The Ultimate Guide to CBD
The Natural Hemp Company are CBD experts with a massive range of CBD oil products available online, as well as providing leading advice and information. We've put together the ultimate guide to CBD to provide you with the most accurate and useful hub of information on CBD. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with one of our in-house experts!
What is CBD?
CBD is the abbreviation of cannabidiol, one of the 113+ varieties of known cannabinoids. These are chemical components found in the hemp plant (phytocannabinoids), and naturally occurring in our own bodies (endocannabinoids). They interact with receptors in the brain to control the chemical balance in our bodies to affect how our brains interpret pain, respond to illness and even our energy and concentration levels. CBD has been found to have anxiolytic, antipsychotic, antidepressant, and neuroprotective properties.
(If you're interested in how CBD can affect concentration, read our top tips on improving concentration!)
Scientists have studied CBD since the 1940s, but it’s only in recent decades that real developments have been made into understanding how CBD works and the benefits it can bring. It’s now widely accepted to be an extremely beneficial health supplement, proven in countless cases to bring relief from physical illnesses such as epilepsy and inflammation, and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
If you’re a chemistry enthusiast, then you might understand CBD as 2-[(1R,6R)-3-methyl-6-prop-1-en-2-ylcyclohex-2-en-1-yl]-5-pentylbenzene-1,3-diol. To those without a chemistry degree it sounds very complex! However, this is chemistry ‘code’ for the way CBD is constructed, creating the final component. It’s this chemical makeup that enables CBD to interact with our bodies and bring its associated benefits.
CBD & THC
Both CBD and THC are cannabinoids. This means they come from the hemp plant and affect our endocannabinoid system. Their full effects are still being researched, but they influence a huge range of systems in our bodies, including our mood, appetite, cognitive function, memory and immune system.
However, CBD and THC are different.
THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol. It has similar molecular components as CBD, but the way these molecules are put together means they have different effects on the body.
THC causes a sense of elation and relaxation. It is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, producing the associated highs. CBD, on the other hand, has no psychoactive properties at all, so you can’t become high from using it.
CBD oil contains high levels of CBD and trace amounts of THC, meaning that CBD oil does not get you high and is also legal in the UK.
The Hemp Plant
CBD is a component of the hemp plant. It is extracted and used to create CBD oil. Read about how CBD is extracted on our blog!
The hemp plant has been used by humans for thousands of years. In fact, the oldest discovered human artifact is a piece of hemp material, dating back to around 8000 BC. The hemp plant can be used to create CBD oil, but also in a huge number of other applications -- there are over 25000 different end-products. These include material, rope and food protein (hemp seeds). It’s even been used for sunglasses frames!
Hemp is a fantastic plant as it can be grown in most temperate conditions and in any variety of soil (as long as it’s damp). It’s fast-growing, extremely adaptable and undemanding on resources, making it more environmentally friendly than a lot of crops, such as cotton. The hemp material is 6 times stronger than cotton too and more resistant to weathering.
However, growing hemp is illegal in a large number of countries around the world because the leaves of certain strains of hemp plant are high in THC and can be used to create the drug cannabis.
Are Hemp and Cannabis Plants the Same?
Traditionally, yes: cannabis comes from hemp plants which are the same plants used to create CBD oil. However, over the years, different strains of hemp have been bred and grown. It has resulted in a wide variety of hemp plants around the world, each with different uses.
Because CBD helps to balance the psychoactive effects of THC, different plants are grown with different levels of the two cannabinoids. While THC makes you high, CBD stablises your mood and minimises the ‘high’ effect. Therefore plants produced for recreational drugs are typically high in THC and low in CBD. On the other hand, hemp plants used for CBD oil are bred to be very low in THC and high in CBD.
While the hemp plant and the plant that produces cannabis are one and the same, different strains are used for CBD oil compared to cannabis to influence THC and CBD levels.
