Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many constituents found in cannabis, both in medical/recreational strains of marijuana as well as common hemp. The hemp plant naturally contains low levels of THC (the psycho-active compound that gets you high) and proportionately higher levels of CBD. CBD can be extracted from hemp or any other strain of cannabis, but for CBD to be legally sold across state lines, it must be derived from industrial hemp, with less than 0.3% THC. CBD and THC are just 2 out of over 120 known “cannabinoids” that are found in cannabis, but these two are the most popular at this point in time.
The CBD industry is booming in the United States and while it offers a lot of promise as a therapeutic treatment, there is a lot of hype, misinformation and dishonesty in the market. My intention with this article is to illuminate the consumer on both the benefits and risks of using this popular herbal therapy, and to emphasize the need for consumer awareness regarding quality, testing, and appropriate use of this powerful compound.
Actions: analgesic, sedative, anticonvulsant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, antipsychotic, anti-emetic, antibacterial, immunomodulator, antioxidant, neuroprotectant, neurogenic, neuroplastic
Uses: adjunct therapy for chemotherapy, pain/opiate addiction, PTSD, anxiety, nausea, sleep issues, cancer, nerve damage/degeneration (M.S., Parkinson’s Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic injury) hypertension, eye degeneration (macular degeneration, glaucoma), Diabetes, metabolic disorders.
Actions explained: Let’s start with the central nervous system. As a neuroprotective agent, CBD prevents nerve damage caused by overexcitation of certain neurotransmitters such as glutamate (a factor in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, alcohol poisoning, and traumatic brain injury). It also promotes genesis of nerve tissue and allows the nerve cells in the brain to adapt to new situations/challenges.
As an analgesic, CBD binds with the vanilloid and TRPV-1 receptors in the brain, making it especially useful for pain associated with migraines, arthritis, neuropathic pain, IBS, fibromyalgia, cystitis, chronic pelvic pain and chronic inflammatory conditions.
It also binds with serotonin receptors, improving mood and modulating the release of many neurotransmitters and hormones. The overall effect is reduced anxiety and an increased sense of well-being. This effect on neurotransmitters contributes to the antipsychotic effects of CBD/hemp. Herbalist Tammi Sweet explains that CBD interrupts the reactive/reflexive mode of our cerebral cortex by our reptilian brain, which makes it helpful in treating PTSD and feelings of paranoia.
Its anticonvulsant effect reduces spasm and seizures. This is what has made the Charlotte’s Web Hemp extract so famous and what led to the FDA’s approval of the first cannabis-derived pharmaceutical permitted in the U.S.
As a systemic anti-inflammatory, CBD can reduce inflammation throughout the body. It calms down over-excited neurons and reduces the production of inflammatory cytokines. This supports its use for many inflammatory conditions, including auto-immune conditions, IBS, and cancer. It modulates the immune system, meaning that it can strengthen or reduce an immune response, depending on what the body needs.
CBD is a promising therapy for anyone suffering from cancer or the effects of chemotherapy. It not only demonstrates direct cytotoxic effects to cancer cells, it also inhibits cell proliferation and migration, increases apoptosis (death of cancerous cells), prevents chemo-induced neuropathy and liver damage, and potentiates the effects of chemo medications (meaning that you may have to take less of them).
And the last action that I will elaborate on is its ability to help with opiate addiction and withdrawal symptoms from opiates, cocaine, alcohol, and possibly tobacco. It can be used to wean people off of opiates by offering a safer alternative for pain-relief. It acts on several neurotransmission systems involved with addiction, and supports people who want to reduce consumption of an addictive substance by improving mood, increasing a feeling of well-being, protective the nervous system, and suppressing inflammatory pathways.
In summary, CBD can help people to feel safe, calm and balanced. It touches every system in the body via the endo-cannabinoid system’s interaction with the nervous and immune systems and greatly improves the function of all processes by helping us stay in our rest & digest mode as opposed to fight-or-flight mode. It can be a great remedy for those of us living in the 21st century, surrounded by chronic stress and all of the inflammatory conditions that go along with our stress and toxic lifestyles. Sounds like a perfect plant medicine, right? Well, before you start proselytizing the virtues of CBD to everyone you know, consider that this plant is only one way for our endocannabinoid systems to be nourished, and that there may be even more natural ways to support your body’s own production of cannabinoids…
Endocannabinoid system: our endocannabinoid system is an ancient system that underlies and regulates our nervous system, promoting homeostasis, balancing mood, appetite, body temperature and our inflammatory response. This system is composed of cannabinoid receptors that exist throughout the body and influence many other systems. Our bodies produce our own (endogenous) cannabinoids. The most prominent endo-cannabinoid that is discussed is called Anadamide (AEA), also known as the bliss hormone, whose main function is promoting a feeling of safety and well-being. Anandamide decreases pain, nausea, inflammation, nerve damage and anxiety while increasing exploratory behavior and learning. Like CBD and other plant-derived cannabinoids, it effects our immune, digestive, nervous and metabolic systems, regulating inflammation, relaxation, sleep, blood sugar levels, nausea, hunger, neural plasticity, cognition and pain.
