Cannabis 101: I’m New to CBD. Where Should I Start?

  The year we developed and launched our first Shea Brand products (none of which contained CBD), I was already neck-deep on a journey to learn as much as I could about cannabidiol (CBD). My motivation was my uncle, who was struggling with the effects of Parkinson’s disease and demanded more science and a better understanding of CBD before integrating it into his life. As a former medical cannabis grower in Colorado, I knew that cannabis was effective for people with Parkinson’s, but only in the context of THC-laden products in which my uncle had no interest. This lead to a two-year-long deep-dive into research that eventually enabled me to develop a CBD program for my uncle that—in combination with good diet and exercise—has reduced his number of debilitating “freezes” per day from 10 to one or none at all.

Through this research, I developed language to help other new cannabis users, like my uncle, better understand CBD in a way that will empower them to try it, along with an expanded understanding of the amazing, variable topical effects of cannabinoids. Ultimately, that led to Shea Brand partnering with a chemist to create our first CBD product.

We believe that what’s standing in most people’s way from trying a CBD product, as well as what’s been one of the biggest threats to the CBD industry, is misinformation, poor quality products and standards, and the long-standing stigma surrounding cannabis. And with that, some demystifying of all things CBD…

What is the difference between Cannabis, CBD, and THC?

Cannabis is simply a plant, or rather a group of three plants—Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis—that contain naturally occurring compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids interact with our bodies’ endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is comprised of endocannabinoids and a series of receptors (endocannabinoid receptors) that are located throughout the body, including our nervous systems, organs, skin, and brain. Both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are cannabinoids. More specifically, they are both phytocannabinoids, meaning they are derived from plants as opposed to those cannabinoids that are naturally produced by our bodies (endocannabinoids). The ECS is one of the systems responsible modulating almost all regulatory functions in your body and mind, including inflammation, pain, anxiety, immunity response and mood (amongst many other things. And if you do not have a strong ECS, especially as you age, you will struggle to regulate) 

CBD is a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in many vegetables and herbs but is primarily derived and extracted from hemp—a cannabis strain that contains less than 0.3% of THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), on the other hand, is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant that primarily binds to Cb1 receptors along the spinal column and in the brain. In higher concentrations, it comes with a psychoactive effect.

CBD bath bomb

Why are we seeing so many companies put CBD in their body care or beauty products?

One of the magical aspects of the ECS is the fact that the body is hardwired with something called endocannabinoid receptors. They live inside of many different types of cell walls, including in the dermal layer of our skin (and like little security sensors are constantly scanning our systems for health). 

By putting topical CBD locally onto the area of your skin that is, say, inflamed, the CBD will interact directly with receptors in the skin’s dermal layer that are responsible for the inflammation, causing inflammation to decrease directly on the spot (versus drugs that send a signal to your brain to produce certain enzymes to deal with inflammation).

A company called Genemarkers does what’s referred to as gene analysis expression that tracks which genes “light up” when CBD interacts with the ECS. Not only does CBD light up genes related to inflammation in the skin, but it’s also shown to cause new skin cell regeneration (which is one of the reasons why it heals!) and modulate sebum oil levels, along with affecting over 150 other functions in the skin alone. While right now CBD is often misused as a marketable value-add to jack up the price of skin care products, in the future it will be used as a cost-effective way to enhance products, operating more or less as another ingredient in the background rather than the fore.

How does CBD affect the body if taken orally or applied topically?

Edibles, sublingual drops, topicals, transdermal patches, inhalers, and vaporizers are all viable options. They all deliver CBD to different areas and have different “delivery times” (meaning, how long they take to produce an effect), so you can use them as tools based on your specific needs.

If applying CBD topically, expect a 5-to-35 minute delivery. It is best for localized nerve, joint, and muscle pain as well as red, irritated, and inflamed skin–depending on the product. CBD can be taken orally in multiple forms. Through sublingual drops, delivery takes about 5-to-25 minutes. Tinctures and transdermal patches are best for direct and consistent CBD administration into the bloodstream for struggles with anxiety, general pain, stress, sleep, inflammation, and regulatory health.

If consumed via edibles, expect a 5-to-45 minute delivery. In addition to appeasing issues above, edibles can sometimes be used for stomach and digestive issues.

Image courtesy of Shea Brand

What are the most common misconceptions about CBD?

Conflating CBD Oil and Hemp Oil

CBD oil refers to an oil that contains CBD (and sometimes other cannabinoids) that is derived from the hemp plant and non-hemp cannabis plants. For instance, CBD can be extracted from a high-THC strain and isolated from other cannabinoids; this would qualify as CBD oil but not hemp extract. 

