What Is CBD? [Your All-Inclusive Need-to-Know Guide]
GBL Staff Writer
February 17, 2023
Even if you have a high-level concept of what CBD is — it’s always smart to know more. After all, you’re putting this little wunderkind into and onto your body.
Having a solid foundation in the numerous aspects of CBD can help you:
Be a more confident CBD shopper and consumer
Get greater bang for your CBD buck
Home in on the best CBD products for you
Maximize the effectiveness of your CBD oil
Find optimal ways to incorporate CBD into your life
Understand how to safely use CBD oil alongside standard medical treatment plans
We have a lot to cover, so let’s get into it already!
So, What Is CBD Exactly?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is one of over 140 cannabinoids that are native to the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are a special type of plant compounds found in cannabis; they interact with your endocannabinoid system to effect all sorts of mental and physical responses in your body.
CBD vs THC
To fully grasp CBD, you need to know something about THC, too. THC is another cannabinoid. You probably have at least a shadowy awareness of THC — it’s in the media enough and been part of pop culture and folk medicine for ages.
The two cannabinoids are alike in that they have great potential to yield a broad ranges of positive wellness outcomes. They’ve also both been used recreationally and medicinally for thousands of years. (In fact, hemp and marijuana plants — two varieties of cannabis — have been cultivated for over 10,000 years.)
Where these cannabinoids really differ is that THC is a psychoactive compound, whereas CBD is not. CBD doesn’t contain any chemical attributes that can affect your brain in an intoxicating way. THC, on the other hand, is known for its mind- and mood-altering impacts, aka “getting you high.” Along with the high, some people report anxiety or paranoia with THC use. By contrast, not only can’t CBD make you high — it’s known for its ability to bring on the calm.
Types of CBD
CBD’s usually derived from hemp but can be sourced from marijuana. This is because hemp CBD with no more than 0.3% THC is federally legal and because hemp is bred to have high CBD and low THC levels.(1)
Different strains of cannabis have their own proprietary chemical make-up. But, at the molecular level, all CBD is the same.(2)
CBD is a single cannabinoid, though. When it’s extracted from hemp or marijuana, other substances accompany it. In other words, CBD extract isn’t 100% pure CBD when it’s first produced.
This opens the door for possibilities, which can be a good thing for you as a consumer.
Full-Spectrum CBD vs Broad-Spectrum CBD vs Isolate CBD
Here are the three types of CBD that you’ll encounter in the marketplace:
Full-spectrum CBD has CBD, plus a host of other cannabinoids — including some THC — as well as terpenes, flavonoids, and whatever other phytochemicals where in the source plant. THC content may exceed the federally-permitted 0.3% threshold.
Broad-spectrum CBD features all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc. as full-spectrum CBD — but with the THC removed. Trace amounts of THC likely remain, but it’ll be less than 0.3%.
CBD isolate has been further processed to strip out all other plant constituents. It’s just cannabidiol.
Which Type of CBD Is Best?
Each kind has its pros and cons.
Full- and broad-spectrum CBD increase the chances you’ll experience an entourage effect. The entourage effect is the synergistic response your body may have to the CBD due to the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant substances. Plus, each terpene, flavonoid, vitamin, mineral, and so on in the CBD oil has its own potential benefits. However, because they contain at least a trace quantity of THC, users may get a mild euphoric sensation, fail a drug test, be in violation of local regulations, etc.
As a lone compound, CBD isolate won’t produce an entourage effect. Additionally, it’s a highly-processed product. On the upside, though, many people love that there’s zero THC and no chance of the THC baggage.
No one type is right for everybody or all the time. We’ll come back to this in the How To Use CBD Oil section below.
CBD Oil Formulations & Methods of Administration
As you can easily tell, CBD oil is versatile. Producers are able to create every stripe of CBD-infused product. Not to mention you can craft your own CBD goods with a handy bottle of CBD drops.
Available Kinds of CBD Products
CBD oil is usually diluted in a carrier oil or base when made into the many available CBD products. While not an exhaustive list, here are some common preparations of CBD:
Each type of product and method of consumption has its merits. For example, let’s compare pills to drops: Softgels might take longer to kick in but their effects may be smoother and longer lasting. Conversely, CBD oil tinctures taken sublingually are faster acting but their effects can be more intense and shorter lived.
How CBD Works in Your Body
Your body wants to achieve and stay in homeostasis. Homeostasis is the state your body’s in when it’s in balance and all systems and functions are working optimally. CBD aims to facilitate your body in its quest for homeostasis.
Everyone has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). When CBD is introduced into your body (through the bloodstream, digestive tract, or skin), it engages with the ECS, which spurs various systemic responses. As most people are looking to CBD for a wellness win, the hope is that the reaction is helpful — i.e., the body’s reaction is the person’s desired outcome.