Ideally, we produce enough of our own cannabinoids to keep our nervous systems running smoothly, and keep inflammation in check. However, chronic stress, exposure to pesticides, and chronic use of opiates and alcohol as well as certain medications reduce our body’s production of Anadamide. We can supplement with cannabis to help get us through acute episodes of when we are deficient, but chronic supplementation can cause us to become dependent on exogenous cannabinoids and reduce our body’s own production. It takes about 3 weeks for our endocannabinoid levels to get back to normal after stopping cannabis use.
- Quality Control– As a consumer, it is important to do research and know the quality of the product that you are using because to date the CBD market is mostly un-regulated and there are hundreds of companies out there with varying quality-assurance measures. The only way to know what if a company’s claims are substantiated is to look at their testing. Most companies will test the raw plant material for cannabinoid content (legally, if there is more than .3% THC in the plant material, it cannot be sold in all 50 states or across state lines). Then a second level of testing is conducted on the final product. These labs should test for, at minimum, total CBD content, terpenes, pesticides and residual solvents. A legitimate company will get their product tested for all of the above and make the lab results available to the public. Many CBD products now contain a QR code on the box that you can scan to see the labs for that individual batch of product. Look for this when shopping for a product. Even if you don’t have the ability to scan the QR code, it tells you that there this brand offers a level of transparency that others may not. If you have any questions, your healthcare provider should be able to give you insight on how to interpret the test results. Don’t be afraid to call the company and ask them questions!
Other things to be aware of:
- Pregnancy/Lactation– mothers should be aware that cannabinoids are excreted in breastmilk (our endogenous cannabinoids help our babies feel safe & secure), and through the placenta (our endocannabinoids play a role in implantation to the uterus and in communication between mother & fetus), which means that a growing fetus or a nursing infant will get some amount of CBD from their mother if she is taking CBD. The exact amount that is transferred isn’t clear, as little research has been done in this area. I can speak from experience as a nursing mother who occasionally uses moderate doses of CBD (15 mg/day) that I have not noticed any changes in my daughter’s mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, appetite, etc. after taking it.
- Children- while CBD is generally considered safe and can be used therapeutically for children as well as adults, I would be judicious about using this for a child regularly because cannabis does alter brain chemistry. Since a child’s brain is still under construction until age 18, there is potential for CBD to influence neural development. That being said, if it helps the child sleep better, learn better, feel better, it’s influence on brain development may be for the better. If the child has cancer or suffers from seizures, or has just had a concussion, then yes, regular use of CBD is appropriate and the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. But if the child is suffering from mild anxiety, there are so many other herbs out there to choose from that are safe and nourishing and can accomplish the same thing.
- Master Plant- Cannabis is not a tonic herb like oats or nettles. Cannabis is a master plant, and has traditionally been used as a shamanic herb to induce altered states of consciousness and help people connect with their intuition, explore subconscious realms and mature spiritually. Usually this purpose is supported by plants with higher amounts of THC than what is found in industrial hemp, but even without the psychoactive properties of THC, hemp is still a powerful plant and should be used with respect and intention, just like any species or strain of cannabis. Since it is a master plant, it is not meant to be consumed daily in perpetuity. One should always offer gratitude for the plant and be aware that misuse/abuse of the plant can lead to unwanted effects, including depletion of the body’s vital energy.
Preparation & Dosage:
Appropriate dosage very much depends on the person, preparation and the intention behind its use.
- Dosing for internal consumption ranges between 5 mg and 100 mg per serving. Generally speaking, you want to start low and work your way up until you find a dosage level that works for you. I am a fan of Tammi Sweet’s recommendation to start with 5 mg of CBD every 6-8 hours and work up to 10-50 mg /dose over a few weeks. Unless you are using CBD for severe acute pain, cancer, seizures or another intense condition, moderate doses seem sufficient (15-30 mg/dose for mood, sleep and general inflammation). Do experiment with the dosage level and frequency, with the goal of finding the minimum dose needed to be effective. As an holistic herbal practitioner who advocates minimum effective dosing, I have found that 10-20 mg per dose is a sweet spot suitable for most people.
