February 7, 2016

Getting the Flax Straight About CBD

A research team based in Poland may have discovered that a CBD-like compound is a major component of the flax plant. The Cannabis plant makes CBD (Cannabidiol), a miraculous plant compound that demonstrates the potential to treat a wide range of diseases with virtually no side effects.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered the presence of a CBD-like compound  in flax accidentally. They were analyzing genetically modified flax plants and comparing them to natural flax plants.  The team noted that the production of several compounds was slightly enhanced in the GMO plants and decided to identify them.

Further analysis revealed that CBD-like compounds were prevalent in many parts of the flax plant and their products, such as such as fibers, seeds, leaves, and seedcakes.

The authors believe the beneficial actions of flax (such anti-inflammatory effects) may be due to the presence of this CBD-like compound. However, the mechanism of CBD’s benefits remains a mystery since CBD does not activate the same receptors as THC.

THC acts on the cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2, which are part of the endocanabinoid system (ECS). The ECS includes the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), as well as a variety of other compounds and additional receptors. Scientists may someday discover the mechanism of CBD, but it will take many years of thorough research to understand exactly how CBD works.

The discovery of CBD in flax is an important one, but the authors make some misleading claims in their manuscript; claims which are not supported by their work or the work of other scientists. They authors claim to be the first people to find cannabinoids IN another plant. Their article was published in 2012—one of the earliest discoveries of non-cannabis sources of cannabinoids is from 1979.

In fact, flax is now part of an ever-growing list of plants that can produce cannabinoids (See image of Phytocannabinoid Producers).

Cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabicyclol (CBC), and cannabicitran (CBT)  have been discovered in the following: species of rhodenderons (Rhodenderon Anthpogonoides), Voacanga Africana, liverwort (Radula Marginata), and woody umbrella (Helichrysum Umbraculigerum). Beta-caryophyllene is a cannabinoid present in virtually all plants and activates the CB2 receptor, notably it occurs in high amounts in cloves and black pepper.

The author’s description of CBD also contains a serious discrepancy:

“…CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, is responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity of marihuana, acting mostly on the CB2 receptor…” The authors suggest that CBD is activating CB2 receptors.

This statement regarding the activity at a CB2 receptor is not supported by any data from the authors nor is it supported by the referenced studies in the article. The studies (one and two) referenced by the authors did not use CBD in a single experiment. They provide no evidence that CBD is directly interacting with the CB2 receptor. The authors could have cited this article as indirect evidence of CBD interacting with CB2, but there is substantial evidence to suggest that CBD doesn’t need the CB2 receptor for its beneficial effects.

A similar misconception was also made by TIME Magazine last year, claiming that CBD activates CB2 receptors.

As mentioned above the mechanism of CBD isn’t clear yet, but there is enough evidence to SUPPORT that the effects of CBD can occur without activating cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. CBD might be the first modulator of the ECS, enhancing or inhibiting certain activities. Different experiments have shown:

Misrepresenting a compound or drug may appear as a minor issue, but it can negatively influence lawmakers and doctors, leading to legal and medical quandaries and ultimately preventing a plant compound like CBD from reaching the clinics. The main hurdles for a successful cannabis-based medicine are the unacceptable side effects that can occur from THC; CBD does not have undesirable side effects.

Cannabis that contains CBD remains prohibited, while flax products are widely available in concentrated forms such as dietary supplements. Although the precise mechanism of CBD remains elusive, its promising medicinal effects are already recognized, and it is legally available when harvested from the appropriate plant.

Here are some additional links to research on the mechanisms of CBD:

CBD enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia

Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders: important new clinical applications for this phytocannabinoid?

