It seems like you can find CBD everywhere nowadays. Many cafes and bars offer CBD-infused coffees and mocktails. CBD is increasingly becoming a common ingredient in luxury skincare products. Athletes and gym goers are even using CBD for post-workout recovery. The market for cannabidiol, or CBD, grew from $9 million in 2016 to $1.04 billion in 2018. Experts predict that it’s going to keep growing too.
That’s not too shabby for a substance that was almost bred out of cannabis plants. How did CBD go from being shunned by most cannabis advocates to being the plant’s most redeeming feature?
CBD’s entry into the medical field has been a game-changer for cannabis advocates. Here’s how—and—why CBD has made such a big splash.
A Brief History of CBD (and Cannabis)
The cannabis plant has been cultivated for a millennia. Civilizations in ancient China and India both noted the plant’s healing properties. It was less-known in Europe, where cannabis plants don’t grow natively.
The plant made its way into Europe, then to the New World as part of many ancient healing recommendations. With the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and early 1800s, people capitalized on folk knowledge to create remedies.
Many medicinal products from the 19th century included cannabis. Scientists of the age were interested in testing out folk remedies to see if they had any merit. The first cannabinoids were isolated from cannabis during this period. Other plants, like the opium poppy, underwent similar testing.
Even into the early 20th century, cannabis was a common ingredient in medicinal remedies. It was in everything from cough syrups to pain tonics. There were even some scientific studies. All that ground to a halt as governments responded to social fears about the impact of cannabis.
In the blink of an eye, what was a vital part of medicine was criminalized and labeled a dangerous social ill.
Understanding Cannabinoids During the 20th Century
The criminalization of cannabis made it much more difficult for researchers. Fortunately, cannabidiol (CBD) was isolated in a lab for the first time in the 1940s. Scientists isolated THC, another famous cannabinoid, in the 1960s.
From there, it was possible to create synthetics in a lab. These synthetic cannabinoids weren’t made from cannabis, so researchers could use them.
It took a while for cannabinoid research to take off, though. Synthetics were expensive. Research with cannabis plant material was severely restricted.
From the 1960s on, research pointed to some important medical uses for cannabinoids. One of the earliest uses was as an anti-emetic, reducing nausea and vomiting for cancer patients.
In the 1980s and 1990s, more early research was conducted. The endocannabinoid system was discovered in the early 1990s, laying the foundation for current understandings of how cannabinoids interact with the human body. The presence of natural endocannabinoids suggested cannabinoids might have a larger role to play.
The Near Extinction of CBD
As scientists researched and discovered the endocannabinoid system, another group claimed cannabis.
The counterculture of the 1960s rebelled against social norms. Comprised mostly of young members of the Baby Boom generation, the “hippies” pushed back against war and violence, advocating instead for peace and love. Love-ins were common, as was rock ’n’ roll music.
The cannabinoid THC is to thank for most of these feelings, referred to as a “high.” THC is a psychoactive component, so it can make people “trip.” For most people, it lets them relax.
Hippies rebelled against cannabis criminalization, but their affinity for the plant was based on the effects of THC. Those growing marijuana began breeding strains with higher THC content.
Unfortunately, this resulted in a twofold problem. The first being that more people today have adverse reactions to cannabis, due to their high THC content. Secondly, cannabinoids like CBD almost disappeared from most strains of cannabis as cultivators bred higher levels of THC.
The CBD Revival
On the science side of things, medical research was largely focused on THC too. THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in many cannabis strains. It’s responsible for most of the observable effects on the human body. If you think of cannabis users as having red eyes, the munchies, and wanting to “chill out,” you’re thinking of the effects of THC.
CBD, as we already noted, is different from THC. It’s non-psychoactive, and it doesn’t cause many of the effects THC does. People using CBD may not feel particularly drowsy, nor will they develop a case of the munchies.
It was easy for scientists to think that CBD wasn’t doing anything. Since it occurred in smaller amounts, it was less likely to have an effect on people.
When medical researchers created synthetic cannabinoid medications, they first created THC-only formulas. The thought was that THC was the only active ingredient.
Removing CBD was a good way of proving that this cannabinoid was actually doing a great deal. People using THC-only formulas experienced higher levels of anxiety and paranoia. Adding CBD to the mix seemed to mitigate the issues.
That got scientists wondering: What else could CBD do?
The CBD Explosion
Once scientists stumbled on the idea that CBD did have effects on the human body, it was only a matter of time before they began researching it.
Today, the literature on CBD is growing. Most of its effects remain difficult to prove with any sort of certainty, though. What science has discovered is the enormous potential for CBD.
The case that broke that wide open was that of Charlotte Figi, a young girl in Colorado, in 2013. Charlotte suffered from Dravet Syndrome, a rare and difficult-to-treat form of epilepsy. Children with Dravet Syndrome may have hundreds of seizures weekly.
Charlotte’s family was desperate for a solution, especially since the usual recommendations had all stopped helping. They turned to cannabinoids, specifically CBD.
Charlotte’s symptoms improved almost instantly. With CBD, she was able to live the life of a normal child.
Scientists, and the public, sat up and took notice. Suddenly, everyone was interested in what CBD could do.
Why CBD Works
One reason for widespread health benefits with CBD may be its ability to affect many body systems. THC affects the endocannabinoid system. While this system is extensive, CBD’s reach actually goes far beyond that.
It’s been shown, for example, that CBD interacts with the body’s opioid receptors. That could explain why CBD is an effective pain-reliever and how it helps opioid misuse.
CBD also interacts with serotonin receptors in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with effects on mood. It’s known as one of the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals. CBD can block serotonin receptors, allowing serotonin levels to increase. Increasing serotonin could help people with mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
As people have realized the wide reach of CBD interactions in the body, they’ve become more interested in what CBD can do. It’s though CBD could do everything from reverse aging to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.
Shifting Attitudes Toward Cannabis
CBD’s biggest contribution may be how much it shifted the debate around legalization. After news of Charlotte Figi’s cannabis treatment broke, advocates had more ground to stand on.
Medical marijuana programs were introduced in many states, starting with California in 1996. Some people remained skeptical of medical uses for cannabis. Although Charlotte’s case sparked plenty of public debate, it also solidified the place of CBD in medicine.
Suddenly, medical research about cannabis and cannabinoids was in fashion. The public was curious to know more about the miraculous substance that had helped children overcome such a terrible medical condition.
More money was funneled into medical marijuana research. Charlotte’s case helped to sway many on the idea that cannabis might not be as harmful as people had been taught. In fact, it could be helping many more people live healthier, happier lives.
A Star Is Born
Charlotte’s story helped catapult CBD into the public eye. Since then, it’s become the center of attention in many medical circles. It’s also a buzzword for many.
Even states that don’t allow medical marijuana programs may make exceptions for CBD. In 2018, the federal government legalized hemp and hemp-derived products. Many took that to include CBD. Since then, the CBD industry has been booming.
Legal CBD is introducing many Americans to the potential benefits of cannabinoids. While some people say CBD is just the latest health fad, there’s solid science suggesting it might be much more.
One thing is for sure. CBD has changed the landscape for those in many industries, including cannabis, health, medicine, and wellness. It’s been a real game-changer for thousands of people with many health conditions.
The last 10 years have been monumental for CBD. Wondering where the industry is heading next? Check in with us for more informative articles and cannabis industry insights.