There's a lot to learn about the cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD): how the hemp plant produces it; how CBD is separated from the plant; and how CBD interacts with our bodies, for starters. It can be overwhelming. It’s no surprise; there’s a lot of science involved. So, let’s break it down into what’s effectively “CBD 101.”
In effect, there’s always been hemp. Hemp has been grown for thousands of years. Until the early 20th century, hemp was an important source of tough fiber—a mainstay of shipping before the Age of Steam, to cite one vital use.
From 1938–2018, with only a few exceptions, hemp was illegal to grow, possess, or use for research in the United States. In 2018, revisions to the Farm Bill legalized the growth of industrial hemp, which contains less than 0.3 percent—what can be called trace amounts—of the cannabinoid called ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes noticeable intoxicating, euphoric effects. (CBD and THC are just two of more than 400 compounds found in hemp.)
In hemp, CBD comes from the flowers, leaves, and seeds, which are separated from the stalks at harvest. The CBD can be extracted in a number of ways, including the use of alcohol, ethanol, or CO2. Whatever method is used, the CBD must be also heated to activate it, a process known as decarboxylation.
For its softgels, oils, and topical creams, Canopy produces only what is called CBD isolate, which is created by repeatedly refining the hemp extract. The result is something that guarantees very precise amounts of CBD and highly consistent results, and no THC content. Other processes may result in what are called broad-spectrum CBD, which contains a much higher number of active ingredients, and full-spectrum CBD, which contains THC.
That explains the source of hemp-derived CBD and how we obtain it, but why does it interact with our bodies?
Humans, and most vertebrates, naturally produce endocannabinoids that interact with cell receptors throughout our bodies. Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) is involved in many physiological functions, including pain, sleep, inflammation, memory, digestion, immune functions, and neuroprotection. When CBD is introduced to the body—whether in a carrier oil, a topical cream, or as an edible product—it interacts with the ECS, but does not bind directly to the system’s main receptors. As a result, CBD is not known to cause the intoxicating, euphoric effects that THC does; in fact, it may help reduce these effects.
The decades-long criminalization of all forms of cannabis delayed extensive research into the full effects of cannabinoids within the body, but scientists are now highly engaged in the type of clinical trials necessary to formalize the anecdotal evidence and theoretical science that indicates CBD’s effectiveness.