Conflating Hemp and Cannabis

Hemp is a cannabis strain that contains less than 0.3% THC and is cultivated for its oil, stalks, fibers, and mucous membrane. Cannabis is an overarching term that includes ‘marijuana,’ which normally refers to strains containing greater than 0.3% THC.

What should I look for in purchasing sublingual oil drops (often referred to as tinctures)?

Full Spectrum

A quality CBD tincture should be full-spectrum (as opposed to a CBD isolate, which contains only CBD cannabinoids). With Full Spectrum CBD, customers are benefiting from something called the “entourage effect”—where multiple cannabinoids such as THC, CBG, and CBN work together synergistically to increase connectivity, or what’s called homeostasis (these other cannabinoids interact with some of the same receptors as CBD, and others with different receptors. And while they are inconsequential on their own, they are very powerful when combined). Full Spectrum will sometimes be labeled as “whole plant.” 

High-Quality Carrier Oil

Hemp seed oil and other natural, whole carrier oils such as Hemp Seed Oil and Black Seed Oil are optimal for a high-performing CBD tincture. MCT oil and other clarified or fractionated oils are middle shelf, and synthetic bases are bottom shelf.

All Organic

A good CBD tincture should contain no chemical stabilizers or preservatives. Natural preservatives (i.e. lucidal, vitamin E) are okay, though some are derived from palm oil—an ingredient that is extremely harmful to the environment and should ideally be avoided.

Fair Pricing

The best CBD tinctures are not the most expensive ones. Accessible pricing and effectiveness go hand in hand with CBD. Anything over $75 for 500mg Full-Spectrum CBD is too expensive.

Shea Brand CBD

Image courtesy of Shea Brand

I’m new to CBD. Where should I start?

There are two ways to approach this–and you can do both, or either:

  1. Work backward: Identify a particular need, and then do research into how CBD relates to that specific need (google [need] + CBD and look for studies). Even if you haven’t heard about it being used as a tool to address your specific need, I would still encourage you to poke around the web to see how/if people in a similar situation have utilized CBD (topically? as a dietary supplement?). Then, dive deep into the research to better understand how it can help address this need, and furthermore, what to look for when identifying the good products from the bad. 
  2. Work forwards: Within the next few years, CBD will be even more mainstream–CBD products will be stocked on shelves, friends and family will offer it in various forms, you might come across a group of people passing around a CBD sublingual oil after a long, stressful day at work. My advice is to say YES to all of these situations. Don’t be scared to try; often different types of CBD products with different concentrations and levels of CBD have varying effects. Just be mindful of what ingredients they are made with. I also recommend keeping a log of how you feel incrementally as time passes when trying a new product.

How frequently can, or should, you use CBD?

  1. Topically, you can use CBD as much as you’d like or on an as-needed basis. This applies to both skincare products and pain relief products. The only caveat is that it’s presumed that if you use a lot of milligrams of topical CBD on a specific area, your body may get used to receiving the supplemental cannabinoids and not feel the need to produce the naturally occurring endocannabinoids with relation to that specific area.
  2. The same applies for using CBD as a dietary supplement. This won’t be an issue for most people (because many of us are cannabinoid deficient, due to the fact that cannabinoids have been squeezed out of our diet similar to how vegetables were in American households in the 80s). It’s theorized that because the body struggles to produce endocannabinoids as it ages, it becomes of increasing importance to supplement our diets with cannabinoids that come from plants. For people who have been relying on CBD on a daily basis for a longer period of time, then stop for whatever reason, it will take a day or two for their endocannabinoid levels to rise, as the body is used to receiving the CBD supplement and doesn’t feel the need to produce cannabinoids on its own.

CBD exfoliant

Image courtesy of Shea Brand

How do I know if a CBD supplement (like sublingual tinctures) is working?

If you do not believe it is providing your life with any noticeable utility, then do this: Take a recommended dosage of a CBD supplement two times a day for seven days straight. Thereafter, stop and take the next two days off. Since CBD is more of a health food than a drug, it can have more of a passive effect–like eating (or not eating) your vegetables. The effects are not without “feeling,” but are more subtle, as opposed to how many talk about CBD’s effects–like drug or miracle cure.

When people take those two days off after a week of dosing, they typically realize by virtue of how they feel those two days (perhaps the pain is back, or the bad mood) that it was, in fact, working and doing its job. If after those two days off you still feel the CBD is not working, double the dose for the next week, and then rinse and repeat until you feel you get the dosage right.

It’s a bit of trial and error, but you are trying to find the sweet spot, where you’re able to benefit from CBD fully without wasting your money.

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