Cannabis Cure-All?

By Samantha Georgson | Illustration By Holly Tyler

As the push to legalize medical marijuana continues, CBD is taking center stage as a popular new remedy for a wide range of ailments. As it becomes more mainstream, it’s important to understand exactly what CBD is, what it is not, and why it matters. Jennifer Helmer, an herbalist at Community Pharmacy in Madison, breaks down this seeming panacea, specifically with regard to women’s health.

All cannabis plants, including hemp and marijuana, contain an array of compounds called cannabinoids. The two most common are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive element in cannabis, and CBD (cannabidiol).

Pure CBD is made from hemp and under U.S. law, the difference between marijuana and hemp has everything to do with THC levels. “To be classified as hemp, it can contain no more than 0.3 percent of THC,” says Helmer. “So, the short answer is no, over-the-counter CBD products will not get you high.”

Cannabinoids don’t just come from the cannabis plant. We also make them in our bodies.

“We have a network of cannabinoids and receptors in our bodies, the endocannabinoid system,” says Helmer. “This system is responsible for keeping the body in balance, or in homeostasis.” The endocannabinoid system influences everything from our appetite and anxiety levels, to our perception of pain.

While research regarding CBD is limited, so far it’s promising. “We’re seeing high success rates with pain and anxiety,” Helmer says. She refers to cannabinoids as the “bliss chemical,” and says that, in cases of mild anxiety and depression, CBD simply works to “restore a sense of calm, allowing women to feel centered throughout the day.”

CBD oil is also a well-established anti-inflammatory and is starting to be used as treatment in cases of fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that is more commonly diagnosed in women, characterized by widespread pain.

CBD is made into elixirs, capsules, balms and other products touted for beauty, stress reduction and wellness. “CBD hasn’t been proven to legitimately cure any specific ailment,” Helmer notes, “but it helps with healing; there’s a real synergy there.”