No doubt, you’ve heard that CBD reduces anxiety, and that it can also help with insomnia and depression. Oh, and chronic pain — any type of pain, really. CBD has a reputation for helping treat and prevent diabetes. Plus, it is good for your heart health, and it reduces the likelihood of neurological disorders like MS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. CBD might stop the growth of cancer — oh, and it cures acne, too.
Over the past year or two, CBD — which stands for cannabidiol, a chemical compound from the cannabis plant — has become a cure-all, and historically, cure-alls cure nothing. So, what is true about CBD? This guide will tell you what CBD can actually do for your mind and body — and when you should turn to actual medical treatments, instead.
The Science of CBD
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of over 100 unique compounds, or cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant. Perhaps the best-known cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is what provides the head and body high that stoners crave. CBD, on the other hand, has minimal psychotropic properties; it doesn’t intoxicate you, but it does offer other effects that can be beneficial to mind and body.
Both THC and CBD work by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, so called because of the system’s naturally occurring molecules which look almost identical to cannabinoids. These molecules shuttle messages through the body to maintain homeostasis, or balance amongst physiological processes. There are two points within this system where cannabinoids can enter: receptors called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain, where they are involved in cognition, memory, motor skills and pain, but CB1 receptors are also found in the peripheral nervous system, the thyroid, the liver, the uterus and more. THC is much more active in CB1 receptors, attaching itself, inhibiting the release of natural neurotransmitters and generally altering the normal function of the mind and body.
Conversely, CB2 receptors are located in greater abundance in the gastrointestinal and immune systems as well as throughout the nervous system. Researchers previously believed that CBD behaved the same way as THC but at CB2 sites — but that is no longer thought to be the case. Some researchers believe that CBD attaches to CB2 sites and encourages the body to produce more of its own endocannabinoids, but in truth, no one is exactly sure what CBD is doing once it gets into your body.
The Benefits of CBD
Unfortunately, because researchers can’t be sure what CBD is doing to cannabinoid receptors, there is no telling exactly which purported health effects are real and which are imagined. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, which interferes with American scientists’ ability to study CBD to identify what it does and how.
There are a few studies on CBD in laboratories or animals that provide strong indications of the compound’s capabilities. Early experiments suggest that CBD actually does have the potential to reduce anxiety and ease symptoms from diseases like schizophrenia and epilepsy. When used in conjunction with THC, CBD can also reduce pain rather effectively.
Because studies have indicated that CBD is non-habit-forming and difficult to overdose, you aren’t risking much harm by using CBD for any of its other claims, perhaps for aid in managing diabetes, heart disease or even cancer — but only if you are also participating in doctor-recommended remedies, as well. You should never replace real medicine or treatment with CBD, and you should always ask your doctor before taking a drug like CBD or THC.
The Dangers of Some CBD Products
Weed lore states that you can’t get addicted or overdose on marijuana products, so you might believe that cannabis and cannabinoids are always safe — but that simply isn’t the case. As cannabinoids become more and more refined and available in higher and higher doses, the potential for overdose grows; in fact, there has already been one death attributed to THC overdose: A woman ingested so much THC that her airways became too relaxed and failed to function properly. Because CBD doesn’t seem to work in the same way, there is a much lower chance of bad effects from CBD use, but it is always wise to be judicious with your drug use.
Unfortunately, because the CBD industry remains unregulated, what you might believe to be safe CBD products could actually be something else. Many unscrupulous sellers, eager to cash in on the extreme popularity of CBD, are beginning to sell products labeled as CBD but that contain little or no CBD. In fact, some of these fake CBD goods contain dangerous compounds, like heavy metals or opiates. In addition to consulting your doctor before you begin taking a CBD supplement, you should ensure that you are buying CBD only from reputable vendors.
CBD could become the wonder drug of the future, forming the foundation for all sorts of new and amazing cures — or it could be a passing fad, like bloodletting or snake oil. There is little risk in trying legitimate CBD for any number of ills; when used safely, the worst CBD can do for you is nothing, and the best it can do is help your discomfort and improve your life.