What is CBD? Introduction to Cannabidiol

CBD oil is quickly growing into the leading health and wellness trend. Millions of people across the world are using this non-psychoactive supplement to address specific symptoms and support their overall health. Here’s everything you need to know about CBD
Written by 
Zora Degrandpre, MS, ND.
|Last Updated:
What is CBD

What is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of hundreds of substances (called cannabinoids) found in plant of the species Cannabis. It is believed that cannabinoids perform various functions in the plant, including protecting the plant from UV radiation. There are a few important things to note about CBD.

  • It is derived from the Cannabis sub-species known as hemp—it is NOT derived from what is more commonly thought of as the marijuana plant. Industrial hemp was developed specifically to make better hemp fiber– we don’t know why it contains such high levels of CBD compared to THC, but we know it contains very little THC. Read more about the difference(s) between hemp and marijuana
  • It has no euphoric properties. In plain language, CBD does not produce any sort of “high” by any standard. It can be used to alleviate anxiety or depression, but those attributes should not be confused with euphoric properties. CBD doesn’t appear to directly act on the brain.
  • Think of it this way: daisies, sunflowers and chrysanthemums are all members of a single family, yet are quite different plants, with quite different flowers. Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis that was created specifically for industrial products, mainly, hemp fiber. During this process, the modified plant lost the ability to produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and thus, lost its ability to produce any sort of “high”.
  • By law, in the US, hemp products cannot contain more than 0.3% THC
  • In the US, following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp was removed from the DEA’s controlled substance list, making industrial hemp legal in all 50 US states. Some states have banned CBD so it is important to check with your state first before purchasing CBD. The list of countries where hemp-derived CBD is legal is always changing, but it currently includes includes most of Europe, Canada, Argentina, Peru, South Africa and Turkey. You should check the legal status for individual countries.
  • Even though hemp was removed from the DEA controlled substance list, in some jurisdictions, law enforcement has discretion and can decide that buying, selling or possessing CBD may be in violation of local law.

What is CBD Used For?

Research into the potential uses of CBD is in its early stages, but CBD has been shown to be useful for:

Research into further applications of CBD, including the treatment of heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, psychotic disorders, addiction disorders and cancer is being pursued. At this point it is too early to make definitive statements regarding the value of CBD in the amelioration of such conditions.
One thing to bear in mind is that it is not a great idea to self-treat without any input from an objective healthcare professional. In addition, some people feel that if it is natural, it can’t possibly harm anyone. Well—cyanide is a natural product found, for example, in not-quite-ripe elderberries. And cyanide, we all know, is a poison. So the best advice is to work with a knowledgeable healthcare professional who can objectively determine how to best address your unique situation.


Adverse Effects of CBD

CBD can have adverse effects. These are usually minor and don’t last very long but CBD can interfere with other medicines. CBD has been shown to be safe at doses of 300mg/day for up to six months with higher doses (1200-1500 mg/day) for up to 4 weeks.

Adverse effects include a dry mouth, diarrhea, decreased appetite, fatigue, sleepiness and changes in mood. Sometimes, these are actually the desired effects but such alterations can become a problem. For example, if someone uses CBD to help them sleep, that is fine, but if that same CBD makes them drowsy while driving to work, that is a problem.

Also, CBD can interact with prescription medications, sometimes in a significant way. Major interactions can occur between CBD and the anti-seizure medications clobazam (Sympaza™, Onfi®) as well as valproic acid (Depakote, Depakene, Stavzor). Individuals on these medications should consult a physician before using CBD.

CBD may increase blood levels of macrolide antibiotics, calcium channel blockers, benzodiazepines, cyclosporine, sildenafil (and other PDE5 inhibitors), antihistamines, haloperidol, anti-retrovirals, and some statins (atorvastatin and simvastatin, but not pravastatin or rosuvastatin). CBD may also increase blood levels of SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, beta blockers, opioids, including codeine and oxycodone, and blood thinning agents. Finally, if you have a history of heart, liver or kidney disease or have a suppressed immune system, talk to your doctor or specialist before using CBD.
It is important for you to know that, according to the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), CBD has a low addiction potential.

How Does CBD Work?

Humans and other animals have a natural system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and yes, it was named for the cannabinoids found in cannabis plants.

