Cannabis 101: How CBD Works to Fight Pain, Anxiety and Insomnia

You’ve probably heard about CBD before. If you pay any attention to health and wellness news, it’s almost impossible to miss it. CBD is the “second cannabinoid” in marijuana, and it’s the one that’s generated an unprecedented buzz in the last few years.

But that doesn’t tell us much about what CBD actually is, and what it can do for our bodies and minds. In today’s post, we’ll introduce you to cannabidiol—aka CBD—and share some of what’s known (and what remains to be learned) about this fascinating and medically significant compound.

CBD: Understanding How Cannabinoids Work

Before we dive into the topic of CBD, this is a good time to get clear on the concept of cannabinoids. Sometimes described as the major “active ingredients” in marijuana, they’re a group of roughly 150 compounds, and they’re responsible for many of marijuana’s most profound effects on our bodies.

You’ve probably heard of THC, the most abundant cannabinoid and the one which causes marijuana’s euphoric “high.” There’s much more to THC’s story, like the powerful anti-inflammatory, sedative and other effects it imparts. But let’s stay focused on CBD for the moment.

CBD is the second most prevalent cannabinoid after THC. While it doesn’t get you high, that’s not to say it isn’t entirely psychoactive. Some people don’t feel any effect from pure CBD, while others describe a gentle cerebral “buzziness.”

THC, CBD, and the other cannabinoids all interact in different ways with a bodily network called the endocannabinoid system. It’s one of our most important regulatory systems, and—as you might guess from the name—it’s uniquely tailored to work with the cannabinoids in marijuana. That’s perhaps the key reason that marijuana is capable of imparting such powerful medicinal effects.

You may even have seen products labeled “CBD” outside of licensed dispensaries. They contain CBD derived from hemp, marijuana’s wild-growing (and THC-free) cousin. According to federal law, it’s perfectly legal to sell CBD products that contain .3% or less THC.

That said, some clinicians feel that because it’s richer in secondary compounds, CBD derived from marijuana is more medically active than that derived from hemp. And that’s a great segue into our next topic: Understanding some common misconceptions about CBD.

CBD: Separating Fact from Fiction

Researchers first isolated CBD nearly 80 years ago. But because of the decades of federal prohibition, the cannabinoid didn’t get much medical attention until the last decade or two. And while the pace of research is picking up, there’s still much that remains to be learned about how CBD interacts with our bodies. Here’s what we know so far, as well as a few CBD myths it’s best to clear up from the start.

Does CBD Treat Pain?

Pain relief is one of the major reasons people seek out medical marijuana, and CBD can help with pain management in a couple of ways.

As we noted earlier, CBD interacts with many of the same receptor cells in the endocannabinoid system as does THC, but in slightly different ways. CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and it reduces pain at injury sites by modulating signaling and repair cells there. What’s more, CBD interacts with signaling mechanisms in the brain, too. By enhancing neurotransmitter receptors there, CBD helps dampen pain signals as they’re received in the brain.

Is CBD without THC still effective for pain? Studies suggest that it is. That said, many researchers believe that CBD works best in tandem with THC. Even marijuana with a very small amount of THC—for instance, a strain with a 20:1 CBD to THC ratio—will tend to be more beneficial than the benefits of CBD on its own.

Does CBD Treat Anxiety?

After chronic pain, relief from anxiety and stress may be the major reason people turn to medical marijuana. And while some early reports may have inflated people’s expectations about CBD and anxiety, a number of studies support the finding that CBD can help those living with certain types of anxiety.

In one pediatric study, a high-CBD oil was used to manage some of the symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety. And in a well-publicized experiment from 2019 that was designed to simulate the anxiety of public speaking, moderate doses of CBD reduced test subjects’ anxiety. Finally, a rodent-based study indicated that CBD can act like an antidepressant, a class of drug which shares characteristics with anti-anxiety medications.

Over and above these clinical studies, there’s a large amount of anecdotal evidence suggesting that CBD gives many of us real relief from anxiety.

Is CBD Just “Medical THC?”

Some people are under the misconception that CBD is merely a “non-recreational” version of THC. As we’ve pointed out, the two major cannabinoids interact with our bodies in very different ways, even when they’re used to combat the same symptoms (like chronic pain). The upshot is that you can’t just substitute CBD for THC and expect similar medical results.

Benefits of CBD: Best Practices for Best Results

These days, medical marijuana comes in many forms: Flower, concentrates, tinctures, edibles, and topicals, to name just a few. But no matter the format, it’s a safe bet that they’re available in high-CBD formulations. That’s because an increasing number of us want to experience CBD’s powerful medical effects (without THC’s psychoactive high).

Some of the products we sell contain no THC at all. Others contain a ratio of CBD to THC, clearly labeled on the package. A medical marijuana product with a ratio of roughly 20:1 (CBD to THC) generally won’t impart any psychoactivity. Starting at a ratio of roughly 10:1 or greater (CBD to THC), the product will begin to impart a mild psychoactive effect, increasing as the proportion of THC to CBD increases.

Which medical marijuana product should you use? That depends in part on your tolerance to THC. If you find its psychoactivity distracting or otherwise unwelcome, there are plenty of high-CBD strains and products you can try, including vaporizers, topicals, and concentrates.

Still have questions about the benefits of CBD? We’re here to help. Feel free to schedule a consultation with one of our patient advisors anytime. We’d love for you to start enjoying the benefits of CBD and its safe, gentle, and sustainable relief of chronic symptoms.