CBD is one of over 110 active cannabinoids inside marijuana plants and is most predominant inside the resin glands (trichomes) of the female cannabis plant. Your body contains cell receptors known as cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids, found in cannabis, are agonists that bind to these receptors. Cannabinoid receptors can be found all over the body including, but not limited to, the:
Full spectrum (or “whole plant”) products contain CBD as well as terpenes and other cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN and trace amounts of THC. Usually these will be in ratios that were naturally-occurring and extracted from the plant and specific strain. Terpenes and cannabinoids are occasionally added back into products as an isolated form to raise the potency of the product.
Extracts of CBD—either from marijuana or hemp (a cannabis variant that is essentially free of THC)—are sold as an oil or in tinctures. You can also get CBD via a transdermal patch, capsule, sublingual spray, gel, cream, or vapor. Some contain pure CBD extract (or so they say); others—particularly if you’re in a state where recreational marijuana is not legal—will contain hemp extract, which includes CBD as part of its makeup. As of this reporting, recreational marijuana is legal in nine U.S. states and medical marijuana in 29. Don’t miss these 50 weird things that are banned in the United States.
Full-spectrum hemp oil refers to when the pure oil extracted from hemp contains all the same cannabinoids and compounds found in the original hemp plant. Unlike isolated or synthetic cannabinoids, full-spectrum hemp oil contains an array of cannabinoids, as well as many essential vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, protein, chlorophyll, fiber, flavonoids, and terpenes.

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To extract, you soak the hemp plant in a solvent, such as grain alcohol. After the material soaks, the remaining liquid contains CBD and the other cannabinoids from the pant. Once you evaporate the solvent, the CBD hemp oil remains. The oil is then ready to either consume or add to edible products. Commercial producers have adopted and modified Mr. Simpson’s method. CBD hemp oil producers use ethanol to extract CBD.

These studies conclude that “the higher efficiency of plant extract can be explained by additive or synergistic interactions between CBD, terpenes, and the minor phytocannabinoids or non-cannabinoids presented in the extracts. …because other phytocannabinoids, including Tetrahydrocannabivarin, Cannabigerol and Cannabichromene, as well as mono- and sesquiterpenes, exert additional effects of therapeutic interest and the therapeutic synergy observed with plant extracts results in the requirement for a lower amount of active components, with consequent reduced adverse effects.”
The same terms could be applied to what's actually in CBD products. While some do contain CBD, others (often marketed as "CBD-rich hemp oil") may have barely any, Asquith says. And depending on state laws, they can include varying levels of THC too – a combination shown to have some benefits, but also drawbacks, of course, if you're not looking for a high. "People will play all these games with the numbers because the consumers aren't really educated in this space yet and it's easy to get taken advantage of," he says. "It's the milligrams of the actual CBD molecule that matter."
Not much, as far as humans are concerned—at least not yet. The vast majority of studies have been on animals, as of yet, and there are few high-quality studies on humans. Even the oil’s effect on pain—something that CBD oil is popularly used for—isn’t proven. “The studies available are small or not well designed,” says Dr. Devinsky. “There’s a lot of religion out there, but not a lot of data.”
“What is CBD oil” may be your first question, but the real question we have to answer is, “What does CBD oil do?” CBD interacts with the body through the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) or endocannabinoid system. First discovered in the late 1980’s, the endocannabinoid system regulates the body’s homeostasis, or general state of balance, impacting such functions as mood, sleep, appetite, hormone regulation, and pain and immune response. Like an acrobat on a highwire, as the environment around us impacts our normal balance, the endocannabinoid system “corrects” by mediating our body’s reaction to keep us level.
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