In the last few years it seems like everyone is talking about CBD.
But what is CBD? It’s okay if you don’t know because in this article I hope to explain it in a way that’s easy to understand.
Very Important Note:
Please note this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not to be taken as medical advice or as a recommendation for you to use cannabis. For medical advice speak to your physician.
By the end of this article you won’t know EVERYTHING there is to know about CBD, but you’ll know enough to discuss it with your friends at your next gathering.
My name is Tim, and I’m a pharmacist in British Columbia, Canada. I do NOT claim to know everything there is to know about medical cannabis – I’m still learning too- but I love learning about it and hopefully you’ll find some benefit from this article.
CBD is short for Cannabidiol.
Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid molecule. Or more specifically it is a phytocannabinoid.
A phytocannabinoid means it a special molecule produced by the Cannabis plant. (Phyto is the prefix to mean plant, and cannabinoid means it is a special molecule from the Cannabis plant.) Some people call the Cannabis plant, and its resulting product, marijuana. But I prefer to call it cannabis. Especially when I’m referring to it for medical purposes.
Cannabidiol is NOT the only cannabinoid made by the Cannabis plant. In fact, scientists believe there are over 100 different cannabinoids made by Cannabis.
The other most common phytocannabinoid is delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol. But you may have heard of it as THC. THC is the cannabinoid that can cause the high or stone associated with Cannabis: it can be intoxicating at high enough doses.
CBD on the other hand is non-intoxicating. This means it doesn’t get you high, and it doesn’t get you stoned. So it doesn’t impair you.
So why do people use CBD?
CBD is tried for many different medical conditions because it has the following properties:
- anti-schizophrenic and other properties.
So yes, you can use cannabis as medicine without getting high.
When the cannabis plant grows it makes varying amounts of the cannabinoids – primarily in the flowers (or buds) of the female plants. (Yes, the plant has female and male versions!)
This means some varieties of the Cannabis plant make a lot of THC: therefore, you could experience a high or stoned if you consumed it.
And other varieties of Cannabis make high amounts of CBD and low amounts of THC. These varieties of Cannabis would cause little to no intoxication.
In Canada, a Cannabis product must state on the label the amount of THC and CBD in the product. For Cannabis oils it is often stated as a ratio. The amount of THC to the amount of CBD, and the THC is listed first.
Example: a 1:20 product means it has 1 part THC to 20 parts CBD. (Generally meaning 1mg THC in each 1mL, and 20mg CBD in each 1mL.) A ratio like this with the high amount of CBD is an example of product that would cause little to no intoxication, especially if started at a low dose.
Example: a 18:1 product means it has 18 parts THC to 1 part CBD. Remember THC is stated first. A high THC and low CBD product like this would cause intoxication in a new patient unless they started at very low doses (called micro-dosing).
Why cannabis can work as a medicine
Believe it or not, but our bodies make our own Cannabis. Well, actually we make our Cannabinoids, that we call Endocannabinoids. (Endo is a prefix for within.)
I’ll elaborate in a future article but our own Endocannabinoids work as part of our own “Endocannabinoid System” (ECS for short). We have this ECS inside us to help regulate many different body functions including sleep, memory, pain, and appetite.
What is fascinating is that it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that researchers discovered we have CANNABINOID RECEPTORS within our body.
So when we consume medical cannabis the phytocannabinoids that we “borrow” from the plant act on our Endocannabinoid system to help bring us into balance.
(In fact, this balance, or “harmony” is why I named my website Harmony Cannabis.)
Do you want a free CBD oil dosing chart? It lets you keep track of your doses and effects. Click here if you want it, and I’ll email it to you.
More on Cannabis Strains
To loosely understand what I mean about varieties of cannabis I like to use the analogy of tomatoes.
When you go to the grocery store to look for tomatoes you’ll find a lot of options! There are vine tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Hothouse tomatoes, Cherry tomatoes, Beefsteak tomatoes, and on and on! There are lots of varieties of tomatoes, but we still call them tomatoes.
Cannabis also has lots of varieties, which are commonly called “strains”. Cannabis strains often have interesting names such as: Gorilla Glue, Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, OG Kush, Cannatonic, etc…
You can’t really get much from the names of the strain, so it is important to know the amounts of the cannabinoids in the particular strain.
What has happened with Cannabis is that humans have selectively cultivated varieties (aka strains) that exhibit certain attributes that the grower desired.
