Lead image via CBD Unlimited.
The oil from cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is now legal in more than a dozen states in the U.S. The acceptance of this medicinal molecule (which technically is called a cannabinoid) has sparked a lot of media attention, including here on MERRY JANE. Those seeking alternatives to traditional pharmaceutical treatments — many of which carry serious negative side effects or deliver little relief — are experimenting with CBD in greater numbers. Unfortunately, a great deal of confusion exists among patients and lay people regarding the medical properties of the various components of hemp and cannabis, including CBD.
Yesterday, we published an article on researchers in Israel who are experimenting with CBD as a treatment for children diagnosed with autism. So far, the early results have been positive. But for those unfamiliar with CBD and how it affects the human body, we’ve put together a refresher course on the compound. Below, we break down not only the history of CBD as a panacea for a variety of ailments, but also highlight recent research that suggests the cannabinoid could be used to treat even more diseases, psychological disorders, and body problems than previously expected.
CBD oil in spray form, courtesy of SC Labs
CBD: In Hemp and Cannabis
Understanding the availability of CBD in both hemp and cannabis obviously involves a solid comprehension on the part of the reader regarding the difference between these two plants. In terms of their relationship, hemp and cannabis are the same species, cannabis sativa. To qualify as hemp, a plant must contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is the infamous cannabinoidal cousin to CBD that conveys most of the psychoactive and euphoric effects (the “high”) of cannabis.
Thus, hemp can be considered simply a “low-THC” version of the cannabis plant. This variety of the herb is sometimes referred to as “industrial hemp” because it is often employed to make things like clothing, rope, and hemp seed oil. When hemp and cannabis plants are young (in their pre-flowering vegetative stage), they are indistinguishable. It is only after the plants begin to flower that they display characteristics indicative of the presence or absence of THC.
However, just as humans breed horses and dogs, so too are there active communities of cannabis and hemp breeders throughout the world. Thus, many “strains,” or varieties of cannabis and hemp, exist and are commonly grown. Mara Gordon, Director of Zelda Therapeutics in Bodega Bay, California, told MERRY JANE that she estimates more than 6,000 strains of cannabis are available on both the legal and black markets.
Each of these strains contains a unique and delicate balance of up to 111 cannabinoids (what has been discovered to date, though others are found each year). Just as humans express their genetic heritage with different eye and hair colors, individual strains of cannabis and hemp offer different levels of cannabinoids like CBD. Thus, one strain of hemp may contain very high levels of CBD, while others offer relatively little.
Because CBD is a molecule with precise characteristics, its medical efficacy isn’t dictated by its source. Many consumers seek CBD derived from industrial hemp simply for legal reasons or because they want to ensure that they avoid the psychoactive effects of THC. According to Franjo Grotenhermen at the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines, “CBD is CBD. The human body does not care where the molecule comes from.”
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A History of CBD as Medicine
CBD is an increasingly popular medication sought by consumers for treatment of both minor and major ailments. However, the medical properties of hemp and cannabis have been known for thousands of years. More than 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians prescribed tinctures and topicals for a wide range of ailments. During the 19th century — before the advent of marijuana prohibition in 1937 — cannabis tinctures were a common sight on the shelves of pharmacies and drug stores throughout the United States.
While crude by modern standards, medical cannabis tinctures were typically produced using an alcohol solvent to remove the resinous medicine from the flowers of the plant. Although the doctors and patients 100 years ago were unaware of the molecular science behind their trusted medicines, it was primarily the cannabinoids CBD and THC that were delivering their relief.
CBD and the Body
CBD is unique among the dozens of cannabinoids commonly found in cannabis. To fully understand its power, however, one must first gain an elemental knowledge of how such cannabinoids interact with the human body to provide medical efficacy.
All mammals, including humans, feature an endocannabinoid system, sometimes referred to as the ECS. The ECS is characterized by different types of receptors (sometimes called receptor sites) designed specifically to bind with particular cannabinoids. The ECS is comprised of two major receptor types, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are scattered throughout the body in the organs and tissues related to the immune system.
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CBD has what is called a high binding affinity with the CB2 receptors of the immune system. This means that the body’s CB2 receptors are lying in wait, hoping for some CBD molecules to float by and bind with them in a perfect fit. (Other cannabinoids also bind with CB2 receptors, but with a lower affinity and, thus, decreased potency and medical benefits.)
