I can't say I don't “do drugs”…
…but my drug use looks nothing like what you might be thinking.
Since high school and college, when my drugs of choice were creatine, caffeine, and canned protein shakes, my interest in drugs has been mostly limited to those that uplevel my energy, mood, workouts, and health—and not founded on some kind of escapism-based use of fringe or damaging drug substances.
Anyways, my interest in “drugs” with health-enhancing benefits hasn't waned since college, and I now thoroughly appreciate playing around with different ways to optimize cognition, improve mood, and aid in workout recovery, such as the use of nootropics (I recently devoted two articles to nootropics, and you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here). I also still, as a lifelong coffee lover, utilize caffeine strategically to bolster my energy, concentration, and mood. But perhaps the “healthy drug” I've talked most about in the past—and still swear by daily—is cannabidiol (CBD).
Let's do a quick review of CBD basics…
First things first: CBD is not weed.
When people talk about weed (or pot or marijuana), what they're probably talking about is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is one of more than 85 active cannabinoids found in the hemp or cannabis plant. THC is the part of the plant that induces a high or euphoric state—what you're thinking of when you, say, recall your older brother's stoner friends getting high and mowing down brownies in the basement. While I still would never consider myself a pothead by any means, lately I have been evaluating edible THC for exercise performance, a subject that I talked about in-depth on a recent podcast with Josiah Hesse, who advocates for cannabis for exercise performance enhancement, and I also talk about it in this article on the effect of weed on exercise.
What I'm going to get into this article, though, is CBD, another active cannabinoid which in fact accounts for up to 40% of the cannabis plant's total cannabinoid extract. While recreational marijuana is currently only legal in 17 states—though this number is consistently rising—CBD is legal in all 50 states. (I go into the chemistry of cannabis, THC, and CBD in greater detail, and also walk you through the history of CBD, here: Get All The Health Benefits Of Smoking Weed Without Actually Smoking Weed.) CBD, unlike THC, benefits your endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps to keep your body balanced (more on that below).
In Chapter 5 of my book Boundless, I talk in detail about how I dose CBD to manage anxiety and stress, improve focus, and promote deep, restorative sleep. An effective dose begins at 10 mg, and as with any supplement that is new to you, I recommend starting at the lowest dose and slowly increasing it until you achieve the desired effects. Personally, I've found that 10-20 mg is my magic number for daily mood and focus improvement, while higher doses of 30-40 mg work wonders for sleep (I've taken doses as high as 100 mg for sleep, slept like a baby, and woke up refreshed without grogginess, though I would not recommend this dosage without a solid understanding of CBD and how it works on your individual chemistry).
Later in Boundless (Chapter 12), I get into the specific benefits of CBD, which are noteworthy—in fact, Dr. Tod Mikuriya, the former national administrator of the US government's marijuana research programs, stated that no other single drug or substance has as many therapeutic benefits as cannabis—and in addition to mood, focus, and sleep improvement, CBD is potent against both acute (such as injury and workout recovery) and long-term inflammation (which can contribute to serious health conditions including Alzheimer's, cancer, and heart disease).
The evidence that CBD is a powerful health enhancer is indisputable, which is why I have written and podcasted on it extensively in the past. I continue to get CBD questions posted in response to those articles and podcast episodes as more research is published and CBD shops are showing up in nearly every town in every state. That being said, I thought it would be a good time to revisit a question and answer session, and I asked my social media team to take a poll to determine the most popular CBD questions, and then I asked my friend Adam Wenguer of Element Health if he'd help with the answers.
I met Adam training at a gym in Miami, Florida, where he grew up practicing and developing a deep passion for martial arts. For the last 12 years, Adam has trained extensively in boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, and is a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Adam was treated with pharmaceutical opioids after suffering a spine and leg injury in college and found himself—as so many do—falling into the deadly trap of addiction. Thankfully, Adam recovered and began a spiritual journey that included immersion in Zen Buddhist meditation and Shamanic healing traditions.
In 2017, Adam founded Element Health, which is one of the leading suppliers of the highest-quality full-spectrum CBD products in the world, and the brand that I personally rely on daily. Adam and I podcasted together on The Official CBD FAQ: Everything You’ve Always Wanted To Know About CBD, Combining Psychedelics With Cannabinoids, Smokeable Ayahuasca, Microdosing With Plant Medicine & Much More!, which was a wildly popular episode of the show. Anyways, Adam may have the most extensive knowledge base of CBD information of anyone I've met, so I thought he'd be the perfect person to answer your questions.
Your Top 7 CBD Questions Answered
Hi, I'm Adam.
I field plenty of CBD questions daily at Element Health, and over the past four years since I founded the company, I've learned that while certain questions tend to resurface over and over, new questions also emerge as a result of the latest research or perhaps even as the general public's knowledge about CBD grows.