For instance, recreational cannabis users often want a higher level of THC because it is the THC that is associated with the high or stone.
So if a plant produced a uniquely high amount of THC in the buds the grower can take clippings from the plant, and use this “clone” to grow a copy of the mother plant.
Now I’m not a botanist, so I don’t understand all the ins and outs at this point, but the analogy I use to help people understand this is by looking at the DOG: Canis lupis familiaris.
All dogs are the same species, and they all evolved from wolves, but it is because humans selectively bred dogs that there are so many breeds today.
And we breed dogs to get the attributes we desire. I just heard the other day that Pugs were bred because their flat face looked like a human infants! This may be a weird example, but it drives home the point that human intervention has created more varieties than mother nature alone.
Shown above is a Great Dane and Chihuahua…both dogs, yet vastly different size attributes.
Okay back to Cannabis…
The THC content has increased in plants in the last 30-40 years because growers focused on strains for the recreational market: strains to get people high.
But in the last 10-12 years there has been momentum to grow strains that are naturally higher in CBD.
Lots of people want to try medical cannabis, but they don’t want to get high. And that is where these high-CBD strains really shine.
High CBD Cannabis Strains
Examples of strains high in CBD include:
- CBD Therapy
- Charlotte’s Web (and others as well)
[For further information on CBD-rich strains of cannabis I suggest you check out the book, “CBD: A Patient’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis” by Leonard Leinow and Julia Birnbaum. They have great insight into the lineage of the strains, the growers who cultivated the strains and some interesting stories behind the strains. Plus they provide a lot of insight into dosing recommendations.]
Charlotte’s Web was featured in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentaries Weed and Weed 2 in 2013 and 2014. It was shown helping children with intractable epilepsy…epilepsy that doesn’t respond to usual pharmaceuticals.
This helped spread the awareness of CBD to a nation-wide audience.
People were shocked by the potential benefits of CBD and they were amazed to learn that you can use cannabis without getting high.
In Leinow and Birnbaum’s book mentioned above, they said that the Charlotte’s Web strain was initially called “Hippie’s Disappointment” because its lack of THC was a disappointment to someone looking to get stoned.
You can see the book cover above. I rented it from our local library (hence the black marks in the top right corner). If you can’t find it at your local library or bookstore I have provided a link to Amazon. (It is an affiliate link so if you do click and buy the book from Amazon I make a small commission at no extra charge to you. It will help me pay for my web hosting fees. Thank you for your support.)
What is Hemp?
Hemp is Cannabis sativa. In fact, hemp is classified as a type of Cannabis sativa that has less than 0.3% of THC in the flowering parts of the plant. (In Canada it is 0.3%…not sure if other countries have different definitions.)
So despite hemp varieties being low in THC, they do contain some CBD. There are hemp-derived CBD oils on the market.
Hemp-Derived CBD oil vs. Cannabis-derived CBD oil
There is some controversy in the medical cannabis world about effectiveness of hemp-derived CBD oils vs “cannabis-derived” CBD oils. Well we know that hemp is Cannabis, but what they mean by “cannabis-derived” oils is basically cannabis strains that are NOT hemp… so there would be higher amounts of THC present.
I cannot claim to be an expert in this debate. I have personally seen people benefit from hemp-derived CBD oils, and yet others didn’t benefit. Would they have fared better with Cannabis-derived CBD oils? Perhaps. I go a little deeper into this in the section below when I discuss the entourage effect.
How to take CBD?
CBD can be created in a lab, but it is believed that Cannabis works better as a medicine when you consume the plant as grown: also known as whole plant medicine.
So instead of just taking CBD as an isolated molecule by itself, you take an extract from the cannabis plant that is high in CBD. Then you’ll get not just CBD, but some THC too, and other cannabinoids and terpenes too. (Terpenes are like the essential oils of the plant that give it its variety of smells and tastes, and the terpenes may have their own medical benefits as well!)
Another analogy is that instead of CBD being the only musician in the band, you have the other cannabinoids there too, playing along, and then you have a full beautiful orchestra, not just a soloist. This is also called the entourage effect.
The same can be said for THC too. It can be difficult to tolerate pure THC because of the side effects like dizziness, paranoia, distortions on perception & time, dry mouth and red eyes. Consuming the cannabis plant with some CBD in it can help offset these side effects. CBD seems to help balance out THC’s undesirable effect: it “takes the edge off.”
