Beauty is likewise keeping pace with the turning tide. Many of today’s top brands, like Lush, currently use CBD as a key active ingredient. Short for cannabidiol, a naturally occurring compound of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, CBD is garnering praise for its range of dermal benefits. “More and more research is being done with CBD, and the results are incredible,” reports Mollie Twining, founding partner of CBD For Life, an innovative line that uses 99 percent pure CBD extract in pain-management and beauty products. “Its qualities are beneficial for all skin types when applied in various formulations.”BREAKING IT DOWN
Examine the compounds present in Cannabis sativa, and you’ll find a class of molecules called cannabinoids. CBD is only one of them, though it was the first to be scientifically identified in the 1940s. Since then, others have been discovered, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964 and the lesser-known cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabidivarin (CBD-V). “Scientists have pinpointed cannabinoids in other botanicals as well,” reports Erica Ragusa, founder of Ambika Herbals, a Colorado-based herbal apothecary. “For example, cannabigerol (CBG) is present in the helichrysum species, which are part of the sunflower family.”CBD interacts with our bodies in an interesting and unique way. It works through what’s called our endocannabinoid system (ECS), sometimes jokingly referred to as a human’s Goldilocks system, as it’s responsible for ensuring, among other things, that body temperatures don’t spike too hot or drop too cold and blood sugar levels don’t plummet too low or shoot too high. The ECS wants conditions to remain just right, and thus it helps maintain optimal balance–aka homeostasis.
The ECS is made up of receptors, of which two have been identified to date: CB1 (abundant in our central nervous systems) and CB2 (typically occurring on immune cells and in gastrointestinal tracts). More are believed to exist, but those were the first observed in the early 2000s, and remain the most studied. CB1 is the receptor that interacts with THC to produce a psychotropic high. Its mellow CBD sister, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive. “CBD binds to the CB2 receptors, which are not the receptors that result in hallucinogenic effects,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Further, CBD oil is naturally low in THC.
“In fact, in order to be considered legal hemp, there must be a concentration of 0.3 percent THC or less present in the oil,” Ragusa explains. Though numbers vary depending on item, most high-quality CBD oil-based products fall well below that mark, averaging a total of 0.1 percent THC. In other words, CBD oil found in skincare and beauty products cannot get users high. (Side note: Because THC is known to have some medicinal value, products containing this cannabinoid are also currently being investigated for use on skin. “In states where medical marijuana is regulated and sold legally, THC-based skincare offerings are already available at dispensaries,” explains Kristi Blustein, founder of botanical skincare line KHUS+KHUS.)
“I like to incorporate CBD into my products because, like so many botanicals, it bears countless interesting qualities.”
—Erica Ragusa, founder, Ambika Herbals
We owe much of our current knowledge on the topic of THC versus CBD to Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, an Israeli organic chemist who in the 1960s pioneered groundbreaking cannabis research to help combat 20th-century stigmas against its use. Though to many the idea of ingesting marijuana for its health and beauty benefits remains a tough pill to swallow, due to Dr. Mechoulam, we do now unequivocally understand that different cannabinoids affect us in different ways.
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