CBD is one of some 133 plant-based chemicals as a group called cannabinoids. They act on a select collection of cell receptors widely spread throughout our bodies called the endocannabinoid system, ‘endo’ meaning internal, ‘cannabinoid’ named after the chemicals that led to the system’s discovery in the 1960’s.
The system is a complex internal signaling system which mostly seems to be related to our immune system, but about which we are constantly learning new and more interesting features, especially as it relates to pain (more about that later). Our bodies make at least two endocannabinoids and research is now finding more. These are the actual natural molecules that that our body produces to act on our endocannabinoid system. This system is so fundamental that it is actually found in all animals and much the way that many plants mimic our body’s natural messenger chemicals, like salicin (salicylic acid/aspirin) from willow bark, cannabis manufactures phyto-cannabinoids that affect our endocannabinoid system. Phyto meaning plant based. So, it’s not surprising that a plant could make such chemicals and like salicin is mostly limited to the Salix species, cannabinoids are mostly isolated to just the cannabis species, mostly Sativa and Indica.
Each of the three cannabis species make cannabinoids, but it has been the Indica and Sativa that are most often cultivated. Despite what you may have heard, both make all 133 or so cannabinoids. And of those 133, THC and CBD make up about 95% or more of the cannabinoids present. But like roses, it is possible to select and crossbreed plants to increase the amounts of one or the other. Like a white rose or a red rose, cannabis can be bred to be either mostly CBD or mostly THC, although most would be in middle like a pink rose, with a little of both white and red.
Hemp is actually defined as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC based on the plants total dried weight, i.e. a pound of dried hemp must contain less than 0.3%, or 1/2 oz of THC. Some plant cultivars have much less than this. Those that have more are not legally allowed to be called hemp and so fall into the more controlled ‘marijuana’ category, even though both are cannabis. A sometimes confusing distinction, but basically hemp is a legal definition that only means the cannabis plant in question has less than the specified amount of THC and so can be sold under the same conditions as any other agricultural product.
What Is CBD?
As you can see from the picture, the structure of CBD looks very similar to THC and basically nothing like our body’s natural endocannabinoids. This highlights several interesting aspects of how our cell systems work. Although different, CBD’s and THC’s active sites, like a key in a lock, fit the cell receptors similarly to our natural endocannabinoids, that’s why they work. Like a lock box, as long as the active part works in the lock, it will activate it. CBD and THC can turn our endocannabinoid system on. (what this means will be described later)
However, THC gets you high, CBD does not, and CBD can actually block the intoxicating effects of THC. They both work on the two main cannabinoid receptors, Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2) with slight differences in affinity and mechanism of action. Bottom line, by activating CB1 and CB2, CBD reduces pain, reduces inflammation, reduces anxiety and more, which THC can also do, but CBD does it without the intoxicating
effects. This is one of the reasons why CBD is such a wonder drug and has so many beneficial features. The other is the incredible safety of CBD.
CBD is very effective at reducing pain. But the amazing thing is that unlike other painkillers such as opioids, aspirin, acetaminophen, and others, there is no limit to how much CBD you can use. You can keep using more to get and maintain the pain relief you need. There is no need to worry about taking too much, there is no toxic dosage and no level has ever been found to be dangerous. This is unique and another reason CBD is gaining widespread acceptance.
CBD also reduces inflammation, so when pain is caused by inflamed joints or tissues, CBD can reduce the swelling as it reduces the nerves signals that our brains interpret as pain. Reducing the swelling then also reduces the pain.
And CBD also increases the levels of our natural endocannabinoids which multiplies its effects. So, CBD works along many different paths, which, by working through multiple, redundant pathways, makes it even more effective.
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