CBD (cannabidiol) has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past year with its promise to provide relief from all sorts of ailments. But what is it and is it safe to use?
Cannabis is a large family of plants of which marijuana and hemp are both members, and because they belong to the same family the two plants do share some similarities while at the same time being very different plants with their own distinct and crucial characteristics.
Cannabis plants contain compounds known collectively as cannabinoids. There are 104 different cannabinoids identified and two of the best known and most important are tetrahydrocanabidiol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is psychoactive in nature and induces the sensation of getting “high” when taken. CBD has no psychoactive effect.
Both marijuana and hemp contain CBD but marijuana contains far more THC (15-40 per cent) than hemp (0.3 per cent or less). Marijuana when used exerts a strong psychoactive effect and for this reason remains illegal for use in the UK. Hemp on the other hand exerts no psychoactive effect, other than a sensation of relaxation. Hemp has traditionally been widely used in industry and has only come to the fore more recently for both its nutritional and medicinal benefits.
We all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our body. It consists of a network of receptors found throughout the brain and nervous system and is involved in regulating many body functions including pain perception, motor control, sleep, appetite and immune response. The body naturally produces endocannabinoid chemicals that stimulate the receptors of our ECS and kick it into action. Plant cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can also stimulate these receptors.
Most cannabinoids, like THC, are controlled substances, managed under the Misuse of Drugs Act. CBD however exerts no psychoactive effect and it is legal in the UK as long as it is obtained from an industrial hemp plant that is EU approved and contains no more than 0.2% THC.
While CBD is reputed to have a beneficial effect on a whole host of serious ailments from Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, the main reason people are trying it, is for its anti-inflammatory effect and its ability to help us cope and live with pain. People who suffer from chronic skeletal or muscular pain seem to find CBD particularly useful, so chronic back pain sufferers, fibromyalgia and polymyalgia sufferers to give an example.
Many people are also trying CBD to treat both anxiety and insomnia. There are cannabinoid receptors within the brain and CBD stimulates these. It is not known if it is this effect or CBD’s ability to raise serotonin levels in the brain or the fact that it does contain a tiny amount of THC or a mix of all three of these working together that enables CBD to induce a state of increased relaxation. CBD has shown promise as a treatment for anxiety and has been used to safely treat insomnia.
So CBD is safe for use and is legal. If you are starting to take CBD, you are best starting on a lower dose and working upwards. There is no benefit in increasing the dose beyond that required to feel benefit. The effect of CBD lasts three to four hours so it is best taken three times per day. You are better to take less more often than a larger single daily dose.
CBD is generally taken into the mouth as drops or spray. Absorption is fastest across the mucosa of the mouth and the longer you hold it in the mouth, the better the absorption (five to 10 minutes). It is also available as capsules and tea where it is ingested into the blood stream and as a skin balm where it is absorbed across the skin layers. As soon as CBD gets into the blood stream it works quickly (approximately 20 minutes) so you should know fairly quickly if it is working for you. If you are just starting to take it and feel no effect after a few doses, increase the dose.
CBD has few interactions with prescribed medicines but you should always check for these before use.