Cannabis (also known as hemp) is a truly fascinating plant. Did you know that it actually provides nutrients to the surrounding soil, as opposed to most plants that absorb nutrients, leaching them from the environment?
Approaching Cannabis from a medical background, I am beyond excited by the possibility of using this plant to promote our health, both mental and physical. For the past couple of months now, I’ve been witnessing benefit from patients in my clinic that have been using CBD ointments applied to painful areas of the body. And, I’ve recently begun supplementing with CBD oil internally, witnessing its therapeutic properties personally, which has only ignited my enthusiasm!
In this blog post, I’ll do my best to inform you of the fundamental things to know about CBD so that you can decide if and how it may help you, as well as, how to incorporate it into your healthcare regime.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for Cannabidiol and is a chemical found in the Cannabis plant. Most people are familiar with the fact that ingesting or smoking Cannabis makes one “high” or “stoned”. This effect is not due to the CBD. Instead, it’s due to THC, another substance in Cannabis. CBD is quickly gaining in popularity because unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and because CBD holds a high medicinal value.
What can CBD help me with?
By virtue of its actions on the Endocannabinoid System in our bodies (we’ll get into that soon), CBD has been found to be most helpful with three things: 1. Pain 2. Anxiety 3. Neurological Conditions (seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, etc.). There have been over 23,000 published studies related to cannabinoids in relation to various health-related indications (Reference 1).
What’s the Endocannabinoid System?
You can think of the Endocannabinoid System as the thermostat of the body. It balances and harmonizes our bodies’ internal environment. Its primary job is to maintain homeostasis or, a stable equilibrium, within the body. The system was discovered in Israel in the 1980s. It is found in all mammals and it operated by millions of cannabinoid receptor sites located within the brain, spinal chord, and immune system. Interestingly, research on acupuncture has indicated that the therapeutic effects resulting from acupuncture may be due to stimulation of the Endocannabinoid system by the acupuncture needles’ penetration into the skin. In other words, when your acupuncturist is inserting a needle, they are stimulating this system and this may be partly (or entirely) how acupuncture works!
How does CBD work?
Via the Endocannabinoid system, when chemicals called cannabinoids (chemicals naturally made in our bodies) bind to cannabinoid receptor sites in our nervous system or immune system, various effects occur that influence neurotransmitters. These effects have an impact on functions such as sleep, hormone regulation, appetite, mood, immunity, and pain response. Some plants like Cannabis make chemicals that closely resemble the cannabinoids that our bodies’ make; these are called phytocannabinoids and they bind to the same cannabinoid receptor sites in our bodies. CBD is the phytocannabinoid that is found in the Cannabis plant.
Is CBD legal?
After the famous Dr. Bronner’s soap company started using CBD in their body wash products, a law was issued declaring CBD could only be used if it came from a European source, had less than .3% THC, and was extracted from only the stems, seeds, and stock of the Cannabis plant (no flowers). In 2013, former president Barack Obama passed the Farm Bill, which allowed growing of Cannabis on US soil and legal shipment across state lines. According to DJ Summers, a journalist and author of “The Business of Cannabis”, 44 states have medical cannabis laws. 16 states have CBD-only laws that allow for cannabis use and possession for qualifying conditions (with Cannabis defined by less than .3% THC). And, only six states- Idaho, Indiana, Kansa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and West Virginia- consider every part of the cannabis plant, including CBD, illegal. “In the six states without CBD laws or medical marijuana laws, CBD remains a drug that’s punishable, in theory, by arrest. But it seems to be an extremely low priority for most law enforcement agencies. We could find only a few instances of anyone being arrested for CBD oil sales, and no examples of arrest for simple possession” (Reference 2).
Is CBD most effective if it’s used with THC?
CBD and THC (the psychoactive chemical in Cannabis) work on the Endocannabinoid System differently. THC is a direct source of cannabinoids; it adds them to the body. CBD on the other hand, controls an enzyme that breaks down the cannabinoids that we create naturally; it does not attach to any receptor sites. The psychoactive THC thus, heightens the function of the therapeutic CBD and visa-versa. According to Chad Conner though, co-founder of Pure Ratios, a medical Cannabis company (and extremely knowledgeable speaker in a fantastic podcast about CBD- Reference 3, if you’re interested), the .3% THC found in (legal) hemp is enough and THC in high quantities actually lessens the therapeutic effect of the CBD. (Reference 3)
How do I choose the right CBD product?
