What is CBD?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis. This plant boasts a rich history as a medicinal compound going back for thousands of years. Today the therapeutic properties of CBD are being tested and confirmed by scientists and doctors around the world as a safe, non-addictive substance.

CBD is one of the 113-plus compounds found in industrial hemp plants. A non-intoxicating cannabinoid, CBD has the ability to act on cannabinoid receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system. Plant cannabinoids, also known as phytocannabinoids, bind with the ECS which helps regulate certain vital functions of the body including:

  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Immune system
  • Pleasure
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety
  • Stress

When your ECS is in sync, your body is able to achieve what is called homeostasis, and your body operates at optimal human performance.


Marijuana is the dried flower of the female cannabis plant. While marijuana comes from either the cannabis indica or cannabis sativa species, hemp is found exclusively in the cannabis sativa family.

Although marijuana and hemp both share roots in cannabis sativa, differences in their chemical composition make them unique from one another. While more than 113 chemical cannabinoids are found in cannabis, the amount of these cannabinoids differs dramatically between hemp and marijuana.

Marijuana’s most common cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the chemical cannabinoid associated with the plant’s psychoactive effect. Depending on the strain, marijuana THC levels can reach 30%, but THC levels in hemp are less than 0.3%.

The low levels of THC in hemp mean that, unlike marijuana, it has been used historically for industrial purposes. Hemp’s rapid growth and strong fibers make it ideal for crafting durable rope, clothing, sails and paper.

Although hemp will not get you high, it does contain significant amounts of another cannabinoid known as cannabidiol. Also found in marijuana, CBD is actually a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid. Its interaction with receptors in the central nervous system and immune system can offer medicinal benefits. With the introduction of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, hemp is now legal in the U.S.

CBD’s potency and non-intoxicating benefits make it appealing for therapeutic applications. These factors have driven the rapid rise of CBD-based products in the U.S. in recent years.

How does CBD work?

CBD and THC interact with the body in a variety of ways. Of particular importance is their ability to mimic and augment the effects of ­compounds in our bodies called endogenous cannabinoids. Endogenous cannabinoids are so named because of their similarity to compounds found in the cannabis plant. These endocannabinoids are part of what scientists refer to as the endocannabinoid system.

The discovery of the ECS has significantly advanced our understanding of health and disease. This finding has major implications for nearly every area of medical science. It also helps explain how and why CBD and THC are such versatile compounds, as well as why cannabis is such a widely consumed plant despite its illegal status.

The ECS plays a crucial role in regulating a broad range of physiological processes that affect our everyday experience: mood, energy level, intestinal fortitude, immune activity, blood pressure, bone density, glucose metabolism, pain experience, stress, hunger and more. What happens if the ECS is not functioning properly? What are the consequences of a chronically deficient or overactive ECS? In a word, disease.

Cutting-edge science has shown that the ECS is dysregulated in nearly all pathological conditions. In 2013 in The FEBS Journal, Pal Pacher and George Kunos, scientists with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suggested that “modulating endocannabinoid system activity may have therapeutic potential in almost all diseases affecting humans.”

By modulating the ECS and enhancing endocannabinoid tone, CBD and THC can slow or, in some cases, stop disease progression.


How does the endocannabinoid system work?

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.


Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by the body. They are similar to cannabinoids, but again the distinction is their production in the body. Experts have identified two key endocannabinoids so far:

  • Anandamide or AEA
  • 2-arachidonoylglyerol or 2-AG

Both endocannabinoids help keep internal functions running smoothly. Your body produces them as needed, making it difficult to identify what typical levels are for either type.

Endocannabinoid Receptors

Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to endocannabinoid receptors in order to signal the ECS to take action. Two main endocannabinoid receptors are of note:

  • CB1 receptors. These receptors are mostly found in the central nervous system.
  • CB2 receptors. These receptors are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system – especially in immune cells.

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The resulting effects depend on the receptor’s location and the endocannabinoid to which it binds. For example, some endocannabinoids might target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Other endocannabinoids might bind to a CB2 receptor in the immune cells to signal the body that it is experiencing inflammation, a common sign of autoimmune disorders.


Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they have completed their function. Two main enzymes are responsible for this process:

  • Fatty acid amide hydrolase which breaks down AEA.
  • Monoacylglycerol acid lipase which typically breaks down 2-AG.

What are the ECS’ functions?

The ECS is complicated. Experts have yet to determine exactly how this system works or all of its potential functions. ResearchTrusted Source has linked the ECS to the following processes:

  • Appetite and digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Chronic pain
  • Inflammation and other immune system responses
  • Mood
  • Learning and memory
  • Motor control
  • Sleep
  • Cardiovascular system function
  • Muscle formation
  • Bone remodeling and growth
  • Liver function
  • Reproductive system function
  • Stress
  • Skin and nerve function

These functions all contribute to homeostasis which refers to the stability of the body’s internal environment. For example, pain from injury or a fever can throw off the body’s homeostasis. The ECS then kicks in to help the body return to its ideal operation. Today experts believe that maintaining homeostasis is the primary role of the ECS. 

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