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A look at what CBD is and why it’s currently the most magical ingredient in the realms of wellness and beauty

To celebrate the launch of our curation of luxury CBD products - natureofthings, Saint Jane and Treaty - our Head of Content, Christel, spoke to naturopath Philip Watkins, a practitioner at the Integrated Medical Institute of Hong Kong, to learn a little bit more about what CBD is, where it comes from, what it’s health benefits are, and how you can be using it to help you live your very best life.

Listen to episode 1 of our podcast above, or read the transcript of it below.

CHRISTEL: Hello Dr. Phil!


CHRISTEL: Can you tell me a little bit about CBD? What is CBD?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Sure. So, CBD actually stands for cannabidiol. Now, cannabidiol is one of the key ingredients in the cannabis plant or cannabis sativa. Now, its class is what we call a cannabinoid. Now, in herbal medicine in general, one of the reasons why we’re able to use herbal medicine is that, over time, we’ve been able to scientifically look at herbs and draw out what the active ingredients in those herbs are, increase their content within the herbs – and that’s what’s called standardisation – and then give them to people with the idea that, because they have this active amount in them, that they’re going to do something clear in the body, physiologically.

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So, CBD is one of a hundred different cannabinoids – which is how they’re named because they’re active constituents from cannabis – and CBD is one of the, probably, the bigger content-wise constituents in cannabis along with another phytocannabinoid which is probably a little bit more popular because of its psychoactive element, which is THC. Now, there are over 500 different chemicals within cannabis so CBD doesn’t actually work on its own, but it’s generally considered to be one of the most active ingredients in cannabis.

CHRISTEL: So, where does it actually come from? Where does this plant come from?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: That’s a great question. So, I think one of the key things when people hear cannabis, they automatically think about marijuana, and CBD in Hong Kong especially comes from hemp. Now, I think it’s very, very important to differentiate between the two because you’ll find that it’s actually quite an interesting differentiation and actually you’ll also find that a lot of professionals now, within the cannabis space, don’t actually use the term marijuana. The key difference is that hemp as a classification only has, or is classified as hemp if it has less than 0.3% THC. Now, that’s the American standardisation, so the British have, I think, 0.2% THC, and that’s how you consider it to be hemp. Now, marijuana is considered to be any form of cannabis that has more than 0.3% THC, and this is where the psychoactive nature can start to come through – the euphoria and some of this kind of stuff. Now, I think one of the reasons why people don’t use marijuana, and, I think, as a term, is because marijuana is actually created in order, you know, to marginalise Mexicans.

I’m just going to come out and say it. It was, the term itself was actually really quite a big thing in the seventies in relation to the marijuana act, and the –

CHRISTEL: The “war against drugs”.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: The war against drugs, right. So, I think this is where the classification between hemp and marijuana as cannabis is kind of strange because the way, people, the way you differentiate between the two is that you’re saying, “Okay, well you want to classify citrus fruit as either sweet or sour and that’s it.” So, marijuana and hemp, 0.3% THC or not.

CHRISTEL: Wow, what a–

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: You know, let me tell you –

CHRISTEL: – way to describe it.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Yeah, it just doesn’t work like that, right? So, I think we’re now learning more about cannabis, and marijuana, and hemp, which aren’t interchangeable terms. You know what I mean? They’re used out of context quite a lot.

We’re now learning more about cannabis, and marijuana, and hemp, which aren’t interchangeable terms. You know what I mean? They’re used out of context quite a lot.

CHRISTEL: So, within your practice, what do you refer to it as? How do you...hemp?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Well, this is the interesting thing. As a practitioner, I refer to it as CBD.

CHRISTEL: Okay, okay. You refer to it, that, specifically of the property that you’re referring to.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Yeah, and this is how, this is the difference. You’ll hear this happen in other ways with turmeric and curcumin.


DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Okay, so curcumin is the active ingredient within turmeric, or funnily enough like one of ten active ingredients within turmeric that has an anti-inflammatory or antioxidant quality, so we refer to it as curcumin. And this is just probably a newer trend over the last ten or so years, where instead of naming it as turmeric, we’re naming the active ingredient. So, for me personally, from a professional level, I would call it CBD or cannabidiol, but more often CBD. So, the idea is that I know that potentially ten milligrams of cannabidiol is going to do something in the body. So, that’s the context that I would use, yeah.

