If you spend any time following health news online, you’ve probably heard of CBD. Short for cannabidiol, CBD comes from hemp, or the Cannabis Sativa plant. In recent years, interest in CBD has skyrocketed.

This is partly due to the fact that its psychoactive counterpart, THC, has been legalized to varying extents in a majority of states. While the legal debate over marijuana continues on a national level, people have looked into alternative ways to enjoy the health benefits without the high. Enter CBD.

Because CBD and THC both come from cannabis, the plant source for hemp and marijuana, there’s a lot of confusion about CBD, how it works, and what makes it different from THC. However, CBD is distinct from THC. For one thing, it doesn’t get you high. That’s a big reason why CBD is becoming so popular. CBD provides a wealth of health benefits without the “stoned” effect of marijuana.

There’s a lot more to know about CBD, though. To determine whether CBD can help you, and understand what it can treat, you need to wade through the hype to get at the truth.

That’s what this article is for. We break down everything you need to know about CBD, from how it affects your body to how you can purchase safe and legal CBD products.

What is CBD?

CBD is one of over 100 naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Since these compounds were discovered in the cannabis plant, they were named after it: cannabinoids. Another well-known cannabinoid is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.

The cannabis plant itself is categorized into two main families: Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. CBD and THC appear in both types of cannabis. However, the concentration of CBD or THC depends on whether the plant was sourced from marijuana or hemp.

Marijuana, which contains between 15 to 40% THC, comes from either Indica or Sativa. Hemp, on the other hand, comes from Cannabis Sativa alone. Hemp only contains 0.3% THC or less, and instead has a much higher concentration of CBD.

Typically, when you purchase CBD oil, it comes from industrial hemp. Although, occasionally, CBD products can also be sourced from marijuana. These will have a higher amount of THC, and may even cause you to test positive for marijuana use.

Does CBD get you high?

No. Unlike THC, CBD is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis. When you ingest CBD, you will not get high. In fact, CBD can counteract or lessen the high of THC.

Because CBD lacks the psychoactive effects of THC, many individuals view CBD products as a preferable alternative to marijuana. They can enjoy the health benefits of CBD, which range from pain and anxiety relief to reduced migraines and inflammation, without feeling stoned. This is especially appealing to those who are prone to experience the negative side effects of THC, such as increased anxiety.

Besides the intended benefit, such as pain relief, ingesting CBD may also cause you to feel a general sense of relaxation, lightness, or clarity.

What are the benefits of CBD?

CBD has many therapeutic properties. It can act as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiemetic, and anti-anxiety agent. While the research is still developing, thus far the studies suggest that CBD can relieve or treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain and arthritis
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Psychosis, specifically that associated with schizophrenia
  • Nausea
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Migraines
  • Nicotine and opioid addiction
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Low appetite, such as from cancer treatment
  • Epilepsy and seizures

To date, CBD has only been officially approved by the FDA for treating epilepsy. Epidiolex is a CBD oral solution prescribed to treat two severe forms of epilepsy. Various states have approved CBD for treating other medical conditions, such as New Mexico, which approved it for PTSD.

How does CBD affect your body?

CBD, and other cannabinoids like THC, affect your body’s endocannabinoid system. Your endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating a variety of functions, including your mood, motor control, sleep, digestion, pain and inflammation.

Your endocannabinoid system is made up of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes. The endocannabinoids your body produces are similar to external cannabinoids like CBD, which allows them to respond to each other.

When you ingest CBD, it binds to cannabinoid receptors throughout your brain and body. These are located throughout your nervous system, digestive system, and immune system. In binding to these receptors, CBD helps your endocannabinoid system communicate better with these other systems, enabling it to create the positive health effects like reduced inflammation and pain relief.  

How do you take CBD?

Although CBD oil is one of the most popular CBD products, CBD is available in many forms. There are four main ways to ingest CBD, including:

Which CBD product is best for you depends largely on personal preference. However, the way you ingest CBD can determine how quickly it affects your system, as well as how long those effects last.

For example, it can take longer to feel the effects through oral ingestion, since your body has to digest and absorb the CBD. Of all four methods, inhalation delivers the effects most quickly, but they’ll diminish sooner, too. The effects of CBD tend to be longer-lasting with oral, sublingual, and transdermal administration.

How much CBD should you take?

The dosage of CBD also plays a role in how strongly you feel the effects of CBD. When used in clinical studies, oral doses tend to range from 100 to 800 mg/day. However, the rule of thumb is 1 to 6 mg per 10 pounds of body weight.

Any CBD products you purchase will provide dosing guidelines. Use these for guidance. Because there are no official dosing guidelines, it’s safest to start with the minimum dose and work your way up until you feel the effects. Your dose may vary depending on your body weight, tolerance, and other factors like medication you may be taking.

