Todd Subritzky, PhD

Great question and the answer is not as straight forward as you would expect. At its core, CBD, or cannabidiol is a compound in the cannabis plant. The genus cannabis sativa is the source of unique compounds known as cannabinoids or (phyto)cannabinoids if you want to be fancy, that interact naturally with the human endocannabinoid system –a rich source of cannabinoids in its own right (Pertwee, 2008).

At last count, 104 cannabinoids and 441 non-cannabinoid compounds had been identified within the plant (ElSohly & Waseem, 2014). Cannabidiol or CBD is a largely non-psychoactive compound and one of the most prominent cannabinoids found in marijuana (ratios with other cannabinoids in the plant vary between different strains or varieties of cannabis).

CBD is a metabolite that requires a process known as decarboxylation (i.e. adding heat such as that added when the harvested plant is naturally drying) to transform from its natural state of cannabidiolic acid or CBDA (Russo, 2017).

CBD extraction

In its pure form, CBD is extracted from the cannabis or hemp plants and concentrated in an inert oil for easy administration and can also be delivered as a CBD tincture as I will get to in a minute.

Interestingly, in many modern-day recreational cannabis products, CBD has been almost entirely bred out, while CBD rich strains, which can contain up to 30% CBD are more common for medicinal or therapeutic purposes of consumption, which is not surprising given its impressive fan club in the guise of multiple world-renowned researchers in the medical cannabis space.

For example, leading cannabis researcher Russo (2017, p.198) has claimed “It is a pharmacological agent of wondrous diversity, … encompassing analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiemetic, antianxiety, antipsychotic, and anticonvulsant”. This view was reflected by world-renowned CBD professors Mechoulam, Peters, Murillo‐Rodriguez, and Hanuš (2007, p.1) who stated in a comprehensive review of the academic literature: “The plethora of positive pharmacological effects observed with CBD make this compound a highly attractive therapeutic entity”.

Positive trends relating to CBD

First isolated in 1940 (Adams, Hunt, & Clark, 1940), over the last couple of decades evidence has been starting to accrue that suggests CBD has medicinal potential for a range of ailments. For example, Mechoulam et al. (2007) have highlighted several areas where studies are indicating positive trends including:
• Epilepsy
• Cancer
• Anxiety
• Diabetes
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Schizophrenia
• Inflammation
• Addiction
• And many more (see for example Blesching, 2015; Israeli Ministry of Health)

Common misconceptions of cannabidiol

Despite these positive signs, it is essential to remain attached to the facts. According to Russo (2017), current interest in CBD is fuelling some inaccurate misconceptions and he has attempted to clarify the most common of these:

Misconception 1: CBD is non-psychoactive and non-psychotropic

CBD has been shown to have pharmacological benefits, for example with Schizophrenia, and should more accurately be called non-intoxicating.

Misconception 2: CBD is sedating

Reports in early academic literature noted low incidences of sedation, however, modern-day reports have ‘contemporaneously’ listed sedation as a side effect of administering CBD. In fact research has shown when taken in low to moderate doses, CBD in its pure form can be alerting as evidenced by its ability to delay sleep time and counteract the effects of its ‘naughty cousin’ THC, which is the cannabinoid responsible for intoxication (Nicholson, Turner, Stone, & Robson, 2004).

Misconception 3: CBD is legal in all 50 states

Federally in the US, CBD is still covered by the Controlled Substances Act and prohibited as a schedule 1 compound. It’s important to note though that the regulatory environment around cannabis is dynamic and potential changes are presently working through the House and Senate. At the state level, there remain some jurisdictions where CBD has not been approved for legal sale, although the vast majority do now allow the product to be sold in some form. Please make sure to stay informed with the latest developments in your locale.

Misconception 4: Cannabidiol turns into THC in the body

The false claim that CBD turns into THC once consumed is more prevalent on the internet than in the academic literature, although it has gained traction since a journal article documented a simulated process that demonstrated it was technically possible to convert CBD to THC after prolonged exposure. In essence, however, there is no ‘real world’ evidence to support this claim.
What are CBD tinctures?

The modern-day use of CBD tinctures links to their historical medical use in the old pharmacopeia (Hazekamp & Pappas, 2014). CBD tinctures differ from CBD oil previously described in that isolates are soaked in high proof grain alcohol which allows the CBD compounds to infuse into a neutral spirit, the majority of which is boiled off. This results in a pure product when subject to appropriate quality controls. Tinctures are perceived to have multiple advantages including flexibility of uses ( e.g. oral drops or baked goods) and are relatively easy to produce.


Adams, R., Hunt, M., & Clark, J. (1940). Structure of cannabidiol, a product isolated from the marihuana extract of Minnesota wild hemp. Journal of the American chemical society(62), 196 – 200.
Blesching, U. (2015). The Cannabis Health Index: Combining the science of medical marijuana with mindfulness techniques to heal 100 chronic symptoms and diseases. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
ElSohly, M., & Waseem, G. (2014). Constituents of cannabis sativa. In R. Pertwee (Ed.), Handbook of Cannabis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hazekamp, A., & Pappas, G. (2014). Self-Medication With Cannabis. In R. Pertwee (Ed.), Handbook of Cannabis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Israeli Ministry of Health. Medical Grade Cannabis – Clinical Guide (Green Book). Retrieved 2/2/2019 from
Mechoulam, R., Peters, M., Murillo‐Rodriguez, E., & Hanuš, L. (2007). Cannabidiol–recent advances. Chemistry & biodiversity, 4(8), 1678-1692.
Nicholson, A., Turner, C., Stone, B., & Robson, P. (2004). Effect of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 24(3), 305-313.
Pertwee, R. (2008). The diverse CB1 and CB2 receptor pharmacology of three plant cannabinoids: Δ9‐tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and Δ9‐tetrahydrocannabivarin. British journal of pharmacology, 153(2), 199-215.
Russo, E. (2017). Cannabidiol Claims and Misconceptions. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 38(3), 198-201. doi:10.1016/[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]