Your No-B.S. Guide to Understanding CBD, Once and for All


I currently live in the cannabis capital of Europe: Amsterdam. (Disclaimer: Amsterdam is rich in culture and diversity and much more than just a cannabis haven but, for the purpose of this story, let's go with that statement). The first thing you smell when you arrive outside Schipol airport is the unmistakable aroma of weed lingering in the air. Inhaling secondhand smoke as you head to your Uber, you feel your shoulders relax and your mind unravel, even if it's only very slightly, and undoubtedly a placebo effect. Wafts of it trail around the city, while tourists line up outside coffee shops (code name for cannabis sellers) to smoke weed or buy a gram or more to take away.

Incidentally, Amsterdam is also the calmest and most well-natured city I've ever known. It was King's Day at the weekend—a day to celebrate the King's birthday, where people pile out onto the streets and the canal-woven city becomes one big party. With people jostling and drinking, you would expect trouble to break out, but there was none. This city was cool, calm and collected.

In America, it's not legal in every state to smoke cannabis, but what is far more accessible these days is CBD—short for cannabidiol. Every day, new products boasting CBD benefits launch in different forms, from skincare to tinctures. Then, Kim Kardashian went and had a CBD-themed baby shower, which brought it even more into the mainstream. But if you're still not quite sure whether you need to factor it into your wellness or skincare routine (or your friend's imminent baby shower for that matter), don't worry. We spoke to a host of CBD experts that will help you delve into the subject and revealing everything you need to know.

Kim Baby Shower
 Kim Kardashian Instagram

What Is CBD?

"CBD is a cannabinoid found in both the female hemp and cannabis plant," explains Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of, a website devoted to all things cannabis. "It’s one of over one hundred known cannabinoids (or chemicals) found in weed that may have therapeutic effects."

And while these plants are made up of hundreds of chemicals, CBD is abundant—"typically accounting for 40% of the plant’s extract," says Matthew Mills, founder of hemp-oil based wellness brand Mineral Health.

Can CBD Make You Feel High?

In short: no. "Only one compound in weed gets you high, and that’s THC or tetrahydrocannabinol," explains Palermino.

"CBD is not psychoactive, so you will not get high, stoned or give you the munchies," adds Brooke Alpert, licensed cannabis practitioner and registered dietitian, nutritionist, and author."Any of the stereotypes associated with smoking weed do not apply when it comes to CBD." So, THC and CBD may both be derived from the same plant, but they affect your body completely differently.

What Are the Benefits of CBD?

To understand the benefits of CBD, we have to talk first about our endocannabinoid system (ECS). All animals, humans included, have an endocannabinoid system. "This system regulates brain and endocrine function [responsible for your hormones], along with your immune system, and is constantly trying to find a state of balance," explains Palermino.

The system was discovered in the 1990s by Dr. L.A. Matsuda, and there is still a lot about this system that the scientific world doesn't know. What we do know is that we have at least two cannabinoid receptors: CB-1 receptors, which are situated in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), and CB-2 receptors, located in our digestive system, immune system, and organs. Knowing this means that there is a way to see exactly how CBD affects the body through a more scientific lens.

"THC will physically bind to receptors in your brain and body that are part of your endocannabinoid system, which will alter your perception, mood, and can get you high," explains Palermino. "CBD sets off chain reactions in terms of activating receptors in your ECS system, mostly interacting with your CB-2 receptors, which are not in your central nervous system or brain."

There's more. "CBD oil works on the ECS system and naturally increases anandamide, which is known as the ‘bliss molecule' within the body," says Alix Woods, a nutritionist, working in collaboration with CannabiGold. "This plays a role in neural pleasure pathways and enhances our overall sense of well-being."

According to Mills, CBD benefits are primarily anti-inflammatory. And as we know, inflammation in the body can adversely affect us in so many different ways, from heart disease and diabetes to acne and arthritis.

Proponents of CBD's effect on the cannabinoid system claim that it can improve your mood, sleep quality, and confidence levels, as well as provide pain and nerve relief through calming inflammation. Woods even claims it can help boost your memory and help with diabetes, heart disease, bone and joint health, and overall well-being.

Are There Any Studies That Back Up These CBD Benefit Claims?

A 2018 review found that there is serious promise in CBD's ability to ease inflammation, with the author writing, "Cannabis-derivative-based medicines may be able to enrich the drug treatment arsenal for chronic pain and inflammation conditions, although this is very much open to debate at the moment."

Other studies have found that CBD helps with anxiety-induced insomnia and when it comes to sleep, CBD doesn't just improve quality. "It stops the overthinking that may occur in the early hours of the morning," adds Woods. "Insomniacs find it helpful, and as a natural analgesic or pain-relieving agent, it helps people in pain to sleep better."

