CBD stands for cannabidiol, a chemical compound—one of over 100, actually—found in the cannabis sativa plant.
The cannabis sativa plant includes two main species: hemp and marijuana. Both contain CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which causes that psychoactive ‘high’. But hemp contains a much higher percentage of CBD and only trace amounts of THC, which is why CBD is typically extracted from the hemp plant (and also known as hemp extract). CBD isn’t going to get you high, although it can have psychoactive effects along the lines of reducing anxiety and depression.
While everyone knows about THC’s psychoactive abilities, CBD gets all the kudos for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Athletes, for example, love that it can help soothe muscle aches and joint pain such as arthritis.
The science backs them up: A 2012 study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine and a 2016 study in the European Journal of Pain both found that CBD reduced chronic pain or arthritis pain levels with CBD.
And 42 percent of CBD users reported giving up traditional medications like Tylenol or prescription drugs like Vicodin in favor of CBD, in a survey conducted by Brightfield Group and HelloMD, an online community for doctors and cannabis patients together (and 80 percent of those people said they found the CBD products to be “very or extremely effective”).
It’s not just a balm for pain: Some studies show that CBD may reduce inflammation, and additional research has found that CBD can be an effective treatment for multiple anxiety disorders. Hemp is also full of healthy fatty acids, which means it can clear up skin conditions including acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
One of the big problems when navigating these alleged wonder products, though, is that terms like CBD oil, hemp extract and hemp seed oil are often used interchangeably. But the difference between them can be pretty big.
CBD is extracted from the stalks, stems, and flowers but not the seeds of the cannabis sativa plant. Any product made from hemp seed oil (sometimes called cannabis sativa seed oil) will not contain CBD.
Hemp seed oil is still good for you, though. Like other carrier oils (think olive or sunflower seed oil), hemp seed oil is high in antioxidants, amino acids, and omega fatty acids. It just might be a better option if skincare is your goal versus aches and pains.
CBD oil and hemp extract are typically synonymous—and, just to add to the confusion, are also referred to as plain old hemp oil. Hemp extract is specifically elicited from those parts of the hemp plant known to have high levels of cannabidiol, which provides all the anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits.
The CBD Spectrum
As important as knowing your seeds from your stalks is knowing the difference between products classed as full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate extracts.
Full spectrum CBD implies an extract of the ‘full plant’–that’s CBD along with all the hemp plant’s other natural cannabinoids, flavonoids (i.e. plant pigments), and terpenes, the aromatic components of a plant’s essential oils that are also known to have a therapeutic benefit. Of course, ‘full plant’ also means trace amounts of THC may be included (i.e. you may not pass a drug test if you take this).
CBD-seekers opting for full spectrum products, such as the ones produced by Elevate, Spartan’s recently announced CBD partner, do so because of something known as the ‘entourage effect’—the synergistic interaction of all the above components, which, the brand claims leads to better therapeutic benefits.
Broad-spectrum CBD is basically full-spectrum CBD but with all traces of THC removed. It’s a top choice for those who can’t have or really don’t want any traces of THC is their system.
As for isolate extracts, this is the product of choice for CBD purists. These products have all traces of THC, terpenes, flavonoids, and more removed during the extraction process, so that all that remains is pure CBD.
Are All CBD and Hemp Extract Products Safe?
Because of its association with THC, some people are still iffy on CBD. But the World Health Organization issued a report which maintained that CBD didn’t appear to “have abuse potential or cause harm.”
Studies are still ongoing to test for side-effects and determine CBD’s full benefits, and current research is looking at the possibility of CBD use in a vast array of medical conditions from Parkinson’s to post-traumatic stress disorder. Last June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even approved the first cannabidiol-based drug, Epidiolex, to address severe forms of epilepsy.
That said, the FDA has issued warnings against illegally marketed CBD products that promise unrealistic results, including claims that it can cure cancer.
As with any supplements or medication, you should always do your research and buy legally-sanctioned products in order to enjoy the full benefits of CBD.