Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, chances are you’ve at least heard about CBD, short for cannabidiol. It’s one of the hundreds of active ingredients in cannabis (aka marijuana) and hemp. One of its main benefits, according to Olivia Rose, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, Canada, is that it doesn’t cause the ‘high’ feeling you’d typically get from using products containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). “Research on the use of CBD for many health conditions is growing and it seems to have a wide range of potential use, from pain syndromes to insomnia, anxiety and even difficult-to-treat childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS),” she says. “CBD is becoming a viable alternative in cases where patients have exhausted the potential of pharmaceutical medications and other natural treatments.”
How does CBD affect our body?
CBD works by affecting the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles, mood, anxiety, stress, metabolism, inflammation, pain, brain health, etc.—basically everything related to our health. It has nothing to do with being “high.” Still, it’s an important system which plays an integral part in regulation, maintenance, balance, and optimal health. It remains in the immune system, nervous system, and every organ.
How CBD Stacks Up to Its Alternatives
While CBD has been shown to be quite effective in the treatment of a myriad of conditions that we’ve mentioned above, it’s not the only “natural” solution. In fact, there are plenty of non-cannabis plants that can mimic the functions of cannabinoids. According to Dr. Rose, these may have a similar effect, but may not prove to be as potent as CBD alone. “This is primarily because manufacturers typically standardize their product to contain a certain percentage of CBD,” she says. “Herbal medicine is very complex as one plant can contain hundreds of compounds that work in concert to elicit the desired therapeutic effect.” This is why most herbalists and naturopathic practitioners like Dr. Rose tend to use whole plant products—to allow the plant components to act synergistically.
If you’re interested in CBD alternatives, here are some that experts recommend trying:
Known as the purple coneflower, Echinacea has a long history of use by native Americans for cough, sore throat and pain, according to Dr. Rose. It houses a compound known as N-alkyl amides and interacts with the immune system, inflammation, and pain just like THC.
Ginger root is very well known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cannabinoid properties. “It can help relieve pain associated with syndromes such as knee arthritis and premenstrual syndrome,” explains Dr. Rose. “It’s also used in pregnancy to combat nausea and vomiting.”
This native flower of China is more of a treasure, as it is rich with cannabinoids. “It’s involved with the regulation of signaling pathways of the ECS, which control the perception of pain,” says Dr. Rose. It has the ability to fight off inflammation in gout and other joint diseases, and also calms muscle spasms.
Magnolia bark has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and continues to be used as a natural treatment for anxiety and depression. “It may reduce the effects of stress and promote a calming effect on the body by interacting with the ECS,” says Dr. Rose. “It may also promote a more restful sleep.”
“Clove oil contains a special terpene called beta-caryophyllene that’s also found in the cannabis plant,” says Brooke Alpert, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., founder of B Nutritious and Daily Habit.
How CBD Stacks Against Them
All of the above natural remedies regulate the endocannabinoid system in much the same way as CBD. However, Dr. Rose points out that each herb constituent has a different mode of action within the ECS. “One major difference between CBD extracts and the above herbs is how it’s produced,” she says. “CBD products are manufactured to highlight CBD through standardization, while herbal products such as echinacea aren’t necessarily standardized to exploit the cannabimimetic components.” This, she explains, makes it a challenge to compare the potency of CBD to other herbal remedies that may similarly influence the ECS.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that there are some short-term side effects of consuming cannabis, such as increased heart rate, coordination of mind and body, panic, and hallucinations. If you’re unsure as to whether or not CBD is right for you, consider speaking with your primary care provider who can further discuss your options.