What is CBD?

CBD is the most common cannabinoid (behind THC). What are its benefits, uses, and effects?

Written by

Ali Mans Cornwell

Alisdair is an experienced researcher who has been writing extensively about hemp and cannabis since 2018. His work has been published on many cannabis publications such as Dr. Ganja, DailyCBD,...

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Once upon a time, I was a CBD rookie just like you. I endlessly scoured the internet in an attempt to find out everything I could about not only CBD but the entire cannabis family. I was met with foreign terms such as “cannabinoids”, “Endocannabinoid System”, and “full-spectrum”.

Honestly? It took me forever to really get to grips with these new words and figure out what they meant. It was like navigating a cannabis minefield. This was partly because it was so new to me and partly because the “simple” 101 guides to cannabis and CBD were quite the opposite — they were frustratingly complex and annoying obtuse.

Everything you need to know about CBD:

  • CBD is cannabidiol, a part of the plant that won’t get you “high”
  • You have receptors in your brains and nerves that naturally receive the compound (ECS)
  • CBD is very widely used across the US and the rest of the world
  • CBD can help you with lots of ailments, such as anxiety, inflammation and chronic pain issues
  • CBD in all forms is legal in 47 of 50 states, and in hemp form in all states, federally approved. 
  • There’s only one federally-approved cannabis-derived drug in use in the US
  • You can find a whole range of CBD product types in various forms
  • Not all CBD products are created equal — some are high-quality, whilst others aren’t
  • Purchasing CBD online is by far the easiest and most popular way
  • Knowing how and when to dose CBD throughout the day matters

What is CBD?

Now, after many years of looking into Cannabis and CBD, I’d like to rewrite the wrongs made by other CBD websites and share with you my most basic and educational guide to CBD (as well as cannabis as a whole). 

CBD cannabidiol flower

CBD is a naturally-occurring cannabinoid

When you’re first searching CBD on Google, you’re more than likely going to ask what it actually is. So, let me break it down for you.

CBD is an abbreviation for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is one of the 113 chemical compounds found in cannabis. These chemical compounds are called cannabinoids. CBD is the second most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis behind tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, unlike THC, CBD doesn’t get you “high” or “baked out of your skull” (sorry to disappoint all my high-chasing stoner friends out there!). It does, however, come with a whole load of therapeutic qualities, which we’ll cover for you later on.

CBD cleverly interacts with your own body

In order for CBD to supply you with therapeutic benefits, it has to interact with your body. This interaction is quite complex but also very interesting. I’ll keep it as simple as possible for you.

If you’ve ever tried CBD, you’ll already know the warm, relaxed feeling you get from it. The reason for this? Well, you’ll be surprised to know your body has an internal biological system that creates its own cannabinoids (often referred to as endocannabinoids). This biological system is called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Your ECS is made up of tiny little receptors and enzymes, as well as your own endocannabinoids. These are found all over your body. When you consume CBD, it interacts with your ECS receptors to produce more endocannabinoids. This, in turn, helps regulate your body’s core functions such as sleep, mood, appetite, pain response, and memory — amongst others. 

In other words, it helps balance out your body to the point of homeostasis or, rather, a Buddha-like balance!

CBD is good for you!

Many believe CBD is good for you. In fact, they believe it’s very good for you. It’s said the interaction with your ECS comes with a whole range of potential health benefits. If anxiety is bothering you or pain is kicking you in the ass, a healthy dose of CBD can possibly get you back on track. However, there’s only one FDA-approved cannabis-derived drug currently in use.

CBD oil extracted from hemp flower

CBD’s health benefits (and what the science says)

CBD’s health benefits are pretty damned convincing. There are thousands of research studies and papers surrounding not only CBD but the entire cannabis family as well. Although more needs to be done to fully understand CBD specifically (THC took a lot of the spotlight over the past couple of decades), there is some really compelling evidence supported by science that shows what this amazing cannabinoid can do! This includes:

You may or may not experience side effects

Personally, I’ve experienced very few side-effects from using CBD but, of course, my body is totally different from yours. Some of you may experience one or two side-effects or nothing at all. It’s all down to your body’s chemical makeup and how it reacts inside of you. 

To avoid or manage potential side-effects, you could try carefully monitoring your doses and how they make you feel. Careful and considerate trial and error (hopefully less error) with your dosing regimen is a good way to understand what your body needs. This can really save you some bother later on down the line. If you’re stuck on how to dose your CBD, we have a section dedicated to it further down.

Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Dry mouth
  • A change in appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness/sleepiness 

If you experience any of the above, make sure you stop using your product and contact a healthcare provider. 