Below, I've answered what Ben has told me are the CBD questions that he is getting over and over.
Let's dive in…
Question #1: How does the consistent use of CBD affect hormones? Can it lower testosterone?
When discussing the therapeutic and medicinal use of CBD products amongst the general population, the psychoactive effects are usually of primary interest. This includes reducing stress or pain, boosting creativity or focus, increasing drowsiness for sleep, or simply trying to have a great time on your Saturday night.
However, the way that CBD affects the body with regard to hormonal systems has been of interest to researchers for nearly 50 years.
The studies that have been done on male and female sex hormones have supplied a mixed bag of results, especially when considering the vast differences between high-THC cannabis vs. high-CBD hemp products. We do know for certain, however, that cortisol (one of the body’s primary stress hormones) is directly and indirectly affected by THC and CBD. For example, THC has been shown to cause an acute spike in cortisol levels. In contrast, CBD was found to interfere with the secretion of cortisol, causing a decrease in circulating levels. Understanding the effects of THC and CBD on cortisol can help us better understand the secondary effects these compounds have on a sex hormone like testosterone. When cortisol is elevated, testosterone production can be inhibited, so it's feasible that THC can indirectly have a negative effect on testosterone levels due to the elevation in cortisol, while CBD may have a positive effect on testosterone levels because it limits cortisol.
The research on the direct effects of THC on testosterone levels has mixed results. Early research has shown that THC reduced serum testosterone levels and decreased sperm count/motility in men while also negatively affecting ovulation in women, causing irregular menstrual cycles. However, some recent studies have shown that mild use of THC has actually been associated with temporary small increases in testosterone when compared to a placebo group.
There have not been many studies on CBD and its effect on testosterone, but if you think about some of the general causes of low testosterone, such as high stress levels, increased levels of inflammation, and lack of sleep, to name a few, it stands to reason that CBD could help improve levels. Researchers are now studying whether the stress and inflammatory relief effects from CBD, as well as its ability to improve sleep, are indirect means for keeping testosterone levels optimized in both men and women. (Ben just wrote an article on testosterone with plenty of information on how to naturally boost testosterone, which you can read here.)
Question #2: How do you identify good CBD?
The two primary types of CBD products are full-spectrum hemp/CBD and CBD isolate.
Full-spectrum hemp/CBD oil has been found to be the superior form compared to other varieties of CBD oil.
Full-spectrum oil (aka whole-plant extract), contains not only CBD but a host of other naturally occurring cannabinoids and compounds found in the hemp plant. For example, full-spectrum oil contains flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and neuroprotective properties. CBD isolate is a form of pure CBD that has been further processed and is stripped of all other components.
Research has repeatedly shown (alongside overwhelming anecdotal evidence) that full-spectrum oils can provide greater relief and more substantial positive benefits than CBD isolate. Researchers attribute this to what is known as the “entourage effect.” When many different cannabinoids are consumed together with other natural plant compounds found in hemp, there is a synergistic effect.
A high-quality full-spectrum hemp-based CBD oil will have a rich amber or brownish color and a very earthy flavor. It will be extracted with CO2 or ethanol, and the company should be able to provide rigorous third-party testing results.
Question #3: How can I intensify the effects of CBD (particularly with sleep)?
Most people use CBD for its ability to increase deep sleep, minimize excess stress or anxiety, and better manage inflammation or pain.
When looking to maximize these effects and to increase the absorption of a quality full-spectrum oil, it’s best to keep in mind that CBD should be viewed more as a holistic tool to improve your overall health than as a band-aid to cover a specific wound.
When used properly, a full-spectrum hemp oil that is loaded with a variety of cannabinoids can provide incredible relief and promote homeostasis—a state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions within your body. But if you don’t time your ingestion properly or use an adequate dose, you may think that CBD simply doesn’t work. You may respond to a very low dose and experience profound effects, but others, like myself, require a whole lot more to achieve the desired results.
When taking a quality CBD oil, it’s very important to place the drops directly under your tongue and leave them there for at least one minute. This type of administration (sublingual or under the tongue) has been found to be superior for absorption compared to just taking the oil by mouth and swallowing. CBD is fat-soluble which is why it is usually found in a carrier oil. This will improve the bio-availability and absorption, allowing it to then be carried to the proper tissues in the body. Many companies use MCT oil as the carrier oil. MCT oil is a supplement made from a type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides, which can be found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products. At Element Health we prefer organic hemp seed oil as the carrier oil because it contains vitamins, healthy fats, and polyphenols. Studies show that the CBD levels in your body are increased anywhere from 4-14 times by ingesting it with fatty food/oil.
