What is CBD?

The hemp plant, domesticated 6000 years ago in China, produces more than 400 organic compounds. The two main groups of molecules with bioactive properties found in hemp are terpenes and cannabinoids - CBD being a molecule of the latter.

Cannabinoids are compounds that can influence functioning of the human nervous system. The hemp plant biosynthesizes more than 60 of them. The major cannabinoids are THC, CBD, CBG and they differ in their chemical structure and action.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the most abundant cannabinoids found in hemp. CBD is thought to have many therapeutic applications and helps to unwind. While beneficial for wellbeing, CBD doesn’t have the psychoactive properties of its more famous cousin THC, and should not be confused for THC.

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol and THC stands for tetrahydrocannabidiol. They are both key ingredients in marijuana plants. Cannabinoids are a unique class of compounds and both CBD and THC belong to this class. High THC strains are common when it comes to marijuana but strains with high CBD are rare. The following are a few key differences found between CBD and THC.

Differences between CBD and THC

CBD:

  • Non-psychoactive: doesn't give users a high.
  • No side effects are known.
  • Helps prevent psychoavtive effects of THC.
  • It is legal in most countries.

THC:

  • Psychoactive: gives users a high.
  • Has side effects such as paranoia and anxiety.
  • Effects are consistent to a psychosis.
  • It is illegal in most countries.

How does CBD work?

The human nervous system contains a large number of receptors. Receptors are like mobile telephone masts transmitting signals. But if a mobile mast accepts an electromagnetic wave as a signal, receptors use specific molecules to transmit messages.

One of the receptor systems is the so-called endocannabinoid system (ECS). ECS receptors are located in the human brain and in the peripheral nervous system – spinal cord and nerves. In the brain, the receptors reside in areas responsible for perception, concentration, memory and movement. That’s why the ECS is involved in the regulation of many physiological processes including the feeling of pain, mood, and appetite. Interestingly, the ECS is also a part of in neural system response to physical excise. “Runner's high” is caused by ECS action.

The ECS receptors are CB1 and CB2, 5-HT1A, μ, and δ. The receptors bind cannabinoid-like molecules produced by the nervous system, endorphins. One of the endorphin molecules transmitting signals in the ECS is 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). It binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabidiol, CBD, also bind to these receptors and replicates the effects of 2-AG.

In research, CBD has shown anti-spasmodic, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsive, and neuroprotective properties. Therefore, using CBD containing oil is a good way of muscle and general relaxation. CBD also alleviates everyday stress and makes the nervous system more resilient.

The biology and chemistry of CBD

The wild Cannabis sativa plants produce a smorgasbord of organic compounds with THC and CBD among them. Just as other domesticated plants were selected to produce specific molecules in high quantities, Cannabis sativa has been selectively bred for different purposes. As a result of breeding, the original plant has been split into distinct cultivars with different qualities (think Brussel sprouts and cauliflower originated from wild brassica). Current “cannabis” cultivars focused on producing as much as possible of THC to the detriment of other useful compounds. On the other hand, “hemp” cultivars focused on the industrial use and bred it to produce high quantities of CBD at the detriment of THC.

Cannabinoids THC and CBD are closely related to plant-derived compounds terpenoids such as menthol, camphor, and curcuminoids from in turmeric and mustard seed. Terpenoids are a large class of organic molecules used extensively in traditional cuisine because of their aromatic qualities. They also play a prominent role in traditional herbal remedies.

THC and CBD are produced in the same biosynthesis pathway. In other words, they have the same precursor molecule, cannabigerolic acid, CBGA. When the precursor is available, an enzyme, THCS synthase makes an extra ether link and converts CBGA into THCA that after decarboxylation converts to THC. In the parallel pathway, CBDA synthase converts CBGA into CBD precursor, CBDA.