There’s no question that CBD has made a permanent mark in the wellness industry after only a couple of years of being in the limelight. If you live in places where it's currently legal, you might feel like CBD has gone from being sort of around, to everywhere

Even though this little green wonder is popping up everywhere, many people still find CBD a little confusing – especially when it comes to what it can help with and how it works in the body.

What is CBD?

CBD, real name cannabidiol, is an organic non-intoxicating plant compound called a phytocannabinoid derived from flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family. 

The Cannabaceae family consists of three main species – Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.

Because CBD is not psychoactive, it doesn’t make you high or stoned – unlike its counterpart THC, another chemical compound found in the same plant – so you can still drive and do your work as normal.

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD and THC are both natural compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD is the non-psychoactive compound, while THC – otherwise known as tetrahydrocannabinol – is the stuff that makes you high. Therefore, the difference between them comes down to them working in different ways in the brain, resulting in entirely different effects on the body.

THC is associated with potential drug dependency and psychiatric adverse effects like paranoia, psychosis and schizophrenia. CBD, on the other hand, has no addictive potential and is not linked to any adverse mental health outcome – hence CBD gaining popularity for its potential health benefits on physical, emotional, and mental health issues.

Is marijuana the same as hemp?

Hemp and marijuana are both strains of the cannabis family. The difference is primarily the ratio of CBD and THC in the plant. 

Hemp is most commonly sourced from the cannabis sativa plant seed, also known as industrial hemp. In Europe, industrial hemp can contain no more than 0,2 % THC. Industrial hemp has been used to make fabrics for thousands of years. In cannabis strains used for marijuana or medicinal cannabis, the plants have been cross-bred for decades to yield as much as up to 20% THC in some strains. Most cannabis strains are containing CBD as well as THC in different ratios.

What is CBD health benefits and side effects

CBD: Health benefits and side effects

Similar to how endorphins are produced when jogging, for example, the body also creates cooling compounds. The cannabis plant goes through a similar process, creating these cooling compounds. CBD has been shown to have many health benefits for a variety of issues, such as:

• Skincare, acne, and eczema

The beauty industry has been raving about (and mass-creating!) CBD products thanks to its game-changing anti-inflammatory properties. Those who suffer from acne have found that CBD oil can help reduce the various types of cystic blemishes thanks to its ability to adjust how the body creates sebum – a natural, oily substance the skin makes.

*We still need more research on the effects of CBD on the body, however trials are happening as we speak.

• Pain, fibromyalgia 

When combined with a small dose of THC, topical cannabinoid mixtures can serve as a muscle relaxant and can help with nerve pain. Always under the guidance of a practitioner, you can help help ease symptoms of chronic pain like when dealing with fibromyalgia.

*We still need more research on the effects of CBD on the body, however trials are happening as we speak.

• Anxiety:

There are large amounts of studies regarding CBD and anxiety – many who are on anti-anxiety medication found that medical cannabis, combined with a tiny bit of THC, can help them deal with anxiety and stress.

*We still need more research on the effects of CBD on the body, however trials are happening as we speak.

CBD is not a cure for any illness – however, unlike many long-term pharmaceutical medication out there, CBD is safe to use for long periods of time with very minimal side effects. Though we lack big long-term studies on CBD, research is increasing and the benefits are pouring in.

It’s important to understand that the combination of chemicals is critical, as symptoms can worsen and you may even feel more pain if CBD is ramped up too much or is increased too quickly. Always start with a low, slow dose, under supervision.

How does CBD work? 

To understand how CBD works, we have to look at the chemical structure. The phytocannabinoids (phyto meaning of a plant) have a striking similarity to a group of lipid-based neurotransmitter produced in the body, therefore called endocannabinoids (endo meaning made in the body). 

A neurotransmitter works in the nervous system as a signaling molecule. It binds to its target, the receptors on nerve cells called neurons, to mediate a biological process in the body. The receptors that the endocannabinoids and the phytocannabinoids bind to are called endocannabinoid receptors, and together they form the endocannabinoid system (ECS). 

The ECS plays an essential role in maintaining bodily homeostasis. Homeostasis is vital to keep things like blood sugar, blood pressure, temperature, pH value and hormonal levels in an optimal range, that is to say, keep these systems within working conditions. To summarise it, cannabinoids, including CBD, is partly working through naturally interacting with our ECS and other receptors like the 5HT1 serotonin receptors.  

What does the endocannabinoid system do?       

The endocannabinoid system has a responsibility in regulating various biological mechanisms such as mood, memory, stress, sleep, digestion, reproduction, body temperature, pain, and immune function. 

How does CBD and THC work on the endocannabinoid system? 

THC works primarily by directly binding to and activating the receptors in the brain like a key in a lock. Once they are activated, the main action is for the receptor to decrease the activity. Hence, many effects of THC are caused by reducing the activity of specific pathways in the brain. Some examples can be reduced pain perception and impaired memory and learning skills.  

CBD works on the receptors in a more indirect way. When CBD binds to the receptor, it is not like a key in a lock, and the effects are the opposite of when THC binds. CBD has indeed been shown to balance out the effects of THC when taken together.  

CBD also works indirectly on other receptors by making sure that adenosine, a molecule released to suppress the immune system during inflammation, is more available for binding to the receptors. This leads to immune-suppression and can explain the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD.  

It is essential to notice that CBD can bind to, and regulate a wide range of other receptors like the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, TRPM8 ion channels, TRPA1 and 4 ion channels and many more. This is part of the explanation for the many observed effects of CBD, and we still need to investigate these effects further in the future. 

*All references are from the extensive work by one of our leading cannabis expert, Professor Roger Pertwee and can be found in the Handbook of cannabis (1).

READ NEXT: Tried and tested remedies and products to help manage pain.


1. Pertwee, R. G. (Roger G. (N.D.) Handbook of Cannabis.

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