CBD won’t get you high

If you’re concerned about CBD getting you high or baked out of your mind, there’s no need to be! CBD on its own is totally non-intoxicating. You won’t feel anything other than a sense of relaxation and calm. In fact, even full-spectrum CBD products with trace amounts of THC won’t get you high per se, unless the product is incorrectly labeled and it contains more THC than the legal limit. 

You can legally use CBD (and in some cases, cannabis)

You can buy hemp-derived CBD products in all 50 US states. It’s perfectly legal. The most popular place to buy is online, which is super convenient. It’s practically everywhere and you’ll find a large range of products to choose from on hundreds of different websites. There are also vape shops and pharmacies that stock hemp-derived CBD products as well. If you’re looking to buy cannabis-derived CBD products with a THC content higher than 0.3%, they’re legal and available in 11 US states, as well as Washington D.C. You can buy these online or through licensed dispensaries. 

Over 30 states also allow the use of various kinds of medical cannabis. Up to 47 states have some CBD available also. Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska are no-gos for all non-federally approved products. If you are in need, you should consult with your physician whether you’re eligible.

CBD can show up on a drug test (but not in the way you think)

Be under no illusion. I’ve personally known one or two people to fail a drug test from consuming CBD and I wouldn’t want the same to happen to you. However, CBD itself won’t cause you to fail a drug test, it’s products with THC in them. Certain types of hemp-derived CBD products such as full-spectrum oils, tinctures, e-liquids, and vape juices might cause you to fail one — or, at least, result in a false-positive reading. The reason for this? It’s pretty simple. Full-spectrum hemp-derived CBD products contain trace amounts (<0.3%) of THC. If enough THC is present in your body after you’ve used a full-spectrum product, it will most likely show up on a drug test. 

The amount of THC needed to trigger a positive on a test varies by which test is conducted. Let’s take a look.

  • Urine test – 50 nanograms per milliliter 
  • Blood test – 1, 2, and 5 nanograms per milliliter
  • Saliva – 4 nanograms per milliliter
  • Hair — No cutoff limit

You won’t get high, you’ll just relax (CBD vs THC)

Even though CBD and THC have very similar molecular structures, they’re definitely not the same thing. As we touched on earlier, THC is the intoxicating chemical property in varieties of cannabis. This is the reason why people regularly smoke marijuana with high levels of THC. It gets you pretty damned high. However, I know this can be pretty off-putting for some of you, which is why CBD is so popular. CBD won’t get you high, nor will it impair your judgment. 

Is there CBD in hemp and marijuana?

Let’s clear up this confusion once and for all: Yes! There is CBD in both hemp and marijuana plants. The same goes for THC too. There’s actually no difference between the CBD (and THC) found in hemp plants or marijuana plants. The only difference is the amount of THC is higher in marijuana plants than hemp plants. Luckily for you, your body doesn’t discriminate against where the CBD comes from. If it comes from hemp, it works. If it comes from marijuana, it works too. 

Despite being first discovered way back in 1940, CBD’s recent rise in popularity is the direct result of the mainstream hype, anecdotal success stories, and very compelling scientific evidence. Many actually believe this clever little cannabinoid holds the key to treating various different ailments ranging from anxiety, inflammation, pain, and acne — amongst many, many others.

Who’s even using CBD right now?

The amazing thing about CBD is everyone can use it. You don’t need to be from a specific background to get the most out of this amazing cannabinoid. In fact, over 14% of Americans in 2019 said they have used and still use CBD products. Athletes across a range of sports are using it. MMA fighter Nate Diaz, famous NFL linebacker Derrick Morgan, and former NBA star Jay Williams are known users of CBD — even the famous Mike Tyson endorses this amazing cannabinoid. Actors, too, are becoming CBD advocates — one of them being Seth Rogan, which isn’t a real surprise, to be honest. 

The future for CBD is very bright!

Having watched CBD progress far beyond what I ever imagined, I can tell you right now CBD has a very bright future ahead of it — even if the FDA and FTC don’t want to admit it. More and more research into this cannabinoid (and other cannabinoids) is underway, not only in the US but in many other countries too. 

Where can I buy CBD?

Thankfully, CBD isn’t like buried treasure — you can find it online, in stores, and at local dispensaries. This makes shopping for CBD products super convenient. 

Brands you can shop online (products with <0.3% THC)

  • Charlottes Web
  • CBDistillery
  • cbdMD

Be warned, however. I made one fatal mistake before and I don’t ever want you to do the same. Don’t ever buy your CBD from Amazon. Why? Well, firstly, it’s usually shit. Secondly, it’s against Amazon guidelines to list CBD products with actual CBD in them. In other words, you’ll be purchasing products with no CBD in them. 

