Lashonda Broom, RN & HHP Cara Oorbeck, GWL Staff
Cannabis Nurse Medical Reviewer,
Cannabinoids, or compounds found in hemp and marijuana plants, are definitely a popular topic these days. So what’s all the fuss about? What are these compounds and how do they work? How do I take them and how much do I take? And most importantly, what will it help me with?
Whew, that’s a lot of questions. Let’s start with our bodies and the system that these compounds interact with. It is often assumed that the benefits derived from CBD and other cannabinoids are a result of introducing some substance not already found in the body to your system. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Let’s talk it through.
What is CBD?
Before diving into how cannabinoids interact with the body, it’s first important to have an understanding of what CBD is. CBD is a natural essential oil that is rich in nutrients and one of over 100 different cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Scientists are still researching cannabinoids and there may be more we haven’t yet identified.
CBD can be found in all of the different types of cannabis plants, but it is more prominent in hemp plants where it makes up about 40% of the cannabinoids extracted from the plant. CBD is not psychoactive like THC, so it will not produce any kind of high.
What is the ECS…Endocannabinoid System?
The Endocannabinoid System or “ECS,” is a system that provides the body with many similar cannabinoids to those of hemp oil. Cannabinoids are complex chemical compounds that act on receptors in cells. The hemp plant produces over 100 different cannabinoids (or phytocannabinoids); the human body (as well as other mammals) also naturally produces cannabinoids (or endocannabinoids). This means that your body already uses cannabinoids for many of its functions, such as regulating mood, appetite, pain-sensation, and memory. These cannabinoids promote homeostasis (balance) at every level of biological life.
What do Cannabinoids do?
The function of cannabinoids in your body (regardless of whether they are naturally produced by your body or from a plant) is to act as receptors for cells. What these receptors do is act as conduits for messages from the brain to the cells. They are the “bridge” that enables your body to operate as it should. Because of this, they are essential for a healthy body, which includes memory, appetite, and mood.
While your body uses the endocannabinoids produced internally, it also reacts to phytocannabinoids from sources like cannabis and hemp. This is where CBD and other plant-based cannabinoid oils come in.
Endocannabinoid Receptors CB1 and CB2
The ECS is composed of two primary endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 (found predominantly in the brain, nervous system, and outlying organs and tissues) and CB2 (found predominantly in white blood cells, tonsils and spleen). Although CBD has low affinity for either of these receptors, it does interact with other nominal receptors with remarkable effects. For example, CBD activates the receptor GPR55, which has been shown to assist in treating pain and inflammation. CBD has also been shown as a partial agonist (which is a term referring to something that attaches to a cell receptor and causes an action to occur in that cell) to the 5-HT1A receptor, which may lead to cannabidiol’s anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and neuro-protective effects.
Why take daily CBD?
Because the ECS is involved in the body’s communication with its cells and their functions (including repairs), cannabinoids are crucial for the body’s constant repair of cells and their functions – maintaining that balance. When more cannabinoids are introduced to this delicate system, they can stimulate the cells into functioning as the brain directs them to, and can facilitate healing where the body’s own ECS has failed. In this, it is clear that when the ECS is failing to do its job, phytocannabinoids from CBD oils can “pick up the slack” and act as receptors for cells that were malfunctioning due to a lack of endocannabinoids. This makes CBD crucial for maintaining (or, in many cases, restoring) a healthy balance of receptors in the body.
Isolate, Full Spectrum or Raw?
Finding the right CBD for your needs and body can be confusing. We answer customer questions all day long and we have found that there is no one size fits all. Each individual is different. One criteria that is important for everyone is quality. It’s important to make sure that you’re taking a product free of harmful contaminants. Additionally, you want to make sure that what you think is actually in that bottle is really there. You can only do that through a lab test. Your takeaway for CBD 101 is to make sure that you’re taking a lab tested product. If you want to learn more about that, take a look at our article on unraveling lab reports.
Next up, let’s take a look at the different forms of CBD: What is the difference between them? Who would use which version, and why?
Is CBD all that I want from the plant?
First of all, it’s important to understand that cannabidiol (CBD) is only one of the major compounds that are present in the cannabis plant – both hemp and marijuana. It happens to be one of the most studied compounds by scientists because of its powerful potential and the fact that it occurs in greater quantities in the plant than some of the other more than 80+ compounds. As evidence of its interest to scientists and researchers, CBD has been used in multiple pharmaceutical solutions. One of the most recent to be approved by the FDA is Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug used to treat childhood epilepsy.
