Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the main cannabinoids in marijuana and has gained popularity for its relaxing effects. In just the past few years, CBD has become more prevalent in everyday products like gummies, essential oils, and drinks. Companies like Starbucks have even been looking to incorporate CBD in many of their products. However, with CBD’s increasing popularity, there have been debates about its legality and regulation.
While THC is the main psychoactive — meaning it affects cognition and function– a compound in cannabis, CBD is the main non-psychoactive compound. CBD is also present in hemp, a botanical cousin of cannabis, making it more difficult to regulate. The partnership between THC and CBD is so tightly correlated that the THC levels are used to distinguish hemp and cannabis; to classify as hemp, the plant must contain less than 0.3% THC according to the FDA. Since CBD is a safe, non-psychoactive compound that is produced in unregulated plants, it has been legalized to some degree in all 50 U.S. states. But, according to the federal government, CBD is still in the same drug category as THC.
What Does CBD Do in Cannabis?
After smoking or taking an edible, the 540 different compounds in cannabis make their way to the bloodstream to interact in their respective location. CBD and THC are among the most prevalent compounds and work in tandem to provide a full-body, soothing high.
While THC binds directly to the nerve cells ends– where the cellular communication is known to occur, CBD is a known as a multitarget molecule. CBD binds to multiple receptors throughout the body and the brain to offer a wide array of effects, including loss of pain, nausea and anxiety. Since CBD binds different areas throughout the body, it has been difficult for scientists to access which binding location is responsible for its effects.
Dr. Zlebnik and Dr. Cheer compiled many of the CBD receptors found throughout the body and the corresponding effects in their review, Beyond the CB1 Receptor: Is Cannabidiol the Answer for Disorders of Motivation? While THC binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors to elicit the majority of its effects, CBD binds to ion channels and neuroreceptors in the brain, endocannabinoid receptors found throughout the body and receptors within the central nervous system. Each receptor supplies its own effects, including vasodilation (corresponds to the redness in your eyes after smoking), cancer prevention, and neuroprotection.
How Long Does CBD Stay in Your System?
The half-life of a drug, or how long it takes for your body to rid itself of half the amount, is used throughout science to compare a molecule’s longevity. In drug tests, the compound’s half-life is used to set parameters around the allowed drug concentration. Each of these parameters has to be defined for individual compounds because many drugs, including THC and CBD, have varying half-lives that are independent of their structure.
While THC and CBD have remarkably similar shapes and are both lipophilic (fat-soluble), they have different half-life’s. According to Dr. Sharma, in the human body, cannabis has a half-life of 67 days, and THC can vary from 2 days for infrequent users to 9 days for frequent users.
On the other hand, when CBD is taken orally, it has a half-life of 1 to 2 days with no significant increase for frequent users. If CBD is applied topically, then only trace amounts reach the bloodstream so no significant portion is detected.
Part of the reason that CBD has a shorter half-life is because it is quickly degraded when consumed. Oral CBD treatment undergoes extensive degradation in its first cycle through the body. According to Dr. Welty at Drake University, only about 6% of the consumed CBD is able to interact with the body and produce its effects. So if you consumed 100 mg of CBD, only about 6mg is active. This does not mean you need to consume more CBD if you currently feel the effects, but it illustrates how quickly CBD is depleted in your body.
Is CBD Safe?
CBD is a very safe compound that has a variety of therapeutic benefits and has shown positive results in preclinical trials for multiple diseases, including Alzheimer’s and inflammation. Since CBD binds to many targets, its specific mode of action has remained elusive to scientists. Dr. Lowin, however, illustrated specific CBD receptors that can help reduce the number of pro-inflammatory cells. This is specifically important in the context of arthritis because CBD works in a variety of locations to decrease inflammation while also targeting arthritic cells to promote their degradation.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns of CBD is that it is being marketed as a supplement and not a medication. According to Dr. Grinspoon at Harvard Medical School, the FDA does not regulate the exact concentrations in dietary supplements, so the listing on the bottle may be inaccurate. Therefore, the levels of trace compounds, including THC may be inaccurate. This becomes an issue when CBD users get drug tested for THC.
Does CBD Show Up on a Drug Test?
Drug tests that are meant for cannabis commonly target THC and would not be activated by CBD. While there are CBD-specific drug tests, these are extremely uncommon because CBD is legal to some degree in all 50 states. However, the purity of CBD can cause a positive result on drug tests.
To get enough natural CBD for products, companies will purify CBD from hemp or cannabis. Since CBD and THC have such similar structures and characteristics, it is difficult to get 100% purified CBD. Often there are trace amounts of THC, that may not be enough to produce an effect but it is enough to show up on a drug test.
THC concentration varies by product and each item should report its own chemical breakdown to some degree of accuracy. So, if you are worried about THC appearing on a drug test, be sure to have fully purified CBD, or at least a THC concentration of less than 0.3%.