CBD doesn’t work with the ECS like THC does. This is another reason you get different results from the two cannabinoids. Instead of binding with the CB1 or CB2 receptors like THC, it’s thought that CBD changes the way that the endocannabinoids interact with the receptors.(2)
The ECS is a complicated and fascinating thing. We recommend reading our explainer post What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)? [Guide for Beginners] for greater detail if you’re not deeply familiar with the endocannabinoid system.
Furthermore, there’s a ton of research (more every day!) showing evidence that CBD might be an effective part of a care plan to address:(3,4)
Mental health conditions
Pain and inflammation
Women’s health issues
Digestive health problems
Sleep disturbance conditions
Cardiovascular health concerns
CBD exhibits so much promise that it’s expected that the body of research will continue to grow. As we learn more, we’ll develop a better idea of CBD’s capabilities and effectiveness.
How To Use CBD Oil
CBD use is a personal matter. It’s not a shapeless, stretchy sweatshirt that’ll fit anyone and everyone.
How you choose to consume CBD oil is tied to your individual needs and preferences. With that in mind, here are some tips and suggestions:
Determine your goals. What do you want to achieve by taking CBD? The answer will help you set reasonable expectation, guide research into products, and establish a proper-for-you CBD routine.
Assess your situation.Take stock of your lifestyle and health profile. Consider consulting with your doctor for guidance and advice.
Do your research. Educate yourself on the products and how they relate to the wellness concern you’re looking to address. Be sure to read product packaging, labels, and certificates of analysis to confirm ingredients, purity, use instructions, etc.
Pick appropriate CBD products.Weighing your overall objectives, personal circumstances, and research, identify CBD products that are a good fit for you. You may need to experiment a bit before hitting upon the right product (or combo of products). This is par for the course.
Start small. Most experts, enthusiasts, and retailers advocate for a conservative approach. There’s a reason you hear the slogan “low and slow” all the time — it’s a tried and true way to embark on your CBD journey! You can adjust the amount of CBD you use as you learn how your body responds to it.
Create a bespoke CBD regimen. What your best friend, neighbor, or family member does isn’t necessarily going to be what you should do. Over time, you’ll figure out the product potency, dosing, serving size, frequency, and other variables for your needs. You’ll gain understanding as to whether consistent or occasional use, taking CBD with or without food, etc., is better.
Track your results. Keeping a journal or log of the products you’re consuming, when and how much you used, and how you felt before and after administering them can reveal invaluable insights. It can show you what’s more or less effective for you as well as keep you focused on progress made.
Is CBD Safe?
In order to answer this question, we have to break it down. (But, remember — each person and product is different, so no one answer holds true in all scenarios.)
Let’s open with hemp — because most CBD sold is sourced from this subspecies and many CBD products use hemp seed oil as a carrier. Hemp is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. It’s also a very nutritious plant.(5)
Second, CBD Oil
Back to CBD specifically. Broadly speaking, for healthy adults, CBD should be safe. Things to know:(6,7,8)
CBD is well tolerated.
CBD is not toxic.
There are extremely few reported cases of allergic reactions.
Side effects are typically rare, temporary, and mild.
Speaking of side effects, common ones may include:(4,6,9)
Low blood pressure
Fatigue or drowsiness
CBD is also contraindicated for certain medical conditions and may interact with some medications. It’s also not recommended for those who are pregnant or nursing or for children (under 18 years old). It’s always a smart idea to check in with your healthcare team prior to starting CBD, just to make sure it’s okay for you to give it a try.
Experts agree that, while more research is needed on the effects of long-term and high-dose CBD use, occurrences of adverse reactions is low and that CBD tends to have fewer side effects compared to many everyday drugs.(10)
So, as with anything, there are potential risks or downsides associated with taking CBD. But the chances of having an adverse reaction are probably small and the possible upsides are great. You’ll have to do the cost-benefit analysis for yourself to see what makes sense for you.
Third, Everything Else
This miscellaneous category encompasses other ingredients as well as unintended contaminants. Each item on that ingredients list carries its own safety profile. And poorly-sourced ingredients may have harmful chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins in them. It’s something to be aware of.
Shoddy inputs make for shoddy outputs. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
The fewer, more natural the ingredients in your CBD oil products, the likelier they’ll be safer. So, opt for products that:
Use CBD derived from organic, American hemp
Use CBD that was extracted through a cleaner process, like CO2 extraction
Don’t include a lot of artificial fillers, binders, preservatives, etc.
Are made in a facility that adheres to current good manufacturing processes (CGMP)
Come from a reputable retailer
Have been tested by an independent third-party lab for purity and potency
Is CBD Legal?
