While cannabinoid products have been growing in popularity ever since marijuana has become legalized in some states, cannabinoids aren’t always derived from marijuana. Cannabinoids refer to a wide range of chemicals that interact with the cannabinoid receptors in our body.
These receptors are part of our endocannabinoid system, which affects how neurotransmitters are released in the brain. Cannabinoids are largely derived from cannabis, which is a family of plants that includes the THC-rich marijuana strains, as well as other forms of cannabis used for non-drug purposes, particularly hemp. Cannabinoids are also synthetically available.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid that has gained plenty of traction both as a supplement and as a potential medicine, and it is commonly derived from low-THC plants. While CBD oil and THC both count as cannabinoids, they have vastly different effects on the brain and the body.
CBD vs. THC
There are an estimated 113 different cannabinoids in a cannabis plant. The two most often referred to are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is a psychoactive drug, and the main ‘active ingredient’ in what is colloquially known as weed, or marijuana.
It is what produces a high, by acting upon the endocannabinoid system to release powerful endorphins, and other neurotransmitters like dopamine. While many things can trigger the release of these wonderful compounds, substances like THC release an extraordinary amount.
CBD oil also interacts with the endocannabinoid system, but with different effects. While THC produces a high, CBD oil does not. CBD oil is often derived from hemp plants, which have incredibly low levels of THC. Both THC and CBD share a similar chemical structure, which allow them to interact with cannabinoid receptors. However, slight changes affect how these chemicals interact with our cannabinoid receptors.
The endocannabinoid system is so interesting to drug researchers because interacting with neurotransmission is important for the regulation of countless different functions, as well as the subsequent remedy of a long list of potential ailments. Due to how drugs like CBD and THC affect neurotransmission, they can potentially counter ailments and illnesses like depression, migraine, chronic pain, and inflammation.
However, these effects are not a given, and more research is critically important to determine the true extent to which these compounds can help treat such conditions. Because THC is illegal in most states, CBD is more commonly studied for its various potential health benefits.
What CBD Oil Can and Cannot Do
The effects of CBD are difficult to effectively describe, because while there is some effective research on the drug, it is inhibited by a lack of long-term studies, a lack of a standardized, controlled source for the compound, and the many different methods in which it can be consumed.
CBD is typically sold in oil form, either in capsules or mixed into tinctures, ointments, drinks, foods, and more. It can also be given intravenously or inhaled. Aside from differences in bioavailability, there may be other differences that are not properly accounted for.
So far, CBD has only been medically approved for one purpose – treating the symptoms of two very vicious childhood epilepsy syndromes. Several studies have gone on to show that CBD is quite effective in helping patients with these syndromes, which do not typically respond to antiseizure medication. CBD’s effectiveness in treating childhood epilepsy has been known for quite some time, and the first cannabis-derived medicine ever to be approved by the FDA is an antiseizure drug, Epidiolex.
However, CBD’s other benefits have not yet produced such results as to be approved by the FDA. Two particularly interesting claims are regarding anxiety, and pain and inflammation. An animal model showcased CBD oil for pain relief as a potential in reating people with arthritis and inflammation. Another investigated CBD’s effects on neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain, particularly chronic pain. Human studies are needed to show whether these animal models and early findings have any widespread application in people.
CBD cannot fight cancer, cure all sorts of mental health issues, or fix insomnia. While its role in neurotransmission may help with insomnia, depression, and psychosis, there’s too little research to tell how it affects patients with these conditions.
Side Effects and Drawbacks
Cannabidiol does not have many known side effects. Like THC, there is no real danger of overdose. Without a euphoric ‘high’ effect, there’s no danger of addiction or confusion. CBD’s researched side effects include fatigue, nausea, and irritability, depending entirely on how a person’s system reacts to the compound.
Its main dangers lie in drug interactions. CBD interacts with a number of different medications, interacting with blood thinners on the same level as grapefruit juice, and interacting with certain sedatives (benzodiazepines, prescribed opioids). If applied topically, it may cause a rash in some people. If smoked, certain samples of cannabis may have a type of fungus called Aspergillus.
CBD’s other dangers lie in the fact that it is commonly sold as a supplement. Supplements are not well regulated, and may contain other substances, or CBD of varying degrees of purity. Purity is a concern when obtaining CBD, as is molecular size, and the quality of the soil of the source crop.
Is It Legal in Your State?
While cannabidiol is derived usually from low-THC hemp plants, there are some local restrictions. CBD is only legal federally if it contains less than 0.3 percent THC, while in some states, CBD can only be obtained via prescription (making most CBD products legally unavailable to people in states like Virginia). A recent bill containing the legalization of hemp has helped make CBD more largely available. However, it ultimately depends on the state you live in.
CBD Oil for Pain: A Takeaway
The studies that show the effectiveness of CBD oil for pain relief are by no means conclusive. Furthermore, it is difficult to reliably source effective and pure CBD, and it may not be legally or easily available where you live.
However, the risks associated with CBD are quite low. If you can legally obtain pure CBD, it may be worthwhile to see if it helps you with pain and/or inflammation. Ultimately, it will take years before the research to determine whether CBD oil for pain relief is an effective and safe painkiller is concluded and used to create and approve medication.