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What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) may not have the same fame as its cousin Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but there’s no doubt that it’s now a household name. But there’s a lot of information out there about what CBD is, how it works, and how it can help. To separate fact from fiction, we created this guide so you can learn more about how CBD works, what we know about this phytocannabinoid so far, and what CBD products you may find at a dispensary.

What is CBD?

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. First discovered in the 1940s, CBD is widely regarded as the second most commonly known cannabinoid after THC. CBD has been studied for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain relieving) properties, among other potential effects. It’s also believed to counteract the intoxicating effects of THC.

CBD from industrial hemp vs. CBD in the dispensary

The difference between CBD from industrial hemp and CBD found in the dispensary is mainly a legal distinction. Industrial hemp and high-THC cannabis are both cannabis plants, and the CBD extracted from each type is chemically identical. The difference between them is the amount of THC each contains: Industrial hemp that contains 0.3% or less THC, and high-THC “marijuana” – in the view of federal authorities – contains any amount of THC above that threshold. CBD products you find at the dispensary are extracted from high-THC cannabis plants.

You may see CBD products in health food stores, your favorite spa, or even at the gas station. Those CBD products are extracted from industrial hemp, and as of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD extract from these plants is no longer a Schedule I substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, be aware when shopping for these products. They do not face the same regulatory scrutiny as CBD products found in a dispensary. By purchasing your CBD from a licensed operator like Ethos, you can be sure that you’re getting third-party tested, quality products.

How does CBD work?

While research is ongoing, there is evidence that CBD works by interacting with the endogenous cannabinoids system (ECS), a biological system of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids produced by your body, and enzymes that regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, and more. Called the endocannabinoid system for short, this system is responsible for many of the therapeutic effects observed in cannabis. Two types of receptors have been identified in the ECS so far: the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor.

While compounds like THC bind directly to the CB1 receptor, CBD binds indirectly with the CB1 receptor. This means that CBD is theorized to modulate the THC binding site, which reduces the effects that THC has on your endocannabinoid system. 

There’s also some research that suggests CBD influences how the endocannabinoids produced by your body, such as anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), work within the ECS. This evidence suggests that CBD keeps endocannabinoids around for longer, preventing them from completing the body’s natural process of breaking down these endocannabinoids when no longer needed2.

What do we know about CBD so far?

Researchers continue to examine CBD to determine more about its precise mechanisms of action and how it could be leveraged as a potential therapeutic agent for a wide range of symptoms. However, the information researchers have discovered so far is promising. Among CBD’s potential applications are:

  • Pain management: Research suggests that CBD may be helpful for addressing pain as a result of inflammatory-related conditions. While more human trials are needed, an animal study from the European Journal of Pain3 found that transdermal CBD gel could significantly lower pain and inflammation caused by arthritis.
  • Anxiety management: More studies and clinical trials are exploring CBD’s role in reducing anxiety. A 2019 article published in Frontiers in Psychology found that high levels of orally ingested CBD “significantly decreased” anxiety in those participants with social anxiety disorder (SAD)4.
  • Addiction management: A 2019 Study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found CBD reduced drug cravings and anxiety5 in patients recovering from substance abuse. Opiate Use Disorder is a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis card in several states, including Pennsylvania.
  • Sleep promotion: CBD could be helpful for those who struggle to get a good night’s rest. One small study of individuals with insomnia6 found that those who consumed CBD slept longer than those who took a placebo.
  • Neuroprotection: Recent studies have shown that CBD has properties that could protect neurons from degeneration. For example, a 2007 study7 found CBD may inhibit symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease, an age-related neurodegenerative condition associated with cognitive decline.

Types of CBD products you’ll find in a dispensary

Although they aren’t as plentiful as their THC counterparts, you’ll find CBD products in the dispensary in all kinds of forms. Keep in mind that you may not find as many products that contain solely CBD, but you’ll have plenty of high CBD products to choose from. These products contain more CBD than they do THC or other minor phytocannabinoids, balancing out the intoxicating effect THC may have. Among your choices include:

  • Tinctures: These products contain cannabinoid extract mixed into a carrier oil. They’re taken orally and often have a biphasic effect, which means the tincture absorbs through your mouth tissues and makes its way through your digestive system.
  • Topicals: Lotions and other topicals infused with CBD can help manage uncomfortable symptoms of chronic pain and other conditions. They have a localized effect, which means you won’t feel topicals throughout your body, only where they’re applied. Notably, transdermal cannabis products are an exception to this rule.
  • Ingestibles: Edibles and capsules containing high levels of CBD are common in dispensaries. Ingestible products have a longer onset than inhalable ones, but their effects last for several hours. Check the label for a ratio of CBD to other cannabinoids that favors higher levels of CBD.
  • Vapes: CBD vape cartridges offer one of the quickest and most convenient ways to consume cannabis. Check the label for a “high CBD” designation to ensure you’re purchasing an option that contains the balance of CBD to THC you’re looking for.
  • High CBD flower. Just like some cultivars are bred to contain ultra-high levels of THC, there are several cultivars bred to contain higher levels of CBD. These flower options can contain 10% or more CBD and much lower levels of THC, making them ideal for daytime use. Some high CBD flower cultivars include Sour Tsunami, ACDC, Doc Brownie, and Harlequin.

How to choose the right CBD product for you

Just like THC products, you’ll want to choose a CBD product based on its intended effect. While perusing your options at the dispensary, you’ll want to pay attention to a few important factors, including:

  • Your purpose for trying CBD. Your CBD routine and product formulation are shaped by your reason for trying it. Systemic, long-lasting effects are supported by different product types than a localized topical product. So before picking something off the shelf, have an understanding of your “why” behind trying CBD.
  • Product form. CBD products can be found in inhalable forms like vape cartridges, ingestible forms like capsules, biphasic tinctures, and localized topicals. Each product form has its own unique onset time, duration, and effect, factors that make a difference in your product selection. For example, if you’re feeling anxious while out with friends, inhaling CBD will get to work quickly and help restore calm with a 15-minute onset time. A capsule will take longer to set in, but its effects will last hours more than an inhalable product. Visit the Ethos guide to product types to learn more about product onset and duration.
  • CBD to THC ratio. As mentioned earlier, many of the CBD products you’ll find at a dispensary contain a ratio of this phytocannabinoid to THC and sometimes to minor phytocannabinoids like CBN and CBG. If you’re looking for a high-CBD product, make sure the ratio of CBD is greater than other cannabinoids.

CBD: Relief without intoxication

Whether you’re looking for support in easing anxiety, trying to manage pain, or are interested in promoting better sleep, understanding CBD can help you better assess your options. Understanding your options at the dispensary goes a long way in making sure you select product types, forms, and ratios that are best for your consumption goals. For more information on CBD, or if you’re ready to make a purchase, visit your local Ethos dispensary to see what’s in store.



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