What Is CBD? Here’s The Complete Beginner’s Guide

What is CBD? You may have heard; People are using it to manage stress, pain, anxiety and more. But is it a drug like marijuana? Where does it come from? Is it safe? Or legal? For those questions and more we’ve assembled a comprehensive guide to explain how CBD works, what studies say so far, as well as guidance for finding quality products.

What is CBD? A cannabinoid named “Cannabidiol.”

That’s right, like THC, CBD is a cannabinoid—a type of compound produced by cannabis plants. Interestingly, our own bodies produce cannabinoids. These endogenously-produced cannabinoids are usually referred to as “endocannabinoids.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, was discovered in 1940. CBD isn’t as well known as the most famous cannabinoid of all—THC, but that’s changing. Unlike THC, CBD does not get you “high.” Cannabis and hemp plants produce at least 113 different cannabinoids. Of those, only THC produces a “high” sensation.

There are cannabinoids produced by plants, and our own internally-produced endocannabinoids, so how do these compounds interact with our bodies? Through a complex network called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

image for what is cbd article visualizing the human endocannabinoid systemThe endocannabinoid system branches out throughout our brains and bodies and is equipped with receptors, such as CB1 and CB2, which interact with cannabinoids and endocannabinoids. When cannabinoids interact with ECS receptors, it can result in adjustments to a broad variety of processes. In some cases, these adjustments include the dialing down of stress responses, the inhibition of inflammatory agents, or even anandamide signaling enhancements. As we’re discovering, the way CBD interacts with our ECS may have many therapeutic benefits.

CBD is extracted from cannabis and hemp plants. Advances in cannabis processing in recent years has led to the popularization of extraction methods that eschew solvents in favor of heat, pressure or carbon dioxide. The result is an extremely clean extract called full-spectrum distillate which is used to make full spectrum CBD oil. CBD can be further isolated into pure CBD powder – referred to as CBD isolate. CBD isolate contains no THC and is used in products like Hemp CBD Oil – No THC and CBD Oil for Pets.

Along with cleaner products have come more consistent ingestion methods and more accurate dosage. The use of CBD oil administered via measured dropper under the tongue has made it possible to easily measure out a desired dose.

How does CBD work?

It only became legal to research CBD in 2018, which means researchers have only just begun investigating this question. What we know so far is that CBD interacts with the ECS in a variety of ways, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety agent, and promotes “homeostasis.”  

Homeostasis is the condition of optimal functioning for organisms, a state of balance in which steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions are maintained.

CBD’s interaction with the ECS is crucial. The ECS is an incredibly complex system which regulates every other major bodily system. As a result CBD can impact a host of physiological processes and states, including mood, energy, digestion, immune activity, blood pressure, bone density, glucose metabolism, as well as how we experience pain, stress, hunger, and more. Cannabinoids, including our body’s own endocannabinoids, play the role of messengers in this system.

As endocannabinoid scientist Bradley E. Alger, (PhD, Harvard) describes them, “…Endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind.” This is why CBD seems to be able to affect so many conditions, because of the role it plays in the endocannabinoid system—which is connected to every system in your body.

In addition to this, studies indicate that CBD may also regulate the deployment of other chemicals naturally produced by our bodies. These include serotonin, which modulates mood and stress; adenosine, which plays a part in our sleep-wake cycle; and vanilloid, which is involved in pain modulation.

The ECS is critical to managing our bodily processes and ensuring that responses occur within reasonable limits. An overactive stress or pain response can de damaging or dangerous. When our ECS no longer functions properly, it can lead to chronic imbalances which lead to disease.

In fact, new research shows that most pathological conditions are the result of an unbalanced ECS. Thanks to discoveries like this, we are beginning to understand that “modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans,” say Pal Pacher and George Kunos, scientists with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), in a 2014 publication.

In some instances, CBD can help tip our ECS towards balance to slow or even stop disease progression. For Charlotte Figi, an infant afflicted with Dravet’s syndrome which caused approximately 300 nearly-lethal seizures per day, respite from her seizures was only possible with a new CBD/THC product called Epidiolex. Charlotte’s parents had already exhausted all pharmaceutical options before trying CBD. After starting on Epidiolex, Charlotte immediately went from having 300 nearly-lethal seizures per day, to just 1 or 2 mild ones per day

Is CBD legal?

CBD oil has been 100% legal in Canada since 2018, consumers can own or take CBD freely. However, the laws are a bit murkier for sellers and producers. Big-business-friendly legislation has made becoming a legal producer or seller of CBD products prohibitively expensive. As a result, many “gray market” producers have begun bringing products to market. 

