By Christina Shepherd McGuire
must admit—I’m a user.
As a recreational athlete who’s had four surgeries and is now approaching menopause, CBD (cannabidiol) has helped me overcome various health ailments, from inflammation and surgery recovery to insomnia and stress reduction. This supplement, with its host of claims—it’s said to inhibit pain, offset anxiety and depression, curb insomnia, and even help with acne—has been endearingly referred to by me as “mother’s little helper.”
We see CBD all over the media, and even on “sold here” gas station signs. Athletes put the supplement in their post-workout smoothies, arthritis sufferers rub it on their skin, and parents with epileptic children swear it’s lifesaving. The hype, as they say, is real, but is this chemical compound really all it’s cracked up to be? And if so, how can we—the general public—make sure we’re buying the best product and using it in a safe and effective way?
“I’ve been following the advancement in cannabinoids for the past decade,” says Jackson-based Nicholas Krauss, VP of sales for Amota Processing (makers of Noble Leaf CBD products), board certified neurofeedback practitioner, and certified brain health coach.
“[As a practitioner], we aim to help people in a natural way by targeting a system [the endocannabinoid system] that is already being regulated by the body. It’s a much better way than bringing in something foreign.”
What is CBD used for?
Krauss educates his clients on CBD products using a coupled approach that involves consulting their practitioner. He recommends the products for those who have trouble sleeping, mentioning that poor sleep can throw off many of the body’s systems throughout the day. He also suggests using the product post-surgery, as it can allow the body to achieve its best homeostatic point, creating an internal environment more conducive to healing.
Babette Melka, Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) and women’s health consultant based out of Teton Valley, Idaho, endorses the use of topical CBD for pain relief. She advises people to start with a small amount rubbed into the skin and used frequently in the area of pain. For relaxation or neurological symptoms, Melka likes sublingual CBD products (those that dissolve under the tongue or in the cheek) to induce a sense of calm and mentions that when you bypass the digestive system, absorption may increase by 6 to 20 percent, allowing for potentially better results.
Pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep … we get it. But what, exactly, is CBD?
Cannabidiol, the second most prevalent active ingredient in the cannabis sativa plant, comes from hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant, and is manufactured and extracted in a laboratory. Cannabis is a complex plant that contains hundreds of cannabinoids that interact with the receptors involved in a variety of bodily functions. Of these compounds, CBD is one of the most abundant phytocannabinoids found in the hemp plant, accounting for up to 40 percent of the plant’s extract.
CBD is considered nonpsychoactive, meaning, it does not get you high. In fact, this characteristic marks the defining difference between the hemp plant versus the marijuana plant. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound found in marijuana traditionally associated with the “high.” CBD, in contrast, may make some individuals feel calmer or experience less pain and more comfort, but it does not alter your consciousness in the way that THC does.
How does CBD work?
Our body comes expertly equipped with a biological system called the “endocannabinoid system.” This system, comprised of countless neurotransmitters, regulates things like our physiological and cognitive processes, as well as our appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. Receptors are located in the brain, skin, liver, gut, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and elsewhere, and are stimulated by molecules called endocannabinoids, which are similar in structure to the molecules in the cannabis plant. According to the article, “The endocannabinoid system: Essential and mysterious,” published by Harvard Medical School, “The cannabis plant, which humans have been using for about 5,000 years, essentially works its effect by hijacking this ancient cellular machinery.”
The action of CBD’s role in the endocannabinoid system remains somewhat unclear. What is proven, though, is that cannabidiol doesn’t directly bind to the endocannabinoid receptors.
“We have natural enzymes that break down the cannabinoids after they have been used,” explains Krauss. “CBD doesn’t bind directly to the [endocannabinoid] receptors, but rather, it works with the enzymes to keep them from breaking down our natural cannabinoids, making more of the compound available to tame inflammation and promote healing.”
CBD does bind, however, to other receptors in the body, like the TRPV1 receptor, responsible for sensing pain, the 5-HT1A receptor, a serotonin receptor linked to mood, and the NMDA receptor in the brain, which is important for neuroplasticity (the flexibility of the brain to do something new) and memory retention.
But it goes deeper than that, as just a touch of THC is needed to fully activate the receptors, allowing CBD to bind.
“The universe gave us everything to use appropriately,” says Melka. “Industrial hemp was designed with the least amount of THC, not enough to get high on (less than 0.3 percent), but just enough to help activate the receptors and turn them on. … That said, broad spectrum CBD [which contains 0 percent THC] is still going to work; it just won’t work as well as using a full spectrum product [containing 0.3 percent THC].”
Is CBD legal?
That brings us to the elephant in the room: the legality of a product that seems to be so good for us, yet needs just a touch of a questionable substance to optimally work. And the laws regarding CBD are not exactly black and white, especially in Wyoming and Idaho.
The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill removed hemp as a Schedule I substance and reclassified it as an “agricultural commodity,” making hemp-derived CBD products under this bill legal on a federal level. The bill also removed restrictions on the sale, transportation, and possession of hemp-derived CBD products, allowing them to be transported across state lines, as long as the product meets the following criteria:
It must contain less than 0.3% THC
It must adhere to shared state-federal regulations
It must be grown by a licensed grower
But CBD products are not treated equally according to state laws. Currently, in Wyoming, it is legal to sell and purchase CBD products—including tinctures, oil, topicals, and gummies— that are derived from the hemp plant and contain 0.3 percent THC (full spectrum CBD) or less.
Idaho laws, on the other hand, state that all CBD products must contain 0 percent THC (broad spectrum CBD), a regulation that can only be achieved in a lab, with or without the use of a solvent.
Is CBD safe to use?
Both Krauss and Melka recommend consulting a healthcare provider before enlisting the help of CBD for your symptoms. First of all, CBD is contraindicated when used alongside certain drugs, like antidepressants, some antibiotics, and certain heart medications.
“CBD is broken down by the Cytochromes P450 [a superfamily of enzymes] in the liver. This is also where a lot of other medications and supplements are broken down,” explains Melka. “CBD will metabolize first, before the other substance … so it’s possible to build up a toxic load of the other drug.”
Secondly, some laboratories use chemical solvents, like ethanol,
to extract the CBD compound and to eliminate any residual THC.
Both Krauss and Melka urge people to do their research and make sure the brand they are buying—either directly from a practitioner or at a grocery or health food store—is reputable. They advise only buying from companies who use third party lab testing, complete with a certificate of analysis per lot number. The lab report will tell you the specific cannabinoid makeup, alongside the presence of several organic compounds, like heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, yeast, mold, and bacteria. Krauss says to look for a QR code on the packaging to route you to a website that outlines the production process from seed to extraction. This type of research assures the company’s values align with yours and that you are getting a quality product.
Above all, both Krauss and Melka urge people to go slow when using CBD (or any other supplement, for that matter).
“It’s not a sprint with a supplement,” says Krauss. “It’s more about finding that 1 percent difference each day, and then seeing how it continues over time. … Take it slow. … It might take a little while to find relief if you are dealing with something long term.”
Where to buy high-quality CBDs locally:
- Simply Health Collective; simplyhealthcollective.com (Jackson)
- Western Medical Equipment; westmed22.com (Jackson)
- Kuntz Chiropractic; facebook.com/KunzChiro (Driggs)
- Liquor Market; facebook.com/LiquorMarket (Driggs)
- Panacea’s Project; email@example.com (Driggs; by request)
* Pharmaceutical grade CBDs can also be sourced locally from some practitioners.