CBD as a Panacea
In addition to its power to kill cancer tumors, reduce pain and inflammation, and decrease seizure activity, CBD also stimulates bone growth and healing. It joins other medicinal cannabinoids, like CBC (cannabichromene) and CBN (cannabinol), in acting as a powerful sleep aid in the treatment of insomnia.
CBD oil — derived from either hemp or cannabis — is an increasingly popular treatment therapy for sufferers of epilepsy. Often, traditional pharmaceutical drugs are ineffective in helping to reduce the number of seizures suffered by such patients. However, when given CBD, many epileptic patients experience a reduction in their number of seizures.
CBD oil is a popular therapy for childhood and adult epilepsy sufferers because so many of them find no relief whatsoever in traditional pharmaceutical drugs. Several U.S. states, including Alabama, Florida, and Texas, have passed CBD-only laws allowing a limited set of conditions — sometimes only epilepsy — to qualify for use of this non-psychoactive oil.
Some anecdotal cases have revealed that CBD-only oils may decrease seizures within some epileptic children from a hundred or more per day to only a couple per month. For sufferers, CBD is sometimes the key to relief and the difference between days riddled with violent, debilitating seizures and a productive, happy life.
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CBD has been proven to be effective in treating a wide variety of other conditions, as well, from nausea and vomiting to psychotic disorders and depression. This powerful cannabinoid displays the following medical efficacy:
Antiemetic: Reduces nausea and vomiting
Anticonvulsant: Reduces seizure activity
Antipsychotic: Treats psychosis disorders
Anti-inflammatory: Combats inflammatory disorders
Antioxidant: Combats neurodegenerative disorders
Anti-tumoral/Anti-cancer: Reduces size/kills cancer cells
Anxiolytic/Antidepressant: Combats anxiety and depression
CBD Research Studies
A multitude of research studies has proven the efficacy of CBD for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. The two most powerful properties of CBD are its ability to kill cancer and its powerful role in reducing systemic inflammation (making it especially helpful for people with conditions like arthritis, bursitis, and fibromyalgia).
A 2014 research study published in the journal PLOS One revealed that CBD may be helpful for reducing the damage resulting from intervertebral disc degeneration. The study showed how animals administered high quantities of CBD displayed a reduction in disc degeneration within only two days of beginning treatment.
“Considering that cannabidiol presents an extremely safe profile and is currently being used clinically, these results suggest that this compound could be useful in the treatment of intervertebral disc degeneration,” concluded the researchers.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterized by sometimes hundreds of violent seizures per day. About 30 percent of epilepsy patients find no relief from traditional pharmaceutical drugs and treatments. This equals more than 100,000 children in the United States alone. Often, such treatment-resistant patients find efficacy in CBD.
A 2013 clinical trial involving 27 human subjects with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of childhood epilepsy, revealed significant efficacy and reduction of daily seizures when subjects were given a CBD-based drug. Participants were an average age of 10.5 years old.
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The study showed that the average reduction in the frequency of seizures was 52 percent. In more than half of subjects (56 percent), seizure frequency was reduced by more than 50 percent. According to the researchers, “33 percent of participants with Dravet syndrome were seizure-free at the end of the 12-week trial.”
Social anxiety disorder manifests itself as intense fear experienced by sufferers during certain social situations. Unfortunately, this fear can be so severe that it impairs one’s ability to work, and can interfere with routine functioning. Social anxiety disorder is the most common form of anxiety and estimated to affect 12 percent of Americans (nearly 40 million people).
A 2011 research study involving human subjects was conducted in Brazil and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. It revealed that CBD may be helpful in the treatment of social anxiety disorder. This study also showed that CBD increases cerebral blood flow, meaning that it acts as an anxiolitic (anti-anxiety) in the brain regions that control emotions.
“These results suggest that CBD reduces anxiety in social anxiety disorder and that this is related to its effects on activity in limbic and paralimbic brain areas,” concluded the researchers.
The Future of CBD
With 16 states having made CBD-only oil legal, patients and those seeking health and wellness are experimenting in increasing numbers with this cannabinoid. However, recent resistance from local and federal law enforcement (including the Drug Enforcement Agency) has left some patients wondering if they are legal. During 2016 and 2017, multiple raids were conducted on stores selling CBD oil in Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Massachusetts.
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Until such raids end and a clear message of CBD legality is achieved in Washington, D.C., patients will be left wondering if the non-psychoactive CBD oil they are consuming is permitted by law. Regardless of its legal status, however, CBD will continue to be adopted by millions of patients and consumers seeking a natural, healthy alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.