What is CBD? Everything you need to know!

CBD image

What is CBD? Everything you need to know!

Reviewed by our qualified expert, Moyra Cosgrove, Head of Nutrition at Naturecan, SENR Registered Nutritionist and DProf candidate at LJMU

Key points:

  • CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound found in relative abundance in the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa).
  • It has been shown to be effective in supporting a variety of health conditions, including anxiety, inflammation, insomnia and chronic pain.
  • CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning that it will not make the user ‘high’ and is not addictive.
  • While there are potential side effects to CBD use, these are rare and mild, and usually the result of taking too much CBD.

For centuries, the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) has been considered a botanical powerhouse for its medicinal properties. Despite being somewhat neglected in the modern medicinal era, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the plant and its therapeutic potential.

The popularity of hemp as a natural remedy is owed to the numerous compounds found within the plant one of which is a cannabinoid known as cannabidiol, or CBD.

Over the past few years, intensive research has been conducted to explore the potential of CBD for supporting health, and its use has grown at an astounding rate. In 2018, one study found that there were almost 1.6 million people using CBD products in the UK, and this number just keeps on growing.

So what is CBD? Here’s our comprehensive beginner’s guide to the world of CBD – we’ll explain what it is, where it came from, what it is used for, and some other facts you may not know.

  • What is CBD and how does it work?
  • Is CBD oil made from marijuana?
  • Will CBD make you high?
  • Can CBD be addictive?
  • Is CBD legal?
  • What are the potential benefits of CBD?
  • Broad-spectrum CBD vs. full-spectrum CBD
  • CBD side effects
  • How to take CBD
  • CBD dosage
  • What to look for in CBD products

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of about 140 cannabinoids found in the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). It is the main active ingredient in hemp-based products, including CBD oils, balms, gummies and skincare products.

CBD has been used by humans for thousands of years for its various therapeutic properties. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main intoxicating compound in cannabis, CBD is non-intoxicating, so it does not make the user ‘high’ or cause addiction, making it completely safe for consumption.

How does CBD work?

CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), an intricate cell-signalling network found throughout the body. This system regulates many vital functions, including sleep, mood, pain, appetite and memory, and helps to maintain a steady state of equilibrium (or “homeostasis”) within the body.

The ECS consists of three key components: endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes.

1. Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by the body that regulate many neuronal functions. They bind to cannabinoid receptors and signal to the ECS when it needs to take action (e.g. to relieve pain). The two main endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA), which affects the brain’s reward system, and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which regulates the circulatory system.

2. Cannabinoid receptors

Endocannabinoids attach themselves to cannabinoid receptors in order to support the body. The two main types of cannabinoid receptors are known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune system and peripheral organs.

3. Enzymes

Enzymes break down endocannabinoids once they have carried out their function. The two main enzymes involved in this process are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down anandamide (AEA), and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which breaks down 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

While experts are still not entirely sure how CBD interacts with the ECS, it is believed that it binds weakly to the CB receptors and affects the body indirectly. For example, CBD prevents the enzyme FAAH from breaking down endocannabinoids like anandamide, thereby increasing endocannabinoid concentrations and enabling them to have a greater effect on the body.

In addition, when CBD is consumed along with the intoxicating cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the extended presence of endocannabinoids like anandamide can in turn prevent THC from binding to the CB receptors in the brain and producing a ‘high’. In this way, CBD can also indirectly counteract the intoxicating effects of THC.

CBD history

Hemp originated in Central Asia and is believed to have come to Europe around 1,200 BC, before it subsequently spread throughout the world. Back then, the plant was mainly exploited for its medicinal benefits, with folk remedies and primitive medications using various parts of the plant to manage convulsions, dysentery, arthritis, childbirth complications, rheumatism and even insomnia.

The compound CBD was first discovered in the 1940s, when Roger Adams successfully isolated CBD and another hemp cannabinoid called CBN (cannabinol). However, scientists at the time were more interested in studying THC, which we will talk about later in this article.

In 1946, Dr. Walter S. Loewe directed the first CBD testing on lab animals, concluding that CBD did not alter their mental state. That same year, a research team headed by Professor Raphael Mechoulam (commonly recognized as the grandfather of cannabis research) discovered the endocannabinoid system and the three-dimensional structure of CBD – two discoveries which would bring CBD into the limelight and transform our understanding of cannabis.

