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The goal of this article is to provide a quick reference for understanding some of the common jargon that I’ve come across in learning about CBD (along with many others I suspect). I find the jargon is a mix of biomedical terms, cannabis concepts and market lingo describing different types of CBD products. We’ll say a bit about each in regards to CBD and perhaps do longer articles on individual topics in the future.
The article is organized so the concepts in one category help to understand the concepts in the next. So with that, I’ll sign off here and let you get to reading!
- Biomedical jargon: Bioavailability, Enzymes, Receptors
- Cannabis jargon: Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids, Endocannabinoid System, Terpenes, The Entourage Effect
- CBD Product jargon: Broad Spectrum, Full Spectrum, Isolate, Nano/Water-Soluble CBD
Bioavailability, in a mathematical way, describes the action of a drug over time as it absorbs into and clears out of the bloodstream. It uses direct injection (i.v. administration) as a reference point, and under certain assumptions represents what fraction or percentage of the drug reaches circulation in certain circumstances1. These circumstances could include the route of administration (whether taken orally, smoked, etc.), whether or not you’ve eaten, the time of day, and so on.
The oral and inhaled bioavailability of CBD are estimated at around 6% and 31% respectively2,3. One study showed that oral bioavailability quadrupled when CBD was taken with a fatty meal as opposed to an empty stomach4.
Enzymes are molecules (generally proteins) that speed up chemical reactions in the body, helping to break down and create various substances5. A good example of this is when yeast is used in beer brewing – enzymes in the yeast break down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
CBD is broken down by enzymes in the liver like most other substances. It also slows down some enzymes in the body and may speed up others6. This is similar to the “grapefruit effect” that some medications warn about.
Receptors are proteins that accept and transmit chemical signals in the body, located in or on cells7. Similar to locks and keys, certain kind of receptors will only take certain kinds of signals. Many substances, including medicine, hormones, etc., exert their effects by signaling various receptors in the body. CBD is a notable molecule for its ability to interact with a diverse range of receptors, not just cannabinoid receptors8.
Cannabinoids are a family of molecules typically found in the cannabis plant. THC and CBD are the most commonly known cannabinoids, but there are many more including CBN, CBG and CBC.
Endocannabinoids, short for “endogenous cannabinoids”, are cannabinoids produced endogenously – that is, within the body. When the first cannabinoid receptor was discovered in 1990, it seemed natural that the body would produce its own cannabinoids9. The first endocannabinoid, called anandamide, was discovered in 1992 – and others, notably 2-AG, have been found since9.
The endocannabinoid system is the body’s cannabinoid-specific signaling system. It’s made up of endocannabinoids and their associated enzymes/receptors (including the well-known CB1 and CB2 receptors), and seems to play a role in a lot of key functions like sleep10, fertility11 and immune function12, to name just a few. Some aspects, such as the GPR18 and GPR55 receptors, aren’t well understood yet and are being investigated13.
CBD mainly affects the endocannabinoid system by slowing down the enzyme FAAH14, which breaks down anandamide (see Endocannabinoids above). This increases anandamide signaling in the endocannabinoid system, and is potentially responsible for the positive effects of CBD seen in schizophrenic patients15,16.
Terpenes are aromatic molecules found in many plants. They’re the main component of many essential oils, and in terms of cannabis, are responsible for its characteristic smell.
The Entourage Effect is an idea that originated from the science literature in the late 90’s17. Roughly speaking, it says that the various terpenes and cannabinoids in the cannabis plant potentiate each other and have a synergistic effect together that’s greater than their combined individual effects18,19.
The idea is still debated, mainly due to a lack of clarity around what constitutes the “synergy” involved in cases where whole-plant formulations outperform pure cannabinoids20. It has also been criticized as being over-glorified and abused to make false marketing claims about CBD products21.
CBD Product Jargon
Broad Spectrum CBD products or extracts contain other cannabinoids in addition to CBD, with the exception of THC (which is removed). They also often include terpenes.
Full Spectrum CBD products or extracts contain other cannabinoids, including THC, in addition to CBD. They also often include terpenes.
Isolate usually refers to pure crystalline CBD (when the molecule is isolated from the plant extract), but can also refer to CBD products without any other cannabinoids. Isolate products may also contain terpenes, but typically don’t.
Nano/Water-Soluble CBD refers to CBD products in a type of mixture called a nano-emulsion. Emulsions are a common way of “dissolving” oil in water or vice-versa, by breaking up the dissolved liquid into very tiny droplets that stay separated. A good example of an emulsion is mayonnaise. In a nano-emulsion, the droplet sizes are on the order of nanometers – billionths of a meter. This increases the surface area of the CBD and makes it easier to absorb, increasing bioavailability.
