The science of the CBD

What is CBD?

A few years ago many smokers hadn’t even heard of CBD. For the majority of tokers it has always been the THC content that has been the indicative factor as to whether or not a particular strain was something special. But since the advent of medical marijuana the term CBD is thrown about more frequently: so what is it and why is important?

(-)-[delta 1]-3,4-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol (most active cannabinoid) (-)-[delta 6]-3,4-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol  tetrahydrocannabitriol (aka cannabitriol) cannabidiolic acid cannabidiol cannabinol (forms after plant dies) THC acids A and B (inactive unless smoked)

Minor constituents:

Cannabigerol * cannabigerolic acid * cannabichromene * cannabichromenic acid * cannabicyclol (aka cannabipinol) * cannabicyclolic acid * cannabicitran * cannabielsoic acids A and B * cannabinolic acid (neutral cannabinoid) * cannabichromanon * cannabifuran * dehydrocannabifuran * 2-oxo-[delta 3]-tetrahydrocannabinol * cannabigerol monomethyl ether * cannabidiol monomethyl ether * cannabinol methyl ether * propylcannabidiol (aka cannabidivarol & cannabidivarin) * propylcannabinol (aka cannabivarol & cannabivarin) * propyl-[delta 1]-THC (aka [delta 1]-tetrahydrocannabivarol & tetrahydrocannabivarin) * propylcannabigerol * propylcannabicyclol * propylcannabichromene * methylcannabidiol (aka cannabidiorcol) * methylcannabinol (aka cannabiorcol) * methyl-[delta 1]-THC (aka [delta 1]-tetrahydrocannabiorcol) * [delta 1]-tetrahydrocannabivarolic acid

Nitrogen-containing compounds:

Choline * trigonelline * muscarine * piperidine * N-(p-hydroxy-B-phenylethyl)-p-hydroxy-trans-cinnamide * neurone * L-proline * L-isoleucine betaine * hordenine * cannabisativine (alkaloid found in the roots)

Chemically, cannabis is a complex plant with 483 chemicals, 85 of which are unique to the cannabis strain.  These 85 chemicals are called cannabinoids, and a list of some of them appears above. The one we all know about, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was isolated and synthesized in 1964 and is clearly the most pharmacologically active. THC is the chemical element in cannabis that is psychoactive and the higher the % of THC, the stronger the “high”. Marijuana seed breeders have spent the past 30 years isolating and developing strains with higher amounts of THC in the quest for the most trippy, the most couchlock, the highest “highs” possible for an increasingly demanding recreational user. The average % of THC available in most modern strains now stands at between 12-24%.

Want to know which are the highest THC strains?

CBD content (cannabidiol) however has been marginalised as breeders seek out the high THC genotypes. Partly this has been an unconscious side effect of the high potency race: as a receptor antagonist¹, CBD has the effect of dampening the psychoactive element THC  and a recent study into Dutch weed has shown that skunk for sale in Holland typically has a THC % of 16% .. . not such a super high then EXCEPT that it ONLY contains minimal traces of CBD, sometimes as low as 0.3%. Selective breeding to get an intensely psychoactive effect has increased not just the THC content, but the THC effect by successively choosing mothers with low CBD content.

For recreational users, this is probably a good thing! However once we start to talk of medicinal marijuana the outbreeding of CBD becomes an important point. Although CBD has the effect of softening the psychoactive effects of THC, this is only part of the role it plays in marijuana’s interaction with human chemistry. The move to make marijuana legal through medical reasons (a drive which was initially led by the Canadians and US) has been viewed by many in Europe as a clever means of overturning the anti-cannabis attitudes by subversive methods. After all, we all know a good spliff may ease back ache, reduce stress and help you sleep, but that’s about it isn’t it?

Let’s go back to the term cannabinoids, those 80 odd chemicals which are pretty much unique to the cannabis plant. By a freak of nature or God (depending on your belief system), inside the human body are special neurons, known as cannabinoid receptors because it was first thought that they received chemical information only!  from those chemicals unique to the cannabis plant. However, research over the past decade has revealed that rather than being receptors randomly located around the mind and body which coincidentally reacted with chemicals found within marijuana, in fact the endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system within mammals. The missing link to this science came in 1992 with the discovery of anandamide, followed by other neurotransmitting lipid compounds. These endocannabinoids (cannabinoids made within the body rather than introduced externally) link together the cannabinoid receptors and make a complex and diverse range of transmission neurons.

