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What is CBD?

What is CBD?

What's The Deal With CBD? Where did it come from and why it is so popular now?

CBD is new, but it’s not. The compound has been around forever, but we’ve only identified it as CBD in recent years. As laws change we are learning more about the medicinal properties of cannabis, and specifically CBD. Additionally, more and more states have been passing hemp farming legislation, reminding people how powerful a plant can be. Chances are, you know someone who has tried CBD – either to relax, subdue pain, or help them sleep. But what is CBD? Where does it come from? And why is it so popular now? 

CBD (aka Cannabidiol) is a naturally occurring compound found in the flower of the cannabis plant.  It is one of over 100 chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, that exist in cannabis. While the cannabis plant has been around for thousands of years, a different cannabinoid, THC, has attracted most of the attention. For most of the last 100 years, cannabis (which includes hemp-derived CBD) has been illegal. During this prohibition, there was no widespread acknowledgment of cannabis as a medicinal plant, and certainly very few means of researching all the beneficial uses for the numerous cannabinoids, including CBD. In fact, despite cannabis’ historical use, only recently have we started to uncover what CBD itself can do.

Cannabis has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. Ancient medical texts in China, Egypt, India & Greece have all described the use of cannabis/hemp in the treatment of pain and other ailments. But it was not until the mid-19th century that the use of cannabis began to grow in the west. Commonly referred to as “hemp” or “cannabis sativa”, cannabis was often found in over-the-counter pharmaceutical products like cough syrups. Cannabis products were, in fact, fully legal to sell in stores and pharmacies, as long as they were properly labeled and regulated. Prior to 1937, there were at least 2000 cannabis medicines produced by over 280 manufacturers.

So, what happened?

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was drafted by anti-cannabis prohibitionist Harry Anslinger and passed into law that year. Cannabis-negative propaganda was spreading like wildfire through North America. Religious groups funded movies such as “Reefer Madness”, “Marihuana”, “Assassin of Youth” and Devil’s Harvest” that demonized cannabis, projecting clownish, outrageous and even murderous behavior by those who used it. The new influx of Mexican immigrants was villainized for using “marihuana” for pain and relaxation - the same ingredient so many others were using themselves under another name. Jazz musicians were also targeted. During hearings on marijuana law in the 1930’s, claims were made about marijuana’s ability to cause men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women. This imagery became the backdrop for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which effectively banned its use and sales. 

Although the Act was ruled unconstitutional years later, it was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970’s which maintained its illegality, incarcerated many, and thwarted research into the ancient plant.

Despite its illegality, in 1940, Roger Adams, a Harvard alumni and prominent organic chemist at the University of Illinois, was the first to isolate CBD from cannabis. Later, in 1946, Dr. Walter S. Loewe conducted the first CBD test on mice and rabbits. His results showed that, while THC caused a catalepsy (type of induced trance) and a “central excitant action”, CBD did not.  This was the discovery that CBD was not intoxicating.

In 1964 it was Israeli chemist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam who described the chemical structure of CBD. Dr. Mechoulam’s research continued and in the late 1960’s, he tested CBD & THC on primates, confirming that it was THC, and not CBD, that created mind-altering effects. Despite these findings over the years, the laws prohibiting cannabis kept CBD (and all cannabis) from the public.

Dr. Mechoulam’s research continued and, in 1980, in what was believed to be one of the first double-blind trials of CBD on clinical subjects, Dr. Mechoulam and a team of Brazilian research scientists conducted a study of CBD on 16 people (mostly children) who suffered from severe epilepsy. The study showed that every one of the subjects who received CBD experienced an improvement in their condition, with little to no side effects.

Despite this amazing finding, CBD still was still virtually ignored.  It wasn’t until 2013, when the family of 5-year old Charlotte, who suffered over 300 grand mal seizures a week, tried a high-CBD strain of cannabis. Charlotte’s seizures were all but eliminated and word started to spread.  In fact, the name of that high-CBD strain of cannabis, once known as “Hippie’s Disappointment”, was changed to “Charlotte’s Web”.

The following year, medical CBD was legalized in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. The 2014 Farm Bill passed and allowed pilot programs to study hemp. This allowed small-scale expansion of hemp cultivation for limited purposes.

It wasn’t until June 2018, the FDA approved a CBD drug, Epidiolex, as treatment for certain types of epilepsy. Later that same year, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which was more expansive than the farm bill four years earlier. It allowed hemp cultivation broadly, not simply pilot programs, for studying market interest in hemp-derived products. It explicitly allowed the transfer of hemp-derived products across state lines for commercial or other purposes. It also puts no restrictions on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, so long as those items are produced in a manner consistent with the law.

There are, of course, more CBD products available every day but it does not mean that all CBD products are equal. Knowing your producer and whether they are legal, safe and legitimate is an important part of consumer research. And once the United States federally legalizes cannabis, more research on this amazing plant can continue. The potential of this research is mind-boggling. Stay tuned!

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