For the last several years, a booming market has arisen around CBD — a popular, non-intoxicating compound present in the cannabis plant.
Despite decades of research, the specifics of how CBD works remain unclear. Still, researchers have been able to uncover important information about the function and efficacy of CBD for a variety of conditions.
In this post, we’ll provide a brief overview of what CBD is and what scientists do know about how it works, before engaging in an overview of CBD safety and potential use cases.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is one of the many naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. It is a type of cannabinoid, a class of chemical compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system in the human body.
Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive cannabinoid credited with producing the “high” associated with cannabis consumption — CBD is non-intoxicating. This means CBD is a great option for individuals looking to explore the potential benefits of incorporating cannabis into their wellness routine while avoiding the effects associated with THC.
CBD may also be particularly attractive to consumers in states where it remains illegal to sell or consume cannabis products that contain THC, as it has been legal across the United States since the implementation of 2018’s Agricultural Improvement Act.
CBD works by acting upon your body’s endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors, enzymes, and ligands that is unique to every individual that is present throughout your brain and body, often in connection with other organs and systems.
For example, one of the two main types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 receptors, are found primarily in the central nervous system and the brain, according to a literature review addressing the function and therapeutic effects of CBD. The other main receptor type, CB2, is found primarily in cells related to the immune system, “but is also found in the spleen, thymus, bone marrow and other tissues related to immune functions.”
Outside the context of cannabis consumption, your endocannabinoid system is activated by endocannabinoids, or cannabinoids naturally produced by your body. According to noted cannabis specialist and Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Peter Grinspoon, the endocannabinoid system “regulates and controls many of our most critical bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating.”
The exact mechanisms underlying how CBD works with the endocannabinoid system remain unclear. This is due in part to the fact that, unlike THC, CBD doesn’t interact with the main, or orthosteric, binding site for CB1 and CB2 receptors, but instead shows some affinity for acting upon alternative, or allosteric, binding sites.
Still, researchers have indicated that CBD can function as an inverse agonist for CB2 receptors, meaning that it may offset the effects of other compounds or molecules at the orthosteric binding site. According to one 2009 literature review, this function may play a part in CBD’s “well-documented anti-inflammatory properties.”
CBD also interacts with a range of other receptors in the human body. For example, the interaction between CBD and 5HT1A receptors, which are associated with regulating mood and anxiety, may play a role in creating the antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties attributed to CBD, according to a 2021 literature review. The same review suggests that CBD’s interactions with other receptors may have an impact on, among other issues related to personal well-being, epilepsy symptoms (via TRPV and serotonin receptors), sleep (via FAAH and GABA receptors), and cardiovascular function (via CB1, TRPV1, PPARs, and 5-HT1A receptors).
CBD itself has proven to be “exceptionally safe,” even when administered in doses as high as 400 mg, according to a 2022 literature review that examined 80 studies involving CBD.
Interestingly, the same review notes that “clinically relevant CBD effects tend to become more robust as dosage is increased” before calling for more research on the matter.
Any danger associated with CBD consumption is more likely to be the result of the current lack of regulation governing how CBD products are made.
The first issue caused by the lack of regulation is incorrect dosing on labels for over-the-counter CBD products. A 2022 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that, out of 105 unique products, 58% contained more CBD than stated on the label and 18% contained less than stated on the label. This incorrect information can lead to difficulties in standardizing dosing when taking CBD.
A final finding from the Johns Hopkins study was the presence of THC in 37 of the examined products, despite some of those products having labels explicitly stating that they contained no THC. This presents a risk for any consumer who uses CBD but has had negative responses to THC, as well as individuals who use CBD but are subject to drug tests for THC that could put their employment at risk.
To avoid mislabeled or contaminated CBD products, we recommend buying through Jointly Matches. Our platform can help direct you to products from vetted sellers based on your specific cannabis-related wellness goals and reports from users with similar goals.
While some marketers may be quick to claim CBD as a cure-all for a huge range of discomforts, disorders, and diseases, not all of those claims have been backed up by sufficient scientific evidence.
According to the 2022 literature review referenced in the last section, “chronic pain is by far the most common indication for which medicinal cannabis products are prescribed,” though little evidence is available to support the use of CBD for chronic pain.
Still, consumers continue to seek out CBD for pain, and your results may differ from those of the users who participated in the studies under review. According to an earlier literature review, some studies have found success in certain populations under certain conditions.
“Controlled clinical research on CBD alone as a treatment for pain/inflammation is in its infancy and it is thus difficult to make firm conclusions regarding CBD’s efficacy for such health conditions,” the review’s authors add.
The 2022 review did find that “the most replicable results emerging from our analysis related to the ability of CBD, primarily at doses of 300–400 mg, to ameliorate anxiety.” This finding aligns with much of the marketing messaging around CBD and anxiety, though it seems higher doses are more likely to work than lower doses in this context.
Jointly is the cannabis discovery app that makes it easy to find and shop the best cannabis and CBD products for your goals. Your matches are calculated from the real product ratings and experiences from hundreds of thousands of people using the Jointly app.
With Jointly, you can shop your top-rated products, and save lists of your favorites to share and bring to your local dispensary to help guide your shopping experience.
The Jointly app also helps you improve your cannabis experiences by uncovering what’s working and what’s not with reflections and personalized insights. In fact, the quality of your diet, how much you slept, who you’re with, and the time of day are just some of the factors that can impact your cannabis experience.
So if you're ready to find your best products and enjoy your perfect cannabis experience, download the Jointly app today on the App Store or Google Play, or shop your matches on the Jointly website. Discovery awaits.