As for CBD and anxiety, something more and more of us are facing on a daily basis, one study found CBD can help, "especially for people who do public speaking," says Woods. "The study showed that they experienced less anxiety, difficulty and felt more confident delivering their talks."

On the medical front, in June of 2018, the FDA approved the drug Epidiolex, the first drug made with medical-grade cannabidiol, to treat two rare forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome.

Why Is CBD Suddenly So Popular?

Underground, CBD has been gaining steam for years but it's only in recent months it's been the topic on everyone's lips. "The Farm Bill helped when it made hemp products legal and separated it from THC-containing products," says Alpert. "I think people are also starting to drop the stigma that’s been associated with CBD and realize the health benefits that this awesome plant can provide."

Other factors are at play. "Hemp crops are yielding a better return rate than tobacco crops," notes Woods. "Consumers [are more] curious for plant-based alternatives to expensive pharmaceuticals."

CBD supplements

How Do You Take CBD?

There are many different ways you can incorporate CBD into your daily wellness and beauty routines. Woods breaks it down below:

It may be smoked/vaped via:

  • Crystalline isolates
  • Wax
  • CBD e-liquids

What to know: Vaping is said to be the quickest way to deliver CBD to your brain and body. The effect for some is instant.

It can be used in topical applications:

  • Transdermal patches
  • CBD infused balms, salves, lotions, shampoos, and soaps

What to know: These are convenient in the application, but may take a little while to take effect. "Because of ECS receptors in our skin, CBD used topically allows for better bioavailability and takes all the other ingredients in the formula along for the ride, which is why choosing a clean formula is key," explains Dorian Morris, founder of clean beauty brand Undefined Beauty.

And finally, ingested as:

  • CBD drops (tinctures) or as raw hemp oil
  • CBD capsules
  • Spray under the tongue
  • CBD-infused water
  • CBD-infused chewing gum and food
  • CBD-infused cooking oil

What to know: Eating CBD-infused foods may sustain the effect for longer. However, it may take a while to take effect and their bioavailability is lower.

"Tinctures and smoking and topicals have high bioavailability, meaning your stomach won’t digest away the CBD," adds Palermino. "It looks like taking a CBD tincture under your tongue leaves about 20%+ bioavailability (meaning how much CBD actually makes it into your system), smoking leaves 30 to 40% bioavailability, and topicalsdepending on how they’re formulated and their transdermal technologycan have high bioavailability as well." She mentions that eating CBD is her least favorite way to use it, because you're only getting around 6% of the CBD actually in your food of choice.

How Much CBD Do You Need?


With the CBD industry being in its infancy, there is no recommended daily allowance as yet. Woods suggests starting with 25mg twice per day and building up until you get the desired effect.

"You need to start with dosing and the method in which you ingest," says Palermino. "No two people are the same and there is so much variance in the unregulated hemp market that it’s hard to know the actual dose you’re getting."

Below, Palermino has shared some CBD dosage guidelines:

"Start with 1 to 2 mg of CBD per kg of bodyweight. (For context, I weigh 135 pounds and I take around 100-200mg of full-spectrum CBD daily.)" If that feels too high, Kiana Reeves, a woman's health advocate, doula, somatic sex educator, and chief brand educator at Foria, recommends around 20 mg to start.

"With topicals for pain, brands can't federally make claims about pain and CBD, so any “pain creams” have camphor and menthol [for a cooling effect]. While sprays can have a better transdermal tech, when it comes to CBD lotions, look for 200mg per oz.

Smoking is my favorite way to consume CBD. I have my eighth and roll it. It’s pretty safe to experiment, as it’s nothing like THC."

Is CBD Illegal?

CBD is legal when it is derived from hemp. "Hemp has less than 0.3% THC, but if the CBD is derived from cannabis, it has to come from a plant with less than 0.4% THC," Palermino explains. "Otherwise, it will be considered illegal in states where cannabis hasn't been legalized yet." Confusing, yes. Since the laws vary from state to state, it's worth doing your research if you're taking a road trip. And be cautious when going abroad, as CBD is legal in some countries but not others. For example, it is legal everywhere in Europe, except Slovakia. Go figure.

When Purchasing CBD What Should Shoppers Keep in Mind?


"Do your research and be very skeptical of brands," advises Palermino. "Ask for their Certificate of Analysis for both their products and by batch. If they can’t give that to you… buy somewhere else."

Mills adds that the brand should be able to tell you exactly where the hemp is grown. "I’m the biggest CBD advocate out there but it’s important to remember that it’s not a miracle supplement," he says. "CBD is ineffective alone in any application. Consumers should look for cannabis products rich in cannabinoids, terpenes, fatty acids, and vitamins that are essential to bioavailability and efficiency in the body. Properly formulated cannabis products will mix crude and distillate oil with terpenes to accentuate the medicinal benefits of particular cannabinoids." (It's best to ask brands directly if you have questions about terpenes since currently, you won't be able to see them in the ingredients list.)

