What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Oct 6, 2022
Last updated:
Dec 15, 2023

The use of cannabidiol, abbreviated as CBD, for medical purposes is on the rise around the world. In Australia you can access CBD oil with a prescription from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The rise of CBD as an alternative medicine has led to a lot of media hype and general curiosity. You may have watched any number of stories about parents seeking CBD for their children’s epilepsy on the evening news in the last few years.

It’s no wonder many people have questions about what CBD is and what all the buzz is about.

What Is CBD?

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Both hemp and cannabis strains contain CBD, one of the most prominent cannabinoids.

CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp plants (technically these are the same species, but hemp plants have negligible amounts of THC, the psychotropic compound in cannabis).

It is one of more than a hundred cannabinoids, which typically gets extracted before formulation into any number of products. While it's not the only cannabinoid that’s derived from these plants, it's one of the most prominent.

You might hear people refer to CBD oil and cannabis oil as the same thing, but these two substances are in fact different. CBD oil is essentially what it sounds like—a carrier oil with CBD in it—also referred to as an isolate. Cannabis oil has additional cannabinoids. Most commonly, the latter contains a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. CBD and THC containing cannabis products are referred to as full-spectrum. CBD products that contain other cannabinoids and trace amounts of THC are called broad-spectrum.

Many people seek CBD oil hoping to alleviate symptoms of a variety of conditions. Australians can legally access CBD oil and other CBD products through the TGA’s Special Access Scheme. This requires a visit with a doctor to discuss the treatment and, where eligible, a prescription.

CBD vs. THC: What's the Difference?

While CBD and THC are both present in marijuana, these two compounds function differently. The most notable variation is THC, which has an intoxicating effect that cause those who consume it to feel “high.”

The nuances of that high feeling often depend on the cannabis strain that’s consumed, because of the terpenes in a specific plant, which interact with THC and CBD.

However, CBD oil alone will not cause an intoxicating effect, though some have said that it helps to calm them and feel a sense of peace. There is no risk of a high with straight CBD products.

How Does CBD Work?

CBD works by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors that everyone has. The ECS has three components: endocannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes.

Our body naturally produces endocannabinoids, which help to regulate everything from digestion to the immune system to our sleep cycles. These molecules bind to receptors to create a reaction, and then enzymes sweep in to clean up when the interaction is done.

Both THC and CBD are cannabinoids that have the ability to play well with your endocannabinoid system, along with the cannabinoids produced in your body. The difference is that THC makes a strong connection while CBD creates a less direct one.

The precise mechanics of how CBD works still need to be studied further to fully comprehend the process. Some research suggests that CBD may prevent endocannabinoids from being cleared out by enzymes, so their effects last longer. Others suggest another type of receptor is at work here.

What Is CBD Prescribed for?

While the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not created a concrete list of medical conditions, doctors may write a CBD prescription for any issue they feel it could work for. So far, those have included pain, anxiety and insomnia or other sleep disorders, per a recent survey.

Prescriptions for CBD aren’t always strictly for pure CBD oil. Many patients find relief with medications that have some combination of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. As for the form of medicine, CBD oil is the most popular, though other products like tinctures, lozenges, and sprays are on the rise.

Is CBD Safe?

According to Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, CBD is a safe substance that humans can ingest and metabolize. It may have the potential to improve patients' quality of life.

The TGA has also reported on the good safety profile of CBD, stating in a recent review that “Cannabidiol presents a good safety and tolerability profile at the low dose range.” This report also noted that if side effects did occur, like drowsiness or fatigue, they were generally rare and mild.

What’s the Best Way to Buy CBD Oil?

Many Australians have already had CBD prescribed for a number of conditions including sleep disorders, inflammation, and anxiety.

Until over-the-counter CBD oil is actually sold in pharmacies, the only way to access CBD in Australia is speaking with a doctor and receiving a prescription.

If you’re curious about how CBD may benefit you, book a consultation with a doctor at a medical cannabis clinic or your local GP to inquire about next steps.

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