Another thing to consider is the THC content of CBD products. Full spectrum CBD oil contains trace amounts of THC. This means anyone who has to submit to drug testing for work should avoid full spectrum CBD oil.

Similarly, the World Anti-Doping Agency—the agency in charge of testing athletes for drugs—has removed CBD from its list of banned substances. It is legal for athletes in the US and UK to use CBD. However, THC is still banned. Therefore, athletes must ensure that the CBD products they consume do not contain THC.

Why are Canadians taking CBD oil?

Although medical science has yet to prove that CBD is effective, millions of people have taken it and experienced improvements in their quality of life. This is evident from thousands of testimonials and product reviews online. The scientific evidence is lacking so far, but there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence out there that CBD works.

People are using it for everything from anxiety and aches to epilepsy and cancer. Celebrities are helping drive awareness of CBD’s benefits too. In fact, CBD has received a surprising number of celebrity endorsements. Everyone from supermodels like Alessandra Ambrosio to Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe to pro golfer Bubba Watson to UFC star Nate Diaz has evangelized for CBD. In a few short years, awareness of CBD oil has risen and people have begun using it as a curative for the sick, as preventive medicine for the healthy, and as an all-purpose palliative for pets too.

What does the research on cannabidiol indicate so far?

Since the science around CBD is still nascent, there isn’t yet that much information out there. However, with the wealth of studies currently underway, that will soon change. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, a US database of accredited clinical trials worldwide, at least 150 trials testing CBD are currently in progress. CBD is being investigated as a treatment for a wide variety of health conditions, including autism, alcoholism, skin conditions and schizophrenia. But the problem of a lack of data is something researchers acknowledge and are eager to address.

“There is a great deal of interest in the possible therapeutic effects of CBD, but there is very little evidence of efficacy,” said Dr. J Hampton Atkinson, co-director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of California, San Diego.

At the Center for Medical Cannabis Research, Dr. Atkinson suggested that there is “much interest in the possible anti-inflammatory effects of CBD, for use in arthritis of various types, including knees and hands,” Recent research on human cell lines with rheumatoid arthritis seems to suggest that CBD may reduce inflammation.

There are other promising indicators too. Other studies indicate CBD may reduce anxiety and self-deprecating thoughts. There’s also evidence CBD’s antipsychotic effects could help people with schizophrenia.

A 2017 clinical trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine found CBD was highly effective in reducing seizures for people with Dravet’s syndrome. The list goes on.

visualizes man taking cbd oil in the gymCan CBD get you high?

“CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant, so what that means is you won’t have any effects like euphoria,” says Junella Chin, DO, an osteopathic physician and medical cannabis expert. “You won’t feel sedated or altered in any way.”

In short: No

CBD does not get you high.

Are there different kinds of CBD oil?

Indeed there are. The 3 main kinds are:

  1. Full Spectrum CBD Oil
  2. Broad Spectrum CBD Oil
  3. CBD Oil – No THC, made with CBD isolate.

First, full spectrum CBD oil. This CBD oil is made from a raw extract containing hemp’s full spectrum of cannabinoids as well as other compounds like flavonoids and terpenes. The THC content of this extract is usually around 0.3% if it was taken from hemp. However, the THC content can be higher if the extract was taken from cannabis. When checking your CBD oil bottle ingredients, look for “full spectrum cbd distillate.”

Next, broad spectrum CBD oil is the same as full spectrum, the only difference being that the THC was removed. So you can think of this oil as THC-free full spectrum CBD oil.

Finally, CBD oil made with CBD isolate. This kind of oil has but 2 ingredients: 99.9% pure cannabidiol powder and a carrier oil. It can have many names like Hemp CBD Oil – No THC or just CBD Oil. To be sure, check the bottle ingredients to see if the CBD being used is indeed “CBD isolate.” This kind of CBD oil is most popular among people with THC sensitivities or those who many not be allowed to take THC for professional reasons.

What is the “entourage effect” all about?

Although more scientific research is needed to understand it fully, the “entourage effect” is the idea that cannabinoids and other compounds in cannabis plants work together to amplify healing effects. Research is preliminary at this point, so it is by no means definitive, but research from Israel suggests that whole-plant extract outperforms CBD isolate.

Some studies show that CBD can actually reduce some of the psychoactive effects of THC. This means that when you choose a product that has both CBD and THC, the CBD may help curb unwanted effects like anxiety that some people experience when consuming high amounts of THC.

What are the benefits of CBD?

One of the main draws of CBD is that it is much easier on the body than many of the pharmaceutical drugs people use to treat their conditions. Without the risk of addiction and almost no side effects, CBD can become an integral part of a self-care routine without harm.