CBD Molecule

Soon after, British pharmacologists released the first CBD oil intended for therapeutic uses. Research into the potential health benefits of CBD continued to gain momentum around the world, catalysed by important research in the 1980s into CBD’s potential for supporting people with epilepsy.

By 2007, hemp cultivation licenses had been granted to two farmers in North Dakota, and in 2014, US President Barack Obama signed the ‘Farm Bill’, authorizing research institutes to start piloting hemp farming programs.

A later amendment to the Farm Bill in 2018 completely separated CBD and hemp from scheduled drugs banned by the Controlled Substances Act, which meant that hemp-derived CBD could not be treated as an illegal drug anymore.

The same year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first CBD oral medication, Epidiolex, for the treatment of seizures in epilepsy patients aged 2 years and older.

Today, hemp-derived CBD is widely used as a dietary supplement, and consumers are able to choose from a variety of products, including CBD oils, CBD capsules, CBD topicals, CBD edibles and CBD vape juices.

Is CBD oil made from marijuana?

Now that we’ve explored the history of CBD, it’s time to delve into some common questions surrounding this cannabinoid.

Hemp and marijuana are two variants of the cannabis plant. While they are technically the same species, their chemical properties differ significantly.

Hemp is the non-intoxicating form of cannabis, cultivated largely for industrial and agricultural purposes. It is rich in CBD and contains only trace amounts of the intoxicating phytocannabinoid THC.

Marijuana, on the other hand, contains high levels of THC (up to 40%) and is cultivated mainly for recreational purposes.

What is CBD?

While CBD oil can be made from both hemp and marijuana, marijuana-derived CBD has much higher THC content than hemp-derived CBD and is therefore illegal in many countries, including the UK.

When buying CBD oil, it is important to be aware of which plant species it has been obtained from. Naturecan’s CBD is derived exclusively from organic US-grown hemp plants, with non-detectable THC (<0.01%) guaranteed.

What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a cannabinoid that, unlike CBD, is intoxicating and responsible for creating the ‘high’ normally associated with cannabis.

THC causes brain cells to release dopamine, a chemical that causes feelings of euphoria. It also obstructs information processing in the hippocampus, the region of the brain in charge of forming new memories.

Like CBD, THC is also available in the form of oils, edibles, tinctures, and more. However, when both compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, they produce very different effects. Indeed, they are often used in a synergistic combination in commercial products to yield various medicinal benefits.

Will CBD make you high?

No. Cannabidiol is 100% non-intoxicating, meaning that it will not make you high or create feelings of euphoria, unlike THC.

This is illustrated by a 2016 study which showed that active THC caused significant physical and psychological effects, including increased heart rate and euphoria, whereas CBD did not adversely affect heart rate, blood pressure, or cognitive functioning.

Can CBD be addictive?

No. As CBD is not intoxicating, it does not make the user high or cause addiction.

As per a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), results from a well-controlled human experimental trial indicated that CBD was not associated with abuse potential. Moreover, CBD might even help in the treatment of drug addiction.

Indeed, early evidence from scientists suggests that CBD may lower the possibility of developing methamphetamine and cocaine use disorders, and also help avoid relapse after detoxification and sobriety.

Is CBD legal?

Yes, CBD is legal in many countries throughout the world, although laws about THC content vary in different territories.

In the UK, any product derived from cannabis containing 0.2% THC or less is regarded as safe and legal for consumption.

Will CBD make me fail a drug test?

CBD alone is not illegal, so should not cause anyone to fail a drug test at work or when driving. Of course it’s very important to choose a brand that has been tested to prove it has a non-detectable level of THC, and is going through the Novel Food Licensing process. Naturecan CBD meets these requirements.

How long does CBD stay in your system?

While CBD’s effects are most noticeable for between 2 and 6 hours, it can actually stay in your system for between three and five days. This timeframe (also referred to as CBD’s half-life) differs for each person and depends on various factors, including:

  • How you take CBD (e.g. oils, capsules, balms, or gummies)
  • How much CBD you take
  • How often you take it
  • Whether you take CBD with anything else

Typically, edible CBD products stay in your system for longer as they release CBD slowly throughout the body. On the other hand, topical CBD products stay active for a shorter length of time because they interact mostly with cannabinoid receptors in the skin rather than within the body. CBD’s half-life can also be extended by taking it with a fat source or by taking larger and more frequent doses.

What is the difference between CBD oil and hemp oil?

The terms “CBD oil” and “hemp oil” are often used interchangeably. However, there is one major difference – their origin of extraction.

