What Is Cannabidiol?

Updated April 18, 2019

This article was scientifically reviewed by YourDNA

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A list of references is also included at the bottom of this article.

With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill and the legalization of hemp products, the light is again being shined on CBD and the myriad of products and benefits of it. But many people have questions about this substance.

What's in this Guide?

Disclaimer: Before You Read

It is important to know that your genes are not your destiny. There are various environmental and genetic factors working together to shape you. No matter your genetic makeup, maintain ideal blood pressure and glucose levels, avoid harmful alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get regular sleep. And for goodness sake, don't smoke.

Genetics is a quickly changing topic.

Is it safe? Is it addictive? Is it legal? Here at YourDNA.com, we want you to have one central location to turn to for accurate information. That's why we've done the research on CBD and compiled it right here.

Quick Overview

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, was discovered by Dr. Roger Adams and colleagues at the University of Illinois in 1940 1.

Preliminary clinical research has included investigating it effects on mood disorders like anxiety and depression, its efficacy in pain management, its general effects on cognition, and its ability to reduce the frequency of disorders like epilepsy.

Where Does Cannabidiol Come From?

Although this phytocannabinoid is an active ingredient in medical marijuana, it is not derived from the cannabis plant but from its cousin, the hemp plant. However, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) does not create any intoxicating effects.

There is no euphoria or bliss associated with CBD. According to a World Health Organization report, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

Differences Between Cannabidiol and Marijuana

Cannabis, a plant genus that includes both the marijuana plant and the hemp plant, has more than a hundred cannabinoids, and two of the most abundant and most extensively studied are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Both types of cannabinoids chemically interact with the endocannabinoid system in the human body. This system sends signals to control pain, mood, appetite, memory, and sleep 2.

The system also affects the life-and-death cycles of cells and immune responses.

A harmonious interaction between CBD and THC and our physiology is possible because the chemical makeup of these cannabinoids is similar to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body. They affect the body’s cannabinoid receptors and trigger the brain to release neurotransmitters.

However, CBD and THC influence the body in different ways and consequently elicit different natural effects.

When people talk about marijuana, they are referring to THC. THC produces euphoria because it is a direct agonist — that is, it is a chemical that binds and activates a receptor to create a biological change.

THC affects cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1) in the central nervous system (CNS) and the brain to provide a gratifying psychoactive effect. In essence, then, the euphoria associated with marijuana is due to the activation of (CB1) 3.

However, CBD does not work in this way at all. It is an antagonist of cannabidiol 1 receptors, or (CB1) agonists. In biochemistry, an antagonist element works to interfere with the physiological action of another substance.

So, rather than binding and activating CB1, it actively suppresses it. It is not possible to get “high” on CBD because it deregulates the receptors that induce euphoria. In fact, it doesn’t matter how much CBD you take, you won’t experience any psychoactive effects. CBD does not deliver any kind of euphoric state.

Another way to consider the difference between the two cannabinoids is to consider their sources. While both the marijuana plant and the hemp plant contain THC and CBD in the seeds, stalks, and flowers, the quantity is different in each.

THC is abundant in marijuana while CBD is plentiful in Hemp.

Because of these differing concentrations of THC and CBD, products designed to produce euphoria are only obtained from the marijuana plant. What’s more, this plant is deliberately cultivated to maximize the potency of THC. It has been cloned and manipulated in a variety of ways to accomplish this.

By comparison, the potency of THC in hemp plants is about ten times less than the weakest strain of marijuana. The hemp plant is only one of the cannabis line cultivated for its CBD.

How Does Cannabidiol Work?

The mechanism for how cannabidiol works has not been fully mapped out by scientists. One reason this is unclear is that it's a pleiotropic drug, meaning that every single biochemical interaction produces multiple effects across numerous molecular pathways.

In fact, there may be as many as 65 diverse molecular targets 4.

Pharmacological reviews of CBD show that it provides therapeutic effects by activating serotonin receptors, vanilloid receptors, GRP55 orphan receptors, and PPARS receptors.

  • Serotonin receptors are responsible for excitation and inhibition of neurotransmitters.
  • Vanilloid receptors are a protein encoded by the TRPV1 (Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1) gene.
  • GPR55 orphan receptors (G Protein-Coupled Receptor 55) are protein coding genes.
  • PPARS (Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor) nuclear receptors regulate fatty acid storage, as well as for glucose metabolism.

In addition to activating these various receptors, CBD also works as a reuptake inhibitor (the mechanism for inhibiting certain neurotransmitters) and as an allosteric modulator (the mechanism for indirectly influencing target protein functions).

Because CBD activates so many receptors, it provides a broad spectrum of therapeutic benefits. For instance, it has an anti-inflammatory effect, an anti-angiogenic effect, an anti-proliferation effect, an analgesic effect, an antipsychotic effect, and an anxiolytic effect.