As mentioned above, one of the most potent benefits of CBD oil is that it helps with deep, restorative sleep, and because so many Americans suffer from a lack of good sleep, how to optimize usage for sleep is one of the most common CBD questions we get at Element Health. Ben uses our CBD oil most nights to improve his sleep—you can read much more about CBD and sleep in this article. (And you can get 15% off Element Health's oils with code Ben15.)
Question #4: Are topicals just as effective as oral CBD?
There are important differences between topical CBD products and oral CBD.
The form that you should choose is completely based on your needs.
Topical CBD products are primarily used to minimize excess pain and inflammation on a local level. For example, if you are experiencing specific knee pain from arthritic joint inflammation or if you strained a muscle in your bicep while at the gym, topical CBD might fit your needs. You can rub a bit of CBD pain-relieving salve or cream on the area and generally expect relief in 20-40 minutes. A reputable company that sells topical CBD with a full-spectrum hemp/CBD oil (not just CBD isolate) may also include other therapeutic herbs like arnica (a genus of perennial, herbaceous plants in the sunflower family) to assist in soothing those aches and pains.
Oral CBD assists not only with pain management but has a laundry list of positive health effects that are well documented. Alleviating tension and excess stress while greatly improving sleep scores are just a few of the benefits that I experience with a high-quality full-spectrum CBD oil. I even use low doses in the morning to improve my focus and clarity for the day and find that it mitigates any jittery effects that I can sometimes experience with too much caffeine (more on that below). If I am completely overtrained, with my muscles and nervous system totally shot, feeling like I’ve been hit by a train—which is common for endurance athletes like myself, martial artists, and extreme sports athletes—a high dose of cannabinoids can bring me back to a parasympathetic nervous system state. It tones down the excess noise and allows me to relax so my body can get into an optimal state for healing and recovery.
Both forms of CBD have a place in my own supplement routine for different purposes, and I encourage you to consider trying both to find which is ideal for your particular health challenges, with the guidelines above kept in mind.
Question #5: How does CBD work with other molecules like THC and caffeine?
The THC found in cannabis has been touted as a miracle drug in the last decade, with research clearly demonstrating an abundance of positive effects ranging from improving appetite and reducing nausea to providing pain relief and reducing tumor size (in animal studies).
The second most abundant cannabinoid found in traditional cannabis and the most prevalent in hemp, CBD has a wide range of positive benefits in itself.
The beauty of these two compounds is that they so elegantly balance each other with regards to the effects on the individual consuming them. With all of THC’s health benefits comes a host of psychoactive effects that some people simply do not want to experience. THC is the cannabinoid that produces the “high” or “stoned” effect which recreationally can be enjoyable or even used to enhance your meditation, breathwork, or yoga practice. The problem is that some people are very sensitive to THC, or they use too much and massive anxiety can be the end result. Not exactly fun to have a panic attack in the middle of a concert surrounded by thousands of people! Welcome CBD. CBD in itself produces a calming and relaxing effect without the THC high and can alleviate stress, allowing you to better enjoy social situations. And, when mixed with THC, CBD can minimize or even eliminate the negative effects of THC.
Similar to how it’s used in conjunction with THC, CBD is also a balancing and complementary compound to caffeine. Caffeine is one of the most well-studied and effective stimulatory and ergogenic aids out there. (Ben recently wrote a great, comprehensive article about the latest research on caffeine.) However, certain side effects, like increasing anxiety or potentially causing an upset stomach, may reduce caffeine's efficacy as a performance enhancer. Microdosing (or lower dosing) CBD in the morning has been found to provide more clarity and focus, while simultaneously reducing the jittery sensation that is often associated with ingesting too much caffeine. One fascinating effect of CBD is its ability to inhibit the CYP450 enzyme, which is responsible for metabolizing caffeine. This will lengthen the amount of time in which caffeine can stay in the body. This is more reason to use it earlier in the day, especially if you are prone to sleep issues from stimulants.
CBD has also been studied as a potent anti-nausea compound that can work exceptionally well at keeping caffeine’s gut-punching properties at bay. Seeing as CBD has only become very popular in the last five years, most of the wisdom on combining these two compounds is based on anecdotal evidence. Everyone has a different response to both CBD and caffeine so it’s crucial to start low and go up slowly when experimenting with this combination.
Microdosing CBD with nicotine is another combination that can work similarly to caffeine and CBD—nicotine can sharpen focus and improve brain activity but may result in overstimulation and jitters, and CBD can take the edge off (Ben talks about this on his podcast with “the smartest physician on the planet,” Dr. Ted Achacoso).
Question #6: What is the best timing and regimen to optimize the endocannabinoid system for workout recovery?
I was not surprised to hear that this was one of the top CBD questions from the BGF audience.
And it's a great question.