CBD oil is derived from hemp but is a broad term used to describe any oil containing CBD. As explained above, CBD oils can be obtained from other strains of the plant which contain a higher percentage of THC, such as marijuana.

On the other hand, hemp oil is an extract of hemp with high concentrations of CBD and trace quantities of THC. It is obtained from various parts of the plant, including the stems, stalks, and flowers, and is used to produce oils and tinctures.

So simply put, hemp oil is always extracted from the hemp plant, whereas CBD oil may be extracted from other varieties of cannabis. Just remember: hemp oil can be called CBD oil, but CBD oil isn’t always hemp oil.

You may also have heard of hemp seed oil. While hemp seed oil is sometimes referred to as hemp oil, it is different to both CBD and hemp oil because it is made exclusively from the seeds of the hemp plant, and therefore does not contain any CBD.

What are the potential benefits of CBD?

As mentioned above, CBD has numerous therapeutic properties. Let’s take a look at some of the main CBD effects.

Stress & Anxiety

Research indicates that CBD can support people suffering from stress and anxiety.

For example, a 2019 study measured the anxiety levels of 57 men before a public-speaking event, having been given CBD oil (100mg, 300mg or 600mg) or a placebo. The results showed that men given the 300mg dose of CBD exhibited fewer symptoms of anxiety than those given a placebo or the 100mg dose.

Some animal studies have also shown that CBD can have substantial anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) effects, as a result of how it interacts with receptors and chemicals in the brain.

Furthermore, a study published in 2015 suggested that CBD has significant potential in the treatment of epilepsy. Stress can contribute to the development of epilepsy and also be a trigger for epileptic seizures.

CBD For Stress
CBD may help with stress

Inflammation & Pain

CBD For Pain and Injuries
CBD may help with inflammation & Pain Relief

Many studies, mainly involving animal subjects, have demonstrated how CBD might help to support health conditions such as chronic pain and inflammation by influencing endocannabinoid receptor activity and interacting with neurotransmitters.

For example, one animal study revealed that applying CBD cream to the joints of rats had the potential to reduce swelling and improve limb posture. Another study found that CBD could support rats with osteoarthritis, by blocking joint pain in a dose-dependent manner and preventing any future nerve damage and related pain in arthritic joints.


Studies have shown that CBD can help to support sleep. One of the ways it does this is by influencing the amount of adenosine produced by the body.

Adenosine is a compound that regulates feelings of tiredness: high levels of adenosine help us fall asleep, and lower levels help us stay awake. CBD doesn’t increase adenosine levels; instead, it helps to regulate them so that they match the body’s circadian rhythm, thereby supporting normal sleep patterns.

In addition, studies investigating a link between CBD and improved sleep highlight how CBD interacts with GABA and serotonin receptors in the brain to promote relaxation and sleep. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter within our body that helps to calm excessive brain activity and support relaxation. Serotonin is a chemical that helps reduce anxiety and improves mood, both of which promote better sleep.

CBD For Sleep
CBD may help with better Sleep

The difference between full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD

If you’re looking to buy CBD products, you’ll probably come across two very commonly used terms: full-spectrum and broad-spectrum. It’s important to understand the difference between the two.

The main difference between full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products is their THC content. A CBD product containing up to 0.3% THC or more, along with a mixture of naturally-occurring plant extracts, such as terpenes and other cannabinoids, is considered a full-spectrum CBD product.

While broad-spectrum CBD products also contain many plant compounds, they contain negligible amounts of THC, i.e. less than 0.3%. For this reason, broad-spectrum CBD is widely considered to be safe for consumption, whereas full-spectrum products are illegal in many countries due to the risk of intoxication.

You may also be wondering: what is CBD isolate? Well, it is the third common type of CBD – the pure form with no other cannabis-derived plant compounds. Unlike broad and full-spectrum CBD, CBD isolate does not offer the potential benefits of the ‘entourage effect’ – which is based on the hypothesis that the effects of the whole cannabis plant are greater than the sum of its individual cannabinoids, due to an interaction between them.

Naturecan’s CBD products are made with broad-spectrum CBD and therefore offer all the potential benefits of the ‘entourage effect’ – with non-detectable THC guaranteed.

CBD side effects

CBD affects everyone differently. While there have been no serious reported side-effects of CBD consumption, it is recommended that you start by consuming low doses and slowly increase the amount until you notice positive effects.