It was through research into hemp plants that huge breakthroughs in medicine and biology were discovered. Scientists uncovered a whole new system in our bodies and explained how CBD works.
“By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance,” - Raphael Mechoulam, the dean of the transnational cannabinoid research community.
Read more about the hemp plant on our website.
How Does CBD Work?
The chemical construction of CBD means that it can interact with the naturally occurring receptors and chemicals in our bodies and brains. To understand this more, we need to look at the difference between CBD and other cannabinoids…
Phytocannabinoids vs Endocannabinoids
These long words describe the two families of cannabinoids that exist naturally. There is also a third family of synthetically made cannabinoids.
Phytocannabinoids: Cannabinoids that occur naturally in plants, such as the hemp plant. CBD is a type of phytocannabinoid.
Endocannabinoids: Cannabinoids that occur naturally in animals, including humans.
There is a form of phytocannabinoid called THC. This is one of the most well known forms of cannabinoid as it is what produces the psychoactive effect associated with cannabis -- it’s what causes people to become high.
To fully understand what CBD is and how it works, we have to understand the naturally occuring forms of cannabinoids that are in our bodies.
At school, it’s often taught that there are 11 biological organ systems in the body: circulatory, respiratory, urinary, reproductive, integumentary, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, lymphatic, and digestive. However, there is also a twelfth system: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
People claim that this system is one of the most important in our bodies!
Interestingly, this was only discovered due to research funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. They were politically biased and wanted to prove the negative effects of cannabis while blocking research into its potential benefits. However, the scientists involved made huge medical discoveries, revealing that cannabinoids are essential for our body.
Discoveries into the endocannabinoid system first began in the 1980s, which is very recent in terms of medical research. Scientists discovered a receptor in the brain of a rat that responded specifically to the cannabinoid THC. These receptors were found in parts of the brain associated with mental and physiological processes, including high cognition (thinking), emotion, motor coordination (how you move your body) and memory.
Receptors: Groups of specialised cells that detect molecules, such as chemicals and electrical signals in the body. They then cause other chemicals or signals to be sent to and from the brain.
Scientists realised that there were more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than any other kind of neuroreceptor. It shows just how much of an impact cannabinoids, including CBD, can have.
A Second Receptor
In 1993, a second receptor that responded to cannabinoids was discovered in the immune and central nervous systems. The immune system is our body’s defence system, helping us combat illness and disease. The central nervous system is the message centre of the body. Electrical impulses travel through the central nervous system, allowing us to move quickly, feel pain instantly and react to the world around us.
A couple of years later, in 1995, these receptors were officially named as the CB1 and CB2 receptors. It was then that scientists realised they didn’t just exist in rats, but were also found in thousands of other animals, including humans.
It was also realised that the CB2 receptor could be found in large numbers in the gut, spleen, liver, heart kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells and even the reproductive organs. The endocannabinoid system is essential to the running of our whole body. It also gives a glimpse into the impact CBD can have not just on a single part of our bodies, but across all our systems.
It’s also been suggested that there’s a third receptor that hasn’t yet been discovered, so the full benefits of CBD are still being researched!
(You can read more about the discovery of cannabinoid receptors here.)
There are two types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system, but these have to detect and bind with a neurotransmitter in order to trigger a release of chemicals or an electrical message in our bodies. Imagine a lock and key. The receptors are a lock, but they need a key in order to work. In other words, there has to be a chemical that tells the receptor to act and have an impact upon our health, mood and well being.
These are where the cannabinoids, including CBD, come in.
The human body produces its own endocannabinoids. These bind with the receptors (like keys), acting like instructions that tell the receptors what chemicals to release into the body. Chemicals influence every part of us from our physical health through to our emotions and mood.
The first endocannabinoid was discovered in 1992. After finding the first receptor (CB1), people were asking why we had these receptors; there must be something in our bodies that interacts with them.