If CBD is legal in your state, you can speak to your doctor or your pharmacist about how much they’d recommend, and if they expect CBD to have any adverse side effects with any of your prescription medications.

Once you find a dose that works, stick with it. Unlike THC, individuals do not develop a tolerance to CBD. That means your dose should continue to work for you, unless other variables change significantly (like your body weight).

Is CBD safe to use?

CBD is generally considered safe. It’s rare to experience side effects from taking CBD. When side effects occur, it’s typically from the interaction between CBD and other medications the person is taking, as opposed to being caused directly by the CBD itself.

However, because it’s not yet regulated by the FDA, that gives manufacturers some wiggle room in how accurately they label their products. According to a 2017 study of 84 CBD products sold online, only about a third were accurately labeled in regards to the amount of CBD. Worse, THC was detected in over 20% of the products. Vape liquids were the largest offenders, while CBD oils tended to have the most accurate labels.

Besides THC, there may be other ingredients in the CBD product that you don’t wish to ingest. Always carefully read the label when purchasing CBD online, and use these products with caution.

Is CBD legal?

Due to varying state and federal laws, the legality of CBD is cloudy at best. Because it contains less than 0.3% THC, in theory CBD should be legal in most states. However, since cannabis is still illegal at a federal level, that creates some uncertainty around its legal status.

Typically, if you live in one of the states where medical or recreational marijuana is legalized, CBD is likely to be legalized as well. If you have concerns about the legality of CBD where you live, review the CBD laws in your state.

The cannabis plant comes in two main varieties: Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. Either subspecies contains over 100 chemical compounds (called cannabinoids), including CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

Marijuana derives from either variety of cannabis, but hemp only comes from the Cannabis Sativa plant. Hemp plants contain very little THC, the compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Instead, they contain a much higher concentration of CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. The majority of CBD products are sourced from hemp.

CBD provides various health effects, from anxiety and pain relief to better skin and heart health. However, because CBD is separate from THC, the psychoactive compound of cannabis, CBD users can enjoy the health benefits of CBD without experiencing the “high” associated with marijuana. This enables users to safely use CBD without worrying about being high disrupting their daily lives

CBD Benefits Chart

The list of benefits CBD provides is long and growing, as scientists continue to unearth new health benefits and use cases for CBD. This chart provides an overview of the benefits we’ll review in the following sections.

Benefits of CBD
Relieves arthritis pain
Relieves chronic pain
Reduces chronic nerve pain
Reduces inflammation
Reduces muscle spasms and other MS symptoms
Reduces chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting for cancer patients
May slow cancer cell growth
Relieves anxiety and depression
Relieves insomnia and improves sleep
Helps treat acne and psoriasis
Aids nicotine and heroin addiction recovery by reducing withdrawal symptoms

CBD Benefits for Pain Relief

Several studies show that CBD provides relief for chronic pain stemming from arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions. The body’s endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating your emotions, motor control, immune system, and pain response. When the body ingests CBD, it affects the way your body perceives and responds to pain.

One study of rats found that CBD reduced their acute pain response to surgical incision both immediately and in the long-term. Another study found that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties significantly reduce chronic nerve pain and inflammation.

CBD has also been shown to reduce spasticity among individuals with multiple sclerosis, enabling them to walk more easily with less pain. In a study of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, a daily CBD spray treatment reduced pain both when the person was moving and when they were at rest.

CBD Benefits for Cancer Patients

In addition to their illness, cancer patients often live with several uncomfortable symptoms, like pain, depression, and sleep issues. Worse, the treatment for cancer often results in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. CBD can relieve all of these cancer symptoms.

Not all cancer patients adequately respond to traditional pain medication like opioids. Of the ones who do, they may develop an addiction to the drugs. CBD provides an alternative treatment that is non-habit forming and even more effective, according to the research. One study that CBD reduced pain 30% more than traditional medication or THC alone.  

Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common—and most feared—symptoms of chemotherapy. These symptoms can be so intense that they lead 25 to 50% of cancer patients to ultimately delay or refuse this life-saving treatment. Fortunately, CBD can significantly control and reduce both of these symptoms. In one study of cancer patients, researchers administered a daily CBD/THC spray or placebo to participants during the 5 days following their chemotherapy. The individuals who received the CBD spray experienced a 49% reduction in nausea and vomiting-related symptoms.

There’s also a growing body of evidence suggesting that CBD may actually facilitate cancer cell death and slow the spread of aggressive cancer cells for breast cancer, although the research is still in early stages.

