Chances are you have heard of cannabis and its famous son cannabidiol, most commonly referred to as CBD. You may be considering trying CBD for a number of reasons, however, with the rapid rise of this market and growth of hemp and cannabis use, it can be hard to decipher through the jargon what is best for you.
At leafie, we’re all about education and empowerment. So we have partnered with Rebecca Lazarou, a medicinal plant scientist, to create our ultimate beginner’s guide to CBD. If you’re new to CBD, we’re here to break down what you actually need to know before you start taking the good stuff.
What is CBD and why is it useful?
CBD is simply a molecule found in cannabis and hemp with pharmacological effects (meaning it has an effect in the body which can support health). CBD however does not get you high (that’s the job of its brother molecule tetrahydrocannabinol also known as THC). Put simply this is the reason CBD is legal and why the whole plant with THC in is not. It is also the reason CBD is loved by so many… you can benefit from the relieving effects of the plant without being stoned at the office.
So why the hype now? CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a system in the body which acts as a warden between the nervous system and the immune system. This means it effects an expansive range of illnesses from Parkinson’s, to arthritis, to cancer, to pain and anxiety. The nervous system is in charge of thoughts, movement and emotions (to some degree), and the immune system protects your body from harm from bacteria, viruses and all sorts. These systems affect each other deeply and this is largely due to the fantastic communication skills of the ECS which mediates messages between the two. The ECS also plays a role in appetite, memory and metabolism.
The ECS is particularly exciting because it was only discovered in Jerusalem around 30 years ago which in science terms is very new(1). With the vast array of biological functions that it effects, the ECS has given medicine a new wave of hope. Hope for diseases that before were thought of as untreatable, or only partially treatable with pharmaceuticals that cause severe side effects.
CBD is important because it stimulates the ECS and so allows people to yield some of the beneficial effects of cannabis and hemp medicine. Not all of the effects as some illnesses need THC too for full benefit, but there are certainly many things it can help with. Unfortunately a rapid rise in any product means that poor quality products make it to market, but no worries this guide will help you find exactly what you need and help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
What is the difference between isolate vs broad spectrum vs full spectrum?
So, there are three main types of CBD medicine you can take. Firstly, I want to highlight the main difference between plant-based medicines vs pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals rely on simply one active compound that goes in and causes a chemical shift in your body for your benefit. However, plant medicines have hundreds if not thousands of compounds that all work in synergy to exert an effect on your body.
There are many profound benefits to this for example one being that you can absorb active compounds better. For example, a tiny dose of a molecule on its own may have no effect on your body but when taken with the rest of the plant your body metabolises it much better and you can reap medicinal benefits.
Another benefit is that having a spectrum of plant molecules can lower the toxicity of certain compounds. So having a certain molecule completely isolated on its own may cause harm-for example it may be too harsh on your liver or kidneys as is common with pharmaceuticals. However, taking the compound in its natural form with the rest of the plant means that your body is more well protected from it and it causes less damage. Interestingly this is true when one consumes THC on its own (the psychoactive cannabis molecule that gets you high) vs when one consumes THC with CBD and the rest of the plant. THC alone can cause people to feel super paranoid and uneasy, whereas when consumed with the rest of the plant it makes most people feel mellow and lovely. This is just one example of thousands of how plant molecules work together.
There are some benefits to isolated molecules too, for example you can get much higher doses of an active compound. By the way an active compound (or active molecule) is the chemical in a plant that has been shown to actively have an effect on the body (the star of the show if you will). Many of the molecules in a plant don’t seem to do much on their own. Yet often when you mix them together they come alive in our bodies. We don’t entirely know why- plants are mysterious and science is yet to have all of the answers. However active compounds are the molecules we are certain do something to us.
Now you have these explanations the following definitions of terms to describe CBD products should make more sense:
Isolate= This means CBD that has been chemically extracted from the plant and is entirely alone (so isolated). It contains no other plant chemicals.
