So, What Exactly is CBD?

So, What Exactly is CBD?

Created By : Brad L. McAtee

CBD, which is short for cannabidiol, [canna-Bih-die-all] is a non-psychoactive molecule in a family of compounds called cannabinoids [can-Ah-bin-oids] which are derived from either hemp or cannabis. There’s still a lot to be discovered and determined about cannabidiol/CBD, but what we DO know is that it possesses anti-seizure, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties , and shows potential in treating even more diseases and disorders.

Wait, slow down – what are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids, often also referred to as phytocannabinoids (the prefix phyto- meaning it was produced by plants), are chemical compounds almost exclusively produced by the Cannabis sativa plant (there are a handful of other plants that also make them).

What classifies a compound as a cannabinoid? It’s a pretty literal definition: a cannabinoid is any compound that acts on our bodies’ own endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is just one of many neurotransmitting pathways that helps our bodies and brains function properly. The endocannabinoid system was discover after cannabinoids were discovered in cannabis, hence the cannabis-centric name.

There are over 100 different cannabinoids known to date, with THC and CBD being the most well known, followed by CBG, CBN, THCV and a handful of other well known cannabinoids, all of which interact with our endocannabinoid system.

person holding hemp plant

So you’re telling me the human body also makes cannabinoids?

Our bodies naturally produce our own molecules that react within our endocannabinoid system, which we call endocannabinoids (the prefix endo- meaning within). Remember – the definition of a cannabinoid is a molecule that it interacts with this system. So, when we consume phytocannabinoids from cannabis or hemp, we’re really just adding more of these molecules to an already operating system.

Yep, we make our own in the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a complex biological system that we are still learning much about. What we do know, is that it plays a crucial role in regulating many of our physiological (body) and cognitive (mind) processes, like fertility, immunity memory, mood, pain and appetite to name a handful.

There are two primary receptors of the endocannabinoid system which you will hear about: CB1 Receptors and CB2 Receptors. CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain, while CB2 receptors are spread out throughout the body, though primarily in immune cells. The way in which a cannabinoid interacts with these receptors (which can vary), alter the bodily and cognitive processes that they typically regulate.


Unlike CBD, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it changes brain function, and is prevalent in most marijuana/cannabis strains. It acts on both the CB1 (in the brain) and CB2 receptors (both body & immune system) so consuming THC and the other psychoactive cannabinoids can affect you both physically and cognitively (by the way, psychoactive means it gets you high). There’s some belief that CBD and THC need to work together for the best therapeutic effects, but we don’t quite know enough about this yet.

So does CBD get you high?

CBD, unlike THC, acts only on CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, not the CB1 receptors. So, CBD does not have an intoxicating effect. Remember – CB2 receptors aren’t found in the brain, so it can’t get you high! What it can do is, well, still up for debate to be quite honest. A lot of research is still required into CBD and what it does, as the actual exact mechanism of action of CBD on our bodies is not yet clear.

Okay, and you said earlier CBD comes from the cannabis plant? Or the hemp plant?

So, yes – to both questions, because technically, cannabis and hemp are the same plant. Cannabis sativa is the scientific name of both the marijuana plant and the hemp plant. Cannabis is the genus, and sativa is the species name. Yep, that’s right – both marijuana and hemp are actually the same plant, they are just two different cultivars of the species.

I need to add a disclaimer here as well, that the genetic research into cannabis, hemp, indica and sativa and ruderalis is ongoing and being constantly updated. For our purposes, the above are good definitions to work with.

So what’s the difference between hemp and cannabis?

If you asked a cannabis grower or hemp farmer, they’d have a much more specific description of the difference between the two plants, but the two are typically categorized using a legal definition: Hemp is any Cannabis sativa product with <0.3% THC, making Marijuana or Cannabis any Cannabis sativa product with more than 0.3% THC. They classify the legal definition using THC since it’s the most prominent and well known psychoactive cannabinoid, but there are other cannabinoids that are psychoactive.

Another Quick Note: Marijuana is now becoming an out-dated term, so we’re going to be using the term cannabis to describe any marijuana or cannabis plant, and hemp to describe any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC.

If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around the difference between hemp and cannabis, it may help to think about it with this example:

Did you know that cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, and collard greens are all the same species? They’re all different cultivars of Brassica oleracea, bred by farmers over many years to express their different traits. While kale grows tall, lanky and fibrous (like hemp does) cauliflower grows short, and squat and bears a single large fruit (like cannabis does) – but they’re still technically the same plant, just different cultivars.

Is CBD Legal?

