How Does CBD Work? Understanding How CBD Interacts with the Human Body

Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, has received a lot of press over the past few years. Researchers and the cannabis industry have been aware of CBD for some time, but its popularity exploded after the 2018 Farm Bill made the production of hemp legal at the federal level.

Once that bill passed, CBD immediately became a hot ingredient. It quickly found its way into everything from gummies and smoothies to skincare products.

But how does CBD work? And what does it actually do? A lot of people, even many of those who regularly purchase CBD, don’t have a clear understanding of the compound itself. That’s why we’ve created this helpful guide, to help business owners and CBD users better understand how CBD works.

In this article we’ll explain how CBD works by digging into the way it interacts with the human body. We’ll also explore some of the most common effects of CBD, and explain why CBD is showing up in products that you may not have anticipated. If there’s something particular you wish to know, feel free to jump to that section:

Why You Need to Know How CBD Works

To fully understand how CBD works, you would need a degree in biochemistry. The numerous ways that it interacts with different elements of the nervous system are complex. This complexity helps explain why the FDA and other regulating bodies have been so slow to make definitive statements about CBD. We simply do not have enough verifiable scientific evidence yet to make major claims regarding how a serving of CBD affects a majority of people.

So why do you need to know how it works if scientists are still figuring it out? It’s a fair question, but it does have an answer. If you plan to use CBD for yourself, understanding how it works could help you identify when something is “off.” You will also be a more educated customer when you buy CBD.

If you plan on selling CBD, having a general understanding of your products is essential. It’s unlikely that a customer will ask for a detailed scientific explanation of your products, but they may have questions that can only be answered by someone with a solid grasp on how CBD works. A clear understanding will also inform your choice on what products to stock, making you a savvier customer of CBD wholesalers and hemp oil distributors.

How Does CBD Work: A Simplified Scientific Explanation

Now that you know why it’s important to understand how CBD works, it’s time to dig into the details. The following explanation is a general overview of how CBD produces its various effects.

While we’ve done our best to simplify this explanation, we will be using numerous scientific terms. If you come across a term you don’t understand, tap the word in question to jump directly to the definition at the bottom of this article.

CBD is a chemical compound known as a cannabinoid. It is found in plants belonging to the cannabaceae family of plants. CBD is particularly abundant in the hemp plant, which naturally contains a low percentage of THC. A vast majority of CBD products are hemp-derived, though cannabis-derived CBD products do exist.

As a cannabinoid, CBD directly interacts with the endocannabinoid system. This system is not fully understood as it was discovered relatively recently, in the 1990s. Research suggests that this system is related to appetite, memory, mood, and sleep, though how much of a role it plays in each of those processes has yet to be determined.

What we do know is that the endocannabinoid system is made of three components — enzymes, receptors and endocannabinoids. The effect that CBD produces in humans is dependent upon the way that it interacts with each of these components. CBD has also been shown to interact with non-cannabinoid receptors, such as TRPV1 and the 5-HT serotonin receptor. These interactions increase the number of potential effects that CBD can produce, making it a pleiotropic.

Right now, scientists, government agencies, and research institutions are working to better understand the effects of CBD and how they are produced. Many of these research projects are directly focused on studying a singular observed effect of CBD in the hopes that the cause can be isolated and replicated. This research will not only increase our understanding of how CBD interacts with the human body, but also result in products with a more predictable set of effects.

Commonly Observed Effects of CBD Products

Unlike its popular sister cannabinoid THC, CBD does not produce a psychoactive effect, which makes it a prime candidate for therapeutic use. The lack of psychoactivity also makes it easier to isolate specific effects, and makes the observations of test subjects far more trustworthy. Here’s a short list of the most commonly observed effects that CBD produces.

Pain Relief

CBD interacts with the TRPV1 receptor to produce a pain-numbing effect. There is also evidence that CBD reduces inflammation and swelling, which would provide pain relief for a wide variety of injuries. Researchers hope to isolate this effect as it would provide a non-addictive, safe method of pain management.

Anxiety Relief

While it is always difficult to produce comprehensive research on anything related to mental health, there is overwhelming evidence that CBD has a positive effect on anxiety. Most researchers believe that this effect stems from CBD’s interaction with the 5-HT serotonin receptor, which plays a role in mood regulation.


