What is CBD (Cannabidiol)?

Sophia Delphi June 22, 2022 - 18 min read
Fact Checked
Selective focus of a woman holding a bottle of cbd oil with a dropper

With CBD being on everyone’s tongue, it’s normal that you’re curious what it is and how you could benefit from using CBD products.

You may have heard about CBD on the news or been told about it by a friend, or maybe you’ve seen it mentioned on TV.

Regardless of your reason for learning what CBD is, you want to get your information from reliable sources, which may pose a challenge.

Don’t worry; I’ve systematized CBD research for you and enclosed it in this guide.

Whether you’re a new user trying to learn what CBD is or just want to expand your knowledge on this interesting compound, today is the day you’ll become a knowledge base on your own.

What is CBD?

CBD is the acronym for cannabidiol, one of the most abundant cannabinoids found in Cannabis sativa.

These cannabinoids are the active molecules responsible for a range of benefits associated with using cannabis.

That’s where the first confusion may start to arise.

Before we dive deeper into the nature of CBD, it’s important that while CBD is a cannabis-derived compound, it doesn’t have intoxicating properties.

Simply put, it won’t get you high.

That euphoric palette of effects comes from the other cannabinoid — THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

Where Does CBD Come From?

Cannabis plants contain over 400 various chemicals, more than 100 of which belong to a class of compounds known as cannabinoids.

The concern about getting intoxicated from taking cannabis products that contain CBD comes from the fact that the compound has two different sources — hemp and marijuana.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Choosing the Source of CBD

Hemp and marijuana stem from the same family of plants — Cannabis sativa. Although they’re the same species, we distinguish between them mostly for legal reasons.

Having totally different chemotypes (chemical profiles), hemp and marijuana also use different mechanisms to produce their effects.

Marijuana is naturally high in THC. It’s federally illegal and only allowed in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational reasons (or both). On top of getting the user high, marijuana is associated with a wide range of potential medical applications.

Hemp, on the other hand, has only trace amounts of THC and comes with higher concentrations of CBD. The name “hemp” refers to any cannabis plant with THC levels at or below 0.3% in dry mass.

Some people argue that CBD from marijuana is more valuable from the therapeutic point of view because of the synergy achieved by CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant’s resin.

But truth be told, hemp-derived CBD shows an abundance of health benefits too.

Here’s a brief comparison of hemp and marijuana:

Properties Hemp Marijuana
Is it Cannabis? Yes Yes
CBD/THC Ratio High CBD / Low THC (< 0.3%) High THC (5% – 35% / Med-Low CBD (<1%)
Does it get you high? No Yes
How is it grown? Easily adapts to most climates and requires minimal care Can be grown both outdoors and indoors, but indoor settings usually yield better results
Applications Food, supplements, housing, ropes, clothes, cars Medical and recreational use

How CBD Works

To understand how you can use it to enhance your well-being with CBD, you’ll need to get a grasp of the way it acts on the brain.

The most important term in this section is “the endocannabinoid system (ECS).”

Don’t know what it is yet?

Worry not, and let me explain everything in a few simple sentences.

What is the Endocannabinoid System, and How Is It Related to CBD?

In general, the ECS is a vast neurochemical network composed of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes located throughout the body, with the highest concentrations with the brain, the nervous system, and the immune system.

It plays an essential role in regulating our internal homeostasis, a fancy word for balance between all our systems and organs.

Scientists argue that the ECS is the imperative network and the first line of defense against environmental damage and other toxins.

This system releases two chemicals — anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG). These are the two major endocannabinoids.

The ECS controls a wide range of critical functions in the body, such as:

  • Appetite
  • Body temperature
  • Cognitive performance
  • Hormonal balance
  • Immune function
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Pain transmission
  • Reproduction,

And more.

The ECS has two types of receptors, each responsible for modulating different processes. They’re called CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CB1 Receptors

CB1 receptors occur in the central nervous system (the spinal cord and brain), as well as some areas of the peripheral organs.

