What is CBD and should we care?

As Cannabis legalization gradually sweeps through the U.S. and Canada, many are catching on to the various products that cannabis companies are relentlessly marketing. One such popular compound that shows up frequently in the news these days is CBD. You may be wondering what exactly CBD is and how it differs from the well-known compound THC. To learn more about this notorious substance, continue reading as we break down the essentials of CBD and how it's used.

So, what is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of several chemicals that comprise the cannabis plant, the most well-known being Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These chemicals that are found in the cannabis plant are called cannabinoids, and there are approximately 113 that have been identified so far. CBD and THC combined account for about 90% of cannabinoids extracted from a cannabis plant to make cannabis products.

How is CBD different than THC?

While THC is psychoactive, meaning that it alters one's state of consciousness, CBD is non-psychoactive. In other words, CBD alone does not get you high. This is the most important distinction between these cannabinoids and is why CBD has obtained federal leniency much quicker than THC.

CBD extraction

The extraction of CBD comes in three classes: full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate.

Full spectrum extraction is basically when the full range of cannabinoids from a cannabis plant is used to make a consumable product. This primarily includes THC and CBD.

Broad spectrum CBD extraction is when all cannabinoids are pulled from a cannabis plant except for THC. This class of CBD extraction is a step towards ensuring that the psychoactive effects of cannabis are significantly reduced. The remaining cannabinoids help to enhance the effects of CBD itself.

An isolate is when nothing but CBD is extracted and used from a cannabis plant. This eliminates the psychoactive elements of cannabis and is commonly used for medical treatments.

Why are people so excited about CBD?

CBD has exploded in popularity over the last decade due to a few reasons. The latest is due to world governments slowly relaxing laws that criminalize the production and shipment of CBD. Most recently, in 2018, Canada completely legalized cannabis, and in the same year, the U.S. passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows cultivation and shipment of certain cannabinoids across the nation. These federal acts have unleashed the floodgates for further development of cannabis-based companies and products and have increased the expected revenue of the cannabis industry as a whole.

Legalization of CBD has been fueled over the years by an assortment of preliminary scientific studies that demonstrate the cannabinoid's potential as a medical treatment. CBD is touted as being able to treat everything from insomnia and anxiety to epilepsy and cancer symptoms. More studies will be needed to confirm much of these claims, but these preliminary studies have undoubtedly been the most significant factor in demand for CBD.

Outside of medical use, CBD is also desired by the general population for everyday use. Nowadays, CBD is advertised as a remedy for common ailments such as pain, stress, headaches, loss of appetite, and more. Some companies even make CBD products for pets.

Can CBD oil cause death?

CBD oil by itself cannot cause death or any serious health issues currently known. However, the danger comes when stores sell CBD oil that has been modified.  This counterfeit CBD can contain such dangerous compounds as —a synthetic cannabinoid called 4-CCB (4-cyano CUMYL-BUTINACA). In another case product tested Utah contained over-the-counter cough medicine dextromethorphan, which has a reputation, especially in teens, for being able to get users high.

Those may be extreme examples, but adulterated, contaminated, or mislabeled CBD products aren’t isolated occurrences. A 2017 study published in JAMA by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and University of Pennsylvania Perelman  School of Medicine found that more than two-thirds of the products they purchased online were mislabeled, containing more CBD than listed on the label, less of it, or none at all. The tests also found some CBD products with more THC than listed on the label, sometimes much more. (Consumer Reports April 2019)


There's no question that CBD will continue its meteoric rise in popularity as nations inch closer to full cannabis legalization. As an investigator, it's essential to stay informed about the products people in your area are buying. With the basic information presented here, you should now be able to navigate the world of CBD with more intention, as well as have a better understanding of what the hype is all about.