There are many different components to the cannabis plant. In fact, there are over 400 different chemical compounds in cannabis or marijuana – and they are just the ones we know about. Although cannabis contains many active constituents such as terpenes and flavonoids, the compounds that most modern science is concerned about are cannabinoids. They are the most mysterious and complex aspects of the plant, and it is using these cannabinoids that we create CBD oil among a myriad of other products.

CBD, along with other cannabinoids, account for a lot of the therapeutic characteristics of cannabis as a plant. It is one of the most well known and well studied cannabinoids, and is being investigated for its anti cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure properties – just to name a few. And in case you had not already gathered, this cannabinoid is the main ingredient in CBD oil.

A brief history of CBD

Although humans have been cultivating cannabis for millenia and harvesting it for its remedial properties, we did not isolate CBD until the 1940s. It came about in the laboratory of American organic chemist, Roger Adams. However, although aware that he had isolated a compound from cannabis, he was unable to identify exactly which compound it was. Later, in the 1960s, Raphael Mechoulam, Israeli chemist, isolated CBD and defined its chemical structure.

By the time the chemical structure of CBD was well known in medical circles, it had already been outlawed across the USA. The War On Drugs saw the end of CBD as a remedial substance until most recently, when the inquiry into its efficacy as a medical substance came back into question. In 2003, CBD was first patented by the US government, and in 2018, the Farm Bill was finally signed, making hemp-derived CBD legal across the country.

Sciency stuff: The chemical structure of CBD

CBD moleculeThe chemical structure of CBD is not unlike its famous counterpart, THC – which is probably why Roger Adams had no idea what he had isolated. It is almost exactly the same as THC, only that CBD contains an additional hydroxyl group where THC’s cyclic ring would otherwise have been.

CBD is synthesized within the cannabis plant in a number of steps. The chemical starts out as a combination of geranyl pyrophosphate and olivetolic acid. For these two to bind together, an enzyme-catalysed chemical reaction takes place, resulting in a cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) molecule. The final step takes place when a large number of CBDA synthase molecules are present, finally converting CBGA into cannabidiol carboxylic acid (CBDA).

CBDA is simply CBD with an additional carboxylic acid. The transformation from CBDA to CBD takes place after something decarboxylation (removal of the carboxylic acid). This generally takes place upon consumption, as heating promotes decarboxylation, such as in the case of smoking. However, it may also be decarboxylated prior to consumption, such as putting cannabis in the oven prior to making edibles. In any case, heat is required to convert CBDA to CBD.

CBD and the human body: Mechanism of action

CBD is arguably more complicated in its mechanism of action than THC. This is because it does not follow the conventional pathway into the endocannabinoid system the same way that THC does. Rather, it uses multiple different pathways and exerts its actions in a much more peripheral manner.

The endocannabinoid system is the main target of ingested cannabinoids. It is made up of cannabinoid receptors that live all over the nervous system, the immune system, the skin and the stomach, among many other places. However, CBD does not have a particular affinity for cannabinoid receptors and does not trigger them the same way that THC does.

CBD binds to technically non-binding sites on the cannabinoid receptor, inhibiting its action. This makes CBD an antagonist to the CB1 receptor, unlike THC which stimulates it as an agonist. This is important, because inhibition of these receptors plays a role in maintaining normal brain activity.

For example, CBD’s inhibitory behavior on CB1 receptor stops the release of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. THe reduction of glutamate between neurons reduces seizures, giving CBD great potential as a treatment for epilepsy. In another example, CBD inhibits the action of enzyme, FAAH. This enzyme is responsible for the reuptake of anandamide, a natural endocannabinoid that plays a role in memory, appetite and mood. By inhibiting the behavior of this enzyme, anandamide levels are increased in the brain. This is a positive response, as anandamide is considered to be a “bliss” neurotransmitter.

Essentially, CBD affects the human endocannabinoid system. However, it doesn’t generally do so by exciting it. This is more the work of THC. Rather, CBD’s effects are contrary to that, inhibiting many excitatory actions of the endocannabinoid system. This can restore an endocannabinoid system and rectify dysfunctions, many of which lead to debilitating conditions such as depression, Crohn’s disease and anxiety.