One of the major ways signals are conducted through the body is via receptor-ligand interaction. Think of it as a lock and key system where the receptor is the lock and the ligand is the key. There are naturally produced ligand/keys, the endocannabinoids and there are natural receptors/locks in the body. The endocannabinoid system works via a series of endocannabinoids/keys that bind to the receptors/locks to affect various biological systems such as the neural tissue that governs appetite, the immune and digestive systems and the neural tissue that mediates the pain response, sleep cycle, libido, mood, memory, muscle function and temperature regulation.

There are two types of receptors/locks in the ECS called CB1 and CB2. CB1 is found primarily in the central nervous system which includes the brain and spinal cord. THC binds mostly to CB1 receptors and this appears to be how it produces a high.
CB2 receptors, by contrast, are found in the peripheral nervous system. This system consists of the nerves that function in your arms, legs and anywhere outside the brain and spinal cord. CBD binds primarily to the CB2 receptors outside of the brain and spinal cord. This is one reason CBD does not give you a “high” as THC does: different receptors mediate different effects.

CBD does, however, appear to slow down the degradation of the natural cannabinoids such as anandamide, which DOES bind to CB1 receptors. This is believed to be the mechanism by which CBD reduces anxiety and depression. It does so by allowing the natural endocannabinoid to remain around longer and affect mood for a longer period of time. However, as stated above, this is an indirect effect on the ECS and is not considered a psychoactive effect.


How to Take CBD—and in What Form?

CBD can be found in the form of an oil, a capsule, a topical cream or lotion and in edible forms, often as a “gummy”. It can be smoked, vaped, ingested or applied to the skin (topicals). What form is best for you depends on a number of personal factors and the nature of your particular condition. Here are some general guidelines.

  • Your “mantra” should be “Start Low and Go Slow”
    • Start with as little as possible and slowly increase the amount used until the goal (pain reduction, mood improvement, sleep) is achieved. Give the CBD some time based on your chosen delivery method to work.
  • Smoking CBD can be the fastest delivery method (within minutes) but it is also the least studied and least recommended because of the mixture of potentially harmful substances produced by exposure to high heat.
  • Vaping uses a system that heats the CBD oil to just under the combustion point and is considered safer than smoking. However, even at the lower temperature levels, contaminants may be produced.
    • Make certain that your oil has been “winterized”, which means the cuticle wax from the plant has been removed. The cuticle wax has unknown effects and it may interfere with normal respiration. To determine if the oil has been winterized, for each brand of CBD oil, you may have to go through the information provided concerning their extraction procedures. Ethanol extraction removes most of the wax, although supercritical CO2 extraction is more effective. Alternatively, call the company and ask– if they don’t know or don’t want to answer, your best bet is probably to stay away from that brand.
    • Make certain that your oil does not use thinning agents such as propylene glycol and/or polyethylene glycol. When heated, these substances can produce carcinogens and can also trigger asthma and other respiratory effects.
    • Of the thinning agents currently used, vegetable glycerin and other natural oils may be safest
    • With vaping or smoking, start with 1-2 inhalations and wait for 10-20 minutes to see what effect the CBD has on you. Increase your dose by taking 1-2 extra inhalations if needed.
      • This safer and more conservative approach is much easier to implement with a vape pen or similar device than it is when smoking the oil.
  • Oral forms of CBD can take the form of capsules, edibles, oils and sprays
    • Oils are usually delivered by drops under the tongue. CBD oil can have a taste “to get used to” and there are no taste buds under the tongue
    • Sprays are usually used on the inner cheeks
    • Edibles can take a bit longer to have an effect (1-2 hours) but the effects will generally last longer.
      • Start with ¼ of a gummy or cookie and increase the amounts consumed slowly
      • Children should not be allowed near CBD products. We simply don’t know how they might react and what the adverse effects might be, so please make certain your CBD, especially the edibles, are kept out of the reach of children. The same goes for animals. They may be your best friends, but that doesn’t mean they will react as you do to the CBD!

