., thus adhering to our national guidelines.

That said, now that the Farm Bill is in place, it is likely that more regulations will be put in place in the future. No doubt, this will impact users’ experience with CBD, as well as what constitutes its legality—both in the workplace and out—across the 50 states.




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

[2] Raypole, C. “A Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System.” Healthline. May 17, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/endocannabinoid-system-2

[3] “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults – United States, 2016.” CDC.gov. Sep 14, 2018; 67(36): 1001-1006. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.htm

[4] 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/

[5] Corroon, J, & Phillips, J. “A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. 2018; 3(1): 152-161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6043845/

[6] “Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed Jul 29, 2019. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

[7] Blessing, E, et al. “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics. Oct 2015; 12(4): 825-836. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604171/

[8] de Mello Schier, A, et al. “Antidepressant-Like and Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Cannabidiol: A Chemical Compound of Cannabis Sativa.” CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets. 2014; 13(6): 953-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24923339

[9] “CBD: For Sleep and Insomnia.” American Sleep Association. Accessed Jul 29, 2019. https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep-treatments/cbd/

[10] Perucca, E. “Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Hard Evidence at Last?” Journal of Epilepsy Research. Dec 2017; 7(2): 61-76. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5767492/

[11] “FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived From Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy.” FDA.gov. Jun 26, 2019. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-drug-comprised-active-ingredient-derived-marijuana-treat-rare-severe-forms

[12] “Statistics.” Parkinson’s Foundation. Accessed Jul 29, 2019. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Statistics

[13] Peres, F, et al. “Cannabidiol as a Promising Strategy to Treat and Prevent Movement Disorders.” Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2018; 9: 482. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958190/

[14] Cheng, D, et al. “Long-Term Cannabidiol Treatment Prevents the Development of Social Recognition Memory Deficits in Alzheimer’s Disease Transgenic Mice.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2014; 42(4): 1383-96. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25024347

[15] “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – Health Professional Version.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed Jul 29, 2019. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq

[16] Rudroff, T, & Sosnoff, J. “Cannabidiol to Improve Mobility in People with Multiple Sclerosis.” Frontiers in Neurology. 2018; 9: 183. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5874292/

[17] Cadena, A. “What is CBD Bioavailability and Why Does it Matter?” CBD+ Origin. Jun 26, 2018. https://medium.com/cbd-origin/what-is-cbd-bioavailability-and-why-does-it-matter-69d9a2e37e6c

[18] Kubala, J. “7 Benefits and Uses of CBD Oil (Plus Side Effects).” Healthline. Feb 26, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cbd-oil-benefits

[19] “ConsumerLab.com Answers: CBD Drug Interactions.” ConsumerLab.com. Accessed Jul 29, 2019. https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/cbd-interactions-with-other-drugs-medications/cbd-drug-interactions/