That is a quick, general introduction into “whole plant medicine.” Now we will briefly look at how you can get CBD-rich cannabis products.
You can extract “oils” from the buds of the plant and then consume the oil by either swallowing it or placing it under the tongue. When you swallow it we call this “oral route of administration” and when you place it under the tongue we call this the “sublingual route of administration.”
I will get into this in more detail in another article, but I just want to point out that when you take cannabis oils orally, or sublingually, there is a delay on how quickly it starts to work. It takes time to get into the blood stream and start working. Sublingually does start to work faster than swallowing it, but patience is still required. In fact, when you swallow a cannabis oil it may take up to 2 hours to start working.
This is important to know…especially if the product contains THC. There are many, many stories of people taking high-THC cannabis by mouth and saying it didn’t work , so they take more. But because of the delay in onset of action now they have taken too much. And a couple hours later they feel intoxicated from that THC hitting their bloodstream.
Bottom line is “start low and go slow.” And be patient when taking cannabis by mouth.
Would you like a FREE CBD dosing journal and symptom monitoring sheet that I created? I can email it to you if you click here.
Inhaling CBD-rich Cannabis
The other common route of administration is inhalation. Inhaling cannabis can be broken down into smoking and vaporizing. When you inhale cannabis it gets into the blood stream quickly (within minutes) but it doesn’t last in the system as long as taking it by mouth.
Smoking isn’t usually recommended as a medical route of administration because you also inhale “product of combustion.” So not only are you getting the molecules from the cannabis that you desire, but you are also inhaling smoke by-products.
Vaporizing is when you inhale the vapours from the cannabis. A vaporizing device heats the cannabis to the point where it vaporizes, or becomes a gaseous state, and you inhale the vapors. It doesn’t heat it to the point where it catches on fire and burns (like smoking does) so therefore you don’t inhale products of combustion.
Since vaporizing is still fairly new, I am personally curious to see more studies done on its health impacts, but it seems to be better than smoking at this point.
Because inhaling gets cannabis into the bloodstream quickly, it is beneficial for patients that require immediate relief. Common examples include patients with a migraine that want quick relief, patients with nausea who can’t tolerate any oral medications, or patients with Multiple sclerosis experiencing spasms.
Know how much you’re taking
If you are taking something as a medicine, I believe it is important to know how much you are taking. If you filled a prescription at a pharmacy you’d want to know what dose you are taking.
Same is true for medical cannabis. If you purchase a cannabis oil then make sure you know what strength it is. In other words, know how much THC and CBD are in it. And know the concentration: how many milligrams of the cannabinoids are in each mL of the liquid.
Getting the Oil into your Body
I mentioned that starting low and going slow is important, and knowing how much you’re taking is important, but how do you actually dose the medication and get it into your body.
Two commons methods are shown below.
An eye dropper filled with hemp-derived CBD oil is shown above. Sometimes when you buy CBD oil the lid may have an eye dropper attached. It is convenient because it is a part of the lid, but what I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t have many increments of measurements.
In the one shown above it has four dosing increments: 0.25mL, 0.5mL, 0.75mL and 1 mL.
In the picture above you’ll see an oral syringe used to administer CBD oil. This is a 1mL oral syringe. You can see there are lots of measuring increments on it, so it allows you to customize your dose very easily. You can build up your dose slowly and at your own pace.
You can buy oral syringes like this at many compounding pharmacies. (I know when I worked at a compounding pharmacy we carried these oral syringes and customers could buy them. They aren’t exactly cheap though so expect to pay a few bucks for them.)
Caution: Drug Interactions are possible
If you are on prescription medications make sure you talk to a pharmacist familiar with Cannabidiol (CBD) and its potential drug interactions. I will try and write more on this topic in the near future, but for now please consult with your doctor and pharmacist before starting any Cannabis products.
Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is one of over 100 different phytocannabinoid molecules made by the Cannabis plant. When we consume CBD it can interact with our own Endocannabinoid System to hopefully help balance out a variety of functions within the body.
What is very attractive about CBD is that it doesn’t impair you or intoxicate you.
People use CBD for a variety of medical conditions though evidence is still being accumulated as to its effectiveness.
If you are interested in using cannabis as medicine please talk to your doctor first then your pharmacist to discuss potential drug interactions.
Thank you for your time.
I am curious to learn about your experiences with medical cannabis and CBD. If you’d like to publicly share please comment below. (But please don’t put your full name for privacy sake.)
Thanks again. Tim