Anandamide was discovered first, which behaves in a similar way to THC. It was named after the Sanskrit word for bliss. The second major endocannabinoid was found a few years later, called 2-arachidonoylglycerol -- or ‘2-AG’, which is easier to remember!
Because people already knew about the cannabis plant, which has been used in medicine, in religious ceremonies and recreationally for thousands of years, scientists recognised the similarity between our endocannabinoids and the phytocannabinoids found in hemp plants.
CBD and Our Bodies
Our bodies are designed to interact with cannabinoids to keep all our systems working healthily, including the chemical levels in our brains that affect mood and emotions. CBD is a natural form of cannabinoid that occurs in plants. It works alongside our endocannabinoids, binding to the receptors in our brains and giving instructions to aid the functioning of all our systems.
CBD therefore is an effective health supplement that works alongside our natural systems, improving the chemical balance in our bodies and helping us to function as effectively as we were designed to.
CBD: a Health Supplement
Health Supplements: A product that works alongside your normal diet and health routine to ensure your body and mind is as healthy as possible.
As a health or dietary supplement, CBD can be taken by people who consider themselves to be healthy already and want to maintain their health, and those who suffer from a range of illnesses or ailments, including pain, aches, inflammation and anxiety.
This doesn’t mean that CBD can necessarily replace your normal health supplements, as the body needs a huge range of vitamins and nutrients in order to function well, but CBD is an extremely powerful way to support your health, immune system and even impact energy levels. Because CB2 receptors are found in almost every organ system, CBD can benefit the whole body.
Read our CBD recipes for ideas on how to incorporate CBD into your diet!
Cannabinoids are known to have powerful antioxidant properties, perhaps even more so than vitamin C and E. A patent was released in the US claiming that this wasn’t just great news for those using CBD as a health supplement, but also meant it was an effective way to aid diseases related to oxidation, such as age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Its antioxidant properties also mean that CBD can be used to limit neurological damage following stroke and trauma, or for treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia.
Taking CBD as a daily health supplement can keep you healthy as you get older in the same way that other powerful antioxidants can aid your body.
The CB2 receptor, one of the receptors to which both natural endocannabinoids and CBD can bind, is primarily associated with the immune system.
Immune System: The organs and processes in the body that protect and fight against disease, illness, infections and other toxins.
We require cannabinoids to keep our immune system healthy. The exact way they impact our bodies is still being researched, but it’s thought that they help to keep in balance the two major players in our immune system: cell-mediated immunity and humoral immunity.
Cell-mediated immunity is controlled by ‘T-cells’, which are fighter cells in the body. They seek out foreign antigens (tiny identification tags that mark something as not belonging to your body) and destroy the pathogen.
Humoral immunity is controlled by specialised cells called ‘B-cells’. They release antibodies which match the exact shape of the pathogen, trapping them until white blood cells come along to destroy the pathogen.
These two immune responses have to be held in careful balance. If they get knocked out of sync, people can experience serious autoimmune diseases in which the body attacks itself. Studies (such as this one and this one) have begun to reveal that cannabinoids, including CBD, can play a part in keeping this balance, helping the cell-mediated and humoral immune responses to communicate properly.
This doesn’t just prevent and help to treat autoimmune diseases, but generally helps to keep your immune system working efficiently. Your body can respond quickly to threats and keep you from getting ill. This makes CBD a fantastic health supplement to support the functioning of your immune system.
A huge amount of research is going into how the endocannabinoid system works together with the immune system and there’s still a lot to discover -- it’s exciting to see what scientists will learn next!
Probiotics are a kind of bacteria that live in our gut. Unlike pathogens which our body needs to destroy, these are a good kind of bacteria, essential for digestion and immune health. You can find loads of them in yoghurt or probiotic drinks. They can also be found in supplement capsules.
CBD cannot replace probiotics, as they’re a vital part of the way our bodies work, but it is thought that cannabinoids help us to absorb probiotics through the intestinal wall.