The highest levels of these receptors can be found in 3 brain areas:

  • The basal ganglia (produces dopamine)
  • The cortex (manages all higher brain functions)
  • The hippocampus (regulates cognitive function)

CB1 receptors are involved in regulating mood, memory, sleep, reproduction, pain perception, appetite, and cardiovascular health.

It sounds familiar with the many effects of cannabis, doesn’t it?

That’s because phytocannabinoids like THC have a very similar molecular structure to our endocannabinoids. Therefore, they’re able to mimic their actions on cannabinoid receptors.

CB2 Receptors

The highest concentrations of CB2 receptors appear in the blood and immune cells. The immune cells are responsible for detecting and fighting bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. It’s through this system that we can observe most of the health benefits of CBD.

But what exactly makes CBD so versatile?

CBD modulates the functioning of both CB1 and CB2 receptors, making them more responsive to anandamide. This facilitates better communication between endocannabinoids in the body, turning down hyperactivity, and turning up hypoactivity. That’s how the aforementioned balance gets restored.

Furthermore, CBD inhibits the FAAH enzyme that breaks down anandamide. As a result, you can achieve higher and more stable levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream.

CBD also acts on more than 65 molecular pathways. It can interact with opioid and vanilloid receptors to dampen pain signals from the body to the brain. Each time these receptors come in contact with CBD, the brain filters that sensation out.

What’s the Difference Between CBD vs. THC?

CBD and THC are the yin and yang of cannabis. Both have unique and similar effects and benefits; together, they amplify their positive properties and help control potentially unwanted reactions. This phenomenon is called the entourage effect — or the whole-plant synergy.

The main difference between CBD and THC is that cannabidiol isn’t intoxicating. Long story short, it won’t get you high. CBD has an antipsychotic effect on the body, meaning it can mitigate the psychedelic potential of THC.

That’s why many people use strains or products with balanced ratios between CBD and THC. Not everybody tolerates the high from cannabis well, but most people are interested in the plant’s health benefits. Thus, adding CBD to the mix can give you the best of both worlds.

Here are the key differences between CBD and THC:

Non-intoxicating Intoxicating
CB1 and CB2 modulator CB1 and CB2 agonist (stimulant)
Inhibits pain Eases pain signals
Mild appetite regulator Strong appetite booster
Antiepileptic It can strengthen the antiepileptic effects of CBD
Best for anxiety, pain, inflammation, and sleep deprivation Best for relaxation, euphoric effects, focus, creativity, and appetite
Physical effects Cerebral high
Side effects may include dry mouth, dizziness, and changes in appetite Side effects may include anxiety, paranoia, increased heart rate, and a couch-locking effect

What Is CBD’s Effect on the Body and Brain?

The complexity of CBD’s effects is very exciting, something you’ve never been taught at school.

Since the ECS helps maintain homeostasis (affecting a wide range of essential functions), and CBD modulates the activity of its receptors, regular supplementation with CBD helps control important bodily processes, resulting in optimal health and an array of benefits.

Health Benefits of CBD

CBD isn’t a wonder drug. It won’t cure you of diseases singlehandedly. But, when used wisely and consistently, it may have a significant benefit for your well-being; and if your inner balance gets disturbed, you might be surprised at how effectively it can help manage your symptoms and reach the cause of the problem.

The best-researched benefits of CBD include:

  • Blocked pain transmission
  • Elevated mood
  • Greater resistance to daily stressors
  • Protection against free radical damage
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced tumor growth
  • Reduced anxiety

CBD’s Potential in Medicine

People take CBD oils and other products for a broad range of health conditions. That’s because CBD regulates a system that is engaged in balancing essential processes in the human body. By interacting with the ECS and its receptors, CBD can help you achieve better physical and emotional well-being.

CBD can be used for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Cognitive decline
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Insomnia
  • MRSA infections
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Opiate addiction and withdrawal
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Poor stress response
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Smoking addiction and withdrawal
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Here are the most promising medical uses of CBD.

