Cannabis Basics

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a common compound of cannabis that’s typically not intoxicating — but can affect the mind and body. Discover how CBD works, potential effects, ways to select products and more.

Descriptive Video: What Is the Difference Between THC and CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the most common cannabinoid of the 100 or so naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the flower of hemp plants and many cannabis cultivars. CBD has little to no intoxicating effect — but it can have an effect on both mind and body when consumed.

Alongside tetrahydrocannabidiol, or THC, it is a highly regulated controlled substance in Canada. In Ontario, products containing CBD can only be sold to adults age 19 and over through legally authorized sources, such as Authorized Cannabis Stores and OCS.ca.

Read on to learn about how CBD works in the body, its potential effects, how CBD and THC differ, and what can happen when you consume CBD along with THC.

How CBD works

Research into understanding how CBD works is ongoing, but we do know that like THC, the cannabinoid interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Research suggests the ECS plays a role in protecting your nervous system, activating your immune system and regulating your recovery from stress and your overall health.

Your ECS is made up of two basic components:

  1. Endocannabinoids — cannabinoids your body produces naturally
  2. Cannabinoid receptors — present in nearly every part of your central nervous system and brain, and many other areas of the body, including your immune system

Endocannabinoids fit into the body’s cannabinoid receptors like a key in a lock and help move messages from cell to cell. Studies suggest that CBD blocks the production of an enzyme that regulates and destroys excess endocannabinoids, allowing more of them to circulate in the body. That increase in endocannabinoids can produce effects in the body and mind.


Learn more about the endocannabinoid system here


Potential effects of CBD

Consumers and Licensed Producers have attributed various side effects and health benefits to consuming CBD — such as nourishing and soothing skin, promoting calm and sleepiness, easing pain — but not enough research has been done to back up these claims. Further study is needed to determine its efficacy, appropriate doses and how it works long-term.

Clinical trials are currently underway in Canada to explore the effectiveness of CBD in treating many conditions, such as:

  • anxiety disorders
  • withdrawal from substance dependence
  • post-surgical pain
  • pediatric epilepsy
  • cancer-related symptoms
  • chronic headaches in adolescents
  • pain from Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis

Recent studies also suggest CBD may alter the effects of other natural chemicals in our bodies, including:

  • serotonin, which modulates mood and stress
  • adenosine, which impacts our sleep-wake cycle
  • vanilloid, which contributes to pain modulation

As with THC, how long CBD remains active in your body and the length of time potential effects may last depend on personal biological factors, such as your genetics, personality, age and sex, as well as how much you consume and the method of consumption.

Understanding CBD content in cannabis products

Also known as potency, the CBD content refers to the amount of CBD in a cannabis product. In its fresh form, cannabis contains cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), the non-active version of CBD. When cannabis is decarboxylated — through heating, drying or curing — the acid molecule (the “A” in CBDA) drops off, and the CBD is activated.

You’ll find the CBD content on the packaging of any cannabis product sold on OCS.ca and at Authorized Cannabis Stores. It will be listed in at least two ways:

  1. “CBD,” referring to the amount the product has when purchased
  2. “Total CBD,” which is the content it has when it’s heated

The CBD content is expressed in milligrams, either per gram, package or unit, depending on the product format. Unlike THC, there are no legal limits on the amount of CBD a product can contain.


Learn more about how to understand THC content on product labels


Types of CBD products

As one of the main cannabinoids in cannabis, CBD can be found in all types of cannabis products. It’s a highly regulated substance in Canada — a licence from Health Canada is required to legally produce and sell CBD. In Ontario, products containing CBD can only be sold to people age 19 and over through Authorized Cannabis Stores and OCS.ca.

Legal CBD undergoes the same testing and regulation as cannabis products that contain THC. Regulation guarantees cannabis products are produced, manufactured and packaged in a consistent and transparent way that keeps you safe and helps you make informed decisions about consumption.

The following chart shows just some of the CBD products available for legal sale and ways they can be consumed.

Product
Consumption Method
Dried Flower
The part of the cannabis plant that is dried and sold as loose buds or formed into pre-rolls
Inhalation, typically as a pre-roll or rolled joint, or by using a bong or dried flower vaporizer
Edibles
Food or drink that has been infused with cannabis, including soft chews and fizzy sodas
Ingestion (eating or drinking)
Extracts
Cannabis concentrates that are made into products to be dissolved in the mouth, such as lozenges, capsules and oils
Oral absorbtion (dissolved into the membranes of the mouth)
Topicals
Cannabis-infused products that are applied topically, including lotions and creams
Topical application (absorbed through skin, hair or nails)

CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

Both CBD and THC can produce effects on the body and mind when consumed, but they behave in quite different ways. Most notably, CBD generally has no intoxicating effect, meaning it does not produce a “high” the way THC can.

Here are other ways CBD and THC differ:

  • CBD increases or improves the production of our own natural endocannabinoids; THC temporarily replaces the body’s endocannabinoids and binds to our cannabinoid receptors.
  • When the two cannabinoids are consumed in similar quantities, CBD has been shown to reduce or temper the effects of THC.

Understanding the differences between CBD and THC can help you choose the right cannabis products for you.


Read What Is THC? to learn more about the other most common cannabinoid


CBD and THC consumed together

Although the interaction requires more scientific research, cannabinoids like CBD and THC, and other compounds in cannabis plants and products, are thought to work together to amplify or modulate the effects of cannabis, a theory referred to as “the entourage effect.”

Some studies show that CBD, when consumed in combination with THC, appears to reduce some of the psychoactive effects of THC. That means selecting a product with similar levels of CBD and THC may help curb the overwhelming or unwanted effects (such as anxiety or paranoia) that are often associated with consuming high amounts of THC.

You’ll see cannabis products that contain similar amounts of THC and CBD sometimes labelled as “balanced” or “1:1.”

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