CBD (cannabidiol) belongs to a family of compounds called cannabinoids. They are unique because they exist outside of the body, and when consumed, can influence a vast network of receptors.
Keep reading find out what CBD is, and how, exactly, it works.
Cannabidiol (shortened to CBD) is one of over a hundred organic compounds found inside hemp plants. Referred to as cannabinoids, this extended family works alongside smaller molecules to help plants produce enzymes and deter pests.
But, it's when humans consume CBD and other cannabinoids that something truly extraordinary happens.
Cannabinoids can interact with a vast network of receptors that exist inside all of us. The full extent of this interaction remains under investigation but could influence sleep, appetite, mood, and much more.
Fortunately, CBD not only interacts with our body in numerous ways but is well-tolerated and non-toxic too. This beneficial combo, of course, has led to a surge in interest.
Although CBD can be found in virtually all species of Cannabis sativa, hemp has the highest concentrations.
Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa that was domesticated over 6,000 years ago in ancient China. Since then, the plant's been selectively bred for its commercial properties, becoming a naturally-rich source of CBD.
However, as we've alluded to, CBD isn't the only cannabinoid. But, while most of these compounds (including CBD) are non-psychoactive, every family has an outlier.
See, the cannabinoid family also includes THC, the illicit compound found in strains of marijuana.
You'll likely have heard of THC long before CBD. Not only is THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol) the main reason marijuana (another subspecies of Cannabis sativa) is illegal in much of the modern world, but it's well-known for producing psychotropic side effects (a high).
Fortunately, not all cannabinoids are the same, and although differences in their chemical structure may be slight, it's enough to change their effects dramatically.
The differences in CBD's chemical structure mean it doesn't interact with the body in the same way as THC. As a result, it's non-toxic, doesn't induce a high, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), has no abuse potential.
Knowing where CBD comes from is one thing, but what about this all-important interaction we keep talking about?
For CBD to exert its influence, it needs a point of contact—the endocannabinoid system. The name may sound complicated, but its role is pretty straightforward.
The endocannabinoid system or ECS exists in all mammals, including dogs, cats, and even non-mammals like goldfish.
In humans, the role of the ECS is a relatively recent discovery (the early '90s), which is why research is still ongoing, but the significance of such a system shouldn't be underestimated.
What we do know is the following; the ECS functions as a regulatory system that plays a role in the vital organs, brain, and the nervous and immune systems.
It's job is to observe all these systems and ensure they are in working order, getting the resources they need when they need them. If for some reason they aren't, it will see if it can help by signalling the release of specific biological compounds and enzymes.
CBD acts as the general manager of your endocannabinoid system.
It doesn't get involved directly with the day to day running, but it does make sure your body's enzymes and chemical compounds are where they need to be when necessary. CBD can, however, lead from the front, and on occasion, will interact with receptors attached to the ECS.
For the ECS to take action, it needs to be activated by cannabinoids like CBD.
It does this via two types of receptor—CB1 and CB2. Both function as access points to the ECS—a gateway between the human body and cannabinoids.
CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain and parts of our central nervous system, while CB2 receptors exist in the immune and digestive system.
However, to make sure only the right compounds enter the right pathway, receptors have a "lock" of sorts. If a receptor interacts with the right cannabinoid, the pathway is unlocked, and the ECS takes action.
CBD's "key" doesn't fit perfectly into CB1 or CB2's "locks", but it does influence the receptors in other ways. Instead of unlocking the pathway directly, CBD can encourage the binding of different chemicals and enzymes.
When this happens, we experience several of the effects the compound has become known for. However, while CBD is not the only compound that can stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors, it is one of the few that doesn't have any mind-altering side effects.
CBD's role as a versatile general manager extends far beyond just CB1 and CB2 receptors.
It can also influence receptors not directly linked to the ECS. These include receptors that trigger the release of serotonin (5-HT), a chemical that supports feelings of happiness and well-being.
CBD also interacts with TRP channels, but don't let the name put you off—their role is simple.