What to look for when choosing a brand?

I know it can be difficult to choose a new CBD brand. There are hundreds of them. I mean, they’re all selling the same thing, right? Wrong. They’re not all selling the same thing. There are fundamental differences between a really shitty brand and a really, really good one. To help you out, these are the things I ask myself before I even consider purchasing a product:

  • Does the brand have Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) from accredited third-party laboratories?
  • Does the CoA test for harmful impurities?
  • Does the CoA reflect the right amount of CBD shown on the product label?
  • Does the brand source its hemp from organic farms?
  • Is the brand specific about where the hemp comes from?
  • What extraction method is used? CO2? Ethanol?

If the brand isn’t forthcoming with this information, avoid it like the plague. The above points are CBD brand basics and the best ones don’t cut corners on any of this. 

Without tooting my own trumpet too hard, I’ve tried more CBD products than I care to remember. I’ve tried really bad ones. I’ve tried really good ones. I’ve even tried the Amazon ones I spoke about earlier. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone I did that. With this knowledge under my belt, here are our CBD brand recommendations for you to consider:

Each of these companies boasts third-party COAs from accredited laboratories. They’re also very forthcoming with their safety and company practices to ensure trust, transparency, and integrity. 

How do I want to consume CBD?

Thankfully, consuming CBD isn’t a fine art and doesn’t require a degree in quantum physics. However, some products are far easier to use than others. 

If you’re looking for something simple to use, I suggest using standard CBD oils [LINK] or easy-to-ingest CBD gummies. There are no fiddly bits to these products. You just squeeze the oil/pop the gummy into your mouth, swallow, and let the CBD magic work in your body. It’s that easy. There are other, more complicated products out there too if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. These include CBD flower, CBD concentrates, and CBD vape oils/e-liquids [LINK]. These typically require additional equipment to help you inhale the CBD — unless you choose to add the CBD concentrate into your favorite foods and drinks. 

What type of CBD should I get?

Out of all the products on the market, I usually recommend CBD oils or gummies. Like I mentioned above, they’re both very easy to use and super convenient, especially if you’re a beginner. If you’re looking for something to boost your general health and wellbeing without any intoxicating effects, I suggest starting with a full-spectrum 25 mg gummy with a 20:1 CBD to THC ratio. If you want to use a product for pain or anxiety-related issues but still don’t want any intoxicating effects, I’d start with a 1000-1800 mg oil with a 25:1 CBD to THC ratio. 

What’s a good CBD: THC ratio?

There’s no set rule on CBD:THC ratios. It all depends on what you’re using it for.  For example, if you’re a rookie CBD user, I suggest an 18:1 or 25:1 CBD to THC oil. This ratio is very high in CBD and very low in THC. You won’t get baked at all but you’ll still experience the relaxing qualities of CBD. However, if you’re experiencing moderate to severe pain symptoms—I’ll even throw some anxiety and stress in there as well—I recommend getting some more THC going in that ratio. Maybe not a full 0:1 ratio. That would be way too much and the THC may trigger harsher anxiety symptoms. Instead, it’s worth trying out a 2:1 CBD to THC ratio. It’s fairly balanced but strong enough to relieve some of your symptoms at least. 

Can CBD be used recreationally?

CBD isn’t often referred to as a recreational drug per se. Most see it as a cannabinoid for health and wellness. However, CBD products can, in fact, be pretty damned recreational, especially full-spectrum ones with THC in them. Anecdotally, I once dosed myself with 150 mg of full-spectrum CBD throughout the day (I don’t recommend this, by the way) and I could definitely feel it. I felt quite spaced out for most of the afternoon and evening, and my dreams were pretty trippy as well. Of course, you’re not going to get super baked with the stuff. That’s what cannabis-derived products with high THC is for. But I was pretty surprised by the result. 

How to use CBD (oil drop, spray, pets)

CBD oils

Easy to use. Typically comes with a squeezable dropper and rounded nozzle to measure out your doses. I recommend dropping the oil under your tongue for 60-90 seconds and then swallow it. You can also chase it down with water as well if the taste isn’t particularly great. If oral ingestion really isn’t your thing, you can mix it into your favorite foods and drinks. Your best bet here is to get a water-soluble or flavored product for enhanced results.

CBD sprays

Again, very easy to use. Much like oils, sprays are designed as an oral method of consuming CBD. However, you don’t have to place it under your tongue. You simply spray it into your mouth and let nature take its course. 