To get the most out of CBD, Woods recommends that you seek the advice of a professional therapist or GP. "Be aware of drug interactions too," she warns. "For example, grapefruit juice can inhibit the effect of CBD oil. Start with the lowest dose, note improvement in symptoms and adjust dosage accordingly."

Some Say How CBD Products Are Marketed As Glamorizing Drug Use...

"I look at cannabis and CBD as a botanical which can unlock immense skincare benefits and not a drug," says Morris. "I think brands that focus on education will win in the end."

"Does [the adaptogen] ashwagandha glamorize drug use?" notes Palermino. "No, but I’m sure some will find a way to twist something therapeutic. Alcohol is established to be terrible and cause so many deaths, and while I don’t advocate getting super high on THC (especially when you’re under 21 years old), even the DEA on their website admits that no one has died from cannabis."

Anything Else We Need to Know About CBD?

One other important thing to note: currently, the CBD industry is sidelining women and women of color. "Women get 2% of all Venture Capital investment, and when you look at women of color that number plummets," notes Palermino. "If you think the industry will naturally reward people and not people with access to capital (white men) you’re delusional." She puts a call to action out to our elected officials to use tax dollars to create programs for funding the businesses and communities that were hurt the most by the war on drugs.

"The cannabis industry was built off the backs of the Black and Brown community, which are being denied access to the commercialization opportunity now that the regulatory landscape has shifted," says Morris. "Undefined is focused on destigmatizing and elevating CBD and, taking it one step further, my goal is to infuse social good and purposeful impact into my business model to drive sustainable impact." She notes that her first collection, Indigo Rose, was focused on CBD and her social cause is female incarceration, given the fact that many of the women are in jail because of cannabis-related charges.

"I want to bring positivity from something that once was negative," she continues. "I want to be the bridge and operate by the model of do good, be good." Undefined also empowers disenfranchised communities across throughout its supply chain, focusing on women-owned and minority-owned businesses, and the manufacturing lab and warehouse are both female-funded.

CBD Products We (and Our Experts) Love:

Soul Addict X Nice Paper
Soul Addict x Nice Paper Premium Hemp Prerolls $46

These contain less than 0.3% THC, so they won't get you high.

CannabiGold Classic
CannabiGold Classic Supplement 500mg $39

An oral supplement, this contains 5mg of CBD per pump and contains terpenes to help with absorption.

Not Pot gummies
Not Pot Vegan CBD Gummies $40

Vegan and strawberry-flavored, these make getting your daily dose of CBD easy (and yummy).

Wildflower Aches CBD Vaporizer
Wildflower Aches CBD Vaporizer $60

Micro-dosing CBD for pain relief is made easy with this discreet vape pen.

Daily Habit CBD Powder
Daily Habit CBD Powder $69

A great entry product; simply add this powder to your daily smoothie.

I-Pekar CBD Roller
Ildi Pekar Uplifting Blend Infused with CBD oil $58

Applied topically, this CBD-enriched blend is designed to ease aches and pains. Apply it to pressure points.

Mineral Health Focus
Mineral Health Robyn No.4 Focus $90

Mineral Health's potent formulas are designed to be dropped under the tongue. This is designed for focus but you can choose from Sleep and Balance, too. (Our editorial director swears by the brand's Maison salve.)

Undefined Glow Gelee
Undefined Indigo Rose Glow Gelée $48

Packed with actives, not only does this serum boast CBD, but also skin resurfacing AHAs and BHAs, alongside vitamin c, soothing aloe, and nourishing squalane.

Next up, the best CBD skincare products this way (and how to decipher them).

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Zou S, Kumar U. Cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system: signaling and function in the central nervous systemInt J Mol Sci. 2018;19(3):833. doi:10.3390/ijms19030833

  2. Bruni N, Della Pepa C, Oliaro-Bosso S, Pessione E, Gastaldi D, Dosio F. Cannabinoid delivery systems for pain and inflammation treatmentMolecules. 2018;23(10):2478. doi:10.3390/molecules23102478

  3. Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: a large case seriesPerm J. 2019;23:18‐041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041

  4. Bergamaschi MM, Queiroz RH, Chagas MH, et al. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patientsNeuropsychopharmacology. 2011;36(6):1219‐1226. doi:10.1038/npp.2011.6

  5. Perucca E. Cannabinoids in the treatment of epilepsy: hard evidence at lastJ Epilepsy Res. 2017;7(2):61‐76. doi:10.14581/jer.17012

Related Stories