Cannabidiol dispays unexpectedly high potency as an antagonist of CB1 and CB2 receptor

CBD protects brain cells by mechanisms that do not involve CB1, CB2, TRPV1 or PPARg receptors

CBD may represent a novel, protective strategy against  brain injury by attenuating key inflammatory pathways and oxidative/nitrative tissue injury, independent of classical CB1/2 receptors

Jahan Marcu is currently investigating the pharmacology of cannabinoid receptors. He was working at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute when exciting discoveries were made showing enhanced anti-cancer effects with THC and CBD from the Cannabis plant. The findings were published in the Journal of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. In 2009 he received the Billy Martin Award from the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). Jahan is currently the vice-chair the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board at Americans for Safe Access (ASA). Questions?   Contact   science@freedomisgreen.com

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent any University, business or affiliates. While the information provided in this blog is from published scientific studies it is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.












  1. Jahan, thanks for elucidating this. Hopefully you can send this to the journal and get it published as a letter. Major errata!

    Just two things: 1. this is transgenic flax, with 3 genes added in, rather than natural flax. This is like the Japanese researchers who got tobacco to produce THC in the lab with gene splicing and precurser feeding, yes?

    2. are you 100% convinced this is truly CBD? Wouldn’t you want to see an NMR? There is a similar retention time. How convinced are you by the mass spec data?



  2. Peter R says:

    BTW – isn’t CBD an illegal schedule 1 drug in the USA, even if it comes from flax? My understanding is cannabidiol and all other phytocannabinoids are Schedule I drugs in the USA. The code number for cannabidiol in Schedule I is 7372 where it says tetrahydrocannabinols are schedule 1. The part saying “and others” includes all phytocannabinoids, even CBD.


  3. Flax is a valuable source of fibers, linseed and oil. The compounds of the latter two products have already been widely examined and have been proven to possess many health-beneficial properties. In the course of analysis of fibers extract from previously generated transgenic plants overproducing phenylpropanoids a new terpenoid compound was discovered. The UV spectra and the retention time in UPLC analysis of this new compound reveal similarity to a cannabinoid-like compound, probably cannabidiol (CBD). This was confirmed by finding two ions at m/z 174.1 and 231.2 in mass spectra analysis. Further confirmation of the nature of the compound was based on a biological activity assay. It was found that the compound affects the expression of genes involved in inflammatory processes in mouse and human fibroblasts and likely the CBD from Cannabis sativa activates the specific peripheral cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) gene expression. Besides fibers, the compound was also found in all other flax tissues. It should be pointed out that the industrial process of fabric production does not affect CBD activity. The presented data suggest for the first time that flax products can be a source of biologically active cannabinoid-like compounds that are able to influence the cell immunological response. These findings might open up many new applications for medical flax products, especially for the fabric as a material for wound dressing with anti-inflammatory properties.


  4. Kent says:

    The link posted in this article titled “discovered that CBD is a major component of the flax” is misleading.
    If you follow the link you’ll find the original study is titled:

    “Cannabinoid-like anti-inflammatory compounds from flax fiber”

    The article itself does not say that CBD was found in flax. The closest thing the article says is:

    “The UV spectra and the retention time in UPLC analysis of this new compound reveal similarity to a cannabinoid-like compound, probably cannabidiol (CBD)”

    If there was CBD in flax, the flax industry would jump on it screaming from the rooftops that flax extract has been scientifically proven to reduce pain, reverse schizophrenia, lower anxiety and lower blood sugar.

    This article is intellectually dishonest.


  5. Jahan Marcu says:

    Thanks for bringing your issues to my attention. I appreciate your response, but do not appreciate your attack that this post is ‘intellectually dishonest’ , because the article is simplified for the average person to understand. Please read the blog, and you will see that I did not say that CBD is definitively in the flax plant, The real intellectual dishonesty may be in the original article, which authoritatively states inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims about the pharmacology of CBD (the whole point of this blog post).

    Furthermore, based on my experience as a court qualified cannabinoid expert, under the analogue law CBD and CBD-like would be treated as ‘substantially similar’ compounds, thus as a scheduled narcotics. Legally speaking, that would be the same thing. Of course it is NOT the same CBD found on the Cannabis plant, but it is similar enough to:
    1) Potentially have similar benefits as CBD from Cannabis (thus explaining the therapeutic benefits of flax)
    2) have possession of an analogue of CBD possibly subjected to legal ramifications from the federal government


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