  • Topicals come as oils, creams and lotions though you can pierce a capsule or caplet with a safety pin and use the oil inside as a topical.
    • Oils and tinctures are generally the most concentrated form of CBD while sprays tend to be less concentrated
    • Creams tend to be better absorbed and more easily applied but may be supplied at lower concentrations. The creams are best suited for relatively small areas such as a knee, wrist, finger or an isolated muscle
    • Lotions can be a bit “runny” as can the oils

There is no standard “take one before every meal” in the CBD-world. In general, taken as a vape, about 50% of the CBD in the vape is bioavailable or, in other words, about 50% of the amount of CBD contained in the vape liquid can be taken up by your body. For CBD taken orally and topically, that bioavailability can range from about 5 to 30%. This can be affected by a number of factors including how it is delivered, how well your liver metabolizes it, your weight, and how often the CBD is taken. For topical applications, absorption can depend on how much fat is under the skin. For the most part, topical applications will only work on that specific area of skin.

This all means that you have to go through a process of some trial and error, always keeping in mind to “Start Low and Go Slow”. While it does take some time, it is also the safest and most cost-efficient way to go. Take your time and “listen” to how your body is responding. For most people, finding the “sweet spot” for dosing is worth the time and effort it takes, as your research is an investment in obtaining the relief you are seeking.

How Much CBD are You Actually Getting?

The labels of many products can be confusing. For some products, the total amount of CBD in the entire container (eg. creams, lotions) is given, so you have to do some mental gymnastics and frankly, guess how much actual CBD you are using. If you are using gummies, for example, it is easier. If each gummy contains, say, 1 mg of CBD and you cut it into quarters, each quarter will have about 0.25 mg.

For oils, the concentration is given in mg/ml. For most droppers, there are 20 drops per mL so one drop is equivalent to ~ 1/20th or 5% of the total amount in mgs. If, for example, the entire bottle is 30 mL and that 30 mL contains 1500 mg of CBD, the amount of CBD/mL is 1500mg/30mL= 50 mg/mL. If there are 20 drops/mL, then there are 50mg/20 drops or 2.5 mg/drop.

Extract Forms

There are three basic forms to look at that will contain CBD.

Full Spectrum:

Full spectrum CBD contains compounds found naturally occurring in the plant, including terpenes, essential oils, and other cannabinoids. While the industrial hemp plant contains very low amounts of THC, full spectrum products may contain a similar low amount. Why use full spectrum? In herbal medicine, it has long been believed that an extract containing as many of the natural compounds in their natural form provides the best therapeutic value because the plant naturally possesses substances that help control the actions of other substances. This is sometimes called the “entourage effect”. As an example, in plant strains which contain THC (remember, hemp contains very little THC), CBD often works to control, in a sense, the actions of THC. It is believed that the other cannabinoids, terpenes and other plant constituents play a role in the entourage effect.

Broad Spectrum:

In “broad spectrum” CBD, all of the THC is removed, leaving the CBD, other cannabinoids and, depending on the extraction procedure used, terpenes and other substances.

CBD Isolate:

This is the purest form of CBD, with all other cannabinoids, terpenes, essential oils and other substances removed.
There are pros and cons to each form of CBD. For some forms of epilepsy and in some animal studies, for example, very small amounts of THC appear to be beneficial and full spectrum CBD may be useful.

Broad spectrum CBD retains most of the other natural cannabinoids, terpenes and essential oils. This is a form similar to traditional herbal medicines. It may have a strong odor and taste, but can be used for many different conditions without any risk at all of psychotropic effects or a positive test for THC.

CBD isolate will be tasteless (unless a flavoring is added) and odorless with no risk of a positive THC test or any psychoactive effects. It will also likely contain the highest concentration of CBD.

Other Safety Issues with CBD

CBD in any form can be stored in the refrigerator but does not need to be stored cold. It can also be stored at room temperature, but in a dark container and away from any source of excess heat.

CBD is fat-soluble rather than water-soluble. Think of vinaigrette and oil salad dressings; the oil and water fractions separate because substances that can dissolve in oil usually cannot dissolve in water and vice versa.

Why does that matter? It matters because different methods of extraction can be used to “pull out” the CBD from the plant. The two best methods use ethanol or even better, a process called “supercritical CO2 extraction” which results in the purest and highest quality CBD with very few contaminants.

Ethanol extraction uses ethanol (also known as grain alcohol) as a solvent. This material is incapable of dissolving much of the waxy substance found within the plant. Cold ethanol extraction also can leave cannabis terpenes intact. Terpenes give the CBD oil its taste and may have some medicinal value as well. However, chlorophyll, lipids, and other components of the hemp plant don’t get extracted as well and the process may alter the taste of the CBD oil.

