Simply put, CBD (cannabidiol) is a chemical compound known as a cannabinoid, and is prominent in the hemp variety of the Cannabis Sativa L. plant. There are differing reports on exactly how many cannabinoids have been discovered, with most current research stating that there are now over 100 identified cannabinoid substances, but the most predominant of these found in nature are CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Federal cannabis prohibition has been in effect in some way for the last 80 years or so, limiting public understanding around what cannabis is, and the differences between marijuana and hemp. Therefore, there seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation about CBD and where it comes from. You’ll hear that hemp plants are male and marijuana plants are female, or that one plant is a drug and the other isn’t. Let’s break this down before we delve further into CBD itself:
Hemp (aka industrial hemp) and marijuana both belong to the same family of flowering plants—the hemp family, or Cannabaceae in Latin. Under this family of plants, hemp and marijuana also both fall under the same genus—Cannabis L., or the hemp genus. Technically, this means that the plant “cannabis” refers to all types of hemp and marijuana.
The hemp genus includes a single species, Cannabis Sativa L., which most people think of when they think of marijuana. This species includes further subspecies (most notably sativa, indica, and ruderalis). What is important to understand here is that the hemp species, or Cannabis Sativa plant, encompasses both CBD-rich varieties with little THC content (which we will refer to from now on as hemp or industrial hemp), and the THC-rich strains known for their psychoactive properties (which is what people commonly call marijuana). In plain English: Both hemp and marijuana are technically cannabis (hemp!), and what makes them commonly called hemp or marijuana is the purpose for which they are grown and used.
Both hemp and marijuana contain a number of phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are synthesized in a plant via photosynthesis). Phytocannabinoids are active chemical compounds that are formed in resinous glands called trichomes that are part of the cannabis plant. The hemp family of plants actually contains hundreds of chemical compounds—the 100+ cannabinoids, over 100 terpenes and terpenoids (compounds that are the primary constituents of many essential plant oils), flavonoids, amino acids, proteins, enzymes, ketones, fatty acids, and others. The most predominant phytocannabinoids are CBD and THC. It might seem a bit simplistic, but as you read ahead a helpful association is to think of “hemp” as the CBD-rich, medicinal/industrial plant, and marijuana as the THC-rich “weed” that people like to consume recreationally (but can also be used in medicinal applications).
For the last 50 years or so, marijuana has been a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970, mainly due to the psychoactive effects of the cannabinoid THC. Because of this, cannabis cultivation in the United States is still mostly illegal. We plan to go into greater detail on the history of hemp legislation in Politics & Agriculture soon. Common industrial hemp by definition has a concentration of 0.3% or less THC; however hemp grown in the United States is still subject to Schedule 1 drug policy, as it is technically also cannabis. CBD has no psychotropic properties (and actually combats the psychoactive effects of THC), but if CBD were to be extracted from United States hemp, it, too would be illegal, unless it’s grown in one of the states that has passed legislation allowing for hemp cultivation under Obama’s 2014 Farm Bill. Hemp also grows unchecked in abundance all over the world, and CBD that is sourced from hemp grown abroad is legal to import and purchase in all 50 states. This is a strange double standard that is coming into question more and more as CBD enjoys a meteoric rise in attention and popularity.
CBD can be produced in two ways:
- It naturally occurs in the cannabis plant, and begins to form during photosynthesis, during which the plant synthesizes the compound cannabigerolic acid (CBGa). CBGa is actually the mother of all phytocannabinoids—the “stem cell” cannabinoid that becomes CBD, THC, and many other cannabinoids. Different types of biosynthesis dictate which chemicals combine to form new compounds. Hemp strains of cannabis tend to have higher amounts of CBG (cannabigerol) due to a recessive trait, which may mean that higher amounts of CBGa are present as well. In the case of CBD, CBGa is used by the plant to create cannabidiolic acid (CBDa), and then time, heat, or light will cause CBDa to decarboxylate (or lose a carboxyl group), releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) and leaving behind the compound CBD. CBD has the same chemical formula (C21H30O2) and molecular weight as THC. However, their molecules are slightly different in structure, which accounts for the very different ways in which they interact with the body.
- CBD can also be made synthetically, in a lab. However, because of the way that the various compounds of the hemp plant work together in naturally derived CBD, it’s commonly understood that synthetic CBD is a far inferior compound to the natural variety. At CBD Movement, when we discuss CBD, we are always referring to the latter.
The phytocannabinoid CBD is extracted from the industrial hemp plant in the form of CBD oil. Once extracted, it can be processed into various products like tinctures and capsules, or further isolated from the oil and purified into crystalline form. When we consume CBD, it interacts with our bodies through the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a relatively recent but groundbreaking biological discovery that may hold the key to a greater understanding of homeostatic physiological activities and the roots of various health issues.
We make our own cannabinoids, too. The endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) is a CBD-like molecule that is manufactured in the body. 2-AG has similar effects to CBD, acting similarly as an agonist to CB1 receptors. 2-AG has been detected in human breast milk—an interesting find that points to the significance of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system in our growth and health.
As a viable health supplement, CBD-rich oil derived from quality hemp is what we are focused on at CBD Movement, because it is both legal and safe. CBD has been shown to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of a vast range of ailments and illnesses. And while the United States has been all over the map in its stance on cannabis, especially in recent years, there is in fact a U.S. patent on cannabinoids, Patent No. 6630507, filed in 1999. Here are some benefits of CBD, straight from the federal government’s abstract:
“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties…. This newfound property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.”
The World Health Organization has also recognized CBD for its health benefits and safety. Read ahead to learn more about CBD, where it comes from, and its powerful healing benefits.