What is cannabidiol?
Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, can seem like a confusing substance. Given its rapid rise into the public sphere, the range of phonetically similar technical terms surrounding it - “phytocannabinoid”, “endocannabinoid”, and even just “cannabinoid” - and those same words’ association with cannabis, it can be difficult to get your head around it all. It’s best to start simply.
Origins of the word “cannabidiol”
The root of the word cannabidiol does, in fact, come from Cannabis, a genus of flowering plants known primarily for their recreational use - namely the psychoactive effects. However, Cannabis itself is just a broad classification, much like how the genus Rosa covers over 300 different species of rose. In the case of cannabis, there are two primary species: Cannabis sativa, and Cannabis indica.
Even if you’ve not heard of this divide, it’s likely you’ll have seen two other key pieces of terminology: hemp and marijuana.
- Hemp is a subset of Cannabis sativa, which is primarily used for industrial purposes, as in paper, rope, textiles and biofuels.
- Marijuana refers to plants grown for recreational purposes, hence why people use the term when referring to drugs.
For our purposes, the most significant difference found between strains of cannabis is the balance of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychotropic ingredient, and cannabidiol, or CBD, which has no psychotropic properties.
If you look into the background of any given CBD product, it’s highly likely it was harvested from a specially cultivated strain of hemp, bred to maximise the CBD and minimise the THC. At Vitality, that's why all our e-liquids only contain trace elements of THC, whilst our oral oils and cosmetics contain absolutely no THC.
What is a cannabinoid?
Despite their differences, THC and CBD both fall into the classification of cannabinoid, a type of chemical compound first discovered in cannabis, hence the naming convention. In fact, 113 distinct phytocannabinoids (a cannabinoid synthesised by a plant) have been discovered so far within the hemp plant, though THC and cannabidiol are far and away the most prevalent ones.
Even though the cannabinoid classification was first discovered within the cannabis plant, they actually exist throughout a whole host of other biological systems, including our own. An endocannabinoid is a cannabinoid produced within the human body, in a system aptly named the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that was only discovered several decades after the cannabidiol was identified.
This was partially due to the stigma surrounding cannabis research, but also because the ECS assists a variety of other important body systems rather than acting directly. This research has revealed a complex web of neurotransmitters and receptors found throughout the body, designed to promote a state of balance called homeostasis across different internal systems.
In short, the human body works best when working between a set of parameters which the ECS monitors, never too hot, never too cold; never too hungry, never too full. Think of the ECS as a project manager, ensuring that each individual person is simultaneously doing their own job whilst also working in unison with the wider team.
To read a much more extensive guide on the endocannabinoid system, click here.
The endocannabinoid system and CBD
But why does any of this matter for a CBD user? Well, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system gave us a much better understanding of how THC and cannabidiol interact with our biological framework, revealing that they both act as analogs for a pre-existing cannabinoid within our own body (anandamide for THC, and 2-AG for CBD).
This means that these phytocannabinoids aren’t foreign invaders; they’re acting alongside cannabinoids the body produces by itself. Whether you take cannabidiol by vaping, putting drops under your tongue, or even using externally applied skin cream, its sole means of interacting with your body is through these existing receptors.
Think of CBD as a way of providing localised support to the ECS. Rather than acting directly, cannabidiol activates key receptors that the ECS uses to maintain balance throughout the human body, stimulating the production of endocannabinoids your body already synthesises.
Cannabidiol and the entourage effect
The process by which cannabidiol interacts with the endocannabinoid system plays into another key piece of industry terminology: the entourage effect. A mechanism proposed by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam, the entourage effect suggests that cannabidiol’s effects are amplified greatly when working in conjunction with other hemp compounds.
These compounds function like a football team, working to a much greater effect when each player performs their own role than when a defender tries to score a goal. The “team” assembled in the hemp plant have been working together and adapting to support each other for millennia.
The reason Ben-Shabat and Mechoulam’s hypothesis has taken on such industry-wide ramifications for cannabidiol is the ongoing research into the vast range of organic compounds found within hemp. Not only are there 113 recorded phytocannabinoids as previously mentioned, but a plethora of terpenes, flavonoids, waxes and oils, each with their individual recorded usages.
Vitality CBD’s own product range is built on a deference to this natural balance, meaning that all of our oils are either whole plant or broad spectrum, harnessing far more of the plant than simply extracting and isolating the CBD.
To learn more about the entourage effect, read our piece on whole plant and broad spectrum CBD.
CBD and your health
Since the endocannabinoid system is so pervasive, the potential impacts of introducing cannabidiol to the body are far reaching, which can be both exciting and worrying to newcomers.
It’s worth noting that, alongside having no psychotropic properties, cannabidiol has also been classified by the World Health Organization as safe and well tolerated. In an extensive report on cannabidiol, the WHO stated:
“The evidence from well controlled human experimental research indicates that CBD is not associated with abuse potential.”
Working together to understand CBD
CBD usage and the motives for doing so differ from person to person, but through a better understanding of how it interacts with the body, we believe each user can engage with cannabidiol more effectively. At Vitality CBD we know that an informed choice is always best.