CBD edibles

CBD edibles is an umbrella term for CBD gummies, chocolate, tea, etc. Pretty much anything you can eat or drink with CBD in it. They’re pretty self-explanatory. Just eat/drink and enjoy!

CBD topicals

Topicals aren’t designed for oral consumption. You apply it to your skin or the affected area and wait for it to sink in. These products are particularly useful if you’re suffering from pain and inflammation in your muscles and joints. They’re also effective if you’re trying to combat acne or other skin-related issues. Make sure to look out for specialized CBD topicals for specific ailments e.g. warming creams for muscle soreness. 

What CBD strength should I go for?

If you’re totally new to CBD, I suggest you start at a lower strength — 250-500 mg should be about right for you. This is mild enough to still get the nice benefits of CBD without blowing your head off. If you’ve used CBD products before or you want to transition to a stronger strength, I think 1000 mg or above is ideal for you. If you’re somewhere in the middle, I recommend you start at 750 mg and work your way up from there. 

How long does CBD take to kick in?

CBD typically takes anywhere from 10 minutes to 6-hours to kick in. It all depends on how you choose to consume/use your CBD product. Products such as CBD oils, edibles, and capsules take longer to work, whereas vaping CBD e-liquid or smoking CBD-rich hemp flower speeds up the process. 

The reason for this? When you use oils, gummies, etc, they have to go into the digestive system before entering the bloodstream. This takes a fair amount of time. When you inhale CBD, it dives into the lung’s tiny microcapillaries and straight into the bloodstream, bypassing the digestive system and liver altogether. 

How long do the effects last?

As a general rule of thumb, effects should last anywhere between 3-8 hours. However, this is typically a “how long is a piece of string?” answer because CBD affects people differently. It’s also all down to which product you use. The strength, quality, and how much you’ve taken also contributes to the length of time you’ll experience the effects of CBD. 

What does it feel like?

How CBD will make you “feel” is purely subjective and depends on the type, the strength, and the quality of the product you use. Many users report a “relaxed”, “tranquil”, or “calm” feeling after they’ve orally ingested CBD. Many users also report a reduction in pain and soreness after they’ve applied a CBD topical to their skin. In other words, this shit works.

What does CBD smell and taste like?

CBD doesn’t have one defining smell or taste. It all depends on a number of different things. Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products, for example, contain more of the plant’s natural goodness such as terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids. This makes the product’s smell and flavor quite earthy and “weedy”. CBD isolate products, on the other hand, only contain CBD and the base oil — no other parts of the plant are included here. This gives the product a much more subtle smell (or even no smell at all).

How often should you take CBD?

Timing and personal circumstance is everything here — your weight is also a factor. For example, I have no physical or psychological problems (that I know of anyway!), and I weigh just over 200 lbs. So, my daily CBD regimen doesn’t require me to consume a large amount of CBD. I generally take 25 mg in the morning and 40 mg at night. Sometimes I’ll even dose a small 15 mg in the afternoon if I’m feeling particularly rebellious. If you weigh more than I do and/or you experience physical/psychological issues, a stricter regimen of higher doses may need to be put in place. Remember to start with a smaller dose in the morning and finish with a larger dose at night. You don’t want to be drowsy or tired during the day if you’ve had too much. 

I’m not seeing the benefits – what to do?

If you’re not seeing or feeling the benefits of CBD — don’t panic! There are a number of reasons why your CBD product isn’t working as well as you’d hoped. If you’ve only just started using CBD, we recommend being patient and giving it time. It’s sometimes common for people not to experience the power of CBD until after a few weeks. If you’ve been using CBD for a while and you’re not getting the best results, I suggest you move up a strength or go for a totally different CBD extract altogether. For example, if you’re using a 500 mg CBD isolate, maybe try a 750 mg full-spectrum. That way, you get a higher strength and a larger range of cannabinoids. 

How does CBD interact with alcohol and drugs?

Not many people realize that CBD can react with alcohol and certain drugs. Though not enough research has been conducted into how it actually reacts within the body (especially on human test subjects), some believe both CBD and alcohol can amplify each other’s effects. If you guzzle some CBD oil and chase it down with an alcoholic drink or two, you’re more than likely going to feel sleepier and possibly more lethargic. However, research on animal test subjects suggests CBD can help against inflammation caused by alcohol consumption, as well as combat alcohol-related liver disease

In terms of how CBD reacts with certain drugs? I suggest a certain level of care if you’re taking antidepressants, heart medications, or macrolide antibiotics, as well as sedatives due to CBD’s ability to slow down how these drugs metabolize in your body.

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