Again, this is a slightly complicated question. At the time of writing this article, CBD extracted from marijuana or cannabis remains a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance in the United States. However, the 2018 Farm Bill did make it legal to sell some hemp and hemp derived products. And therefore…

CBD extracted from hemp (remember, hemp = cannabis with <0.3%THC) is legal as a cosmetics ingredient, but not as an ingredient in food, dietary supplements or animal food.

While you are likely seeing CBD being marketed for various uses, it’s only legal as a cosmetics ingredient, and is not regulated by the FDA. Essentially, the companies can’t control what you do with your legal cosmetics ingredient (like ingesting it) once you buy it…

Okay, and What is CBD Oil? Is that different than CBD?

CBD is locked up in the plant in an inactive form, with a bunch of other naturally occurring compounds like fiber, waxes, chlorophyll and terpenes. When we extract CBD from hemp or cannabis, it doesn’t come out like an oil. It’s super-concentrated, and fat-soluble (won’t mix with water) and so it needs to be diluted into a carrier oil such as MCT oil, which is then what we call CBD oil. CBD isolate in its purest form is actually a white crystalline powder.

What is full spectrum CBD oil?

Again, if CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD – think refined olive oil – then full spectrum CBD is the extra virgin olive oil of CBD extract. Full spectrum CBD doesn’t go through all the refining steps isolate would, after being extracted from the plant, so you’ve got the waxes, lipids, fiber, terpenes and potentially a small amount of THC. It’s a small enough amount of THC that there shouldn’t be a psychoactive effect, but it is possible. There’s also a small amount of evidence that CBD works best with a small amount of THC present. Some people prefer full spectrum CBD oil due to the presence of terpenes, which also have therapeutic benefits.

What is broad spectrum CBD oil?

Broad spectrum oil is very similar to full spectrum, but they’ve just further refined the product to remove any traces of THC. If you’re worried about there being any THC in your full spectrum oil, but still want the terpenes, this is the one for you.

Is Hemp Oil the Same as CBD Oil?

So for this one, it depends who you ask. In general though, hemp oil typically refers to hempseed oil, the oil made by crushing the seeds of hemp or cannabis , extracting the fats from the seeds. There’s essentially zero CBD in hemp oil, or hemp seed oil.

Hemp derived CBD oil, is a different story. Remember, for CBD to be legal it needs to be hemp derived, but compared to hempseed oil, CBD oil is made by extracting the CBD, other cannabinoids and other compounds of the plant’s flowers and leaves. If it helps, you can think about it like getting the essential oils out of hemp the same way you would peppermint essential oil from mint leaves.

cbd isolate

You mentioned CBD Isolate earlier, what exactly is that?

CBD isolate is the purest form of cannabidiol you can get your hands on, it’s only CBD and that’s it. Since there is a minute amount of THC in hemp, CBD isolate has been refined to the point that there is no chance there’s any THC in it. There are a few different extraction methods to first extract CBD and other cannabinoids from the hemp/cannabis plant, then a handful of refining techniques as well. What you’re left with is a white crystallized solid or powder.

What are the health benefits of CBD oil?

While we need to be careful touting CBD as a cure-all for anything that ails you, CBD does have a long list of benefits that can improve people’s lives, treating varying diseases and conditions, as well as benefiting to overall health and wellness.

CBD for Pain

CBD has been clinically shown to effectively reduce the pain response in our bodies, due to its interactions with the endocannabinoid system. CBD has been found to effectively treat the pain diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis. It’s particularly popular with those suffering from chronic pain as it does not produce the same dependency and have the same side effects as many other pain-reliving drugs like opiates.

CBD For Anxiety & Depression

While the current scientific research is basically saying that we need to do more research before we can confidently claim CBD’s effectiveness in treating anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, the anecdotal evidence is quite compelling. Many people have claimed to have improved their mental health using CBD, and there is some evidence of CBD reducing stress – a leading contributor to poor mental health. A recent study also found a significant result of reduced anxiety after consuming CBD. The long and short of it all is, that we need to do more research!

CBD for Treating Epilepsy

CBD has proven extremely effective at treating severe forms of epilepsy, so much so that recently, the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has even approved the first ever oral CBD medicine called Epidiolex, to treat Dravet syndrome and other rare forms of epilepsy. Ever heard of Charlotte’s Web CBD? Charlotte’s Web was a specific cultivar of cannabis created by the Stanley Brothers, medical marijuana growers out of Colorado, developed to help a young girl named Charlotte to alleviate her seizures caused by Dravet syndrome. medical condition

CBD for inflammation and Chronic Disease(s)

Chronic diseases like auto-immune disorders and inflammatory disease and even cancers, come in many shapes and forms, and are found around the world. You may find that people are treating CBD as a panacea, a sort of silver bullet, that can cure any medical condition. While many people are finding anecdotal evidence of CBD treating many diseases and disorders from asthma to psoriasis, we still need to do a lot of research to understand CBD’s effectiveness. That being said, many disease are already being treated, or show promise in being treated by cannabinoids, including anorexia, chronic pain and inflammation, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity, and metabolic syndrome-related disorders. As you can see, with the potential to be treating such a wide variety of diseases and disorders, people are quick to recommend CBD as a potential therapy.

