I want to address a topic that seems to be causing some confusion: If you use the supplement CBD, you are not consuming “pot.”
I’ve written before about the potential benefits of CBD for sleep and health. I don’t want to see anyone miss out on those benefits because of a lack of understanding about what CBD is, or isn’t. So, let’s take a closer look at CBD, or cannabidiol, and how it is different from the compound cannabis plant that delivers a “high” — THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.
What is cannabis, exactly?
Let’s start briefly with the big picture. Cannabis is a genus of plants with several different species. The cannabis plants have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine, for sleep difficulties as well as to treat pain, inflammation, stomach upset, and anxiety, among their many uses. Parts of the cannabis plant are also used recreationally, whether smoked, vaporized, cooked into food, or brewed in tea.
The cannabis plant has dozens of biochemically active compounds, known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids have received a lot of scientific attention in recent decades, as scientists have worked to understand their therapeutic benefits. The first cannabinoid was identified by scientists in the mid-1960s. Since then, scientists have gone on to identify and study more than 80 individual cannabinoids, which continue to be investigated for their symptom-relieving and disease-fighting abilities.
Different cannabinoids have different effects on the body. I’m going to focus on two of the major and most well-researched cannabinoids: CBD and THC. These two cannabinoids are both found naturally in the cannabis plant and are both made synthetically for medicinal use. Both have potential health benefits, but they are very different compounds.
Let’s look at THC first.
THC—not CBD–delivers the "high" of marijuana
Tetrahydrocannabinol—known as THC for short—is a cannabinoid that is the main psychoactive component in cannabis. What does psychoactive mean? A psychoactive substance is one that affects brain function and mental state, temporarily altering one’s mood, consciousness, perception and behavior. THC is the component of cannabis that delivers the “high” associated with marijuana. Different strains of cannabis used in medical marijuana will have different levels of THC, which in turn deliver different degrees of psychoactive effects.
There’s been a significant amount of research into THC and its potential medicinal benefits. Scientists have found that THC may function as:
- An anti-inflammatory agent
- A pain reliever
- An antioxidant and a neuro-protector
We’re still learning more about the potential benefits, risks and side effects of THC when used as medical treatment.
CBD—a calming cannabinoid, with no "high"
CBD, or cannabidiol, is another major component of cannabis that has been well studied and continues to attract a lot of attention from scientists for its potential health benefits. Unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive effects. There is no “high” or other mind-altering effects from CBD. On the contrary: CBD on its own has calming, anti-anxiety effects—one of the reasons why it’s been identified as a useful supplement to treat insomnia and other sleep problems.
In supplement form, CBD is either extracted from the cannabis plant or produced synthetically, so users can benefit from its therapeutic capabilities without exposure to other cannabinoids, including THC. CBD is not the same thing as medical marijuana. Unlike medical cannabis, CBD is legal in all 50 states. Even if you live in a state where medical cannabis is currently not legal, you can still purchase and use CBD.
The benefits of CBD to sleep and health
The research into the health benefits of CBD is pretty exciting. CBD has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant capabilities, which means it may help in treating and preventing a broad range of conditions, from chronic pain to mood disorders, autoimmune and neurological diseases. Research shows CBD can be a:
Pain reliever. CBD works as an analgesic, meaning it can reduce pain. It’s been shown effective in improving both chronic and difficult-to-treat pain.
Brain cell booster. There’s evidence that CBD may spur the growth of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis. Studies show CBD may help protect the brain—and scientists are investigating CBD as a therapy for neurological disease, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Mood-stabilizer. CBD has been shown to improve depression and anxiety, effective in addressing both the mental and physical symptoms associated with those disorders.
Cancer-fighter. CBD is being examined for its possible role in cancer treatment, on a number of different fronts. It can be effective in reducing pain and nausea in cancer patients. CBD can also stimulate appetite. CBD is showing promise in treating several types of cancer directly, inhibiting cancer cell growth and metastasis.
Sleep promoter. CBD is one of the supplements I recommend to my patients for sleep. Because of its relaxing, mood-stabilizing, anti-anxiety effects, it can be useful in treating insomnia, and in helping people get more sleep. It also may help strengthen sleep-wake cycles, and in small doses reduce daytime sleepiness. CBD has been shown effective in treating REM behavior disorder and REM sleep abnormalities, in people with conditions including Parkinson’s disease and PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Here’s my full rundown on the science and benefits of CBD, along with information about side effects and interactions with other supplements and medications.
I hope this helps clear up any confusion about CBD and its relationship to cannabis. The benefits of CBD for sleep and health are available without needing to consume the cannabis plant—and most definitely without a mind-altering “high!"
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., DABSM