Thanks to the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, restrictions on hemp and its byproducts (like CBD) have relaxed or disappeared entirely.
CBD & the Law
The 2018 enactment defined hemp-derived CBD with a max of 0.3% THC by weight as industrial hemp (frequently just called hemp for short). This distinguished it from marijuana and enabled hemp and its downstream products to be removed from the list of Schedule I drug.
No longer classified as a controlled substance, hemp and CBD are legal at the national level. As such, it’s perfectly okay for businesses to market, sell, and send CBD products to consumers — so long as they’re within the federally-established limits.
But, the federal laws are high-level and broad. They leave a lot up to the states to flesh out.
Because of this, what’s legal and what’s not can vary at the local level. And — trust us — it varies a great deal and is evolving constantly. So, it’s critical to periodically check the CBD laws in your area to see what you’re allowed to buy, own, and use.
CBD & the FDA
Now, it’s important to note that — except for Epidiolex — CBD is currently not an FDA-approved drug. It’s also not considered a dietary supplement.
This means that it’s prohibited to market CBD as a dietary supplements or make specific health claims.(11)
Shopping for CBD Products
To get the good stuff, you need to shop like a pro. We’re not going to blow smoke and tell you that making sure you’ve found high-quality CBD products is effortless.
You will need to do your due diligence and it does take a bit of up-front work. The nice thing is that once you lock in on the sellers, brands, and products that work for you — buying your CBD is easier the next time around.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you conduct your research and “window shopping.”
Hallmarks of High-Quality CBD Products
Only pure, high-quality ingredients are used.
The labeling is thorough, accurate, and readable.
The certificates of analysis are easy to find and confirm what’s on the labels/packaging.
The maker and seller have a solid presence in the marketplace, are esteemed within their industry, and have favorable reviews from customers and partners.
Where to Buy CBD
Your options for getting CBD depend on where your are and what kind of CBD oil product you’re angling for. That said, CBD goods are readily available via internet shops and marketplaces and brick-and-mortars.
Because hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% THC is federally legal, it’s okay for retailers to ship it to any state in the US. So, online mail-order may be a viable option.
However — there’s always a big but, right? — laws and regulations vary at more local jurisdictional levels. This means that, even though the interstate commerce aspect of your CBD purchase is fine for the seller, it may not be legal for you to actually buy, possess, or use CBD where you live. You have to check the current laws in your area to see what’s permitted.
Look for shops that have a decent selection, high-quality products, plenty of product info available, and knowledgeable staff. Review the store’s policies and services to see if they jibe with your needs.
Some people prefer shopping at local venues. This lets them build a more personal rapport with the retailer and handle products prior to purchasing.
But, often the value and convenience of online shopping for CBD is unbeatable.
You’ll always have a greater variety of products at your fingertips.
Product and seller information is more readily available.
Products are frequently less expensive or have better deals than brick-and-mortars.
You can shop from anywhere at any time. (Wearing whatever you want!)
Products are delivered directly to you. (No need to waste time or gas fighting against traffic to get to your town’s CBD outlet.)
CBD is one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis. It’s known for its potential to help support many mental and physical health and wellness concerns — like pain, stress, and sleep disturbances.
As long as it has no more than 0.3% THC, hemp-derived CBD is federally legal. More-local-level laws vary so it’s important to periodically check what’s permitted in your area.
When you’re ready to buy CBD — which you can do online or in person — choose only high-quality products that are suited to your needs and preferences. Shop with trustworthy retailers.
It may take some time and trial and error to find the CBD products that work best for you. Keeping a log can help you home in on the most effective regimen.
FAQs Buzzin’ Through the Hive
What is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid (naturally-occurring plant compound) in cannabis. CBD may help support mental and physical wellness — everything from lifting mood to improving sleep to easing pain.
CBD oil is concentrated cannabidiol that’s produced by extracting the CBD from the cannabis plant. There are three types of CBD oil — full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate, each with varying presence of other cannabinoids and plant substances.
What is CBD oil good for?
A whole lot! While each person is unique — and will have a personalized experience with CBD — and each product has its own merits, CBD yields many potential wellness wins. Research is showing that CBD is anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety, among other things. As such, people use CBD oil products for a slew of concerns — like managing stress, relieving aches and pains, elevating skincare, facilitating better sleep, and so much more.
Is CBD oil legal?
The 2018 Farm Bill federally-legalized hemp-derived CBD that has 0.3% THC or less by weight. However, laws and regulations at the state, municipal, and tribal level vary. Given this — and that the rules are ever-changing — you should check what’s permitted in your area prior to purchasing any cannabis products.
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