Where are the Cannabinoid Receptors?

CB1 Receptors:

  • Brain
  • Spinal Cord
  • Heart
  • Uterus
  • Testes
  • Liver
  • In the immune system: the spleen, T-cells & B-cells

CB2 Receptors:

When the cannabinoid compounds (whether naturally produced within the body, or introduced externally) interact with these receptors, they control:

  • Relaxation
  • Appetite
  • Sleep
  • Memory
  • Immune System
  • Gastro-Intestinal System
  • Pain perception
  • Bone mass
  • Metabolism
  • Inhibition of Tumour Producing Cells
  • .. Amongst others …

So it wasn’t that God (or in this theorem, more likely some long forgotten ancient gods) built man with special neurons that were only triggered by ingesting THC-rich plant matter. But what does seem likely is that by a curious quirk of fate and science, the much maligned cannabis plant holds the keys to maintaining and repairing good health right at molecular level. Because these keys are almost the exact copies of the ones used by our own neurons within the endogenous cannabinoid system, they unlock our capacity to fight illness, stimulate appetite, induce sleep etc naturally and holistically.

The vast impact of the endocannabinoid system on human health explains and validates anecdotal reports of cannabis used effectively for a wide range of health conditions.

Cannabis has a huge role to play as an artificial and yet natural means of enabling our bodies and minds to heal themselves. Using cannabis as a means of controlling the endocannabinoid system enables us to tweak and manipulate our health at cellular level. This goes far beyond the anecdotal evidence that a joint will mask or ease pain. Science now shows us how the chemicals within cannabis stimulate the neuron signals affecting pain perception… and much more. And whereas THC has a significant role to play in that it mimics the neurotransmitting compound ananmide, CBD, hitherto believed to be an inert r passive element, fulfils an even more complex chemical relationship:

Functions of CBD within the endocannabinoid system:

  • CBD suppresses an enzyme (the fatty acid amide hydroxylase (“FAAH”) ) which breaks down anandamide thus allowing our bodies (and minds) to benefit more fully from both the naturally occurring endocannabinoid anandamide and any ingested ones. The result? A better transmission of neuron signals producing faster healing and repair within the central nervous system.
  • CBD stimulates the production of 2-AG which activates both CB1 and CB2 connectors. This effects the peripheral nervous system and the immune system.
  • CBD acts as an agonist (stimulator) of the TRPV receptor which controls pain perception, inflammation and body temperature
  • CBD activates the adenosine receptors which regulate oxygen consumption around the heart and blood flow. This helps with relaxation.
  • In high concentrations CBD activates the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor, working as an anti-depressant. 5-HT1A is also involved in a range of biological and neurological processes including anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, pain perception, nausea and vomiting.
  • Still under exploration is the role cannabinoids have to play as antagonists (blockers) of GPR55. GPR55 regulates blood pressure and bone density: when the GPR55 receptors become overactive, it results in osteoporosis, and it is also suggested, in cancer cell proliferation. By blocking GPR55 CBDs can help prevent bone deterioration and tumorous cancer growths

The use of cannabis for medical purposes used to be fairly common: go back to the late nineteenth century and many doctors were using tinctures of marijuana to treat a variety of illnesses quite successfully. The new understanding of the endocannabinoid system enables researchers  to match the historical with the scientific, and thereby show why what may have been viewed as quack cures or hippy holistic nonsense actually has a solid foundation in medical reality. For example it has long been known that habitual cannabis smokers may suffer a drop in both the number and severity of their epileptic seizures. Armed with knowledge of the CBD1 receptors scientists can now replicate the effect of CBD and CBDN on epileptic fits induced in test animals:

“We have recently shown that the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) reduces seizure severity and lethality in the well-established in vivo model of pentylenetetrazole-induced generalised seizures, suggesting that earlier, small-scale clinical trials examining CBD effects in people with epilepsy warrant renewed attention ..”