If you listen to testimonials from friends or others, you’ll see that people are using CBD in many different ways for many different reasons. Despite the fact that CBD is not an approved treatment for many of the conditions people use it for, many people report that CBD has some sort of positive impact. Medical science has yet to determine whether these claims or true or not. But there is some promising research out there. 

As more research comes online, we are getting a clearer picture of what CBD can really do and how it works. According to current research, CBD might potentially, benefit people with a wide range of ailments, including:

  • Autoimmune diseases (inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Neurological conditions (Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, stroke, traumatic brain injury)
  • Metabolic syndrome (diabetes, obesity)
  • Neuropsychiatric illness (autism, ADHD, PTSD, alcoholism)
  • Gut disorders (colitis, Crohn’s)
  • Cardiovascular dysfunction (atherosclerosis, arrhythmia)
  • Skin disease (acne, dermatitis, psoriasis)

Additionally, researchers are finding that CBD has neuroprotective effects. Anti-cancer properties are being investigated in research centers in the United States and elsewhere. A 2010 brain cancer study by California scientists found that CBD “enhances the inhibitory effects of THC on human glioblastoma cell proliferation and survival.” This means that CBD can enhance THC’s anti-cancer effects.

visualizes woman taking cbd oil sublinguallyResearch has also shown CBD to have anti-Alzheimer’s properties. In 2010, German researchers reported that CBD stimulated neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, in adult mammals.

Is CBD safe?

“I think CBD is a safe thing to try,” says Houman Danesh, MD, director of integrative pain management for the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. According to the WHO, CBD is generally well-tolerated in humans. CBD is non-toxic, non-addictive and you can’t overdose on CBD.

However, CBD should be used like it is a medicine, not a supplement. Do not take CBD while pregnant. If you are on any medication, speak to a health professional first as CBD can inhibit the uptake of certain medications in the same way that grapefruit does. For any serious health issues, it’s important to speak to your doctor before trying CBD for the first time.

What are the side effects of cannabidiol?

Like most drugs, CBD can cause some mild side effects in some people, but they are quite rare. The human body tolerates doses of CBD up to 1500mg very well, however, some side effects like tiredness, diarrhea, changes in appetite, insomnia, decreased appetite and fatigue can occur in the case of extremely high doses. To avoid experiencing any side effects, simply avoid taking doses far larger than what is recommended.

How do I take CBD?

When beginning to take CBD for the first time, think of the following. What are you using it for? What is an appropriate first dose for someone of your weight? Do you prefer to feel the effects more quickly, or to feel them more slowly over a longer period of time? As CBD is biphasic, it will give you different effects at different doses. Here are a few of the ways you can consume CBD:

  • Sublingually, which means drops of oil under the tongue.
  • Vaping or smoking.
  • Topical creams, balms or in bath bombs.
  • Edibles like gummies or chocolates.

When CBD is eaten in gummy form or as an edible, it must first pass through your digestive system before it reaches the bloodstream and eventually your endocannabinoid receptors. Your digestive system is quite efficient at scrubbing the CBD out, so a bit less gets into your system than a method like vaping or smoking. In addition, CBD will take longer to reach your endocannabinoid, but will stay in your body for a longer period of time, 4-8hrs.

Currently, the most popular way to take CBD is sublingually—by putting a few drops of CBD oil under your tongue. Thanks to the large number of blood vessels there, CBD can be absorbed into your bloodstream without having to go through the digestive tract. This allows more to get into your system and for CBD to reach endocannabinoid receptors more quickly.

Topical CBD creams are good to use for muscle and joint pain. Skin is not permeable to CBD, but CBD can make it through the skin to local endocannabinoid receptors through pores. This means that you need a bit more CBD to get through the skin, so a higher potency skin cream is usually better. CBD is hydrophobic and it cannot travel through the body very easily. This means that CBD applied topically stays in the area where it was applied.

For more information about dosage, click here.

Tips for buying CBD

Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind when buying CBD.

  • Buy in the right kind of shop – no gas stations.
  • Read labels carefully and check ingredients. Hemp oil, for example, contains no CBD whatsoever. If you want CBD oil, don’t buy hemp oil.
  • Avoid products made from hemp seed or stalks. Most of the CBD in hemp plants are in the flower.
  • Look for bottles with measured droppers for convenient dose measurement.
  • Make sure the products you buy have been 3rd party lab tested for quality.



This site is for informational and educational purposes only. The information contained is not intended as medical advice, and cannot be used as a substitute for the medical advice of a physician or medical professional.