Understanding Cannabidiol (CBD): What It Is and How It Works

What is CBD? For millions of people, cannabidiol (CBD) is a game-changing compound with myriad benefits. What does CBD do? For many, it's a useful tool in coping with anxiety, pain, sleep troubles, cramps, and so much more. Curious about cannabidiol in its various forms? We were, too. Here's what we learned about the game-changing hemp compound.

Disclaimer: The following is neither legal nor medical advice. Please do not read it as such.

5 CBD Facts You Should Know

  1. CBD stands for cannabidiol.
  2. It won't produce psychoactive effects (i.e., won't make you feel high like weed will).
  3. Cannabidiol can be an oil, cream, capsule, gummy, or even a dog treat.
  4. It's a naturally-occurring compound in both hemp and weed.
  5. CBD benefits may include assuaging anxiety, helping with sleep troubles, reducing pain, reducing seizures, and mitigating period cramps.
cbd benefits

CBD Stands for Cannabidiol

In scientific terms, cannabidiol is a cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp. A cannabinoid is a naturally-occurring compound. Other cannabinoids you may recognize are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBG, and CBN, though there are many others.

What does CBD do? For many, it's a source of day-to-day relief for discomfort. Cannabidiol may provide a balancing effect through its interactions with the human body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). More on what this is and how it works later.

What Is CBD (Cannabidiol)?

Cannabidiol is a compound found in hemp and weed that won't produce a high. Instead, it may have a variety of positive effects, including relieving or reducing the risk of:

  1. Acne
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Diabetes
  5. Drug addiction treatment
  6. Epileptic seizures
  7. High blood pressure
  8. Insomnia
  9. Muscle spasms
  10. Pain

Later on, we'll review what some of the research on CBD benefits suggests.

CBD Comes from Hemp

Though CBD is naturally-occurring in cannabisthe plant's psychoactive formthe cannabidiol that you can buy in a store is extracted from hemp. The legal difference between hemp and cannabis is that the former contains a maximum of 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound that produces a high. In fact, during much of cannabis history, the two plants were not distinguished.

In other words, the cannabidiol sold in the store is derived from a plant that won't produce a high.

That isn't to say that the compound isn't a critical part of our favorite weed strains. Recent findings suggest that cannabidiol may be as essential to a strain's effects as THCand terpenes and flavonoids, too.

How To Take CBD

There are more ways than ever to benefit from the compound. Today, the hemp extract is available as a topical (lotion or cream), CBD oil, gummies, or other types of edibles, vape pens, CBD hemp flower, capsules, dabs, and even dog treats.

The best way to take cannabidiol is a personal choice. Some methods of ingesting are faster-acting (vape pens); others are more potent (oil), and alternatives may have longer-lasting effects (edibles). We'll go over what the research suggests on the differences between these compounds later.

Benefits of CBD (Cannabidiol)

So, why is everyone taking cannabidiol? Excellent question. There isn't one way to experience CBD's benefits--meaning that people may take it for various reasons.

FUN FACT: Some states where weed is legal have only legalized medical CBD.

More generally, CBD may help provide homeostasis within the body, meaning balance. It may do this by reducing inflammation and providing pain management.

Here are a few of the most common reasons why people take cannabidiol in all its forms. If you are suffering from any of the below conditions, please speak with your doctor.

CBD for Anxiety

Research suggests that the compound may help reduce anxiety thanks to its interactions with receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Here's what studies have indicated:

  • CBD may help those suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). In one study, participants who were given 400 mg of cannabidiol experienced a reduction in anxiety. 
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the compound may reduce stress, thereby benefiting those suffering from generalized anxiety disorders.
  • One study found that over 66% of participants with anxiety-related insomnia experienced less anxiety and better quality sleep when given the compound.
  • Several studies suggest that cannabidiol may help those who have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Specifically, the compound may help with traumatic memories.

CBD for Sleep and Insomnia

Cannabidiol may also have profound benefits for people who struggle to get a good night's sleep. Not only may it reduce anxiety and pain, but it may also promote REM sleep--the deepest sleep state--and reduce less restful states.

  • One of the main ways that cannabidiol may help with sleep is by reducing anxiety and anxiety-related insomnia.
  • Similarly, the compound's potential as a pain reliever adds to its potential as a sleep aid.
  • CBD may also help people stay asleep. Research suggests that the cannabinoid may improve REM sleep in Parkinson's Patients.
  • Another scientific overview found that the compound may reduce RBD, which is the less restful type of sleep contributing to drowsiness during the day. 

CBD for Pain

The compound is often used as a non-addictive form of pain management and inflammation reducer. Keep in mind that CBD research for pain is preliminary, and much is based on animal models, not humans.

  • One review suggests that cannabidiol may relieve chronic pain without adverse side effects. Specifically, it looked at pain associated with fibromyalgia, cancer, and neuropathic conditions.
  • Research suggests that THC and CBD together may assist those suffering from migraine-related pain.
  • Those experiencing arthritic pain may benefit from the compound, according to a study from 2016 that considered rats with arthritis. It may also reduce inflammation.
  • Research from 2013 indicated that a spray containing both THC and CBD might reduce pain for those suffering from cancer and cancer treatments.

If you are experiencing pain, please speak with your physician. Some doctors argue that more research on cannabidiol is needed to recommend it as a pain reliever. It may also interact with other medications and dietary supplements.

Cannabidiol for Inflammation

One of the cannabinoid's other promising applications is as a natural way to reduce inflammation. What is inflammation? In short, it's how the immune system responds to an irritant. It can result from a hard workout, a condition like arthritis, germs, or a foreign object.

  • One review of 132 studies suggests that CBD may reduce inflammation and pain in people with multiple sclerosis. The study explains that this may be due to the compound's anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antiemetic, and antipsychotic properties.
  • One animal study suggests that cannabidiol may help treat sciatica-related pain.
  • study conducted on rats indicates that cannabidiol may reduce inflammation and pain.