Another well-observed effect of CBD is neuroprotection. In fact, the only FDA approved drug to utilize compounds from the hemp plant, Epidiolex, was specifically created for neuroprotection. In particular, CBD has been observed to be highly effective at preventing or reducing seizures.

Appetite Stimulation

It should come as no surprise that CBD plays a role in affecting appetite. Even if you were unaware of the endocannabinoid system and its role in influencing appetite, you’ve likely heard of “the munchies” from late night television. When THC is removed from the equation, CBD’s appetite stimulation can be more easily controlled, reducing the risk of overeating. This effect may seem trivial but it has already proven to be highly effective at encouraging recovery from eating disorders and has aided countless cancer patients who lost their appetite during chemotherapy.

Why is CBD in So Many Products?

There is no single explanation for why CBD is in so many products. But there are two generally accepted theories as to why it has proliferated so rapidly after being legalized so recently.

The first hypothesis is that it has more to do with hemp than CBD. Prior to the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, hemp had long been appreciated for its utility. The plant has strong, lengthy fibers that made it ideal for creating products like rope, netting, and paper. The utility didn’t stop there. Hemp was known to have mild psychoactive effects and was consumed for relaxation purposes. So when hemp became legal at the federal level in 2018, there was already evidence that CBD had a wide variety of effects. That knowledge combined with our existing understanding of hemp made it clear that there would be positive effects from CBD when added to edible and ingestible products.

The second theory is that CBD’s many documented effects encouraged integration with a wide variety of products. Because regulations surrounding CBD and hemp are still changing with great frequency, there was reason to believe that the compound would add its known effects to other products. Since the range of effects that CBD produces is so large, there was no drawback to adding it into products.

Add CBD Products to Your Retail Operation Today!

Now that you have a better understanding of how CBD works, what it does, and why it’s in so many products, you have all the knowledge you need to add CBD to your retail operation. Whether you’re a physical therapist, chiropractor, or a grocer, CBD has the potential to boost your business and improve the lives of your customers.

Find out how US Hemp Wholesale can help you add CBD to your list of product offerings. Fill out our vendor form today to join the CBD business boom!

Definition of Scientific Terms Used in This Article

  • 5-HT serotonin receptor – A non-endocannabinoid system receptor that is responsible for the regulation of serotonin release. This receptor plays a pivotal role in mood regulation, and a number of physiological processes.
  • Cannabaceae – A family of flowering plants within the plant kingdom. There are 170 known species in the cannabaceae family, and they can be trees, standing herbs, or twining herbs. Commonly discussed members of this family include cannabis, hemp, and the hop plant.
  • Cannabinoid – Cannabinoids are any compounds that can be found within the cannabis plant. Major cannabinoids include CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), though there are hundreds of minor cannabinoids that are currently being researched and discovered.
  • Endocannabinoid – Endocannabinoids are substances produced by the human body (and by other animals with an endocannabinoid system) that activate cannabinoid receptors to produce a variety of effects.
    Endocannabinoid system – A biological system made up of endocannabinoids. This system is related to a variety of biological processes and interacts with cannabinoids such as CBD and THC to produce various effects.
  • Enzyme – Proteins that accelerate biological processes. They are particularly important to the metabolic process of cells.
  • Neuroprotection – The maintenance and preservation of neurons and their function. Neuroprotective compounds and effects help to keep the nervous system from malfunctioning which reduces the occurrence of strokes, seizures, and other neurological issues.
  • Pleiotropic – Drugs or compounds with a variety of effects, whether they be positive or negative. In the medical world, it typically refers to the positive effects, rather than detrimental ones.
  • Receptors – Chemical structures made of protein that transmit and receive signals. These signals influence biological systems to amplify, inhibit, or regulate biological processes.
  • TRPV1 – A receptor that is primarily involved in the regulation of body temperature. It plays a pivotal role in pain perception. This receptor is also known as the capsaicin receptor or the vanilloid receptor 1 due to its interactions with capsaicin and vanilla.
  • THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – One of the many cannabinoids present within the cannabis plant. Like CBD, it produces a variety of effects that have yet to be fully understood. When THC is mentioned, it often refers to Delta-9 THC, which is the compound responsible for cannabis’s psychoactive effects.
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