Supercritical CO2 extraction uses cooled CO2 under increasing temperature and pressure to extract CBD. The temperature and pressure can be adjusted to “fine tune” the substances extracted from the hemp. Subcritical CO2 extraction retains the terpenes and essential oils.

Supercritical CO2 extraction has some advantages over the more traditional ethanol extraction methods– supercritical CO2 extraction will remove waxes, chlorophyll, lipids, terpenes and other substances while leaving behind CBD. Subcritical CO2 extraction has these advantages and this extraction technique retains the terpenes and other essential oils. A disadvantage of both types of CO2 extraction methods is that it can be expensive and time consuming.

The hemp from which the CBD is derived should be organically and sustainably grown, ideally. Organic farming procedures will ensure that it is pesticide free. Sustainable farming will ensure that future supplies are protected. You will have to check with individual companies to see how they grow or otherwise obtain their hemp.

On a related note, the CBD should be derived from the hemp plant, rather than the seeds. Hemp seeds only contain trace amounts of CBD. The seed oil has nutritional value and is often used in other products such as skin-care products.

To get the highest quality CBD oil, you should also look for products that are third party tested: that is the oil should be tested by an objective lab so that you have some certainty that the amount of CBD that is claimed to be in the bottle of oil is actually there. This is important as the biggest and highest quality CBD brands will always use 3rd party testing labs because it serves as a form of quality control. The producer will know and YOU will know that the quantity of CBD listed on the label of the bottle is actually the quantity of CBD in the bottle or other container.

Where to Buy CBD Oil

Depending on where you live, CBD oil may be available to you at the corner store, the local pharmacy, at a local dispensary or online.

Pricing can be confusing, but the most straightforward approach is to look at the cost of CBD per mg. To do this, first figure out the total amount of CBD in the product. As previously mentioned, this may be the amount stated on the container.

For an example, we will begin with one 30 mL bottle that contains a total of 510 mg of CBD, which means there are 17 mg/ml. If the cost of that bottle is $39.99, then $39.99/510 mg = $0.0607/1 mg or about 6 cents per mg.
Here’s another example for capsules. If there are 30 capsules in one bottle, you get 15 mg/serving (one capsule) and the bottle costs $34.99, then the cost for a single 15 mg capsule is $34.99/30= $1.17 per capsule. The cost of each mg is $1.17/15mg ≈ $0.08/mg.

At Leafreport, our mission is to help you find the best CBD product with the finest quality and at the most economical price. We will also provide you with a range of other criteria including types of products, transparency of the company, the company’s reputation and further relevant information.


Many people find CBD oils are a taste that may take some time getting used to. For this reason, many companies produce flavored oils and edibles. Your own likes and preferences can be your guide here. Fruit flavors are often perceived as being capable of masking the CBD taste better than other flavors, but if you have your heart set on chocolate-mint, go for it!


Depending on where you live, the legal status of CBD can vary. Do your research about the legal issues associated with CBD in your part of the world. In the US, hemp products with <0.3% or less THC are legal under federal statutes, but not necessarily legal in every state.

If you work in a job that requires drug testing, there may be some false positives for THC depending upon the quality of the testing performed and the particular lab used. The chemical structures of THC and CBD are similar. This may be what leads to a false positive result when the test used by an employer is not sufficiently specific or sensitive. If you find yourself in this situation, insist that any testing to be performed be able to discriminate between CBD and THC. These types of tests tend to be more expensive. Every test has an inherent potential for false positives, so requesting additional repeat testing is another valid approach. Finally, purchasing high quality CBD where the THC content (or lack of THC) has been verified by third party testing, can protect you from false positive results.

Dr. Zora DeGrandpre practices naturopathic medicine (home visits) in rural Washington and is a professional medical and scientific writer and editor, specializing in naturopathic, functional, botanical and integrative medicine. Dr. DeGrandpre has degrees in drug design, immunology and natural medicine and has extensive research experience in cancer and molecular immunology. In her practice, Dr DeGrandpre has found the use of CBD with elderly patients and others to be safe and clinically effective. She brings to all her writing a straightforward approach that is accurate, clear and authentic.

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