Our gut and intestines are full of CB2 receptors and therefore also full of endocannabinoids. As a health supplement, CBD works alongside our naturally occuring endocannabinoids to help our digestive system process probiotics and to increase the effectiveness of our gut.
Omega 3 and CBD oil have a lot of the same effects in the body. Some of the major ones include improving brain health, cardiovascular function, reducing inflammation, lowering the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, as well as helping with cognitive function (awareness, memory and concentration).
While it’s essential that we have omega 3 and CBD could not replace it, the average person in the Western world doesn’t get enough omega 3 in their diet (source). This suggests that CBD can support our body where we might otherwise be struggling due to omega 3 deficiency.
Omega 3 is also found in the highest quantity in fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as in smaller amounts in eggs and dairy products. This therefore limits the sources through which vegetarians and vegans can get omega 3, making vegan CBD oil a fantastic diet supplement.
The full health benefits of CBD are still being discovered. People testify that CBD helps them to feel more alert during the day, sleep better at night, and helps with concentration -- among many other things. It’s a fantastic health supplement to take alongside eating well and exercising.
We’ve already begun to explore the way CBD relates to medicine through its immune response and antioxidant properties. However, the impact CBD can have in the medical world is even more far-reaching.
CBD in Medicine
The hemp plant has been used in medicine for thousands of years as a natural way to combat inflammation and to bring pain relief. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that research revealed it was the cannabinoids in the hemp plant producing the medicinal qualities, and at this point, they were able to be extracted from the plant.
Since discovering the cannabinoids, including CBD, more and more research has gone into proving the medicinal benefits of cannabidiol upon people with a huge range of illnesses and diseases.
Today, two pharmaceutical drugs that use cannabinoids have been developed and are currently legal in certain parts of the world. Sativex in the UK is used to treat the shakes and spasms of multiple sclerosis. Epidiolex, which contains only CBD and no THC, is used in the treatment of rare types of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not yet legal in Europe but people predict it will be soon.)
While there are only two pharmaceutical drugs manufactured, CBD oil has been used by countless people and proved effective for offering relief from pain, inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, psychosis-related illnesses, MS, anxiety, depression and acne -- among others problems.
We have already explored how CBD works and have shown that due to CB2 receptors being found in almost every organ in the body, CBD has effects throughout all the major organ systems and in immune health, but there are some particular areas in which CBD has been used with particular effect.
CBD & Epilepsy
Perhaps one of the most well known medicinal uses for CBD is in treating certain forms of epilepsy. This has been widely publicised and discussed in the last couple of years not just in scientific circles, but in public interest. High profile cases have featured in the news, increasing awareness of CBD and its medicinal importance for those suffering from certain types of epilepsy.
Medical research into CBD for epilepsy largely focuses upon people suffering with Dravet syndrome. Dravet syndrome, which used to be known as severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy, is a rare form of epilepsy that affects children but is lifelong. Out of 500 children with epilepsy, only around 2 will have Dravet syndrome. It’s thought this is equivalent to somewhere between 1 in 20000 to 1 in 40000 people. It first affects children between 6-12 months and, while the child’s development begins as normal, the seizures almost always cause learning disabilities.
One of the problems with treating Dravet syndrome is that the seizures don’t respond particularly well to usual seizure medications so it’s very hard to manage. Patients have to try various combinations of medicines in order to find one that is effective at managing the conditions.
Epidiolex, a medicine made from CBD, was the first medicine to ever be approved specifically to treat Dravet syndrome. It was approved in America by the FDA in June 2018, although is not yet legal in Europe.
Trials into Epidiolex were extensive, testing against placebo effects, and saw fantastic results that led to the approval of this drug for Dravet syndrome.
- 43% of people taking CBD for Dravet Syndrome had at least a 50% decrease in seizures.
- 5% of people taking CBD became completely seizure free.