Also – why are people giving CBD Oil to their dogs?

All other mammals, which includes pets such as as cats and dogs have endocannabinoid systems just like we do, and it performs the same function in their bodies as it does ours: moderating mood, appetite, inflammation and more. Our pets can suffer similar chronic diseases as us, so many people are finding that their pets are responding well and benefiting from CBD.

cbd oil

Are there any side effects of CBD?

CBD is widely accepted to react well with most people and considered quite safe – but it still might not be for everyone. Some side effects that have been reported include fatigue, gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea) as well as weight and appetite changes.

CBD may also interact with certain medications, so it’s important to consult a doctor before using any type of CBD. When ingested orally (if you put it in your mouth), CBD is metabolized in the liver and similarly to grapefruit, can also can interfere with cytochromes, so it’s especially important to keep that in mind.

What’s the right dosage of CBD?

So you’re ready to try out CBD and wondering “how much CBD should I take?” That being said – it’s impossible to overdose on any cannabis molecule, due to the location of cannabinoid receptors in the body, they’re nowhere near any parts of the brain that can cause an overdose (like a breathing center of the brain). We’ve got a great guide on CBD doses you should check out for more information.

What about these other CBD Products like Gummies, Tinctures, Vapes and Creams?

When considering the form of CBD products you want to use, it really depends on a few different things: why you’re using it, convenience, and availability. Because the laws differ in various places, the CBD products you can find will also vary. For example, you may be able to find hemp-derived CBD oil quite readily in your state, but not a CBD tincture or gummies. With convenience in mind, you may not always want to carry around a syringe full of full spectrum CBD extract. What you’re using CBD for will also dictate whether you buy a skin cream or an edible oil.

hemp product label with no thc

What do I need to look for when shopping CBD products?

There are countless new CBD brands popping up all over the place, and since it’s still not regulated by the FDA it’s important to support companies that produce trusted products. You don’t want to mess with your health! Here’s a few things to keep in mind when shopping for CBD.

Third Party Testing

The most important thing to look for when shopping for CBD is to look for any sort of Third Party Testing stamp or certification. Products like CBD oil that you’ll be ingesting should be quality assured to ensure that there are no contaminants present, such as pesticides, microbes, fungal toxins and heavy metals. Third party means that a sample of the product is sent to a lab not owned by the company itself, and provided a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) the prove that the product is pure, and safe. Contaminants can cause unwelcome side effects so you want to buy a trusted product to protect your health.

FDA Warning & Claims

CBD is not currently regulated by the FDA and only a single medicine is approved for medical use. As such, any CBD product should have a clear FDA warning, as well as a disclaimer to express that it is not intended to treat or cure any disease or provide any health benefits. These warnings are required based on the current lack of scientific evidence of CBD and its effectiveness in improving health and. The FDA has been issuing warnings to companies violating these guidelines, but you still need to be careful!

More Frequently Asked Questions:


Does CBD show up on a drug test?

CBD itself wouldn’t show up on a drug test, since they are testing for the presence of THC. However, some hemp derived CBD oils do contain both CBD and THC, albeit in trace amounts, so it is possible that certain hemp products do contain tetrahydrocannabinol, THC.

Where can I buy CBD oil?

You can currently buy CBD oil in many stores throughout the US as well as through various online retailers. Because CBD is not federally regulated, or designated for use other than in cosmetic products, you want to ensure you are buying from a trusted source.

Can I travel with CBD?

You can safely travel and fly throughout the USA with hemp derived CBD, however remember that THC is still not legal in all states. It’s also not advisable to travel with CBD anywhere outside of the USA, since many countries still do not recognize any cannabinoids as legal.

Okay, This is all great information. But, does CBD really do anything?

There is evidence of CBD helping people with the treatment of epilepsy and psychotic disorders and also shows promise as an anti-inflammatory. But the reality is, more research is required to determine what CBD can really do. However, there is evidence that CBD can, or has the potential to treat many different diseases and disorders effectively.

Wrapping Up

So, that was likely a bit of information overload. I did warn you though – there is a still lot to learn about CBD and cannabis, both for consumers but also for doctors, researchers, law-makers, retailers, manufacturers, and the rest of us! 

If you’re looking for more information, be sure to check out the High There app to join the discussion!



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