TRP channels exist inside cells and act like gauges in a car—monitoring things like temperature and pain. If they detect a temperature that is too low or too high, they send a signal so the body can take action.
Finally, CBD also prompts a reaction from receptors in the liver (PPAR-alpha). This can speed up metabolism inside the liver and is something scientists are still working hard to understand.
Earlier, we mentioned that CBD belongs to a family of compounds called cannabinoids. While these exist outside the body, human physiology has developed its own type of cannabinoids called endocannabinoids.
They are similar to CBD insofar as their molecular structure, but they occur naturally—inside the human body.
A hugely impactful endocannabinoid is anandamide (AEA).
Large concentrations of AEA are usually broken down by the body, but CBD has a unique ability to slow this process. There is still much to learn about the possibilities linked to this reaction, but researchers believe higher concentrations of AEA could play a part in appetite, sleep patterns and mood.
A person's endocannabinoid system is unique to them, and as such, the impact of CBD will always differ slightly from one person to the next. However, take a quick look online, and you'll find hundreds of research papers, and even more anecdotal accounts citing CBD's widespread influence.
There's also concentration and dose to consider.
The stronger a CBD oil, or the higher the dose, the more potent its impact, but this may not be necessary for everyone.
The easiest way to find out how CBD makes you feel is trying it yourself! Fortunately, the compound is non-toxic, won't make you high, and is easy to fit into even the busiest lifestyle.
The way we consume CBD not only changes the onset of its effects, but how long they last too.
With an idea of how CBD works and the vast influence it can have, it makes sense to move onto the different types of products available.
CBD oil remains one of the most popular ways to consume CBD. It's easy to dose and depending on the carrier oil, provides dozens of secondary nutritional benefits. You also don't need much to feel the effects—a few drops taken throughout the day could be enough to boost well-being.
Discrete and straightforward, CBD capsules contain CBD and an olive oil carrier. They're a fantastic option if you need to dose CBD on the go or if you don't like the taste of CBD oil. CBD capsules also come in a range of concentration, so it's simple matching them to your needs.
CBD creams localise the effects of CBD. Rather than supporting the ECS from inside the body, they influence receptors in the skin, providing a wide variety of outcomes. CBD also works harmoniously alongside tons of proven skincare ingredients, making it a powerful ally no matter your beauty regime.
One of CBD's greatest strengths is its synergy with dozens of natural ingredients. As a result, there's a growing range of CBD-infused supplements that combine cannabidiol with vitamins, balms, melatonin and more.
If you're trying to address a particular condition, it's worth seeing if there is a specific CBD supplement that could help.
The right product for you will depend massively on your needs and circumstances. No matter which you choose, it's important to know there is no superior CBD product, so take your time to find which works best.
If you're still not sure about the different ways to take CBD, our dedicated article explains everything you need to know.
Regardless of the product, it's always best to start low and slow.
By this, we mean a low concentration CBD product, taken a few times a day.
Taking this approach not only gives your body time to adjust, but lets you find a routine that works for you.
People choose to take CBD for a variety of reasons, and it's crucial you find the right product to match your needs. Remember, CBD works on a principle of balance, and that applies to how you take it too.
We have covered a lot of ground, so it is worth recapping. To do that, we will come back to our example of CBD acting as a general manager.
CBD supports the body's ability to keep everything balanced and running as it should.
It can turn its hand to several roles, and in doing so, influences a vast range of biological processes and systems.
The compound is well-tolerated, with mild potential side effects, and it's available in dozens of different formats.
It's important to remember though that outcomes may vary—everyone's body is slightly different, including their ECS and its receptors. For more information on this phenomenon, check out our blog on CBD dosages.
Ultimately, the key to making CBD work for you is finding a reputable producer with verified test results and the potency necessary to meet your needs.
You'll find an industry-leading selection of verified CBD oils, capsules, supplements and cosmetics via the Cibdol store.
Or, if you want to learn more about the potential of CBD, and how cannabinoid receptors work, browse our CBD encyclopedia for everything you need to know.