Full Spectrum CBD Oil: A Rainbow of Compounds
Despite its fame, CBD is not the only major compound found in cannabis sativa. There are a range of other compounds that make up the plant. When we are talking about all of those compounds together, we use the term “full spectrum.” This is just another way to say “whole plant”. A full spectrum CBD oil means that manufacturers use the whole plant and all the cannabinoids that are naturally occurring as active ingredients in your product.
Full-spectrum is unique in that it can introduce the user to the possible positive effects of the other components of cannabis working together, often referred to as the “entourage effect”. Though there are many different cannabinoids in the plant, here are a few of the better-known ones included in full spectrum products.
- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) – Full-spectrum CBD from the hemp plant does include trace amounts of THC, which is well-known as the psychoactive element of cannabis – or the part that makes you high. That THC level can’t be more a .3% concentration when coming from a hemp plant, so it has no psychoactive effect. There is technology that is isolating the THC out of some full spectrum products making it what is now being referred to as a “broad spectrum.” This means that it started as a full spectrum (whole plant) product, but the THC was isolated and removed. These products will usually specify 0 THC.
- CBN (Cannabinol) – This component of cannabis does not occur in as great a quantity, so we don’t know quite enough about it yet. What science is finding is exciting, though. Some early studies are showing that there may be real benefits for people struggling with sleep issues.
- CBG (Cannabigerol) – Interestingly, CBG has been shown to stimulate growth of new brain cells and bone growth. These unusual properties make it a fascinating compound for researchers to study.
- THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin) – THCV has a similar molecular structure to THC and is also psychoactive. Research is finding that it’s very similar to CBD as well, in working to balance and neutralize cells.
All of these compounds, and many more, interact in a full-spectrum product. Who would this form of CBD work for? A full-spectrum CBD oil would work great for someone who wants to work with all the elements of the cannabis plant for a holistic approach. It would be very useful for those who are interested in other compounds, like CBG and THCV, and their effects. We have often seen excellent results for people living with inflammatory pain.
It’s important to keep in mind that unless clearly stated to be a 0% THC product, full spectrum products will likely contain a trace amount of THC. That legal limit, if coming from hemp, is 0.3%. While it’s not likely that quantity would cause you to fail a THC drug test, it is possible.
In a product made with a CBD Isolate, only one cannabis compound is present – CBD. It’s been individually extracted from the plant without any of the other cannabinoids, terpenes, or plant matter. Some might say that the isolate is missing some of the other compounds that make full-spectrum oil special. While this is true to an extent, there are plenty of reasons why someone might want just the CBD oil.
For one, maybe they’re only interested in specific CBD oil impact. If a customer has discovered that CBD works best alone to treat their particular disorder or ease their symptoms, then they would definitely want to stick with what works. Other people might feel uncomfortable with even trace amounts of THC. In this case, an isolate CBD is a perfect solution.
Others may actually be allergic or have had bad reactions to other cannabinoids or plant matter. In this case, a CBD isolate would be the best choice. Additionally, we have seen excellent results with isolate CBD for people looking for help with mood stabilization. The other cannabinoids and plant matter aren’t usually as necessary to see a benefit there.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is a chemical compound found in the resin glands (trichomes) of raw cannabis plants.” In this case, raw means unheated and uncured. Many of the conditions that respond with CBD also respond well to CBDA. There is a growing body of information that is talking about the benefits of raw or CBDA having a greater effect on people living with chronic pain. There is also a patent pending by GW Pharmaceuticals using CBDA in conjunction with CBD for anxiety and psychotic disorders.
Now that you understand the way that the ECS works and the different processing types of products that come from cannabis plants, let’s talk about products. In short, CBD and it’s fellow compounds can come in pretty much any package type that you’re interested in – from chocolate to bath bombs to hemp flower.
Pricing will vary but will be based on total milligrams of active ingredients per container. When you see a 300mg lotion, that means that there are 300mg of cannabinoids in that whole bottle – not in each amount that you put on your skin. You’ll see the same thing on a tincture, bottle of gummies, etc. Those package sizes can vary as well. Some are much more concentrated than others, so you may have the same amount of cannabinoids (your active ingredient) and a similar price point in a tiny 10ml bottle and a large 2oz bottle. When you’re product shopping, you will want to look at that total strength per package as well as how much you’re going to take every day.
We break it down into three main product categories – let’s talk them through:
These cover anything that you’re applying to your skin.
