Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is emerging as one of the most exciting natural alternatives used to treat a wide range of common conditions, and for good reason.
Up until recently, it was the psychoactive component of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which received most of the attention for its medicinal benefits, as well as its ability to produce psycho- tropic effects. Now, with medical marijuana gaining ground across the country, researchers are discovering the amazing properties of additional cannabinoids. But what makes CBD so special?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CBD “is the major non-psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa,” and it is one of over 80 naturally occurring compounds called cannabinoids found in cannabis plants.1
CBD cannabinoids are anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-spasmodic, and they enhance circulation and cellular regeneration.2
Due to its wide variety of medical benefits, CBD is used to treat a number of common conditions, including chronic pain, inflammation, seizures, insomnia, spasms, multiple sclerosis, and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. As a topical agent, CBD oil can be directly applied to certain areas of the body as an effective means of relieving pain and soreness, reducing inflammation, and soothing inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema.
As CBD oil is non-psychoactive, applying it to the skin does not create mind-altering effects in the same manner that THC ingestion does.3 Therefore, the use of CBD in topical form is a useful alternative for those who wish to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC and those who would like options besides the over-the-counter steroid-based creams typically used for arthritis, joint pain, and similar ailments. This is especially true for aging users, parents, or adults who are concerned about practical matters (like failing drug tests, for example).
For these reasons, topical CBD products are experiencing a rise in popularity in the U.S.
Mechanism of action
In order to understand how CBD works, we first have to understand the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The NIH defines the ECS as, “a recently discovered signaling system comprising the cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, their intrinsic lipid ligands, endocannabinoids, and the associated enzymatic machinery.”1
The ECS is responsible for regulating many systems in the body, such as the limbic, metabolic, nociceptive, and immunologic functions. Endocannabinoids are natural chemical regulators in the body that interact with cannabinoid receptors and help maintain homeostasis. They seem to do this by detecting and regulating pain, mood, hunger, memory, and more.
If the ECS is affected, or the body is not producing enough endocannabinoids, these functions in the body may become unbalanced. And when the body is not producing or regulating endocannabinoids properly, ingesting natural cannabinoids or applying them topically can restore this balance. CBD differs from THC in the sense that THC mimics the natural cannabinoids in the body and binds with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are found in abundance within the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract, and in the central and peripheral nervous systems. While THC binds to these receptors, CBD interacts with an enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase).4
FAAH is responsible for pulling excess anandamide (a factor in homeostasis) out of circulation.
FAAH breaks down and removes natural endocannabinoids. CBD stops this breakdown and in turn increases the natural endocannabinoids available to the body. Because endo- cannabinoids have a balancing and healing effect on the body’s numerous systems and functions, CBD’s ability to increase the amount of endocannabinoids available to the body may create a bevy of therapeutic benefits5
CBD comes in oil form, ointments, creams and lotions, patches, balms, and salves. These are readily absorbed into the skin and can be applied directly to affected areas. It is advised that topical users should titrate the amount used until the desired result is reached.6
CBD oils can be potent and either include psychoactive THC or just CBD.7 Oils are also versatile, as they can be applied topically or ingested.
Furthermore, CBD topicals can be an effective treatment for many symptoms. Once applied, they can take anywhere from one to 48 hours to provide relief depending on the dose, frequency of use, and severity of the condition.
Most users find that regular application provides an analgesic effect that significantly reduces localized discomfort.2 Even though CBD is most often taken for pain relief, research is showing it to be beneficial in relieving, cramps, headaches, and psoriasis. CBD’s effects can increase the natural levels of pain-relieving endocannabinoids, decrease inflammatory responses, and desensitize pain receptors.2
Given the degree to which marijuana and cannabinoid derivative use has been stigmatized in the past, their Schedule I classification as illegal substances, and lack of FDA approval, valid medical research on the effects of CBD isn’t as plentiful as it should be. Much of the anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that CBD’s neuro- protective, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects with regard to topical applications are promising.2
Overall, many within the medical community are rapidly building the case that CBD can be a powerful relief agent for many conditions, and one that poses a negligible health risk.
There is a significant amount of scientific research on CBD and the ECS system as well as journal entries from pilot studies done by doctors from around the world over the past four decades. However, as this is still a novel area of medicine, do your own research on CBD. There are many online sources of information, but note the internet has a mix of both valid and misleading data. Vet your sources to ensure that they are reputable.
Joseph Rosenblatt is a New York entrepreneur and COO of Enliven Essentials, a New York CBD-infused-product company. He helped found Enliven Essentials with his family when he discovered the astonishing benefits CBD oil could provide for close family members suffering from pain and anxiety. Rosenblatt also writes, travels, and educates people about CBD oil and the benefits it carries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through enlivenessentials.com.
1 Massi P, Solinas M, Cinquina V, Parolaro D. Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013;75(2):303-12.
2 Russo EB. Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(1):245-59.
3 Cherney K. “Using CBD Oil for Pain Management: Does it work?” Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-oil-for- pain#overview1. Published 2017. Accessed July 2017.
4 Harvey J. “What CBD Is and How It Works in the Body.” THCU Insider. http://insider. thcuniversity.org/what-cbd-how-it-works. Published Nov. 2016. Accessed July 2017.
5 “The Endocannabinoid Production in the Human Body.” CBD Oil Review. https:// cbdoilreview.org/cbd-cannabidiol/endocanna- binoid-natural-production. Updated July 2017. Accessed July 2017.
6 “CBD Oil Dosage—General Advice to Assess How Much CBD to Take.” CBD Oil Review. https://cbdoilreview.org/cbd-cannabidiol/ cbd-dosage. Updated July 2017. Accessed July 2017.
7 Burnett M. “Finding the Optimal Therapeutic Ratio of THC and CBD.” MedicalJane. https://www.medicaljane.com/2014/05/29/ finding-the-optimal-therapeutic-ra-tio-of-thc-and-cbd. Published Jan. 2015. Accessed July 2017.