CBD 101: A Crash Course on Cannabidiol

Ever wonder how CBD became as mainstream in conversation nowadays as Y2K was in the 90’s? Nearly universal legalization has certainly helped make it as popular as it is today. What you may find more interesting is that CBD comes from the same source as THC, a compound which is still illegal in many countries and available only under fairly strict regulations in others.

Even more intriguing is the fact that both CBD and THC were widely used across cultures and through thousands of years of human history, up until very recently. It was only in the past 100 years or so that the source of these natural compounds became both illegal and social taboo. That is quickly changing, though, and particularly so for CBD.

To understand how this little molecule came to be so injected into current pop culture, we need to first learn a bit about one plant and one person: cannabis, and Roger Adams.

A blast from the past

Believe it or not, humans have a longstanding relationship with cannabis. While it may have become more popular in very recent history, our use of cannabis can be traced back to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the emperors of Chinese dynasties, and even more recently to a few of the Founding Fathers of America.

The major reason that cannabis has had such a long stay in human history? Versatility. Different parts of the cannabis plant can be used for making everything from plastics and paper to food and fabrics. Even so, most of us today know cannabis for an entirely different function, as did some very prominent historical figures.

Here’s a fun fact… there is substantial evidence pointing to even such “proper” individuals as William Shakespeare and Queen Victoria enjoying the occasional smoke, albeit for very different reasons.

A team of anthropologists uncovered a small collection of pipes with traces of cannabis on them in the garden of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon. As for the queen, an article written in 1890 by Sir J.R. Reynolds (one of the physicians in charge of medical care for the royal family) which demonstrated the doctor’s approval for using cannabis as medicine was published in one of the world’s oldest medical journals. Allegedly, Billy found it helpful to his creativity, while Vicky enjoyed the relief it brought when Aunt Flo came to visit each month.

Categories: cannabis, cannabinoids & cannabidiol

While cannabis is a very multi-functional plant, fundamentally important to humans are its medicinal and therapeutic properties. Interestingly, most of these properties come from a single family of natural compounds it produces: cannabinoids.

  • cannabis —> name of a family of plants which includes hemp and what is commonly called marijuana
  • cannabinoids —> name of a group of compounds naturally produced by cannabis plants
  • cannabidiol —> the name of one specific cannabinoid, commonly referred to as CBD

Cannabidiol (or CBD for short) is one of these natural compounds that comes from cannabis, hence its name. The CBD most people consume nowadays comes from a specific type of cannabis plant commonly called hemp. Hemp produces a very small amount of THC… as in, so little THC that you cannot get high from consuming it.

This is why CBD that comes from hemp has gained widespread legalization, while THC (which can be found in larger amount in other species of cannabis) remains a highly regulated substance throughout most of the world.

So, we can see that legalization has at least allowed CBD to become popular, but why is it so popular? And how is it that we went from a time when consuming cannabis in any of its forms (whether it contained high levels of THC or not) was a “dangerous” and criminal act to putting CBD in everything from cookies to topical balms? The answer, in short, is Roger f-ing Adams.

The man, the legend, the chemist…

Who is Roger Adams, you ask?

Here’s a quick rundown of this leader among men, this unsung American hero… a direct descendant of President John Adams, Roger entered Harvard at the age of 16 and managed to knock out his bachelors within 3 years. He made quick work of his PhD in the same amount of time before serving the United States as a distinguished scientist during World Wars I & II. He snatched up roughly a dozen major awards during his career (one of them being the National Medal of Science) and even had one named after him by the American Chemical Society while he was still alive. That’s who Roger Adams is.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we can also credit this wonderfully ridiculous human being with isolating CBD from cannabis oil in the early 1940’s. Now, removing and separating CBD from other compounds found in cannabis was a particularly impressive achievement at the time; not just because of the science involved but, more importantly, because the Marijuana Tax Act had effectively criminalized cannabis just a few years prior in 1937.

See, when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed and cannabis with relatively high levels of THC became prohibited, hemp (which contains next to no THC) was also swept up in the legal maelstrom. Suddenly, a family of plants which had been both a cash crop and a source of medicine since the Colonial Period of America was put under federal regulation and almost totally unavailable to the general public.

To make matters worse, the idea of cannabis being a “dangerous substance” that should be policed by government was gaining international traction. But did you really think that something like a silly little national law and a global trend stopped a man like Adams? Hardly.

This champion of chemistry nerds didn’t just get his hands on some cannabis…it was given to him, along with the license to do research on it, by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Being one of the country’s most prominent chemists (if not its best organic chemist) apparently had its perks.

The rest is history

Around the early 2000’s, the world began changing its mind about demonizing cannabis any further. Slowly but surely, countries all over began decriminalizing cannabis and eventually allowing its use based on its medical applications and benefits to overall health. This became particularly true for hemp, which is where most consumers get their CBD from.

Thanks to Adams, once the legal tidal wave of cannabis law reform came in, we already had what was needed to get the ball rolling on making CBD widely available: a method for siphoning CBD from cannabis and a body of scientific research detailing its basic chemical properties. A growing number of scientists and physicians continue to add to Adams’ early investigations, demonstrating CBD’s safety and efficacy for a wide variety of ailments.

Seeing the (green) light

Humans may have a deep-rooted (pun intended!) relationship with cannabis, but obviously not a completely stable one. We’ve gone from cultivating it across the globe for thousands of years to, more recently, casting it as the bane of society. Fortunately, between our long and substantially positive history with cannabis as well as the work of scientists like Roger Adams, public view is trending toward seeing this multipurpose plant in a more positive (and accurate) light.

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