CBD for Anxiety

CBD can curb anxiety by acting on several key neurotransmitters associated with mood, fear, and stress. It enhances the signaling of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain. On top of that, it helps optimize the functioning of GABA receptors to turn down the volume when our nervous system becomes overactive. This leads to feelings of calmness and relaxation.

CBD for Epilepsy

Epilepsy was the first condition that brought CBD into the mainstream. CBD oil can reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures without the side effects associated with conventional anti-epileptic medications. In a 2016 study, the authors reported a reduction of seizures in children with rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy, such as Dravet SYndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. In 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex for epilepsy, the first CBD-based drug.

CBD for Pain

CBD offers several properties that make it effective for reducing different types of physical discomfort. CBD can curb inflammation by activating CB2 receptors in the immune system. It’s also the reason why CBD oils are popular for autoimmune diseases. Moreover, CBD acts on a special type of receptor called the vanilloid receptor (TRPV1). The body uses it to control pain signals, body temperature, mood, appetite, and other functions related to the nervous system and hormones. The activation of TRPV1 receptors weakens pain signaling from the nerve cells to the brain.

CBD for Inflammation

As mentioned above, CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory compound. Short-term inflammation isn’t anything bad, but chronic inflammation may impair your body’s regeneration and is the major cause of autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory diseases — including inflammatory bowel disease, vascular inflammation, neuroinflammation, and more.

CBD for Nausea

Cannabinoids offer antiemetic properties, meaning they can effectively relieve nausea and vomiting. This trait is particularly useful when it comes to treating the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. In this case, CBD acts on two neurotransmitters that regulate sensations of nausea — serotonin and anandamide. These mechanisms can reduce nausea and vomiting while increasing the patient’s appetite.

CBD and Addiction

Remember when I said CBD can counteract the psychedelic potency of THC? That’s not where its modulatory effects end. In fact, CBD can also inhibit the habit-forming effects of its intoxicating cousin. On top of that, CBD may be useful in easing withdrawal symptoms from behavioral addiction to marijuana. Studies also indicate CBD has the potential to help prevent relapse in tobacco and heroin users.

CBD and Acne

CBD oil contains an abundance of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory substances — all of which can improve your skin health. CBD regulates the production of sebum, reduces inflammation, and speeds up regeneration processes, helping with acne and acne-related scars.

CBD for Type 1 Diabetes

In a nutshell, Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where a person’s immune system attacks the pancreas. CBD may help you manage this condition by easing inflammation in the pancreas, translating into more efficient insulin and glucose regulation in your blood.

CBD As a Neuroprotective

One of the most medically promising properties of CBD is its neuroprotective effect. Using CBD daily has been shown to improve the formation of myelin, a substance that covers the nerve cells with a protective layer, facilitating efficient nerve transmission. When this function is disrupted, it may lead to an array of neurodegenerative disorders and diseases over time, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

CBD for Cancer

Several studies have highlighted the anti-cancer properties of CBD. The cannabinoid promotes programmed cancer cell death, known as apoptosis. It can also inhibit the growth and spread of tumors by blocking the binding of malignant cells to new types of tissues. Make no mistake, CBD isn’t a cancer cure, but the above properties — along with its antiemetic and analgesic effects — make it a strong pick for cancer patients who are looking to improve their quality of life safely.

Is CBD Safe? What Are the Side Effects?

CBD has an excellent safety profile, which is one of the main reasons why CBD oils have become popular as an alternative to many prescription medicines.

CBD products don’t have severe side effects, they’re non-addictive, and you won’t get high off of them. According to the recent review of cannabidiol’s safety and side effects, the compound is well-tolerated by humans even in doses as large as 1,500 mg administered daily for several weeks.

That being said, CBD — as any substance on Earth — can trigger adverse reactions when you take too much of it.

The side effects of CBD include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness from lower blood pressure
  • Changes in appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

CBD also interacts with many pharmaceutical medications because it inhibits a system of enzymes that metabolizes their active substances (the CYP450 system). Depending on the type of interaction, CBD may either cause your medication to reach toxic levels — or hinder its effects, making it less effective than expected.