- Price G, Patel DA. Drug Bioavailability. [Updated 2020 May 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557852/
- Millar SA, Maguire RF, Yates AS, O’Sullivan SE. Towards Better Delivery of Cannabidiol (CBD). Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2020;13(9):E219. Published 2020 Aug 28. doi:10.3390/ph13090219 – PubMed
- Perucca E, Bialer M. Critical Aspects Affecting Cannabidiol Oral Bioavailability and Metabolic Elimination, and Related Clinical Implications. CNS Drugs. 2020;34(8):795-800. doi:10.1007/s40263-020-00741-5 – PubMed
- Taylor L, Gidal B, Blakey G, Tayo B, Morrison G. A Phase I, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Single Ascending Dose, Multiple Dose, and Food Effect Trial of the Safety, Tolerability and Pharmacokinetics of Highly Purified Cannabidiol in Healthy Subjects [published correction appears in CNS Drugs. 2019 Apr;33(4):397]. CNS Drugs. 2018;32(11):1053-1067. doi:10.1007/s40263-018-0578-5 – PubMed PMC
- Cooper GM. The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2000. The Central Role of Enzymes as Biological Catalysts. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9921/
- Brown JD, Winterstein AG. Potential Adverse Drug Events and Drug-Drug Interactions with Medical and Consumer Cannabidiol (CBD) Use. J Clin Med. 2019;8(7):989. Published 2019 Jul 8. doi:10.3390/jcm8070989 – PMC
- Miller EJ, Lappin SL. Physiology, Cellular Receptor. [Updated 2020 May 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554403/
- Pertwee RG. The diverse CB1 and CB2 receptor pharmacology of three plant cannabinoids: delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and delta9-tetrahydrocannabivarin. Br J Pharmacol. 2008;153(2):199-215. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707442 – PMC
- Pertwee RG. Cannabinoid pharmacology: the first 66 years. Br J Pharmacol. 2006;147 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S163-S171. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0706406 – PMC
- Kesner AJ, Lovinger DM. Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids and Sleep. Front Mol Neurosci. 2020;13:125. Published 2020 Jul 22. doi:10.3389/fnmol.2020.00125 – PMC
- Klein C, Hill MN, Chang SC, Hillard CJ, Gorzalka BB. Circulating endocannabinoid concentrations and sexual arousal in women. J Sex Med. 2012;9(6):1588-1601. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02708.x – PMC
- Pandey R, Mousawy K, Nagarkatti M, Nagarkatti P. Endocannabinoids and immune regulation. Pharmacol Res. 2009;60(2):85-92. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2009.03.019 – PMC
- Guerrero-Alba R, Barragán-Iglesias P, González-Hernández A, et al. Some Prospective Alternatives for Treating Pain: The Endocannabinoid System and Its Putative Receptors GPR18 and GPR55. Front Pharmacol. 2019;9:1496. Published 2019 Jan 8. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.01496 – PMC
- Bisogno T, Hanus L, De Petrocellis L, et al. Molecular targets for cannabidiol and its synthetic analogues: effect on vanilloid VR1 receptors and on the cellular uptake and enzymatic hydrolysis of anandamide. Br J Pharmacol. 2001;134(4):845-852. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0704327 – PMC
- Leweke FM, Piomelli D, Pahlisch F, et al. Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia. Transl Psychiatry. 2012;2(3):e94. Published 2012 Mar 20. doi:10.1038/tp.2012.15 – PMC
- Zuardi AW, Crippa JA. Exploring the relationship between cannabidiol and psychosis. Psychiatr Times. 2020;37(9):28-29. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/exploring-relationship-between-cannabidiol-psychosis. Published September 2020. Accessed September 28, 2020.
- Ben-Shabat S, Fride E, Sheskin T, et al. An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity. Eur J Pharmacol. 1998;353(1):23-31. doi:10.1016/s0014-2999(98)00392-6 – PubMed
- Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x – PMC
- Russo EB. The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain. Front Plant Sci. 2019;9:1969. Published 2019 Jan 9. doi:10.3389/fpls.2018.01969 – PMC
- Tomko AM, Whynot EG, Ellis LD, Dupré DJ. Anti-Cancer Potential of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids Present in Cannabis. Cancers (Basel). 2020;12(7):1985. Published 2020 Jul 21. doi:10.3390/cancers12071985 – PMC
- Cogan PS. The ‘entourage effect’ or ‘hodge-podge hashish’: the questionable rebranding, marketing, and expectations of cannabis polypharmacy. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2020;13(8):835-845. doi:10.1080/17512433.2020.1721281 – PubMed
These articles are not intended to serve as medical advice, and in the case of referenced sources, do not necessarily reflect the authors’ or collaborators’ opinions. Our aim is to help present reliable information in a way that’s accessible to the average reader, and we try, to the best of our ability, to preserve the context of our sources in this endeavour.