The main function of your endocannabinoid system (ECS) is to maintain a state of homeostasis and balance within your body (this previous article of Ben's goes in-depth on the ECS). It’s important to know that THC causes a cascade of effects via your ECS because it directly binds to cannabinoid receptors, which are part of the ECS. CBD, on the other hand, will optimize the endocannabinoid system, essentially creating a more balanced system, allowing it to work with greater efficiency with your body’s naturally produced endocannabinoids.
This article provides in-depth wisdom on the benefits of CBD for recovery. A 2020 study also demonstrated that CBD can increase your rate of recovery and have a significant influence on DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from exercise-induced muscle damage. The exact mechanism is unknown, but it may be caused by CBD’s influence on sleep and inflammation.
As with most recovery-based supplements—whether an antioxidant or a compound that affects inflammation levels—I always wait at least two hours after my workout before taking it. The same would be true for CBD. The reason for waiting is that most of the research shows that post-workout inflammation is necessary for proper recovery.
It’s important to know that to maximize recovery, sleep and nutrition are the two most important factors. CBD can help significantly with the sleep part of that equation. I focus on taking my CBD oil once a day, in the late evening. This will suffice for optimizing my body’s endocannabinoid system and getting me primed for deep sleep and recovery. However, I also keep my CBD bottle on my bedside table in case I wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. A dropper under the tongue with some breathwork to follow and I’m back to catching ZZZs, usually within 20 minutes.
If you are experiencing higher levels of stress in the daytime, you can take CBD twice a day, just make sure it’s not within two hours of your hardest workout.
Question #7: Can you build up a tolerance to CBD? Should you cycle your usage?
In both human and animal studies, there were no identifiable markers of physical dependence with CBD which include tolerance or withdrawal.
There have also been no case reports of abuse or dependence.
As mentioned above, CBD is known to optimize the endocannabinoid system, contributing to the state of homeostasis in the body. This differs from high THC found in traditional cannabis which directly binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are the two main endocannabinoid receptors found all over the body, from the brain and spinal cord to the endocrine glands and digestive system. Over time, regular consumption of THC results in a decrease in binding and density of those receptors, causing your body to need to take in more THC to continue to get “high.”
An interesting fact about CBD is that in many cases, a reverse tolerance is noted, meaning that less is needed over time to experience the same benefits. Many individuals find that once they experience balance and a higher functioning endocannabinoid system, as sleep and recovery are improved and levels of inflammation are reduced, dosages can be lowered while the same overall sense of well-being is experienced.
There you have it…
…the answers to your most-asked CBD questions.
I know I say this again and again, but it bears repeating: whenever you consider trying a substance that has a notable impact on your functioning, like CBD, nootropics, or even that everyday morning staple, caffeine, it's important to understand how it works in your body, recommended administration practices, and the potential risks. And because there are now countless numbers of CBD brands out there, you need to choose carefully to ensure that you're taking a supplement that is both safe and effective. I like Adam’s Element Health CBD because it's a potent, ultra-concentrated, full-spectrum CBD extract dissolved in organic, raw, cold-pressed hemp seed oil that's made in the U.S. and third-party tested. (You can get 15% off Element Health's CBD oils with code Ben15.)
The following is a quick review of Adam’s answers to your top CBD questions:
- There have not been many studies on CBD and testosterone, but high stress, inflammation, and lack of sleep lower testosterone levels, and considering CBD has proven benefits for stress, inflammation, and sleep, it's probable that CBD could help raise testosterone levels. It's also probable that because CBD decreases cortisol, and cortisol inhibits testosterone, that CBD oil has an indirect positive effect on testosterone levels.
- A high-quality, full-spectrum hemp/CBD oil extracted with CO2 or ethanol and subject to rigorous third-party testing results is the most superior form of CBD oil
- To intensify the effects of CBD oil, place drops directly under your tongue and leave them there for at least one minute.
- Whether you use topical or edible CBD is dependent on your needs; topical is ideal for acute stressors while edible CBD is ideal for general health improvements.
- CBD can be used to balance and complement the effects of caffeine and THC.
- CBD is excellent for workout recovery, but Adam recommends waiting at least two hours after his workout before taking it.
- There has been no evidence of physical dependence, abuse, or withdrawal with CBD. Less is needed over time for the same benefits (reverse tolerance).
Whether using CBD to stabilize insulin, balance hormones, improve sleep, or induce a host of other health benefits, I hope that Adam's answers will help you effectively make CBD part of your daily routine or further your knowledge if you're already with me on the CBD bandwagon.
What do you think? Have you found CBD to be helpful for reducing anxiety, improving sleep, aiding in workout recovery, or for other conditions? Are there other questions that you would like answered in a future article? Leave your thoughts, comments, or questions below, and Adam or I will respond!