The anti-inflammatory effect occurs because CBD binds with fatty acid binding proteins (FABP). This delays the cellular uptake of adenosine, which is what causes inflammation.

The anti-angiogenic effect occurs because CBD activates PPAR receptors. This prevents the migration of blood vessels and it also inhibits endothelial morphogenesis (endothelial cells create a network of hollow tubes in the blood vessels).

The anti-proliferation effect occurs because CBD stimulates endoplasmic reticulum stress-related cellular death. This results in the regulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) pathways that serve to curb autophagy (disassembling dysfunctional parts of a cell) and apoptosis (death of cells to allow for growth of new cells).

The analgesic effect occurs because CBD will act as a vanilloid receptor agonist. This will unclog blood vessels and promote quick desensitization.

The antipsychotic effect occurs because CBD will act as an allosteric modulator. This both changes the shape of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and suppresses cannabidiol 1 receptors (CB1) signaling pathways.

Finally, the anxiolytic effect occurs because CBD will bind with serotonin receptors. When serotonin is inhibited, it reduces anxiety and pain. It also restores normal sleep.

Cannabidiol Uses

CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant and then delivered through a carrier oil to dilute it. For instance, it may be combined with hemp oil or coconut oil.

Unfortunately, while CBD oil product merchandisers have listed a wide range of uses, many are not based on scientific evidence. Scientists still don’t know as much about it as many merchants will claim.

What is true and what is hyperbole is often difficult to disentangle. Many merchants claim that it is effective in eliminating substance abuse, in treating diabetes, in curbing a number of mental disorders, and in curing cancer.

And many people take CBD oil as a way to alleviate or cure the effects of multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain, Huntington’s disease, Crohn's disease, cancer, insomnia, anxiety, glaucoma, and epilepsy.

While many of these uses may, in fact, be true, a few are urban myths based on anecdotal experience and extrapolation of what has been discovered through scientific research. For instance, in the case of cancer, scientific studies have shown that it ameliorates tumors in animal studies and has inhibited the spread of various types of cancer, like prostate, breast, brain, lung, and colon cancer.

Similarly, it has proven effective in reducing diabetes in diabetic mice 5. However, it is unclear whether these miraculous results also apply to humans.

Since an evidence-based approach is difficult to sort through, it's best to avoid self-medication and to work with a health care provider. Since there are no FDA regulations for almost all CBD products, it's best to seek advice from a medical profession on whether or not you should use it.

Health Benefits of Cannabidiol

Still, CBD usage is not completely shrouded in ambiguity, science has been able to establish that it can relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and alleviate depression.

CBD may also mitigate cancer-symptoms and acne. And, finally, CBD might benefit heart health and offer neuroprotective properties.

  1. Pain relief: CBD research and THC clinical trials of cannabis have shown CBD and THC relieved pain in rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. CBD positively effects pain patients, treatment decreasing their level of pain and discomfort.
  2. Reduce anxiety and alleviate depression: CBD has been effective in animal and human studies when it comes to ameliorating the effects of mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
  3. Improve cancer treatment: CBD has not been proven to actually treat cancer but it can help lessen the side-effects of cancer treatments. CBD can help control nausea and improve appetite after chemotherapy, for example.
  4. Mitigate acne: CBD may help with acne by controlling the sebaceous glands from overproducing sebum. Its anti-inflammatory qualities also assist with reducing acne.
  5. Advance heart health: CBD has been shown to reduce blood pressure and to prevent heart damage. However, more studies are needed to establish how it benefits the heart.
  6. Offer neuroprotective properties: CBD has been shown to provide neuroprotective benefits 6. It has been effective in animal studies related to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy. However, research has been limited and needs to be expanded.

Possible Side Effects of Cannabidiol

Although many people tolerate CBD and find it safe and beneficial, others have had adverse effects with it such as fatigue, dry mouth, and low blood pressure.

Is Cannabidiol Safe?

Generally, CBD is safe, but it can have undesirable side-effects, including interacting with medications.

CBD often acts in the same way as the mechanism for grapefruit — it increases the potency of medications in an undesirable way. For instance, it can increase the blood thinning effect of coumadin.


Dosage should be based on a doctor’s recommendation or that of your health care provider.

However, as an example, here are some general guidelines provided by a naturopathic doctor:


When it comes to safe dosage, low doses of 300 mg daily taken orally can be used for six months while higher levels 1200 to 1500 mg can be used for four weeks.


CBD is used for children with severe disorders like Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who do not respond well to traditional antiseizure medications. Pediatric dose titration should start with a single drop given three times a day.

Based on toleration, after waiting for a few days, this can be increased to two drops. In this way, it may be possible to go up to four drops, three times a day if no adverse effects are seen.

Is Cannabidiol Legal?

The legal status of CBD is in flux in the United States. There is much confusion about which laws apply in which state because different states have differing levels of restrictions.