CBD is quickly gaining popularity and it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Not all products are created equal! Things to consider when choosing the right company to buy from are 1. Purity: Cannabis is fat-soluble (dissolves within/combines with oils) meaning, toxins, which are also fat-soluble, like pesticides and herbicides, are easily absorbed by the plant. This is why verifying the source of the Cannabis is extremely important. To the best of my knowledge, you’ll need to look for three things from the company you buy your CBD product from in order to ensure the highest purity: a heavy metal test, a residual solvent test, and a pesticide test. 2. Quality: To ensure the highest quality product, the company you buy from should be able to provide a COA (Certificate of Analysis) with a cannabinoid profile, as well as, a Terpene profile. If the COA is not on the label of your product, there should be a code on the product that will be linked to a COA on their website. 3. Legality: If you are living in a state that has not legalized marijuana for recreational use and you do not have a medical marijuana card, there needs to be less than .3% THC in your product (and it will be advertised as Hemp). Likely, this won’t be a problem, as products with higher THC concentration shouldn’t be available for shipment to your state.
What are Terpenes?
If you’ve done any research on CBD, you may have come across the term, Terpene. A Terpene is a chemical structure that gives a plant its aromatic (smelly) properties. You can thank the terpenes in Lavender for its sweet flora scent and the terpenes in Blueberries for their berry smell. The chemical structure of a Terpene allows it to bind to receptors in our brains and, in doing so they produce analgesic, or pain-relieving, effects. Scientifically stated, Terpenes decrease neuronal excitability through peripheral mechanisms; basically, they alter the nervous system in a way that decreases our sensation of pain.
What CBD products do you use and where can I get them?
From my research thus far, I have selected one trusted company, CBD Clinic, that offers CBD in topical (apply-to-the-skin) form. CBD Clinic products come in different levels depending on the concentration of cannabinoids (Level 1 for mild aches/pains and Level 5 for severe pain). The reason I like this company (besides the excellent feedback I’ve been getting from patients who have been using it) is that they combine the chemical properties from Cannabis (terpenes, flavonoids and endocannabinoids) with terpenes from other pain-relieving substances like Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Clove, and Peppermint. This combination, in addition to carrier oils, like shea butter and olive oil, help expedite the absorption of the active compounds deeply into the body. CBD Clinic ointments and salves are available at my clinic in Keene, NH; you can either mention your interest at your next appointment or schedule a complementary in-person or over-the-phone consultation. At the moment, I am still working on finding a reputable CBD oil to ingest internally.
Combining CBD with other herbs:
In some of my earlier blog posts, I’ve written about Chinese Herbs. I explain that the secret to their efficacy lays in the fact that Chinese Herbs are formulas or, combinations of herbs that work synergistically together. Hemp seed is the herb, Huo Ma Ren, and it appears alongside other herbs in formulas that are tailored to a specific pattern, or group of symptoms. Combining CBD with other herbs in this manner can amplify certain properties such as its immune-boosting effects, its pain-relieving effects, or its anxiety-reducing effects, for example. To the best of my knowledge, there are no products that currently offer CBD in such herb combinations. It’s my hope that this will change in the near future.
How much CBD should I take?
According to Chad Conner (Reference 3), it’s best to start at a low level and go up gradually, as needed. A good starting point for self-treating conditions like pain and/or anxiety is 10mg 3x/day (30mg/day). For strong neurological conditions such as epilepsy or autism, one can safely increase the dose to 400-500mg/day. CBD is a forgiving substance. From too high a dose, one can expect to feel drowsy or fatigued but, historically, there hasn’t been one instance of overdose reported. (THC is a different case). For more information on dosing, see Reference 4.
Although these are general guidelines from someone whom I trust as a reputable source, I feel that the ideal circumstance when choosing to supplement with CBD would be to work with a knowledgeable practitioner who is able to diagnose changes taking place in your body and who can direct the dosage and product recommendation, accordingly. I believe Chinese Medicine serves as the perfect diagnostic lens for such an application and with further exploration, I hope to one-day get involved in this field!
As I delve more into the fascinating subject of medical marijuana, I will keep you updated via Facebook posts and blog posts. Until then, take time to relax, stretch, breathe, and if you feel overwhelmed, remember to ‘bring it back to the basics!’