Broad spectrum= This is when an extract contains all of the plant molecules (CBD, essential oils, terpenes) but it does NOT contain THC. As mentioned before THC is the molecule that gets you high and is the molecule which is illegal in the UK so some people prefer to just cut it out entirely.
Full spectrum= Full spectrum is when you have an extract which contains all of the plant molecules including THC. In the UK you can access full spectrum however the THC content would be below the legal levels of 0.2% (which would not make anyone high).
There are differing opinions as to what is best. Some people like isolate because it replicates the pharmaceutical way of doing things (find one molecule you like and make loads of it). Other people like broad spectrum because they do not want any THC near them. Full spectrum is loved by many as it replicates the traditional way of taking the plant. In fact originally scientists assumed CBD alone would be better but that idea was proven wrong after a study in Jerusalem showed that people gained much more benefit from full spectrum medicine(2).
Best to keep an open mind and try what is best for you.
What different ways can I take CBD, and which is best?
There are so many ways to take CBD, people have certainly gotten very creative with it. Firstly, we will explain a bit about CBD absorption, then we will share some examples of how you can take it with some of the pros and cons.
CBD needs to interact with your endocannabinoid system in order to work, and for that it needs to be absorbed into your bloodstream and transported there. This is known as bioavailability, and the more bioavailable something is the more active it can be.
CBD when swallowed on its own actually has very low bioavailability of on average between 6%-19% (3). This is because it is fat-soluble (dissolves in fat) as opposed to water-soluble, so our body finds it more difficult to absorb.
Here are some ways in which people take CBD:
Vape- some people like to smoke it in a vape. The pros of this is that it enters the blood stream very quickly and so you feel the benefits soon. It has a higher bioavailability than CBD when swallowed, with a bioavailability of around 31% (3). However some argue that although vaping has been marketed as “healthy” because people aren’t smoking tobacco, the truth is we have no long term studies to show what inhaling all of these chemicals will do to people long term. Chances are its not good.
Oil- As CBD dissolves in fats, putting CBD in oil helps with absorption as the body has more oil to absorb and so wastes less. This increases bioavailability, and a top tip to increase this further is to hold the CBD under your tongue for a little while. This means that the oil avoids passing through your gut and liver so more is absorbed into your bloodstream at a much faster rate. However not everyone is a fan of the taste!
Tea- Some people like to use CBD infused teas for a calming dose. However as mentioned before the efficacy of CBD without fat is much lower than with fat or oil. Therefore, if you want a high dose, tea (or anything water based) is not the best way. There is now some advanced technology to make CBD water soluble however as it is new there is not much evidence to support its efficacy, and there is a good chance that many tea companies are not using this.
Gummies– people like gummies because they are tasty and easy to consume as well as discreet. However only small doses are available in gummies, and the CBD has to pass through the digestive system and liver to be absorbed. You would have to take many to get a strong dose and this can be expensive.
Capsules– capsules are helpful because they encapsulate CBD oil which is good for maximising absorption. They are also easy to consume like gummies, however they also have the same problems as gummies. They will only be able to provide small doses of CBD and also must pass through the digestive system and so more CBD will inevitably be lost.
Topical creams and transdermal patches– This is an easy way to apply CBD to a localised area. The skin has a layer which is water soluble and so repels the oil-based creams that are often used. An effective way around this is for products to include ethanol which facilitates the absorption of CBD through this layer. Patches can be helpful as they are slow releasing and consistent, meaning CBD levels don’t fluctuate for people and so any potential side effects of rapid peaks are avoided. It is also comfortable to administer and so helpful for people with chronic conditions. However not enough will be able to pass through the skin to effect the rest of the body and only small doses will be able to be absorbed. Therefore this may be enough to soothe pain in a particular area but is not recommended for the whole body.
What dose of CBD should I take?
It can be very confusing understanding what dose of CBD you need and indeed what strength a product is. For example, some products only state how many micrograms (mg) of CBD are in the bottle but don’t state the % of strength. If a bottle contains 400mg in a 20ml bottle, that will be far stronger than 400mg in a 100ml bottle. Therefore, it is important to know both so you can be sure of what dose you are taking. A helpful reference guide here allows you to calculate percentage strength from milligrams.