If you take any medications, talk to a doctor experienced in CBD (and cannabis use in general) to establish the proper dosage and timing for both substances.

How to Use CBD

CBD comes in many different forms. Current advancements in extraction methods allow for infusing this cannabinoid into a wide range of products, such as:

  • Oils
  • Capsules
  • Edibles (e.g., gummies and honey sticks)
  • Vape cartridges
  • Skincare products
  • Isolate powder

There are also highly concentrated forms of CBD — also known as CBD dabs — which are useful for those who need higher doses of cannabidiol for severe conditions, such as epilepsy or cancer. Such products also offer remarkable terpene content, enhancing the entourage effect.

They’re made using similar methods to how marijuana dabs, such as budder, wax, crumble, or shatter, are made. The only difference is the lack of THC.

You can also choose between three main types of CBD:

  • Full-spectrum: these extracts contain CBD, supportive cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and trace amounts of THC. Altogether, they contribute to the aforementioned entourage effect in cannabis — allowing your body to process CBD more efficiently. This is the most desired type of CBD among consumers.
  • Broad-spectrum: this type of CBD is very similar to full-spectrum, except for THC, which has been removed after initial extraction.
  • Isolate: as the name suggests, this is pure CBD that has been separated from other hemp compounds, crystallized, and powdered. As such, it can be infused in the same range of formats as the other types. Isolates are odorless and flavorless, but they don’t leverage the entourage effect.

CBD Dosage: “How Much CBD Should I Take?”

There aren’t any official dosage charts for CBD because the dosage relies on too many variables.

Your age, metabolism, lifestyle, eating choices, gender, and overall tolerance to cannabinoids determine your response to CBD.

CBD dosages can range from 1 mg to 300 mg at a time, so new users may find it difficult to choose the appropriate dose from the start.

The best way to figure out the optimal dosage for your situation is to start low and slowly increase the amount of CBD to the point where it provides satisfying results. Many people use the 1–5 mg range as their starting point.

For example, you can start with 5 mg of CBD and test it for a few days; if no results are observed, increase the dose by another 5 mg until you notice the effects.

If you experience any adverse reactions, simply reduce the dosage for a bit when taking your next dose.

In the next section, I’ll give you a breakdown of different dosage ranges based on the strength of the effects:

  1. Mild
  2. Medium
  3. Strong

You can use the table below as a starting point for supplementing CBD.

CBD Dosage Guidelines for New Users

Weight range Mild Effects Medium effects Strong Effects
< 130 lbs. Up to 11 mg 12 mg – 14 mg 15 mg – 17 mg
130 – 230 lbs. Up to 18 mg 19 mg – 23 mg 24 mg – 27 mg
> 130 lbs. Up to 23 mg 24 mg – 30 mg 31 mg – 45 mg

Is CBD Legal?

The legal status of CBD was finally settled by the 2018 Farm Bill. The new law legalized hemp and all its derivatives by removing it from the list of controlled substances. According to federal law, hemp is now an agricultural commodity and can be grown for any use, including the production of health supplements like CBD oil.

The only condition is that hemp and hemp-derived products contain no more than 0.3% of THC.

Anything above that figure is considered marijuana and thus federally illegal. The legal status of marijuana varies between states, with 17 states having established recreational marijuana markets.

If you live in Canada or Uruguay, you can access every form of CBD; these countries have fully legalized cannabis.

What is the Best Way to Buy CBD?

CBD is a versatile tool that can improve your quality of life on many levels, including relief from pesky symptoms such as pain, stress, inflammation, anxiety, digestive issues, and neurological problems.

But, as with all good things in life — you won’t be able to notice the effects if you rely on mediocre products that are formulated without giving them a deeper thought.

If you really want to reap the benefits from CBD oil, make sure it comes from a reputable manufacturer that tests every batch for potency and safety in an independent laboratory. The internet is full of scammers, so keep an eye out.

