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What is CBD?

Let’s start at the beginning – what is CBD, anyway?

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid. That means it’s a compound found in the hemp and cannabis plants. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring, and they interact with your body by binding to receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – more on that later. The most famous and well-known cannabinoid is THC, but CBD is a close second – and while they are related, their effects couldn’t be more different.

How many cannabinoids do you think are found in the cannabis and hemp plant? You’ve probably only heard of one or two, maybe five at most – but the reality is that there are well over 100 different cannabinoids in these plants. Each has their own properties and effects.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable cannabinoids:

  • CBD – non-psychoactive, and legal at the federal level when derived from hemp, CBD is said to carry many healing and therapeutic properties when ingested. It can be used in conjunction with other cannabinoids, or on its own as an isolate.
  • THC – the most well-known cannabinoid, THC is responsible for the characteristic “high” that cannabis produces. It can be used in a myriad of ways, but is typically smoked.
  • CBG – Cannabigerol, also known as CBG, is the decarboxylated (activated by heat) form of CBG-A, or cannabigerolic acid, which is the “parent” cannabinoid from which all others are derived. CBG is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in treating glaucoma, among other conditions. While still underresearched, keep an eye for CBG in the coming years – it holds a lot of promise as a therapeutic cannabinoid.
  • CBN – cannabinol, or CBN, is a cannabinoid that emerges when cannabis or hemp products are oxidized, heated or otherwise degraded. While that might not sound the most promising, CBN is known for having various therapeutic properties including the ability to promote sleep. Some people create cannabinoid products that are high in CBN intentionally, as sleep aids or for other therapeutic purposes. CBN is said to be mildly psychoactive.

These are only a handful of the dozens of cannabinoids that exist, but they’re some of the most well-known and well-researched. Savvy cannabinoid connoisseurs will be paying attention to other cannabinoids in the coming years – as research continues, we expect to learn more about the possible therapeutic and recreational properties of various cannabinoids.

United States of America

In the USA, CBD is legal at the federal level when derived from hemp, and when containing less than 0.3% THC. This means you can buy CBD online, or at many different types of stores and dispensaries, just about anywhere in the United States. Some states have introduced more stringent regulations – for example, in Massachusetts, CBD cannot be sold as a food additive, but it can be purchased legally for recreation.

In general, CBD is legal in the United States when derived from the hemp plant, but not from the cannabis plant. It’s important to consult your local state and municipal laws, but in the vast majority of places in the USA, CBD is legal for purchase and consumption.


CBD is legal for recreational and medical use in all of Canada, but the regulations for its production and distribution are more strict than in the United States. CBD products are subject to the exact same regulations and standards as cannabis or THC products – this means that producers must have a valid production license issued by Health Canada, and the products can only be sold by authorized distributors. In most provinces, that means government-owned cannabis stores, though some provinces like Alberta and Ontario allow privately-owned stores to sell cannabis and CBD products. Even when the stores are privately owned, all products must be sourced from licensed producers.

Other Regions

Many countries and jurisdictions around the world have legalized or descheduled CBD.

In 2020, the European Union passed legislation classifying CBD as a novel food product, which descheduled it as a restricted drug. CBD can be sold legally as a food additive or food product in the European Union.

In Switzerland, CBD was deemed legal to be sold and consumed due to its non-psychoactive nature.

In Australia, CBD is considered a prescription medication and requires a doctor’s prescription to possess and consume legally.

Bulgaria was the first European country to federally legalize the sale of food and supplement products containing CBD, in 2020.

Wondering if CBD is legal in your area? It can be a little confusing to know for sure. Read our comprehensive CBD Legality Guide to learn more.

How does CBD work?

To know how CBD might be helpful to you, it’s important to know how CBD works in the first place. With all the claims being made about CBD’s potential therapeutic uses, what do we know about how CBD works?

While scientific research is ongoing, and we don’t know everything about CBD yet, we know some things already about how CBD works and how it interacts with the body.

All animals, vertebrate or not, have what’s called an Endocannabinoid System, or ECS – and that includes humans, of course. The ECS is a biological system comprised of cannabinoids and receptors, similar to other systems in your body like the nervous system. Preliminary research indicates that the ECS plays a role in modulating all sorts of different body functions, like appetite, mood, pain sensation, and even fertility and pregnancy.

Part of the ECS is composed of receptors, called cannabinoid receptors. There are two known types of cannabinoid receptors, called CB1 and CB2, respectively. CB1 receptors are expressed primarily in the brain, whereas CB2 receptors are found mostly in the immune system – though some new research has identified CB2 receptors in the brain as well.

These receptors get activated when a cannabinoid binds with them – whether that’s a naturally occurring cannabinoid (called an endocannabinoid, produced naturally by your body), or one that’s introduced by ingestion. In short, when cannabinoids bind to receptors, various body functions are triggered, depending on where the receptor is located.

One example of a body function triggered by the ECS, that will be very familiar to recreational cannabis users, is the modulation of appetite – colloquially, “The Munchies.” When cannabinoids bond with certain CB1 receptors, they were found to increase sweet tastes, and pleasure associated with them. This is one example of how cannabinoids can modulate appetite – by making sweet things taste sweeter, and increasing the pleasure from eating them, cannabinoid users may be inclined to eat more. This is what’s happening on a basic level when you get really hungry after using cannabinoid products.

Appetite modulation is just one effect of the ECS – it has been shown to affect all kinds of processes in your body, from sleep, to anxiety, to pain, and more.

