The ABC’s of CBD: A Primer

By Emily Blum, M.D.

With the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more popularly known as the Farm Bill, hemp production (cannabis with less then .3% THC) has officially been “de-scheduled.” This legalization of hemp production has thrust cannabidiol (CBD) into the spotlight as the latest and greatest panacea. The internet is flooded with reported benefits—as well as possible hazards. The first step in deciding if CBD is right for you is understanding the alphabet soup surrounding the field.

What’s a Cannabinoid?

To start, let’s answer the question: what is a cannabinoid? Cannabinoids are a large class of chemical compounds known to interact with the human body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The purpose of the ECS is to maintain balance in the body, known as homeostasis. The ECS centers around the activity of two receptors, the CB1 and CB2 receptor. CB1 receptors can be found primarily in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors are found primarily in the immune system. Both CB1 and CB2 can be found less prominently throughout the body in the spleen, gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary tract, and peripheral nerves, to name a few. These receptors can be activated directly or indirectly by both endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids. In addition to their action within the ECS, cannabinoids such as CBD and CBN can interact with other receptors within the body such as vanilloid receptor‐type 1 (TRPV1) channels, nicotinic receptors, and serotonin receptors, further enhancing their effect.

Cannabinoids include not only the well-known active components of cannabis (phytocannabinoids), but also can be found as naturally occurring substrates within the human body (endocannabinoids). The endocannabinoids notably produced in the human body include anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and activate a G-protein coupled receptor pathway. There are over 100 reported phytocannabinoids that can be extracted from the cannabis plant including the most well known psychoactive component Tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) and the non-psychoactive Cannabidiol (CBD).

Other cannabinoids that have shown medical potential include Cannabigerols (CBG), Cannabichromenes (CBC), Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabinodiol (CBL). Variability in cannabinoid ratios can be found not only in different strains, but even the same strain grown under variable growing conditions.

What are Terpenes?

Another term you’ll often hear around the CBD world is terpenes. Terpenes are a chemical substance known as “organic hydrocarbons”—in other words, they’re aromatic oils found all over nature. Terpenes are most notable for their presence in essential oils, however, they’re very prevalent in cannabis (and responsible for its distinguishable smell).

The terpene profile found in cannabis is highly variable depending on the strain. Of the over 100 terpenes identified, each one is known for variable beneficial effects and can work hand in hand with cannabinoids to give a desired effect; this is called the entourage effect.

Because of the known potentiating effects of cannabinoids with each other and terpenes, knowing the cannabinoid composition of the product you’re using is important to obtain the proper effect you’re seeking. Wanna dig deeper into the various beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids found in cannabis, see our article on Full Spectrum Hemp Oil, or check out our Lab Reports.

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