What does CBD do?

Even though cannabidiol (CBD) is said to have a relaxing and soothing effect, don't expect to get high from taking CBD.

The cannabis plant naturally produces hundreds of different chemical compounds, which include things like cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Each compound interacts with your body in a unique way, helping to create different experiences. To explain how CBD truly feels, and to unpack the health benefits of CBD, we need to look at how CBD interacts with the human body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

CBD is said to have a relaxing and soothing effect. The effects are much different than THC.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of endocannabinoids, receptors that cannabinoids bind to, and enzymes that break them down. While THC activates the CB1 receptors, CBD induces the opposite outcome, instead inhibiting activity in the CB1 receptors. 

Aside from CB1 receptors, CBD interacts with the human body by binding to several other targets. For instance, this non-intoxicating cannabinoid has at least 12 sites of action in the brain and may elicit therapeutic effects by activating multiple pathways at once. 

The interaction between CBD and the ECS may create a feeling of relaxation and improved mood. Additionally, CBD has become popular in the wellness world, with many wellness professionals and consumers including CBD in their general wellness and health regimen.

Beyond CBD's use to promote general wellness, studies and anecdotal evidence also suggest that it may offer therapeutic value in treating chronic pain, reducing inflammation, and helping reduce anxiety. It could also be a potential treatment for a range of other conditions such as nerve pain, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and more. More research is needed to reach any clear or certain conclusions regarding the beneficial properties of CBD.

Does CBD make you feel good?

You may have heard about the various purported health benefits of this non-intoxicating cannabinoid, but how does CBD feel once it enters your system? Many consumers and medical patients report several positive effects after taking CBD, including feelings of relaxation and calmness. But the exact feeling you'll get from CBD is contingent on several factors, including the type of CBD product, the total CBD dosage, and your ECS. 

How CBD affects you depends on your body's chemistry and the type of product you select.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Depending on the treatment or therapeutic relief you seek, different CBD products may prove more beneficial than others. For instance, CBD-infused topicals have been reported to provide localized relief in pain-specific areas, while a CBD oil with a 1-to-1 ratio of CBD-to-THC could be better as a sleep aid, perhaps also producing an intoxicating feeling, depending on the level of THC. 

Individual-specific characteristics such as the consumer's weight, diet, metabolism, other medications, genetics, and medical conditions, as well as the formulation and quality of the CBD product itself, could all influence the amount of therapeutic value that CBD will offer. 

Not only does it depend on the individual, but also the individual's ailment or health condition. Depending on an individual's therapeutic needs, different CBD products may prove more beneficial than others. 

Chronic pain and much more: the potential health benefits of CBD

CBD is primarily known for its wellness benefits and for helping people manage a variety of health issues. For example, CBD products are often used by patients looking for ways to reduce their chronic pain. For many patients, CBD is seen as a natural alternative to relying on a prescription drug regimen.

Here are some of the various health conditions for which people often use CBD:

  • Acne
  • Anxiety and anxiety disorders
  • Inflammation
  • Pain, specifically chronic, inflammatory, and neuropathic
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizures

In addition, CBD is known for its anti-epileptic properties and the only marijuana-derived drug approved by the FDA is a CBD medication for two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. Researchers are also looking into CBD's neuroprotective properties that could be helpful for folks with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Finally, data from human studies suggests that CBD can help lower high blood pressure, with one study showing that a single dose helped lower blood pressure in study participants.

Currently, there is significant anecdotal evidence to suggest that CBD can be helpful in treating these and other similar conditions. There is also a growing body of peer-reviewed medical research. However, further research, including randomized and statistically significant clinical trials, is needed to ascertain the full range of CBD's health benefits.

Different types of CBD oil deliver different effects

When you stumble upon a wide selection of CBD oil products, there might not appear to be much differentiating them. However, not all CBD oil will make you feel the same. In fact, the effects of various CBD oil products can differ drastically. 

Hemp-derived vs. marijuana-derived CBD oil

There are two main classifications of the cannabis plant that produce CBD: hemp and marijuana. Though the CBD molecular structure is identical regardless of source, there's a difference between the chemical makeup of hemp and marijuana plants, which can lead to CBD oil products with different effects. Additionally, understanding if CBD comes from a hemp plant or a marijuana plant is important when it comes to the big question: is CBD legal?

