What Is CBD? Here Are The Basics.

ABC's of CBD book with pink flowers

Have you been thinking about trying CBD? Maybe you’ve heard that it can give you healthier-looking skin or help you sleep better. Or maybe you’re looking for relief from something more serious like anxiety or chronic pain. If you’re considering CBD, but you’re looking to understand more about what it is or how to use it, read on for a quick primer on this unique compound.

The Basics

CBD is short for cannabidiol, and it is part of a group of chemical compounds called cannabinoids that are found exclusively in the cannabis plant. Overall, there are more than sixty different cannabinoids in cannabis. The one that usually gets all the attention is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It’s what makes you feel high when you smoke or ingest marijuana.

Lately, though, CBD has been attracting a lot of attention too. Unlike THC, it won’t get you high. Instead, CBD is becoming popular because of growing evidence linking it to a long list of health benefits. Researchers are still trying to understand exactly how it works, but they think that CBD interacts with something called the endocannabinoid system. Most people have never heard of this system; however, it turns out that it’s vitally important to your health. It is believed to play a key role in keeping everything in your body balanced and running smoothly. This includes things like your mood, immune system, sleep cycle, metabolism and cardiovascular system. Researchers believe that CBD supplements can help correct any problems within the endocannabinoid system, and thus has the potential to improve many different aspects of your health.

A miracle cure?

CBD started to get a lot of attention after it caused a miraculous improvement for a little girl named Charlotte Figi. Charlotte was born in 2006, with a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. She had her first seizure when she was just three months old, and despite medication and other treatments, her condition rapidly deteriorated. By the time she was three years old, she had lost the ability to walk and talk, and was having hundreds of seizures a week. Her parents decided to try giving her CBD oil. The seizures instantly became much less frequent, and Charlotte’s health improved dramatically. As word of this miracle treatment spread, other people started experimenting with CBD and many discovered that it could help with their own epilepsy and with many other health problems.

Today there are an abundance of success stories like Charlotte’s, and also lots of research studies showing that CBD may improve a variety of medical conditions including inflammation, nausea, pain, anxiety, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. CBD is not limited to serious health problems, though. Many users report that it just makes them feel happier or healthier. Some people even give it to their pets.

There is so much evidence on the efficacy of CBD, that in 2017 it received a favorable assessment from the World Health Organization (WHO). In its report, WHO states that there is evidence showing that CBD might be an effective treatment for a number of medical conditions. Further, it finds that CBD does not seem to be associated with any negative health effects.

Different types of CBD

Exactly where does this versatile substance come from? It can be extracted from either hemp or marijuana plants. In the United States, a cannabis plant is classified either as hemp, which has only trace amounts of THC, or marijuana, which generally has a much higher THC content. Both types of cannabis contain CBD. While hemp generally has a higher CBD content, there are also a number of marijuana strains that have been bred to have high CBD levels too. The potency of the CBD doesn’t change depending on whether it is made from marijuana or hemp, but there are some other differences. One is the THC content. Since hemp only has trace amounts of THC, hemp-derived CBD doesn’t usually have a significant level of THC. In contrast, CBD from marijuana can contain much higher levels of THC. Some people prefer hemp-based CBD because it does not have an intoxicating effect. However, others believe that CBD from a marijuana plant is superior because the THC and the other cannabinoids in marijuana work together to create a more beneficial effect.

Another important difference between hemp- and marijuana-derived CBD is availability. Depending on where you live, marijuana-derived CBD can be more difficult to get. That’s because it’s only legal in those states where marijuana has been legalized. In contrast, hemp-derived CBD is widely available in almost every state. However, while hemp-derived CBD is usually pretty easy to buy, overall there remains a lot of uncertainty over the legality of all CBD

HOW to take CBD

When CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant, it ends up in the form of an oil, and that’s the most common way to buy it. Many CBD oils have been diluted or flavored in order to control the concentration or to make them taste better. A lot of people simply consume straight CBD oil by using the dropper to put it under their tongue. Others add their CBD oil to a drink like a smoothie, or put it in food. There are a lot of CBD recipes on the internet that can help you get inspired. However, these are not your only options. You can purchase a wide variety of CBD edibles like gummies, cookies and chocolate, and some restaurants even have menu items that contain CBD. Yet another option is to rub a CBD topical on your skin. There are a huge variety of different CBD-containing lotions, creams and oils. Finally, some people choose to vape CBD oil. Proponents of vaping insist that it’s a faster and more effective way to absorb the chemical.

How much CBD should you take? Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any definitive guidelines on dosage. This is partly because CBD seems to affect each person differently, and partly because there just haven’t been enough scientific studies on it. Many experts agree that there does seem to be a sweet spot for dosage, but this seems to vary depending on the person and the condition he or she is trying to treat. Figuring out your own sweet spot will probably involve a bit of experimenting. Most experts advise starting out with a small dose and increasing it slowly until you find what works best for you.

What About the Risks?

Since there are no definitive guidelines on dosage, you might be wondering what happens if you take the wrong dose. The good news is that for most people, CBD doesn’t seem to cause any harmful side effects. Some people have reported digestive upsets or mild mood changes such as you might get from a low dose of THC. However, overall most researchers believe that negative side effects are rare and that it is highly unlikely that you will experience any serious harm by taking CBD. In addition, according to the WHO report, there is no evidence that CBD use leads to abuse or dependence.

One of the biggest dangers is actually inferior quality CBD. Unfortunately, the CBD market is not well regulated, which means that it can be hard to figure out exactly what you’re getting. Some research has shown that it’s common for CBD products to be inaccurately labeled. For example, in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2017, researchers report that they tested 84 CBD products that were sold online and found that only 31 percent of them were accurately labeled. 43 percent had more CBD than the label stated and 26 percent had less.

Inaccurate labeling is not the only problem. Another thing to watch out for is contamination. Cannabis is known as a bioaccumulator, which means it pulls toxins and heavy metals out of the soil. This means that if a plant is treated with pesticides or grown in contaminated soil, that plant and the CBD produced from it, could contain these contaminants. In addition, some companies use solvents and other harsh chemicals to extract the CBD from the plant. One way to try and avoid these problems is to look for CBD that has been tested by a third party for purity and contamination.


While using CBD does involve uncertainties like the quality of your product or the best dosage, one thing is for sure: CBD has become very popular. The Hemp Business Journal reports that sales of hemp CBD alone were at $130 million in 2016. Researchers predict that it will soon become a billion-dollar market as more and more people keep deciding to give CBD a try.


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Written by Andrea Nakaya

Author and Svn Space contributor. Andrea is a native of New Zealand, and holds a BA in English and an MA in communications from San Diego State University. She has written numerous articles and more than fifty books and anthologies, on a wide variety of current issues.

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