© 2012 British Epilepsy Association

Amongst the illnesses that CBD can help treat are:

  •   Cancer,
  •   Rheumatoid arthritis,
  •   Diabetes,
  •   Alcoholism,
  •    PTSD,
  •    Epilepsy,
  •    Nausea,
  •   Antibiotic-resistant infections,
  •   Neurological disorders,
  •   Spasms,
  •    Anxiety disorders,
  •   Schizophrenia,
  •    Convulsions,
  •    Inflammation,
  •    Dystonia

Google search any of the above illnesses with “CBD” and you will find emerging scientific research as well as anecdotal responses demonstrating the efficacy of this non psychoactive chemical element of cannabis in treating and indeed curing the diseases which not only reduce quality of life but have thus far evaded the best works of man made pharamaceutical and surgical intervention.


Quite how these keys function we don’t yet know: a simplistic “THC = the key to x ailment” and “CBD is the key to y ailment” ignores the presence and interaction of the other cannabinoids to increase and modify the useage of these 2 chemical elements. What is clear however is that medical marijuana possesses the capability to provide a natural healing without damaging side effects. And it does so for many of our worst illnesses such as cancer and epilepsy.

What seems to be emerging from scientific exploration is that often it is the dynamic between the elements found within cannabis that work to best effect on our bodies. Whilst CBD has huge roles to play within the endocannaboid system, it is when it is fused with THC  that the two effects – the simulation of endogynous neural compounds and either activation or inhibition of receptors – commingle to produce quite revolutionary steps forward in modern medicine.

“Cannabidiol (CBD) is the one compound found in cannabis that is of tremendous medical importance, scientific clinical studies indicate that CBD is effective in easing symptoms of a wide range of debilitating conditions, however, its anti-cancer potential, particularly with regard to breast, prostate and lung cancer, are its most important properties and this has been confirmed by several academic research centers in the U.S, Italy, Spain and other countries”

Jeff Ditchfield, Cannabis Cure Info

HOWEVER, the medical research is hampered by cannabis’s status as an illegal drug in many countries. Anecodotal and first hand experiences of success abound but until there is widespread acceptance of the potential of medical marijuana and more established clinical trials, many will suffer and even die, unable to put their trust in such a “quack” cure.

Had a pharmaceutical company invented a chemical compound capable of curing this many (or even just a few) of these major illnesses and  it would have been worldwide national news. So how come the knowledge is for the most part unfunded, unpromoted and available only on the internet?  Being generous, we can suggest that it is the 20th century’s demonising of marijuana as the “gateway drug” of reefer madness for the establishment’s refusal to U-turn on this wonder drug.  (Even today, many reactionary newspapers such as the UK’s Daily Mail report on cannabis as the gateway drug to a life of crime, addiction and mental illness). Having spent millions condemning and defiling cannabis users, it is not easy for them to backpeddle and admit they may have been wrong.  More cynical minds suggest that as a plant, cannabis cannot be patented, and therefore profit margins for the pharmaceutical companies would be limited. For the most part medical marijuana, whether as an oil or a tincture, provides a treatment that can be produced by the patient themselves.

As a last point, it has to be said that these keys were nearly lost to science. CBD and the other cannabinoids were on the verge of being outbred from cannabis. Luckily there are still strains available which contain high percentages of CBD in their ratios, and it is to seed breeders like the CBD crew that we have to look for their vision in developing and stabilising CBD rich strains. Beware seed breeders jumping on the bandwagon of medical marijuana and releasing “medicinal strains” by virtue of a snappy strain name. Whilst there may be variance within an individual strains as different genotypes throw out different CBD:THC ratios, good medicinal strains will publish evidence of CBD testing as a guideline for those needing to grow their own medicine.

Some examples of good high CBD strains are:

CBD Crew: Skunk Haze

THC 6%, CBD 6%

CBD Crew: Shark

THC 5.5%, CBD 6.2%

CBD Crew: Nordle

THC 5.5%, CBD 5.5%

CBD Crew: Critical Mass

THC 6%, CBD 6%

Resin Seeds: Cannatonic

THC 6.2% CBD 6.9%

Reggae Seeds: Juana Lagrimosa


  1.  B R. Adams, M. Hunt and J. H. Clark, J. Amer. Gem. Sot. 62,196 (1940).
  2.  A. Jacob and A. R. Todd, J. Gem. Sot. 649 (1940)
  3.  Mechoulam R, Shvo Y. Hashish. I. The structure of cannabidiol. Tetrahedron. 19: 2073 (1963).
  4.  Gaoni Y, Mechoulam R. Isolation, Structure and Partial Synthesis of an Active Constituent of Hashish. Science. 86: 1646 (1964)