WHAT IS CBD? | The ‘not high’ cannabis compound is changing everything

Josh Dickey
Apr 12, 2018

People are turning to CBD for relief from ailments both serious and everyday.

There are no three hotter letters in cannabis right now than C-B-D.

The plant’s second-most abundant cannabinoid has been studied as therapy for a spectrum of serious conditions, from epileptic seizures and chronic inflammation to the neuropathic pain of multiple sclerosis and diabetes. CBD has also been examined as a potential “exit” drug in addiction studies, a rare ray of hope in the darkening opioid crisis.

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And as marijuana goes mainstream in 2018, CBD is finding its way into beauty, skin care, and pain relief topicals touting its anti-inflammation properties. More bodybuilders, mixed martial arts fighters, and other athletes are openly using and endorsing CBD—no longer banned in most sports as of 2018—as a booster for both workout energy and recovery.

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But more likely to earn CBD products a place in our medicine cabinets is their potential as a gentle, natural, non-pharmaceutical option for people seeking relief from insomnia, stress, anxiety, and many other everyday modern afflictions.

There’s so much CBD can do—but one thing it does not.

It doesn’t get you high.

At least not in the way we’re used to thinking about what “high” means.

That’s the role of CBD’s famous cannabinoid cousin THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive yang to CBD’s yin. And as with darkness and light, their relationship can be complex, co-dependent, and stubbornly paradoxical.

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CBD by itself is not psychoactive. No high whatsoever. Yet it does interact with our body’s signaling networks, and some who use it describe a sense of well-being, an overall calm and relaxed state that’s not quite a buzz, but not exactly nothing, either. CBD has been studied as a sleep aid, but daytime use won’t make you drowsy. Just relaxed.

But it may help balance out your THC high.

Pair CBD with THC, and things get even more mysterious and contradictory. But the two were clearly meant to be together.

CBD is believed to mitigate the psychoactive effects of THC, though not necessarily in a way that’s linear or straightforward. Its presence may tone down THC’s high and harsh notes, cool down its anxiety and paranoia, and help clear up confused thinking. But it can also amplify certain signals reaching the cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains and bodies.

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Throw in the subtle influence of dozens of other non-psychoactive cannabinoids and terpenes (the oily compounds that give all plants their unique fragrance) and you have the “entourage effect”—an elaborate symphony of reactions with the human endocannabinoid system that, led by the famed THC, eludes easy classification.

How do you take it?

Any way you can ingest THC, you can also take CBD. CBD-only products are available in sublingual oils and tinctures, all-in-one vaporizers, gummies, and other edibles.

CBD concentrates do exist, though they’re rare (in its purest form, CBD is clear and has a crystalline structure).

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You do get a fair amount of CBD from smoking flower strains that have it in abundance, and though there are high-CBD strains—mostly indicas—there’s virtually no way to avoid flower’s THC and at least a bit of the associated high.

The same applies for tinctures and oils, administered with a dropper under the tongue and held there for a minute, a preferred ingestion method for CBD. But be mindful when you use it: Many of these products also contain varying levels of THC. The labeling conventions are not uniform across brands, so read carefully and know what you’re getting into.

And unlike with THC, there do not appear to be upper limits to how much CBD you can take or tolerate. Several small studies have found no adverse reaction or toxicity associated with CBD doses as high as 1,500 milligrams—10 or 100 times more than the average consumer might take in a day.

As CBD grows in influence, our understanding of it will, too. But no amount of research can pinpoint what CBD will do for you. The only way to do that is to experiment, whether you’re seeking relief for a loved one suffering from seizures, want to quit smoking, or need a natural sleep aid that won’t cloud your morning.

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