So what dose is a good dose? There are conflicting opinions that are warped partially by what you are allowed to say or not legally (as is the case with many plant medicines). Also, what is used in clinical trials (scientific studies on people) is often significantly higher than what is suggested commercially. In truth the amount everybody needs varies and depends on the following factors; your height and weight, the severity of the condition you are trying to treat, the potency of the product you are taking and your sensitivity to CBD.
The best thing to do is start slow and build up until you find a dose that works for you. Our bodies all metabolise at different rates so it is important to be in tune to what you need as well as following advice from experts. Do this, as well as estimate how much you will need using this helpful guide that allows you to calculate your dose based on your height, weight and severity of conditions. Doing this and also calculating the % strength of your product means you are good to go. Like we said there will be an element of trial and error with this, but personalised medicine is the way forward.
What are the signs of a trustworthy CBD brand?
As we mentioned CBD has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years, and with a rush of thousands of new companies emerging there are undoubtedly many low-quality ones. Here are our top tips for what to look for to ensure you are getting the best quality:
Lab tested – It is imperative that you make sure that your CBD products are lab tested and have their results available to see. Some companies do not bother with this, so how can we be sure that their product has the amount of CBD in they say if any at all? The trouble is with plants is that it is more difficult to standardise them and make sure you get the exact same product all the time. They are living things that grow differently, very different to synthetic chemicals that we can just replicate. Therefore, things need to be lab tested and any company that cares about quality will be doing their due diligence.
Traceability – Can your company of choice tell you where the plants they got their CBD from is grown? If not then this is a major red flag (and this is true for the wider food/herbal supplements industry). The trouble is supply chains become so long and untraceable that people can not track where an ingredient originates, let alone the quality of the farming standards. On top of this the more untraceable a supply chain, then the higher risk of people tampering with products. Ingredients that look similar to the plant (but are not the plant) are added into supply, in order to be able to create more “stock” so they can flog more for a higher profit. This is a process called adulteration and is a rampant activity in the botanical product industries. So, you may get some hemp or cannabis extract but you can also get a mixture of other unwanted ingredients too. Knowing exactly where your product comes from is a critical step for mitigating this problem.
Claims – People love to pretend that CBD and cannabis is a cure all with no side effects whatsoever. It’s a blend of sales people and cannabis lovers that allow them to sensationalise this plant to the point where they will not acknowledge its limitations, and often ignore rationality. If a company is promising you that their CBD will cure cancer then this is a RED FLAG. Firstly, it is illegal to make such claims and secondly also immoral. Yes, there is a growing number of studies contributing evidence for CBD and cannabis treating such dangerous conditions, but it is nobodies place to be throwing these around as “facts”. We must accept what we do not know yet whether we love cannabis or not.
If the price is too good to be true – If the price is too low that’s a sign that the product has been adulterated with cheaper ingredients and low-cost goods. That is not to say that pricey is good- sometimes the most expensive products are also super low quality (always keep in mind that good branding does not mean quality). Keep an eye out for customer reviews and check the points mentioned earlier.
Extraction methods – Some CBD is extracted using nasty chemical solvents like butane, pentane, hexane and propane. They should make sure that all of the solvent is taken out, but how can you be sure? Stick to safer solvents like ethanol (alcohol) or carbon dioxide.
Soil – Only buy from plants that have been grown in places that require soil testing. One of the amazing things about hemp is how absorbent it is. In fact, hemp is being used to clean the radioactive soil caused by the disastrous nuclear explosion in Chernobyl (4). However, this is NOT ideal when growing hemp to consume for health. Look out for companies that grow their hemp or cannabis on land where the soil is required to be tested by the government for things like pesticides, heavy metals and toxic substances. Then you can be more certain your product is safe.
We hope that you find this guide helpful and can trust that you have a reliable source of information to help you navigate the CBD world. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, so we are keen to lend you a helping hand and share our knowledge to support you in finding what is best for you.
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Accessed October 11, 2020.