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What is CBD Oil and How Does it Work?

Curious about CBD oil health benefits and what all the recent hype is about? Here’s how CBD is being used to treat medical conditions, and how it may help you.

Since opening the San Francisco office of Parsley Health in 2016, I’ve become exposed to the wide world of cannabis. I grew up in the midwest and had adopted conservative views of marijuana use. Despite living in California for almost two years, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, I was still skeptical of marijuana and CBD oil benefits. I was also hesitant to prescribe CBD to patients due to potential psychoactive effects when combined with THC and because it’s not a regulated substance. But as my patients at Parsley Health kept asking me about CBD, I decided to dig a little deeper into potential CBD oil benefits and was surprised at how promising it may be.

What is CBD?

CBD comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, which is also used to produce hemp and marijuana. It’s extracted from the resin of cannabis buds and flowers and usually diluted with another oil, like MCT.

The major difference between CBD and marijuana is that it does not contain THC, the psychoactive compound that probably comes to mind when you think of marijuana. That means you won’t get high from using CBD.

How does CBD affect the body?

Marijuana and CBD work by acting on the body’s endocannabinoid system. This system’s main job is to maintain homeostasis and help the body adapt to outside stressors.

There are two main types of cannabinoids—endo (produced naturally within the body) and phyto (produced from a plant). CBD is one type of phytocannabinoid. Phytocannabinoids mimic endocannabinoids, so they can act like a supplement, giving you a boost beyond what your body can produce.

Receptors for cannabinoids are found in the digestive, reproductive, nervous, and immune systems. Because cannabinoids interact with almost every system in our bodies, they’re often touted as a cure-all. While they’re not truly able to heal everything, they do regulate neurotransmitter function, inflammation, mitochondrial function, and metabolism.

Who should try CBD oil?

CBD is safe for almost everyone, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization, but check with your doctor before starting any CBD product, especially if you are pregnant or on any medications. Research has shown several CBD oil benefits, ranging from alleviating social anxiety to improving rheumatoid arthritis.

CBD health benefits.

Improves mood disorders.

CBD works directly on the brain receptors 5HT1A (serotonin) and GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter). Lower levels of these can contribute to anxiety and depression.


Lowers inflammation.

Suppresses cytokine production and induces T-regulatory cells to protect the body from attacking itself, which can help autoimmune conditions.

Decreases chronic pain.

Inhibits transmission of neuronal signalling through pain pathways.

Aids gut health.

Helps heal the leaky tight junctions that contribute to intestinal permeability and decreases spasmodic activity common in irritable bowel syndrome.

Helps treat seizures.

May relieve epilepsy in children.

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Side effects of CBD.

CBD has few side effects and is considered a safe substance to take. These are some of the known side effects of CBD:

  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Vomitting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating

All are usually mild, dose-dependent, and resolve in 2 to 4 hours. If you experience any of these, stop using CBD and see your doctor. Some individuals may also show abnormalities in liver function testing.

How to choose a CBD product.

CBD is available as edibles, topical balms and patches, capsules, tinctures, oils, teas, and vape pens.

Similar to supplements, CBD production and distribution are not regulated by the FDA. That means it’s important to choose wisely in order to know exactly what you’re getting. A new study in the journal Pediatric Neurology Briefs tested 84 CBD products purchased online and found that 21 percent actually contained THC, 43 percent contained more CBD than listed, and 26 percent contained less CBD than listed.

The best way to find out the quality of your CBD is to discuss directly with the company you are purchasing from. Look for companies that do extensive third party testing to ensure the highest standards.

For California residents, CBD oil just became much safer to use: A law that went into effect July 1, 2018 requires marijuana products sold in California to undergo extensive testing with new safety regulations for companies.

Keep in mind that every state has different regulations and CBD oil is still not legal for recreational use in all states. It’s legal in 29 states for medical use as of this writing.

Final thoughts on CBD.

While there are many emerging studies showing signs of CBD’s health benefits, research is limited on its long-term effects. If you try a CBD oil and start to see unpleasant side effects, stop taking it and see your doctor immediately. At the end of the day, CBD oil is a supplement and should be used as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

You can reap incredible anti-inflammatory benefits from eating a whole foods based diet, addressing nutritional deficiencies, exercising, and introducing stress reduction practices like meditation in your regular routine.

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