My golden rule? Dismiss the marketing fluff. If the company can’t explain how their products work using facts and simple terms — then tell them you’re not interested. Although complex, the nature of CBD is no rocket science.

Facts and proof — you don’t need anything beyond that.

Final Thoughts: What is CBD?

CBD helps you optimize the master regulatory network in your body — the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

With so many potential therapeutic targets, CBD provides a versatile way of enhancing your daily life with a natural and safe substance.

Of course, it’s not a miracle pill or a quick fix for all your health problems. CBD won’t clean the mess for you if you neglect other areas of your life, such as physical activity, nutrient-dense food, healthy relationships, and proper stress hygiene.

I hope this article has cleared the fog around what CBD is, how it works, and how you can use it to optimize your health.


  1. Sales, A.J., Crestani, C.C., Guimaraes, F.S. & Joca S.R.L. (2018). Antidepressant-like Effect Induced by Cannabidiol is Dependent on Brain Serotonin Levels. Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 30(86), 255–261.
  2. Pretzsch, C.M. et al. (2019). Effects of Cannabidiol on Brain Excitation and Inhibition Systems; A Randomised Placebo-controlled Single Dose Trial During Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in Adults With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(8), 1398–1405.
  3. Michal Tazdok et al. (2016). CBD-enriched Medical Cannabis for Intractable Pediatric Epilepsy: The Current Israeli Experience. Seizure, 35, 41–44.
  4. Costa, B., Giagnoni, G., Franke, C., Trovato, A. E., & Colleoni, M. (2004). Vanilloid Trpv1 Receptor Mediates the Antihyperalgesic Effect of the Nonpsychoactive Cannabinoid, Cannabidiol, in a Rat Model of Acute Inflammation. British Journal of Pharmacology, 143(2), 247–250.
  5. Manzanares, J., Julian, M., & Carrascosa, A. (2006). Role of the Cannabinoid System in Pain Control and Therapeutic Implications for the Management of Acute and Chronic Pain Episodes. Current Neuropharmacology, 4(3), 239–257.
  6. Booz, G.W. (2011). Cannabidiol as an Emergent Therapeutic Strategy for Lessening the Impact of Inflammation on Oxidative Stress. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 51(5) 1054–1061.
  7. Parker, L. A., Rock, E. M., & Limebeer, C. L. (2011). Regulation of Nausea and Vomiting by Cannabinoids. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1411–1422.
  8. Lee, J.L.C., Bertoglio, L.J., Guimaraes, F.S., Stevenson C.W. (2017). Cannabidiol Regulation of Emotion and Emotional Memory Processing: Relevance for Treating Anxiety-related and Substance Abuse Disorders. British Journal of Pharmacology, 174(19), 3242–3256.
  9. Oláh, A., Tóth, B. I., Borbíró, I., Sugawara, K., Szöllõsi, A. G., Czifra, G., … Bíró, T. (2014). Cannabidiol Exerts Sebostatic and Antiinflammatory Effects on Human Sebocytes. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 124(9), 3713–3724.
  10. Lehman, C., Fisher, N.B., Tugwell, B., Szczesniak, A., Kelly M. & Zhou, J. (2016). Experimental Cannabidiol Treatment Reduces Early Pancreatic Inflammation in Type 1 Diabetes. Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation, 64(4), 655–662.
  11. Arévalo-martín, A., García-ovejero, D., Gómez, O., Rubio-araiz, A., Navarro-galve, B., Guaza, C., … Molina-holgado, F. (2008). Cb2 Cannabinoid Receptors as an Emerging Target for Demyelinating Diseases: from Neuroimmune Interactions to Cell Replacement Strategies. British Journal of Pharmacology, 153(2), 216–225.
  12. Sultan, A.S., Marie, M.A. & Sheweita S.A. (2018). Novel Mechanism of Cannabidiol-induced Apoptosis in Breast Cancer Cell Lines. Breast (Edinburgh, Scotland), 41, 34–41.