- Benefits in 15-30 minutes.
- The downside is that it won’t last as long – usually 4-6 hours.
- Topicals are a great fit when you’re dealing with a skin issue or are looking for inflammation relief at that site.
- Topicals won’t generally get into your bloodstream (with the exception of some CBD patch molecules that are small enough to do so).
- Intended to provide relief to the muscle, joint, and skin tissue.
- You can definitely use a topical along with a booster and a daily supplement.
- Use them where it hurts – when it hurts. Consistency isn’t key here.
Boosters avoid the digestive system to get to work quickly.
- Benefits in 15-30 minutes.
- Like a topical, they get to work and then dissipate within 4-6 hours.
- Absorbed through your cheek or taken in through your lungs.
- The intent is to provide a bit of extra CBD on a day when you need it.
- Use them as needed – consistency isn’t critical.
- As they are quick to leave your system, we wouldn’t recommend a booster as your only source of CBD and other cannabinoids.
3) Daily Supplements
If you’re only going to take one type of cannabinoid, we would ask that you make it a daily supplement. You’ll ingest these – and they come in all kinds of forms:
This is the plant extract in its most natural form – it’s likely been filtered 1 or more times and will taste grassy and earthy. Your serving size will be measured in paste quantity. We use the term “grains of rice.” Raw Oils will always be Full Spectrum.
- Pros: No additives, Flexible Serving Size
- Cons: Difficult to Measure/Take, Earthy Flavor
This is a liquid that you place under your tongue. It starts with the raw oil, but has a carrier oil and possibly flavoring added to it. Serving size will be measured in drops or dropperfulls. Tinctures can be Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum or Isolated CBD.
- Pros: Flexible Serving Size, Added Flavoring, Quick Sublingual Absorption
- Cons: Can be Difficult to keep Serving Size Consistent
Capsules and Softgels are encapsulated tincture. Serving size will be measured in capsules.
- Pros: Consistent Serving Size
- Cons: Lack of Flexibility in Serving Size
Edibles (Gummies, Candies or Chocolate)
These options take a raw oil or an isolated CBD powder and add it into a gummy, candy or chocolate recipe. Raw Oils taste earthy, so full spectrum edibles are harder to come by than more filtered options. Serving size would be measured per piece.
- Pros: Easy to take
- Cons: Lack of Flexibility in Serving Size, Priciest Option
How Much Do I Take?
Our goal is always to see the best possible results with a minimal amount of stuff in your system. We talk in terms of serving size rather than “dose” because CBD is considered a food supplement – not a drug. In our experience, most people see benefit between 15-50mg daily. We do have customers that do well with 5mg daily, and others who need 100mg, but 15-50mg taken consistently is the standard.
We know that when you’re hurting, it’s always tempting to take a high serving to feel better. We encourage you to step away from that and start small. Some people do very well with a small amount of CBD to get their body back into neutral. We all want to be that person! Start there and work up if you need to. CBD supplements are intended to work over time – not instantly. Don’t jump your serving up on a bad day – that’s what boosters are for. If you’re not consistent in your serving size, you may not see the benefits that you are hoping for.
If you’re new to CBD, here’s how we recommend getting started:
- Day 1-5: Start with 10-15mg daily
- Be consistent with the time of day that you take it. Raw CBD can be energizing, so we recommend morning.
- Any supplements that are sleep aids should be taken 30-60 minutes before bed.
- We always encourage you to take CBD on a full stomach.
- Day 6-10: If you aren’t seeing the benefits you’re looking for, double your daily serving to 20-30 mg.
- Stay consistent
- Day 11+: As long as you are seeing some benefit, stay the course.
- You can continue to increase your serving as needed, giving your body a couple days to adjust
- You’ve got cannabinoids in your system, so your adjustment time will be quicker
- If you’re not sure if you are seeing benefits, stop taking it for 3-5 days. That’s enough time for you to see if there was a difference for your system.
We love starting with a tincture (liquid) because that serving size is so flexible, but if you’re more comfortable with a gummy or a softgel, go with that! The best CBD for you is the one that you will take every day. I’ll say it again: The best CBD for you is the one that you will take every day.
No One Size Fits All
Whatever your choice when it comes to CBD, it’s important to make sure you’re aware of your options, in both product type and serving size. What your body needs may change. Every system is unique. We know it’s hard to hear, but there truly is no one size fits all. At the end of the day, the best CBD for you is the one that you are most comfortable with and see the greatest benefit from.