CBD Benefits for Anxiety Disorders

Much like how CBD affects the way the body perceives and remembers pain, CBD can also change the endocannabinoid system’s response to anxiety disorders and depression.

In one study of individuals with social anxiety disorder and a phobia of public speaking, participants were separated into two groups. One received a single dose of 600mg CBD while the other received a placebo, an hour and a half before they participated in a simulated public speaking test. The individuals who received CBD experienced significant reductions in their anxiety, as well as in the cognitive impairment and discomfort they felt while public speaking.

study showing how CBD helps anxiety

Researchers also evaluated the participants’ self assessments of their public speaking performance. The tendency for the placebo group to make negative self-assessments was nearly fully absent among the CBD group.

CBD has also been shown to have antidepressant-like effects and to help motivate social interaction.

CBD Benefits for Sleep

In many instances, insomnia and sleep issues accompany anxiety disorders. In one study of pediatric post-traumatic stress disorder, CBD was shown to consistently improve sleep quality over a period of 5 months—in the absence of any pharmaceutical drugs. A once daily 12-25 mg CBD treatment enabled the individual to sleep through the night and experience better quality sleep, with less overall anxiety during the day.

REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder that, left untreated, often develops into a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s or lewy body dementia. In healthy REM sleep, muscle atonia sets in, paralyzing the muscles so we don’t physically act out our dreams. With RBD, however, the muscle atonia is not present, enabling individuals to move violently during sleep and put themselves at risk of injury. CBD has been shown to immediately and significantly control the physical symptoms of RBD, reducing the occurrence of RBD without any negative side effects.

In the rheumatoid arthritis study we cited above, the CBD treatment also improved quality of sleep for the RA patients—as well as their pain—demonstrating how the benefits of CBD are not limited and can treat multiple symptoms at once.

CBD Benefits for Skin Issues

As an anti-inflammatory, CBD can also treat skin issues like acne and psoriasis.

In addition to genetics and other factors, one possible cause for acne is the overproduction of oil sebum by inflamed sebaceous glands in the skin. Studies have found that CBD is particularly effective at slowing or inhibiting production of human sebocytes.

Psoriasis is another skin disorder, characterized by a rapid buildup of skin cells that results in inflammation, redness, and scaling of the skin. As an autoimmune condition, early research suggests CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may also help treat psoriasis.

CBD Benefits for Addiction Recovery

CBD may also be instrumental in helping people overcome nicotine or opioid addiction, by alleviating the symptoms of withdrawal.

One study of smokers who wanted to quit smoking gave participants an inhaler of either CBD or a placebo. Over the course of one week, they were told to use the inhaler whenever they felt the urge to smoke. At the end of the week, those with the placebo inhaler smoked the same amount of cigarettes as they had before the study. Participants with the CBD inhaler, however, reduced the total number of cigarettes they smoked by 40%.

Part of why CBD is uniquely helpful for those in addiction recovery, as opposed to THC (which can provide many of the same health benefits), is because CBD provides all the same benefits without the risk of addiction. THC appears to increase sensitivity to other drugs, which can end up rewarding drug-seeking behavior. CBD, on the other hand, CBD provides the same health benefits while inhibiting drug-seeking behavior, thereby reducing an individual’s risk for abuse and relapse.

cbd vs thc

The studies for CBD as an aid to heroin addiction recovery are promising, as regular CBD treatment significantly reduces an individual’s cravings for the drug. Even more promising is the fact that these effects appear to get stronger with time, with craving reduction lasting as long as 7 days after the initial CBD treatment.

Future Benefits of CBD

The research looking into the benefits of CBD continues to grow as scientists uncover more benefits of cannabidiol. The research is still in development, but early findings include:

  • CBD reduced monthly seizures by 36.5% among individuals with severe epilepsy. Among children with Dravet syndrome, the number of monthly convulsive seizures decreased by over 50%.
  • CBD significantly increased quality-of-life scores among Parkinson’s disease patients.
  • CBD may prevent the neurodegeneration and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD may prevent heart damage among those with
  • CBD may also prevent diabetes. One study of non-obese diabetic mice found that CBD treatment reduced the incidence of diabetes by 56%, with additional anti-inflammatory  benefits.diabetes and heart disease, by slowing cell death, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
  • CBD can reduce the psychotic symptoms associated with schizophrenia, due to its effect on brain activity in the striatum, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.
  • In a study of healthy men, an acute dose of 600mg of CBD reduced blood pressure response in stressful situations.

The health benefits of CBD are numerous, and continue to grow. One reason for CBD’s increasing popularity among researchers and users is that it appears to relieve many distressing symptoms for a variety of disorders— but without the negative side effects of traditional medication. Learn more about CBD at the links below: