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What Is CBD? The Benefits, Side Effects and Potential Risks

Updated: Jul 12, 2021



Curious about CBD? You're in the right place. In this article we will look at where CBD comes from, what it is, the benefits, potential risks, and whether it is right for you.


So quiet at the back, phones on silent, sitting comfortably? Let’s begin.



What Does CBD Stand For?


CBD is short for cannabidiol. It is a chemical compound found in the marijuana or hemp plant (scientifically known as the Cannabis sativa plant). It occurs naturally and is used in all kinds of products; oils (called tinctures in the industry), edibles, topicals, and vape juices (for use in electronic cigarettes and vape pens) to elicit sensations of calm and relaxation.

But does CBD get you high? In short, no. THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the biggest active ingredient in marijuana which is the psychoactive component that gives the user a sense of euphoria and ‘high’. CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive.

The majority of CBD products available on the market contain below 0.03% THC giving users all the healing benefits of CBD without the ‘highs’ associated with THC.



Where Does CBD Oil Come From?


CBD oil is derived from either the hemp or marijuana plant (yes, despite what you're told, these are two separate plants descending from the Cannabis sativa plant). Typically both the leaves and flowers are used to produce the oil.


How Does CBD Work?

CBD works by interacting with our body's endocannabinoid system. This biological system was founded in the 1990s by medical researchers. However, most of its interactions are still pretty much unknown. What we do know today is that the endocannabinoid system impacts some of our body's processes, including:

  • Memory

  • Mood

  • Sleep

  • Appetite

The endocannabinoid system has three major parts — enzymes, endocannabinoid, and receptors.


Here are their functions:

  • Enzymes — Only two types break down endocannabinoid even though we have many types of enzymes in our bodies.

  • Endocannabinoids — Keep our internal functions running perfectly.

  • Receptors — Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors which are located throughout our bodies.

To understand how CBD works, you need to first understand how the endocannabinoid and receptors work.



How Endocannabinoids, Receptors and CBD Work Together

CB1 receptors work in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors work in the peripheral nervous system. Once the enzymes break down the cannabinoids, the endocannabinoids find receptors to bind to. Biologists state it's at this point where cannabidiol (i.e., CBD) influences the CB1 and CB2 receptors to improve their function.

Interestingly, CBD can also work with the 5 ht serotonin receptor to treat psychotic disorders, and can reduce pain by activating the TRPV1 receptor.


How is CBD Oil Manufactured?

There are so many ways to manufacture CBD oil. The specific process largely depends on the manufacture and will affect the end product's efficacy and purity.


Let's take a look at the most common manufacturing methods.

#1 Carbon Dioxide Extraction


This manufacturing method uses the fact that carbon dioxide (CO2) can work as a gas, liquid, and solid to its advantage by using closed-loop extractors.


Here's how it's done:

  1. Solid CO2 sits in a chamber.

  2. It's pumped into a chamber holding the cannabis plant.

  3. Carbon dioxide stays as a liquid form in the second chamber, absorbing the oils and flavours from the plant.

  4. The carbon dioxide-cannabinoid mix is passed into a third chamber.

  5. CO2 then becomes a gas and leaves the oils and flavours behind.


When carbon dioxide extraction is done properly, the CBD extract is the world's purest. However, there is so much room for error. Plus, the machinery is incredibly expensive, meaning companies often try to take shortcuts that inevitably do not work.


#2 Liquid Solvent Extraction


Isopropyl alcohol, butane, and hexane can all be used to extract CBD from hemp and marijuana plants. The process is pretty much the same as the CO2 extraction since the liquid solvent travels through the hemp to take out cannabinoids and terpenes (the aromatic elements of the plant).

This manufacturing method is much cheaper and easier. It's easily scalable so larger commercial productions will usually utilize this method.

However, there are downsides to liquid solvent extraction, including:

  • Chlorophyll may stay in the oil resulting in a bitter taste and an unattractive green hue

  • Other impurities won't be removed

  • More dangerous than others the solvents used are highly flammable


#3 Oil Infusion Manufacturing

One of the oldest processes for taking CBD from marijuana or hemp plants is oil infusion. Home growers and sole traders tend to use this method.

Here's how the process works:

  1. The plant is heated to activate the compounds.

  2. Olive oil is added to the plant and is heated to 100 degrees Celsius for 2 hours.

  3. That's it.

Unfortunately, the olive oil won't evaporate from the CBD oil. So, the main disadvantage to this method is a lot more oil is used than liquid solvents.




How Does CBD Make You Feel?


While everybody is different, CBD does affect us in similar ways. With that said, the strain of hemp or marijuana the CBD is derived from, the dosage you take, how the plant was grown, other ingredients, and the extraction process can change your experience, making each subjective experience unique.


The best way to describe how CBD will make you feel is to think of it as a painkiller. As it takes effect, any negative symptoms (headaches, stress, chronic pain, etc.) will subside, and you'll return to your normal self. In other words, you'll feel more like "you" again.

The biggest factor that will change this is the THC content. The higher the THC concentration, the "higher" you will feel. However, to conform to government regulations most professionally manufactured CBD products contain less than 0.3% THC which completely removes the intoxicating ‘highs’ and psychoactive effects.

Having said that, it is advised to be mindful of dosages when consuming CBD. The FDA’s recommended daily dosage is no more than 70mg CBD. Overusing CBD products may give the user an uneasy or light-headed feeling as the cannabidiol interacts with the endocannabinoid system and works its way around your body.


This light-headed sensation doesn't affect everyone. In fact, if you suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or acute pain, you might find that instead of brief dizziness, you experience a sense of calm or a boost of energy. Commonly reported, pain reduction is the most likely outcome.


We won't lie, it is strange how some people use CBD to calm down and others use it as a "pick-me-up". But science can explain why:

  • It's pleiotropic — In other terms, it interacts with multiple receptors throughout your body.

  • It works as an adaptogen — This means that it changes its function to suit what your body needs. Just note that it isn't officially labeled as an adaptogenic product.

How CBD Affects the Brain

CBD affects the brain in many ways. But is it all good? Is it all bad? To tell you the truth, it's a bit of both. However, the most important thing to remember, is that everybody is different and subjective experiences widely differ. Side effects that happen to your friend, may not happen to you and vice versa.

Let's take a look at the potentially positive and negative ways cannabidiol can affect the brain.


#1 CBD Can Improve Your Mood


This is one of the most significant ways that CBD affects the brain.Cannabidiol relieves stress by activating the serotonin receptors in the brain, allowing them to reduce amounts of the stress or ‘fight or flight’ hormone cortisol. Reduction in cortisol provides the user a sense of peace, calm and wellbeing.

Studies have shown that CBD plays an important part in treating psychiatric disorders like depression and psychosis. Cannabidiol is an antidepressant, as well as an antipsychotic. Therefore, it's fantastic at mood regulation and maintaining/improving your mental health.

#2 CBD Can Decrease Cognitive Decline and Increase Memory

CBD works to slow the deterioration of parts of the brain affected by Dementia and Alzheimer's. While no research suggests that CBD can be the sole treatment, it has proven to be an effective supplement to other treatments for neurodegenerative conditions.

Cannabidiol is an anti-inflammatory. Therefore, any inflammation-related brain problems can be reduced a lot by using it.


#3 CBD Interacts With Our Cannabinoid Receptors


The human body has two cannabinoid receptors because cannabinoids are naturally occurring substances in our bodies and brains. The receptors are called CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain. They deal with memory, mood, thinking, and other functions. CB2 receptors, however, live in the immune system. They are responsible for pain and inflammation. Even though CBD doesn't attach itself to the actual receptors, it can work with them to enhance their performance.



CBD Side Effects


What comes up must come down. Some of the reported and potential side effects of cannabidiol include:

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Nausea

  • Increase in coumadin (i.e. blood thinner)

  • Raised levels of other medications you take (like grapefruit does)

  • Upset stomach


The Potential Risks of CBD


We have looked at the possible side effects of taking CBD (regardless of the form). But, there are bigger risks that could raise their ugly head if you don't check with your doctor before using the product.


These adverse effects are as follows:

  • Alertness changes which can affect your ability to drive safely

  • Mood changes and rapid mood swings

  • Reduction in levels of fertility. Currently, it is found only in males.

