From sleep-inducing gummy bears to pain-relieving drops and topical creams for anxious pets, you’ve probably heard of the new big thing in health and wellness: CBD, or cannabidiol. CBD is popular among consumers of many demographics and is touted by many as a safe and natural remedy for a long list of physiological and psychological ailments. So what’s all the interest about, what does CBD actually do, and why are hipsters putting it in their coffee?
CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Along with THC, CBD is one of the most prevalent cannabinoids in nature and can comprise up to a whopping 30% of the weight of the cannabis flower. Unlike THC though, CBD is not psychoactive, so it won’t make you feel high and the majority of research indicates it is non-toxic and well-tolerated by the body.
The recent hype around CBD might make it seem like its purported therapeutic benefits are a relatively recent discovery, but CBD has been used for medical purposes for centuries, with the first documented use of medicinal cannabis dating back to 2737 BC. Even Queen Victoria is rumored to have used CBD to treat menstrual cramps during her reign in the 1800s! Today, the CBD market value is estimated at almost 3 billion US dollars per year and its growth shows no signs of slowing down.
How does CBD work?
Cannabinoids like CBD act on a complex cell-signaling system spread throughout the body called the endocannabinoid system. This system exists in all animals, from humans to invertebrates like slugs, and is involved in regulating a wide range of physiological functions and cognitive processes such as appetite, mood, pain, sleep, and memory. It works via thousands of different types of receptors that cannabinoids can bind to and exert various effects. For example, THC imparts its psychoactive effects by binding to CB1 receptors, which are found mostly in the brain, while CBD binds to CB2 receptors, which are found mostly in the rest of the body’s major organs. This difference in the distribution of different kinds of receptors throughout the body helps explain why THC makes you feel high but CBD does not.
Now you may be wondering why the body would have an entire system dedicated to responding to compounds found only in a specific type of plant. Did humans literally evolve to benefit from cannabis? Well no. The endocannabinoid system was named based on how it was first discovered: by researchers studying the effects of THC on the body in the early 1990s. But despite its name, the endocannabinoid system also responds to many other compounds that occur naturally in the body and play various roles in modulating vital physiological functions like those controlled by the immune system, digestive system, and central and peripheral nervous systems. In fact, if you added up all the different endocannabinoid receptors in the human body, the total number would likely exceed that of all other neuromodulatory (affecting nerve function) receptors combined, including those for vital neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin!
Because of its relatively recent discovery, there is still much left to be learned about the endocannabinoid system and the exact functions of the hundreds of cannabinoids that interact with it. Nevertheless, more and more evidence is emerging about how cannabinoids like CBD can have positive effects on human health.
What can we use CBD for?
Therapeutic uses of cannabis have been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t until the discovery of the endocannabinoid system that the biological basis for these therapeutic effects began to be uncovered. CBD has been shown to have a very broad range of beneficial effects in some clinical trials, from aiding sleep to treating psoriasis and acne to managing chronic pain and anxiety. Because of this wide range of effects combined with the fact that it is non-toxic and natural, CBD has a particularly large number of potential applications in both the pharmaceutical and consumer industries.
One of the most well-studied applications of CBD is for the treatment of some types of epilepsy. Although the exact mechanism isn’t yet fully understood, CBD has been shown to be effective at preventing and treating certain types of seizures, and is approved by the FDA under the trade name Epidiolex to reduce their frequency and severity. Additionally, there is some evidence that CBD may help to enhance the effect of other anti-epileptic drugs.
As many studies have shown that CBD is safe to ingest, you may have seen it in some locations like the United States used as an ingredient in food and drinks that are marketed to enhance mood or treat anxiety and pain. CBD is also thought to be partially responsible for the appetite-stimulating effects of cannabis (i.e. the munchies) and can promote the consumption of larger volumes of food. While this might not sound ideal to most people, it may have important clinical applications for the treatment of eating disorders and other conditions in which weight gain is a good thing.
Besides research indicating CBD is safe to consume, CBD may also exert beneficial effects by being absorbed through the skin and is therefore often used as an ingredient in cosmetics and topical creams. CBD has also been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, making it potentially useful in treating a variety of skin conditions like eczema, acne, and psoriasis subject to further clinical investigation. These applications are not just limited to humans either — in places like the United States, topical CBD creams for pets have become quite popular amongst pet owners who are looking to reduce anxiety in their furry friends.
Thanks to its potential relaxing effects on the body, CBD is also often marketed in places like the United States as a sleep aid, either on its own or as an additive in products designed to promote sleep. Preliminary research has suggested that CBD can help to improve sleep quality and to treat a number of sleep disorders such as insomnia by reducing anxiety and relaxing the body.
Although some of the more far-fetched applications of CBD might not stand up to rigorous research in the long run, the one thing that is undeniably clear is that both consumer demand and market potential are huge. While CBD-infused bath bombs, face masks, bedsheets, and activewear may not quite live up to the claims made by their marketers, they could still make a great gift for your mother-in-law who really just needs to relax.
Meanwhile, science-backed therapeutic applications of CBD and other cannabinoids are helping people across the globe every day, and ongoing research on cannabinoids is sure to uncover many more for years to come
At Hyasynth Bio we strive to make pure, high quality sources of major and minor cannabinoids accessible to the world. Interested in learning more about Hyasynth‘s biosynthetic CBD is changing the cannabinoid industry? Visit our website at www.hyasynthbio.com or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Estrid Jakobsen — Estrid is an independent freelance science writer who holds a PhD in neuroscience and has over 10 years of experience in science communication and outreach initiatives.