How is CBD oil created?

oil dropperCBD oil is a relatively new invention, even if cannabis has been used by humans for millennia. The conventional way to extract cannabinoids was using alcohol, in which case all cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids made it into the final product. However, thanks to modern technology, we are now able to create a CBD product that is entirely THC-free.

There are many different ways to extract CBD from the hemp or marijuana plant. The most common way is by using a solvent such as CO2 or butane. Cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, are not soluble in water, meaning an appropriate solvent must be chosen.

Usually, the solvent is pushed through the plant material under high pressure. The product is an oily like substance, rich with cannabinoids, terpenes, terpenoids and flavonoids. However, for pure CBD oil, this is not the last step. The last step is involved and complicated, requiring CBD to be removed from the rest of the compounds in the plant material.

Finally, when all other compounds have been removed, CBD is all that remains, looking much like a mineral such as salt. This is called CBD isolate, and is basically pure CBD. This is then dissolved into consumable oils such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) or fractionated coconut oil. It is then ready for consumption.

The difference between hemp and marijuana

Sometimes, CBD is extracted from hemp, in which case the final step is not entirely necessary. This is because hemp is naturally devoid of THC or contains negligible amounts (less than .3%). Marijuana, on the other hand, is rich with THC and other cannabinoids, making it necessary to remove THC in the extraction process.

When CBD oil is created from hemp, it is not completely necessary to arrive at CBD isolate. Rather, the oily substance that remains after extraction is called full-spectrum. As well as CBD, it contains the terpenes present in hemp as well as the flavonoids. These are therapeutic in their own right, and for many consumers, a full-spectrum product is desirable. However, if CBD is being extracted from marijuana, then it is important to take the additional step to remove THC. This ensures a product that is non-psychoactive and contains higher volumes of CBD.

What is CBD oil used for?

cannabis marijuana mapCBD has a myriad of medical applications in the human body. This is because its target is the main regulating system of the human body: the endocannabinoid system. This is essentially why CBD is able to target so many different pathologies in the body. Rather than targeting a specific organ, it moves through the system which regulates the body, affecting many different aspects of the human body all at once. It is also non-psychoactive, making it a viable option to those who are THC sensitive such as elderly and children.

CBD may have the following medical applications:

  • Analgesic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-seizure
  • Antiemetic (anti-nausea)
  • Antiproliferative (in cancer treatment)
  • Neuroprotective and neurogenesis
  • Antidepressant and anti-anxiety
  • Hypotensive
  • Antibacterial

In general, many of the conditions that afflict modern society are caused by one of the factors on this list. For example, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are caused by lengthy exposure to chronic inflammation. Although CBD is not necessarily listed as a medical intervention for rheumatoid arthritis, it may benefit those who have it because of its anti-inflammatory properties. These potent therapeutic qualities of CBD make it a potential medicine for many different kinds of ailments.

How to use CBD oil

There are many different ways to use CBD, all of them having different purposes and varying effects. Most are acquainted with CBD oil, an oily liquid that is taken sublingually. However, CBD may also be consumed as an edible, as CBD isolate, it may be vaporized or applied as a topical treatment.

Each method of consumption has different results. For example, edible CBD takes longer to take effect but the effects may last much longer. Consuming it in this way also causes a large percentage of cannabinoids to be lost to metabolic processes. On the other hand, vaporizing CBD takes effect immediately but more constant doses may be required. It’s worth noting that consuming it in this way causes the greatest bioavailability (less cannabinoids are lost to physiological processes).

CBD isolate is a powdery, crystal like substance that is almost 100% purity. It is the purest form of CBD, and can be consumed as it is or mixed into food or liquid. Finally, as the name suggests, topical application of CBD takes place on the skin. It may be applied on sore muscles or open wounds, having an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effect externally.

Much more to be learned…

Despite knowing so much about CBD, we certainly do not know it all. As the legalization movement spreads across the USA, we expect that more research will take place and our understanding will grow of this complex cannabinoid. The more we learn and understand, the more we will be able to appropriately apply CBD as a medicine to specific pathologies.