  • Liver damage to varying degrees

  • Use of other drugs and alcohol

  • Loss of appetite for increased periods, as well as other gastrointestinal problems.


Research is still ongoing as to whether CBD can actually treat certain conditions like epilepsy, other seizure-inducing conditions, schizophrenia, and other disorders/illnesses. But as of right now (and probably for the foreseeable future), it shouldn't be depended on as a primary treatment to conventional medical practices. Instead, cannabidiol can be used as a supplementary wellbeing practice.


What CBD Products Are Right for Me?


By now you should have a better understanding of what is CBD, how it works and some of the potential risks. However, it can be difficult to decide which product is right for you. So, let's take a look at how you can figure out which CBD product you should shortlisting and bookmarking.



Here is a simple 3 step process to help you make a more educated decision:


#1 Knowing The Different Types of CBD Products:

Firstly, you’ll need to know the types of CBD products available on the market. Online retailers stock countless, varieties, flavours or strength products ranging from novel foods to healing and medicinal, including:


  • Capsules — Consider the capsules like vitamin tablets that contain CBD.

  • Topicals — Topicals are creams and lotions that you apply to your skin. They are most effective when used on areas of chronic pain like your back or knees.

  • Tinctures — These are the most popular CBD products available on the market. Tinctures, otherwise called oils, are usually taken by putting several drops under your tongue or mixed with beverages.

  • Vapes — If you use an e-cigarette or vape pen, you can buy novel flavoured CBD liquids to refill the cartridge.

  • Edibles — From chewing gum to chocolate candies, CBD edibles and gummies are the most popular type of CBD product available on the market.

#2 CBD Product and Company Research:

Before opening another tab and blindly Googling random CBD products, it's worth familiarising yourself with a few of the following things:

  • CBD Potency — This may sound obvious but it is advised for the CBD novice to start with a weaker or less potent product until they get used to how CBD affects their body. As a general rule of thumb the lower the CBD milligram content shown on the packaging the milder the effects will be. For example if an edible contains 10mg CBD per gummy, try eating one and test how you feel. If you desire a stronger effect simply eat one more gummy at a time to find your personal limit (be sure to allow up to 1 hour between edibles as they need time to digest and take effect). As a safe daily dosage The FDA advises no more than 70mg of CBD, so take your time in finding what amount works best for you. As we know everyone is affected by CBD in different ways so it's best to test the water and start small to your own personal limits.


  • Onset Time — Otherwise called "rate of absorption", onset time refers to how quickly your body absorbs the CBD. If you want a quick absorption time, you should purchase a CBD oil tincture and drop one pipette of CBD oil beneath the tongue, this has the fastest rate of absorption into the body of around 15 minutes. For those of you not in an immediate hurry, a slower absorption is through the digestive system, in this case CBD capsules or edibles have a similar onset time of between 30-60 minutes.


  • Price — For most this can be a deal breaker but there are many factors to keep in mind when making a purchase decision. The concentration of CBD, the quality of the manufacturer and even the product packaging can drastically affect the price. Depending on your budget you’ll likely be spoiled for choice with highly competitive CBD brands attempting to attract your custom, so it is advised to only choose products from reputable companies with trusted and positive reviews on not only their products but also customer service, shipping speeds and return policies.


  • Flavour — With endless and creative varieties of flavoured products to suit all palettes, you'll likely be spoiled for choice in this department. The benefits of fruity flavoured edibles mean users can consume CBD on the go without needing to dilute, dissolve or wash down the compound with water. For others looking to slowly sip or savour the CBD experience, mixing CBD MCT oil with either a morning coffee or a post workout smoothie is more appealing. For this demographic often an unflavoured oil is better suited to ensure the taste of their favourite drinks remains unaltered.


  • Purpose — This may sound obvious but it is entirely dependent on ones desired goal with CBD. What exactly is it you want from the CBD product? Weather you’re a busy workaholic on the go, or a gym rat needing some speedy recovery, a fast acting a CBD oil tincture would be best suited for active lifestyles. For those nursing a physical injury or looking for relief from aching joints, a little TLC (without the THC) can be found with CBD topical treatments and pain relief balms. Knowing the correct tool for the trade will help save a lot of time in researching, shipping and split-testing different products.

#3 Choosing a CBD Product