CBD is shorthand for cannabidiol, one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis. CBD products are said to deliver their many claimed benefits by boosting the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a system that “is a unique signaling pathway that controls the function of a variety of systems throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system,” says Nicholas DiPatrizio, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. (More on the endocannabinoid system later.)
Cannabidiol is insoluble in water but soluble in organic solvents such as pentane. At room temperature, it is a colorless crystalline solid. In strongly basic media and the presence of air, it is oxidized to a quinone. Under acidic conditions it cyclizes to THC. The synthesis of cannabidiol has been accomplished by several research groups.
What makes CBD so appealing is that it’s non-intoxicating, so it won’t get you high, though it “is technically psychoactive, because it can influence things like anxiety,” Jikomes said. Although much of the marketing blitz around CBD centers on the fact that you can take it without getting stoned, there isn’t much research looking at the effects of CBD when used in isolation, with a couple of exceptions. One is the use of CBD to treat seizures: CBD is the active ingredient in the only cannabis product that the Food and Drug Administration has signed off on — a drug called Epidiolex, which is approved for treating two rare forms of epilepsy. Animal models and a few human studies suggest that CBD can help with anxiety, but those are the only conditions with much research on CBD in isolation.
“CBD oil has a lifting and relaxing effect on mood with none of the adverse psychoactive effects associated with marijuana,” says Healthspan medical director Dr Sarah Brewer. “It acts via the body’s own endocannabinoid system to promote feelings of wellbeing. It’s a great choice if you’re finding it difficult to relax, as it’s not habit-forming”, she adds, noting that the oil is “particularly helpful for reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation and restful sleep.”
A review published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology described how CBD may work to protect the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for several important functions, such as learning, memory and navigation — during times of stress, and may also help prevent brain-cell destruction that results from schizophrenia. Another 2017 review published in the journal Annals of Palliative Medicine summarized a handful of studies that suggest cannabis oils containing THC or CBD, or both, may help with chronic pain management, but the mechanism is unclear.
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