Industrial hemp plants are typically grown for their fiber and seeds. Hemp plants are considered legal under US law, as long as they contain no more than 0.3% THC. Therefore, hemp-derived CBD products have little to no THC, which prevents consumers from feeling any intoxicating effects. 

On the other hand, marijuana-derived CBD products are extracted from marijuana plants that typically have higher levels of THC than CBD, although there are several CBD-rich cultivars on the market. Marijuana-derived CBD oil contains much higher levels of THC than hemp-derived products, so consumers may want to brace for the corresponding effects. These products are legally available on the adult-use market and in certain medical marijuana states, but they remain illegal on the federal level. For this reason, if you want to purchase CBD products that also contain THC, check your state marijuana laws first.

cbd oil and topical
Not all CBD oil will make you feel the same. There are many types of oil out there, so make sure you know where the oil in your products was sourced.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Although the intoxicating feeling of THC might be something you wish to avoid, it's important to note that CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids have actually demonstrated a synergistic relationship when taken in tandem, a phenomenon commonly known as the entourage effect. For example, when CBD is consumed alongside THC, people tend to experience less of the paranoia and anxiety associated with high THC concentrations. The inclusion of other minor cannabinoids and terpenes could also contribute to the experience and to how you ultimately end up feeling.

The 3 main types of CBD oil

When it comes to the purported effects of CBD oil products, you need to look beyond hemp-derived and marijuana-derived products. The additional cannabis compounds and ingredients (or lack thereof) also play a significant role in the consumer experience. There are major differences between broad-spectrum CBD oil, full-spectrum CBD oil, and CBD isolate. 

Full-spectrum CBD oil    

When a CBD oil product is labeled full-spectrum, that means the plant's original terpenes and other types of cannabinoids, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), and importantly, THC, have not been filtered out during the extraction process. This oil will give you the full benefit of any entourage effect. 

Broad spectrum CBD oil     

Broad-spectrum CBD oil is similar to full-spectrum, as the oil contains most of the cannabinoids from the original plant. However, the key difference here is the additional extraction process that filters out all traces of THC. With the THC removed, consumers don't need to worry about encountering any feelings of being high, but can still reap the potential benefits of other minor cannabinoids and terpenes. 

CBD isolate 

The most refined CBD option is CBD isolate, which comes in the form of a crystalline solid or white powder. Stripped of all other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, CBD isolate contains nearly 99% pure CBD. With all THC and other compounds removed, CBD isolate is the purest possible form of CBD available. 

CBD isolate is the most refined form of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid, containing upwards of 99% pure CBD.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

What are the side effects of CBD oil?

Although CBD does not produce the same adverse side effects as THC, should you be concerned about encountering any other side effects from the cannabinoid?

A paper published by the World Health Organization found that "in humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential." However, there may still be some unwanted side effects. While research has found that CBD has a much better side effect profile compared with most other drugs, a large dose of CBD can still have potentially adverse effects. For example, a2017 study published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research concluded that while CBD had a “favorable safety profile,” there were side effects reported by participants, including tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite or weight. 

CBD may cause other side effects in some individuals, including nausea and irritability. Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and contributor to the Harvard Health Blog, discussed these potential side effects in a 2018 post, writing, “Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue, and irritability.”

Finally, there are also some human studies that suggest that CBD may have a negative effect on your immune system. As one study concluded, "the data overwhelmingly support the notion that CBD is immunosuppressive."

As with so much related to cannabis, more research is needed to fully understand all the ways that CBD and other cannabinoids interact with the human body. In the meantime, cannabis-derived compounds such as CBD continue to be popular among people who are seeking a broad range of health and wellness benefits, including everything from trying to treat pain without relying on prescription drugs, to dealing with high blood pressure, to promoting general heart health and an overall sense of wellbeing.

It is vital to consult your physician and ask them to provide medical advice before beginning a regimen of CBD products, including CBD oil. Be sure to discuss any current prescription medications and possible drug interactions prior to starting CBD.

Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on June 20, 2022.