Some uncommon side-effects of CBD include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Light-headedness
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Changes in appetite
  • Mood alterations
  • Diarrhoea

As CBD oil can also raise levels of liver enzymes, people with liver disease must use such products under the expert care and guidance of a doctor with regular checks of blood liver enzyme levels.

In addition, CBD oil should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding to avoid any potential risks to the baby’s development, as CBD can pass through the placental barrier.

How to take CBD?

There are many different ways to take CBD. With so many different CBD products on the market, it can be hard to choose the one that’s right for you. Let us guide you through the different ways to introduce CBD to your daily routine:

1. CBD oils

CBD oils have higher bioavailability than most other means of administration, which means that CBD enters the bloodstream faster and takes effect sooner. To take CBD oil, administer the required number of drops under the tongue (sublingually) and hold them there for one minute before swallowing. CBD oil starts working within 15-30 mins, and its effects can last for 2-8 hours1 

2. CBD balms

While CBD oils work systemically to affect the whole body, CBD balms and other skincare products allow the user to target problem areas, such as sore joints or muscles, and keep CBD benefits localised to the point where they are most needed. To use CBD balms, simply apply a thin layer to the affected area 2-3 times per day. As CBD balms and creams interact directly with the skin, they can begin to take effect within 10-30 minutes. These effects can last for 2-8 hours.

3. CBD gummies

CBD gummies are a delicious and easy way to get your daily dose of CBD. Popular gummies include normal gummies, vegan gummies and CBD & CBN Gummies. As they have to pass through the digestive system before entering the bloodstream, CBD gummies take longer to have an effect than other products (typically 1-2 hours). However, their effects can last for up to 8 hours, as the CBD is released slowly throughout the body.

CBD dosage: How much should I take?

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not yet recommended a standard daily dose for CBD, which means that many people don’t know where to start.

The first thing to know is that dosage differs for each person, depending on a range of factors, including their weight, height, and reasons for taking CBD. For those new to CBD, we recommend starting with a low dose (e.g. 2 mg) and increasing this gradually until the optimal dosage is found. Alternatively, our CBD Oil Dosage Calculator can provide a recommendation based on the individual’s needs.

The FSA (Food Standards Agency) recommends a maximum total daily CBD dose of 70mg, so please ensure that you never exceed this amount. Following this guidance, you can manage your dosage based on what works best for you and combine other CBD products if desired.

What to look for in CBD products

When buying CBD oil, make sure that the oil contains safe levels of THC (less than 0.3%), that it is completely plant-based (with no added synthetic material), and that the seller provides a Certificate of Analysis for the oil as proof of its safety and quality.

Key things to look out for:

  • Safe THC content (<0.3%)
  • Plant-based CBD
  • Certificate of Analysis available
  • Organic hemp cultivation (ideally US-grown)
  • Free from pesticides and additives
  • Certified producer
  • Regular testing by third-party laboratories

Naturecan’s CBD oil has non-detectable levels of THC and is derived exclusively from US-grown hemp plants, which means that we never use isolates or synthetic materials and only ever use natural, plant-based CBD.

Furthermore, all our products undergo strict testing by independent laboratories to guarantee their safety and quality, and our Certificates of Analysis are easily accessible for full transparency.

Is CBD safe for pets?

Yes, CBD is safe for pets.

All mammals have an endocannabinoid system that keeps the body in a balanced state by regulating essential psychological and physiological functions. CBD interacts with the ECS in a similar way for both animals and humans.

Initial studies have shown that CBD can help with a number of pet conditions. If you want to learn more about CBD for pets, check out our blog post here.

Why choose Naturecan?

Now that you’re familiar with CBD and its potential benefits, you may want to try it out for yourself. If so, please explore our wide range of CBD products and select those that best suit your needs.

Naturecan offers an extensive and exclusive range of quality CBD products. With websites live in over 30 countries worldwide, we use our global reach to deliver the health benefits of CBD to a growing customer base.

All of Naturecan’s products are created using industry-leading technology, and undergo rigorous testing practices with third parties in order to ensure product quality, customer safety and supply chain transparency.

Our CBD oil is a broad-spectrum distillate, with non-detectable levels of THC and high bioavailability, making it the safest and purest oil on the market. It is derived exclusively from US-grown hemp plants, which means that we never use isolates or any man-made synthetic material, and only ever use natural, plant-based CBD.

Disclaimer: CBD products have not been approved by the FDA. However, the WHO does recognize CBD as a non-toxic and safe compound with little to no side-effects.


Alex Coughlan

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