Meanwhile, the federal government no longer considers CBD in the same class as marijuana. The Farm Bill of 2018 legalized hemp and its derivatives making it legal.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration no longer has any claim on CBD and restricting it. However, states can still make their own laws and regulations to control it.

The information below is subject to frequent change as many states are currently introducing legislation to catch up to the federal guidelines.

The following three states do not allow the use of CBD oil:

  1. Idaho
  2. Nebraska
  3. South Dakota

The following ten states do allow the medical and recreational use of CBD oil:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Maine
  5. Massachusetts
  6. Michigan
  7. Nevada
  8. Oregon
  9. Vermont
  10. Washington

The following 23 states only allow the medical use of CBD oil:

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. Connecticut
  4. Delaware
  5. Florida
  6. Hawaii
  7. Illinois
  8. Louisiana
  9. Maryland
  10. Minnesota
  11. Missouri
  12. Montana
  13. New Hampshire
  14. New Jersey
  15. New Mexico
  16. New York
  17. North Dakota
  18. Ohio
  19. Oklahoma
  20. Pennsylvania
  21. Rhode Island
  22. Utah
  23. West Virginia

Finally, the following 14 states only allow the use of CBD under restricted conditions based on their medical condition, amount, percentage of CBD in an extract, and so on:

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Indiana
  4. Iowa
  5. Kansas
  6. Kentucky
  7. Mississippi
  8. North Carolina
  9. South Carolina
  10. Tennessee
  11. Texas
  12. Virginia
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Wyoming

Why Are Cannabidiol and Medical Marijuana Controversial?

The controversy arises because of changing federal and state laws, marketing messages, and social opinions. While some people consider it something of a medical miracle, others view it with skepticism.

Most views are not based on evidence, but on political, marketing, and social influences.

The argument for cannabidiol and medical marijuana usage are based on the following opinions:

  • It’s a natural treatment for pain.
  • It controls and reduces the symptoms associated with physical disorders like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Huntington's disease, Crohn's disease, Cancer, and epilepsy.
  • It controls and reduces the symptoms associated with mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.
  • It has been used for centuries in diverse cultures because of its medicinal properties.

Meanwhile, the argument against cannabidiol and medical marijuana usage is based on the following opinions:

  • It harms short-term memory and impairs cognitive abilities. However, marijuana plant medical usage is often confused with high-potency recreational usage which has high levels of the psychoactive substance, THC.
  • It is popular based on marketing hype by sellers and its medical benefits need more scientific clinical trials. Much of the available evidence is based on animal studies and anecdotal stories.
  • It could get into the hands of children and be abused.
  • It carries the risk of addiction because of marijuana psychoactive properties.
  • It is too expensive.
  • It is just an excuse to legalize a profitable drug and will eventually lead to a lower quality of life, health issues, and financial difficulties.

How to Choose Cannabidiol Products

Here are three guidelines discerning buyers use when buying cannabidiol products:

First, read the labels carefully. Look for the following terminology:

  • Full-spectrum extract
  • Pure CBD
  • No THC
  • Certified regenerative organic standards
  • The exact amount of the CBD and the THC in each serving.

Second, do not buy it from foreign sources. Only buy hemp grown in the US from states that have a high legalized medical and recreational use because these have higher quality standards.

Third, do not buy products that violate the FDA regulations of making health claims, that deliver CBD via vape cartridges (these contain harmful additives, preservatives, and ingredients), and that contain flavorings, such as gummies with high fructose corn syrup and artificial food dyes.

Fourth, if possible, buy directly from CBD oil companies and avoid multilevel schemes or other marketing schemes that require recurring purchases


Cannabidiol (CBD) is causing a stir in medical and scientific communities.

Yet despite the growing amount of interest in it, public misunderstanding, ambiguous legislation, and social prejudices often confuse this non-intoxicating cannabis with marijuana, attributing to it many of the properties associated with the THC found in the marijuana plant.

Adding to the confusion has been the number of hyped-up claims about its medicinal powers. However, CBD is not a passing fad. Animal studies and a few clinical human trials have shown that CBD may continue to provide a wonderful proliferation of new medical discoveries. Time will tell.

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Referenced Sources

  1. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.
    National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017.
  2. The Endocannabinoid System, Cannabinoids, and Pain
    Perry G. Fine, M.D., and Mark J. Rosenfeld, M.S., Ph.D. 29 Oct. 2013.
  3. Cannabinoid pharmacology: the first 66 years
    Roger G Pertwee. 02 February 2009.
  4. Translating Endocannabinoid Biology into Clinical Practice: Cannabidiol for Stroke Prevention
    Eugene L. Scharf. 01 Oct. 2017
  5. Cannabidiol lowers incidence of diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice
    L. Weiss, M. Zeira, S. Reich, M. Har-Noy, R. Mechoulam, S. Slavin & R. Gallily. Published online: 07 Jul. 2009.
  6. Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids
    Joseph Maroon and Jeff Bost. 26 Apr. 2018.