Charlotte Figi and CBD
Charlotte Figi’s case in the US was one of the major high profile examples of the effects of CBD upon epilepsy. Charlotte suffers from Dravet Syndrome. When she first began treatment for her epilepsy, the drug Epidiolex hadn’t been manufactured. Charlotte instead used a form of CBD oil.
Charlotte’s epilepsy began when she was 3 months old. The first seizure lasted 30 minutes and, as she got older, her seizures became more frequent and even more severe. In time, she began to show signs of serious learning disabilities and autism.
When she was three, she was wheelchair bound, and unable to speak or eat on her own. By the time she was 5, she was experiencing 300 grand mal seizures a week and went into an induced coma. Her parents signed a do-not-resuscitate order.
Medication had had little effect on Charlotte, but at this point her family came across CBD oil. They contacted the Stanley Brothers in Colorado who had bred a strain of hemp plants extremely low in THC and high in CBD -- plants used to manufacture CBD oil. This made it appropriate for young children and safe to use without any of the psychoactive effects.
Charlotte went from 300 seizures a week to no seizures at all in the first week of using CBD.
Charlotte still has seizures, but now only 2 or 3 times a month, and she now walks, talks and eats again.
The Stanley brothers called their product Charlotte’s Web in honour of Charlotte and the impact CBD had upon her life.
An increasing number of studies now suggest that CBD can be used to regulate epileptic seizures without the side effects of prescription epilepsy medication.
Case Study UK
The use of CBD medication is still debated in the UK. CBD oil as a health supplement is legal, but stronger varieties such as those for the treatment of epilepsy, including Dravet syndrome, are not yet approved for use in the UK and Europe. However, Charlotte’s story, among other high profile cases, means that this might not remain true for long.
Billy Caldwell became a high profile case in the UK, in the summer of 2018. Billy has a form of epilepsy that threatened his life. He had been using CBD oil to treat his condition since 2016 with extremely positive effects. His mother got CBD from the US, but it was confiscated at the airport when she arrived in the UK.
This led to Billy having to be admitted to hospital due to the severity of his condition and his need for epileptic medication. Ultimately, the home office granted a 20-day license which allowed Billy to be treated with CBD oil, allowing him to leave hospital.
Since then, his mother has campaigned for CBD oil to be legalised in the UK, enabling children across the country to receive effective medication for their epileptic conditions.
Since Billy’s story was heard, many people have come forward to speak up for the legalisation of stronger forms of CBD to enable more people to treat and manage their epilepsy. This includes Duncan Smith, former conservative leader, Antoinette Sandbach, the MP for Eddisbury, and Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald whose son died due to epilepsy.
CBD for Epilepsy
It is now no longer contested that CBD can bring huge benefits to people suffering from Dravet syndrome epilepsy. More and more people are using CBD oil to control other forms of epilepsy too, although research is still ongoing.
CBD can also be used to support and aid people with a wide range of other medical conditions or illnesses.
Anxiety is the main symptom of a range of conditions including panic disorder, phobias, PTSD and social anxiety disorder. It also refers to generalised anxiety disorder, which causes a person to feel anxious about a wide range of things, often struggling to remember a time when they felt relaxed.
A wide range of medication can be subscribed for anxiety and most of which are SSRIs (also used to treat depression). The exact mechanism of SSRIs is still unknown, but they interact with the serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is known as the ‘happy chemical’ as it plays an important part in mood regulation.
It is thought that SSRIs increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Normally, serotonin is used up by neurotransmitters (specifically the 5-HT1A transmitter). When SSRIs block the neurotransmitters, it means that more serotonin is in the brain rather than being used up, increasing levels of this chemical. It helps to stabilise people’s moods, treating anxiety and depression.
However, SSRIs do have a lot of side effects with different people experiencing these in different ways.
