Unless you've been living in isolation for the past 5 years or so, you've heard the term CBD. Perhaps you've seen signs advertising CBD products for humans and pets, or perhaps you've even tried one or more of them. Claims about CBD range from protecting and rejuvenating your skin to relieving arthritis pain to protection against cancer. But what is CBD? How does it work? Does it make you high? Are the claims that it is a treatment or preventative for a wide variety of conditions valid? Let's take a look at what researchers know about CBD, so you can decide for yourself whether you should try it.
Cannabis, CBD, and THC: The Basics
To understand why there is so much confusion and conflicting information about the medicinal use of CBD, you first need to understand the plant that it is derived from — cannabis. Cannabis is the scientific name for marijuana. The cannabis plant produces an oily resin that contains cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC — the component of marijuana that makes you high), and a variety of other substances called terpenes. The resin protects the cannabis plant from heat, ultraviolet radiation, and insects.
The cannabinoids in the resin (CBD and THC) not only protect the cannabis plant, but they have also been shown to have health benefits for humans as well. However, because federal law still considers cannabis a Schedule I controlled substance, there has not been a great deal of research about the medical benefits. That is changing, and with the loosening of regulations, more research is being conducted. In fact, in June 2018, the FDA approved the first cannabis-derived pharmaceutical drug, Epidolex, which is used to treat certain pediatric seizure disorders.
Determining the Proper Dose
CBD dosing is complicated because of the synergistic effects between CBD and THC, and the fact that everyone is different. Research shows that whole-plant medical marijuana produces the most health benefits. That's because the whole-plant marijuana has both CBD and THC, and the two compounds work synergistically to enhance the healing qualities. However, because these products contain THC, they are available only in states where recreational marijuana is legal.
There are three types of whole-plant-derived medical marijuana products based on CBD:THC ratios:
- Low CBD:high THC products produce intoxicating effects with little therapeutic effects.
- Balanced CBD:THC products produce moderate intoxicating effects and high therapeutic effects.
- High CBD:low THC products produce little intoxication and moderate therapeutic effects.
Finding the right dose and optimal ratio will depend on your condition as well as your tolerance for THC. Some people experience therapeutic effects with just a few milligrams of a CBD infused product, while others require much more and can take as much as a gram without experiencing ill effects.
Also, certain ratios are better for certain health concerns. For example, a higher ratio of CBD and very little THC is good for anxiety, depression and seizure disorders, whereas a balanced 1:1 ratio seems to be better for cancer and chronic pain; however, some people don't want the intoxicating effects of THC. It can take a great deal of experimentation to determine the best ratio for you as well as your health needs. Generally, it's recommended that you start with a high-CBD product with as much THC as you can tolerate. Then adjust as needed to get the desired results without unwanted side-effects.
Which Delivery Method Should You Use?
The primary method of delivery for cannabis-derived products used to be through inhalation — smoking, or more recently vaping — but that is changing. Now you can choose one of the many oral forms, which include edibles, tinctures, beverages, and gel caps. Topical CBD-infused oil products are also available for skin conditions and some types of pain. How long before the product takes effect and how long the effects last are different for each delivery method. Inhalation has the quickest onset and is, therefore, the best method for acute symptoms such as pain. It takes effect immediately and lasts for a couple of hours. Taken orally, the CBD often doesn't take effect for an hour or longer, but it can last for 4 or more hours.
Again, as with dosing, everyone reacts differently, and it may take some experimenting to find the optimal delivery method for you and the condition you are trying to relieve. The best delivery method for you is one that provides an effective dose for the desired duration, with the fewest unwanted side-effects. As the popularity of CBD-infused products grows and more and more research is being conducted, there will likely be more complete guidelines for CBD usage in the near future.