The Entourage Effect

Cannabinoids are considered to be more effective when taken together. In their natural state, when found in the hemp plant, cannabinoids are never found alone – as we mentioned, hemp and cannabis plant have dozens of different cannabinoids, and if you were ingesting a whole-plant extract, you’d be getting all of those cannabinoids at the same time. This is why many believe that a full-spectrum CBD formulation, i.e. one that also includes all of the compounds found naturally in the plant, is more effective than an isolated CBD compound. This synergistic effect is called The Entourage Effect.

For example, a randomized, double-blind study tested the pain-relieving effects of THC on its own against a combination of THC and CBD. Patients were separated into three groups: one received only THC, one received a combination of THC and CBD, and one received a placebo. Interestingly, the THC-only group experienced non-significant relief when compared with placebo – this means that THC by itself didn’t really do anything for pain. But the group that received both THC and CBD together experienced a statistically-significant reduction in pain. This study found that THC and CBD together produced significantly better results than THC by itself.

Many people recommend taking full-spectrum CBD, meaning CBD that contains the full range of cannabinoids and compounds found in hemp. Let’s learn more about full spectrum CBD, and the other formulations of CBD products:

The different types of CBD

CBD comes in three main formulations:

  • Full-spectrum CBD, containing all of the cannabinoids and compounds found naturally in the hemp plant – including trace amounts of THC.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD, which is the same as full-spectrum but with all traces of THC removed. This removal of THC is typically done through chromatography
  • CBD isolate, which is what it sounds like – a totally isolated formulation of CBD, containing no other cannabinoids, compounds, or anything else. Typically, isolate clocks in around 99% pure CBD.

As mentioned, full-spectrum CBD is considered by many to be more effective than isolated formulations, since it creates the synergistic Entourage Effect. But that’s not only because of cannabinoids – there are other beneficial compounds found in hemp, as well.

One of those types of compounds are called terpenes. Terpenes and terpenoids (derivatives of terpenes) are natural compounds found in many different types of plants, and have a vast array of different uses and purposes. Scientists estimate there are over 55,000 different terpenes. Terpenes have strong odors and are responsible for a lot of different tastes, smells and flavors found in foods, and yes – in hemp. If you’ve smelled different varieties of hemp or cannabis, you may have noticed that each has a similar but slightly distinct aroma – this is due to varying terpene content by strain. Terpenes can carry their own therapeutic properties – one study found that terpenes can demonstrate various properties, from anti-microbial and anti-fungal, to relaxing and antioxidant properties. Full-spectrum CBD contains lots of terpenes along with cannabinoids, which many people believe to be responsible for part of its benefits.

Speaking of benefits… what are the effects of CBD?

CBD Effects

With all this talk about CBD, its formulations, and how it works, you might be wondering: what are the effects of CBD? From benefits, to potential side effects, CBD can carry a lot of different properties. Let’s examine some of the main effects and benefits of CBD, and how they might be able to help you.

Benefits of CBD

CBD has been shown to offer relief from various ailments, with both anecdotal and scientific evidence pointing to CBD’s ability to treat different conditions. If you look online, you’ll find people saying CBD cures everything from autism to cancer. But what does the science say? At AmericanMarijuana, we’re committed to providing you with research-backed, scientifically sound information. Let’s take a look at the proven benefits of CBD:

Pain and inflammation – One of the most commonly studied effects, CBD appears to reduce pain and inflammation in both human and animal models. Specific applications include topical CBD for arthritis pain, and treatment of chronic pain with CBD.

Anxiety – CBD is known to reduce nervousness and anxiety. For example, a study published by The Permanente Journal found that anxiety scores decreased in 79.2% of patients treated with CBD, with no significant side effects.

Seizures – Perhaps the most well known effect of CBD is its ability to reduce the severity and frequency of certain types of seizures. In fact, the only FDA-approved CBD medication is designed to treat seizures in patients with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Its anti-seizure effects are well documented.

Skin issues – CBD’s antifungal and sebum-reducing properties may help with certain skin conditions, such as acne. CBD can work as a powerful preventative measure for skin conditions when used regularly.

Cancer – The National Cancer Institute states that cannabinoids may be effective in treating cancer symptoms. CBD is not known to cure any type of cancer, but some research indicates it could help with common side effects, like pain and loss of appetite.

Side Effects of CBD

CBD is generally very well tolerated, and is not known to cause any major side effects. That said, there can be a few minor side effects when taking CBD:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced or increased appetite
  • Drowsiness and/or fatigue

These side effects are insignificant in a majority of CBD users, but it never hurts to consult with your doctor before beginning a CBD regime.

CBD Dosage

When it comes to determining the right CBD dosage for you, there are a few things to consider. Since CBD is not regulated by the FDA, and there is still minimal research on dosing, you need to do a bit of experimentation to find the amount that works for you. However, since the side effects are minimal, there’s little risk in trying CBD for yourself and tuning in your perfect dose.

We always recommend that you start low and go slow when it comes to dosing CBD. Generally speaking, you want to start with a very small amount of CBD, and gradually increase it until the desired effects are achieved. A good place to start is around 5mg of CBD. You should keep close track of your symptoms and how you feel to determine when you’ve found the optimal dose. While there’s no risk of overdose, you can increase your tolerance by taking more CBD than you need – making it more expensive to achieve the same results down the line.

Your CBD dosage regimen might look something like this:

Week 1: 5mg CBD per day. No effects felt.

Week 2: 10mg CBD per day. No effects felt.

Week 3: 15mg CBD per day. Mild relief felt.

Week 4: 20mg CBD per day. Feeling great!

Stop increasing once the desired effects have been achieved, and continue at that dose unless you feel it’s necessary to increase or decrease it. In this example, you’d continue with a 20mg per day dose.