- Oral administration is the best method of preparation for chronic situations and mood disorders because it offers a slower release and stays in y our blood stream longer. Oral administration takes 30 min to 2 hrs to reach peak concentration in the blood. The effects will begin to decrease after 5-8 hours, but some CBD remain in the blood for up to 30 hours.
- Inhalation, whether by vaping or smoking, is fast-acting and can be very useful for acute “breakthrough” situations like panic attacks. This method will peak in blood in about 30 minutes. The effects can be felt immediately and will taper off after 3 hours.
- Topical preparations can be appropriate for localized pain/inflammation like nerve or joint pain, but do not offer a systemic effect like oral methods.
Whatever the dosage or method of preparation that you choose, one should be aware that this is a powerful plant medicine and show respect for the plant by using it mindfully. Mindful use means using minimum effective dose that you need (not carelessly over-using it, but respecting it as a precious resource). Mindful use also means offering gratitude when you do use it, and making sure that the product that you are using is made in alignment with basic ecological principles, such as organic growing methods, clean extraction methods, and preparations that preserve as much of the naturally-occurring chemical profile of the plant as possible (i.e. Full Spectrum extracts).
Ecological herbalism recognizes that there is intelligence and perfection within every plant’s individual make-up and that many parts make up the whole, with each part having value and reason for existence. Plants are complex organisms and there are hundreds of different chemicals present in any plant that work together synergistically to keep the plant balanced. We use whole plant medicine, which includes as many plant constituents as possible, to treat the whole person (as opposed to using isolated constituents to treat isolated symptoms of dis-ease).
While it is still not common practice for hemp-extractors to create whole-plant preparations, there is a trend which is beginning to recognize that the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts. The scientific community has dubbed this the “entourage effect,” which posits that various cannabinoids and terpenes work together to enhance one another’s therapeutic benefit. This is what herbalism has been calling “synergy” and “whole plant medicine” for thousands of years.
The entourage effect has led many cannabis processors to create “Full-Spectrum” extracts, which are resin extracts that contain all of the naturally-occurring cannabinoids as well as the terpenes (volatile aromatic compounds), flavonoids and fatty acids from the cannabis plant. These full spectrum extracts are greatly preferable to isolated extracts of pure CBD (or pure THC) because they retain some of the original essence of the plant. For example, in addition to CBD, a full spectrum extract may also contain small amounts of CBC and CBG, which also have tumor-fighting properties. And every study that compares the effectiveness of full-spectrum extracts to CBD isolates has found that the full-spectrum extracts are safer and more potent than the pure CBD in isolation.
Isolated constituents from any plant are essentially naturally-derived pharmaceuticals. They do not represent the plant as Nature intended, and because they do not contain Nature’s chemical intelligence, they are more likely to lead to negative side effects, especially in higher doses. Epidiolex (an FDA-approved seizure medication containing pure CBD at concentrations of 100 mg/ml) includes warnings of liver damage and adverse reactions reported so far include skin rash, diarrhea, anemia, elevated liver enzymes, and increased risk for infection. I believe that we will learn more about these unwanted side effects as isolates become more and more concentrated, and as their use becomes more and more popular.
So, when shopping for a CBD product, do look for full-spectrum extracts, as this is currently the closest thing we have to whole plant medicine available. Look for a QR code on the box of the product, or another way to find the lab work that will ensure that the dosage on the product is what it claims to be, and that the product is free of harmful chemicals. And experiment with intention to find what feels good for you, keeping in mind that cannabis is a wonderful medicine with much to teach us how to exist peacefully on this planet, in harmonious balance with ourselves.
Endocannabinoid System- Online Course by Tammi Sweet: https://heartstone-online.teachable.com/
“Hemp – THC – CBD – Cannabis Endocannabinoids – What’s all the BUZZ?” PPT by Dr. Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, AHG-RH, AHN-BC: file:///C:/Users/tonic/Desktop/Hemp%20Slideshow-%20Gaia%20Herbs.pdf
 I do not have the space to go into extraction methods in this article, but there are a number of methods available, using Supercritical CO2 extraction, Ultrasound, or organic ethanol that do not involve the use of hydrocarbons such as butane, which are produced during natural gas processing and petroleum refining and are carcinogenic. There are technologies to remove the residue of hydrocarbons post-extraction, but many labs still show higher than trace amounts of hydrocarbons and residual solvents even after these technologies have been used.