It is thought that CBD could work in a similar way to SSRIs, interacting with the serotonin receptors (5-HT1A) to rebalance the chemicals in the brain that control mood regulation and emotions. An animal study found that CBD enhances 5-HT1A transmission and may affect serotonin faster than SSRIs do and without the side effects.
Countless people have found CBD beneficial for struggles with anxiety.
There are two varieties of arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease -- CB2 receptors and cannabinoids are essential to the running of the immune system, which is one of the reasons they are beneficial for arthritis.
CBD is known as an anti-inflammatory and cannabis was used to this effect for years. It is thought to affect the way pain receptors respond, helping to reduce the pain associated with inflammation, as well as improving the inflammation itself. Read more about CBD for arthritis on our detailed blog post!
The endocannabinoid system has been shown to influence drug-seeking behaviours, through its role in reward response. Dopamine is a natural chemical in the brain known as the ‘reward chemical’. Dopamine levels increase when we experience something good and most drugs associated with addiction cause an increase in dopamine. Controlling dopamine levels can help people when trying to overcome addiction, from drug-abuse to smoking and alcoholism.
CBD and the way it interacts with the endocannabinoid system therefore is thought to be useful in helping people who suffer from addiction.
CBD can also help to control addiction before it becomes a problem. If dopamine levels are controlled in someone using morphine for pain relief, for example, research suggests it could help to minimise addiction and help the body adjust to coming off the drug.
We've put together more detail on CBD & addiction in our blog, including why we become addicted and how CBD impacts our biology and mental health to make it easier to overcome addiction.
It cannot be claimed that CBD can cure cancer, but a study by Scott and Lui has proven that it has positive effects in aiding the success of radiation treatment in mice. It is thought in time that further research will show CBD is a viable way to increase the effectiveness of traditional cancer treatments.
As well as the above, it’s also been suggested that CBD can be used to help those suffering from: diabetes, schizophrenia, PTSD, OCD, panic attacks, depression, stress, antibiotic-resistant infections, insomnia and inflammation.
CBD for Sport
The way that CBD influences your body means that it’s increasingly being used by athletes to enhance their fitness and athletic performance. CBD’s medicinal effects are what makes it appropriate and useful for sport.
CBD oil is a legal and safe way to consume CBD. As it’s not a drug, athletes can use it to enhance performance and recovery. Andrew Talanksy, for example, is a professional triathlete and cyclist who competes worldwide. One of his main sponsors is a company that makes CBD. He uses it to aid performance and recovery.
“I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately,” Talansky says. “And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better.” (Source)
The primary way CBD is used effectively in sport is to aid recovery. There are a range of ways that CBD can help, but the most common is for inflammation and rest.
When looking at the medical benefits of CBD, we explored how cannabidiol can be used to help with inflammation, which is useful for those suffering from arthritis, for example. This is also extremely helpful in aiding athletes’ recovery.
Putting your joints and muscles through extreme stress can lead to inflammation and pain, but CBD helps the body to recover and can result in less pain following exercise.
We've put together an even more detailed guide on sport inflammation & CBD which you might find useful!
CBD is also thought to help people sleep. CBD relaxes both the mind and body, reducing stress and helping you rest. Sleep is an essential part of the recovery process following exercise as it allows your body to heal itself and recuperate.
Competitions are a stressful experience and the anxiety of the moment can mean athletes don’t perform as well as they otherwise could. Increasing evidence suggests that CBD is an effective way to decrease anxiety levels and therefore help athletes to perform at their best, reducing stress and keeping the mind focused.
CBD is a fantastic way to support your body during exercise and sport!
CBD is used in a huge range of different ways both in sport, in medicine and in the daily lives of countless people. The way CBD works is still being researched and new scientific reports are released almost every day.
CBD has improved the lives of so many people, both as a health supplement and in supporting medical conditions, and it could help you. It can support your body and mind, make you feel more alert, less stressed and improve your immune system. The Natural Hemp Company have a huge range of high quality, vegan CBD products -- why not give them a try!