Cannabis contains more than 450 active compounds from which more than 60 are exclusive to cannabis plants. These were named cannabinoids and interact with receptors in our brain and nervous system.
CBD, short for Cannabidiol, it is one of the most prominent cannabinoids found in marijuana plants, after the well known THC (9-tetrahydrocannabinol), responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
CBD has gained a lot of attention in recent decades due to its wide range of medicinal effects and its lack of psychoactive effects. The studies on the usage of CBD to treat a number of ailments has been increasing and almost everyday new research comes out to strengthen the role of CBD as a good treatment plan for a lot of diseases, including cancer and epilepsy, among others.
The history of cannabis oil usage
The use of cannabis as a medicinal plant goes back thousands of years. Proof has been found that Chinese Emperors used it and recommend its use to treat several conditions such as pain, rheumatism and malaria, among others.
The Chinese were not the only ones to see the benefits of cannabis use, and cannabis has a medical importance around the world in several cultures:
Evidence has been found that the ancient Greeks and Romans had uses for marijuana plant, mostly to treat pain and improve bowel movements.
In India the use of cannabis preparations as a remedy date back to 1000 B.C.
Arabic writers in the 13th century describe the use of cannabis.
Of course the cannabis used back then is not comparable to the cannabis available nowadays. Although we are witnessing now a shift in cannabis cultivation, until very recently cannabis growers were aiming for a high THC content, sometimes even at the expense of the CBD amount in the plant.
In the 19th century a Irish doctor working in India, Dr. O’Shaughessy, gained knowledge on the medicinal effects of cannabis, a plant that was used by indigenous people to treat a series of conditions. It is believe that he was the first one to make tinctures of cannabis that he brought back to Europe and used as a treatment for migraines, rheumatism, and chronic pain, introducing cannabis into the Western pharmacopeia in 1839. The use of cannabis, and especially its oil, then became very popular in Europe, especially as a pain killer.
In 1860, the Committee on Cannabis Indica of the Ohio State Medical Society released a report where physicians related the success of hemp products in the treatment of several conditions, including stomach pain, childbirth psychosis, chronic cough and pain and inflammatory relief.
However, later in the 19th century, when stronger chemical substances to relieve pain started to be available in the market, like morphine, the use of cannabis oil as a pain killer start to decrease until it became obsolete.
In the 1930’s cannabis was ruled as an illegal drug in the United States, put together in the same class with heavy drugs, like heroin. Afterwards, cannabis was banned worldwide, and even its uses for medicinal purposes were prohibited. From then on, the use of cannabis was mostly a recreational one, even if illegal.
This ban together with the increase of cannabis as a recreational drug, had a negative effect on the research of medicinal effects of cannabis, since it was very difficult to get funds and materials to do research on a illegal drug.
Thirty years later, in the 60’s, THC was isolated for the first time but cannabis was still considered illegal and even demonised by some, so further research into cannabinoids was very difficult.
The interest in cannabis started to revolve around its psychoactive and recreative effects, so breeders began focusing on creating marijuana plants with high THC content, forgetting all about the other promising cannabinoids that can be found in marijuana plants.
In 1972 the “Marijuana Medical Papers 1839-1972” by Doctor Tod Mikuriya, offered a completed overview of the known properties of cannabis, and states in the introduction that “medicine in the Western World has forgotten almost all it once knew about therapeutic properties of marijuana, or cannabis.”
This was somewhat a turning point. The hemp/cannabis plant started again to be examined for its medicinal properties on a more regular basis and, in 1976 there was revision of the law in the United States, in which weed was decriminalised, opening the door to more research.
The term “medical mariajuana” was coined by Wernard Tanning in 1994. He spent years fighting for the legalisation of cannabis oil. And he won the fight in 2000 when the Dutch government decided to have agency for medical cannabis so that it would be available also in pharmacies. The downside being that it was more expensive than the weed sold in the famous Dutch coffee shops.
From this point on the decriminalisation of cannabis has been spreading throughout the world, making it possible for better research to be done on all cannabinoids present in weed plants, especially CBD. Also, cannabis growers started to pay more attention to the CBD content of the plants, trying to develop strains that would have higher CBD and less THC.
The start of 21st century saw a huge increase in publications and studies about the benefits of cannabinoids, especially CBD.
CBD, THC and the Endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system is a receptor network within the human body that aims to maintain homeostasis (regulate and maintain the general balance state of the human body). It was first discovered in the late 1980’s and it was named after cannabis plants, since cannabis lead to its discovery, and the cannabinoids found in cannabis plants are very similar to the ones that the human body produces by itself.
This system, one of the most important in our bodies, is composed of several receptor points located in the brain and nervous system called the CB1 receptors, and the CB2 receptors present in our immune system.
Both THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system by attaching themselves to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. If the substance is an agonist, it will put a biochemical reaction in motion, if it’s an antagonist it will prevent a reaction from occurring.
THC is an agonist, so when it attaches itself to the receptors it will start a reaction, this reaction is you getting high. On the other hand, CBD has the inverse role, it is a antagonist, since it does not trigger any chemical reaction.
Based on this, one can assume that THC and CBD combined would not work, since they have completely opposite roles. In fact, CBD regulates THC, calming the effect down. That is why “medicinal” strains, with a higher CBD content, have less psychoactive effects. Cannabis with a high content of both THC and CBD will produce a clear headed high. The psychoactive effect is still there, but it is just “regulated”.
Effects and side effects of CBD usage
CBD tends to be the second most found cannabinoid in marijuana plants. Nowadays, with the increased recognition of the medicinal properties of CBD, growers are paying more and more attention to the percentage of CBD in the plants.
Although THC has proven to contain some medicinal qualities like reducing inflammation, anti-cancer properties and a role in the reduction of neurotoxins, the spotlight is now on CBD and its long list of proven medicinal benefits.
Some of the effects that you can expect when taking CBD:
- calming effect: CBD will not make you feel stoned but you will be more relaxed, making it a good option for those suffering from social anxiety
- improved cognitive functions
- pain killer
- anti-inflammatory properties
- relieve of chronic pain, arthritis and migraines
- positive effects on high blood pressure
- relief from insomnia
There are a long list of clinical studies to prove the positive results of CBD in different areas of health. In 2017 alone, there were a lot of studies into the role of CBD in the treatment of a series of medical conditions. The list of ailments that CBD can have a positive impact includes:
- Refractory epilepsy
- High blood pressure
- PTSD management
- Seizures in children with Dravet Syndrome
- Panic Disorder and Anxiety
- Replacement of opiates as a pain management medication
- Liver injury caused by excess drinking
- Reduction of nausea and vomiting linked to chemotherapy
- Inhibition of cancer spread and reduced tumour size
- Multiple scerosis
- Chron’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
- Support and strengthen the endocannabinoid system
- Dry skin
- Localised pain
A study on the safety of CBD usage released in 2017 concluded that:
- CBD has comparatively fewer side-effects compared with prescription medication which could help increase patient-adherence to treatment
- CBD can be used as a supplemental therapy
- CBD is not habit-forming and doesn’t decrease tolerance
Most common side effects reported when taking CBD are tiredness, diarrhea, and changes of appetite/weight.
As all the research shows, the potential of CBD is great. However, there is still a long way to go and more research is required to cement the role of CBD as a vastly accepted medication.