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CHRISTEL: So, tell me a little bit about what it does to the body.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Sure. So, I think the best way to describe what CBD does is kind of just to go backwards a little bit and explain the system that it works with, okay? So, the endocannabinoid system, so when you think endo, you think endogenous, so it means inside. So, the inside cannabinoid system, so we’ve found that there are chemicals and receptors for cannabinoids within the body, which is kind of crazy. Basically, CBD works towards harmonising the body. And one of the really interesting kind of ways or the more poetic way I’ve heard of it described, is that its job is to – let me make sure I get this right – is to relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect.

We’ve found that there are chemicals and receptors for cannabinoids within the body, which is kind of crazy. Basically, CBD works towards harmonising the body. And one of the really interesting kind of ways or the more poetic way I’ve heard of it described, is that its job is to – let me make sure I get this right – is to relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect.


DR. PHILIP WATKINS: That’s the job of the system. It’s so poetic. You know, I think people often, within sciences, don’t get their credit for being as creative as they are. But I think reading that, that actually came out of some research twenty years ago, and you’re kind of sitting there reading this intense scientific paper and you just hear something that rolls off the tongue like that. So, I think the other way of thinking about the endocannabinoid system is that it’s harmonising, it’s there. You know, if you’re feeling stressed, you relax. If you’re feeling hungry, you eat. If you need to rest, you rest. It helps to really kind of bring the body back to baseline.

Now, one of the reasons that we know CBD works is because we actually found an internal cannabinoid called anandamide, which is actually, literally, named after bliss in Sanskrit, because this anandamide chemical is actually having an interaction with the receptors in this endocannabinoid system, and it was helping people to calm down or basically feel blissful.

CHRISTEL: So if I can, sort of, I guess, put it into layman’s terms, you’re saying that the body does produce some sort of substance that talks to these cannabinoids?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Right on, yeah exactly.

CHRISTEL: Right, okay.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: This is, so, leading to that, when we looked at cannabis, we actually found that CBD and other things like THC and some of these other chemicals actually could come in and have a relationship with this endocannabinoid system that offered this multitarget, multifunctional kind of outcome. So, relaxing, harmonising, all of these things. You could actually externally create that with the administration of CBD. So, it was a huge thing and funnily enough like the –

CHRISTEL: When was this, sort of, discovered, I guess? When did people know?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: You’ve always got to give a big shoutout to a guy called Raphael Mechoulam from Israel because a lot of the research originally around the endocannabinoid system came out of Israel in the eighties and nineties.

I mean, CBD has been researched since the forties and there’s even some kind of anecdotal words that Queen Victoria used it to relieve her menstrual cramps in the nineteenth century. So, with that, I think it’s been around for a long time, but this is where we come back to that legislative thing about marijuana, in that the research wasn’t actually being able to be done until, well, two thousand and eighteen and the Farm Bill Act – if you want to go and look that up, that was kind of changed the research. It’s been researched for a long time but only recently have we been able to get access to weed, basically. I know it sounds very crude, but the researchers haven’t been able to do so. So, that’s why we’re seeing quite a big jump in the research now.

CHRISTEL: So, tell me a little bit about the situation of CBD here in Hong Kong and what access we have to it here. And the general understanding or lack of here in Hong Kong.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Sure, so this is where, I think, the education really has to come through and it takes time for that to happen. Obviously within Hong Kong there’s a zero tolerance towards marijuana, and that, once again, if we’re using this old school classification that’s THC-oriented. Recently, I think only just last year, I think November it was but I have to get the date if you need it, November the law changed in relation to hemp. Now, what that refers to is zero percent THC, and that means that you’re using a form of cannabis that has a high amount of CBD but zero THC. So, that takes away the psychoactivity and what’s considered to be the potential addictive qualities of that form of cannabis with high THC.

CHRISTEL: So, essentially, you don’t get high on this?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: No. This is actually kind of a funny point as well, because if you speak to a lot of the researchers, like, if you get high, you’ve had too much.


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DR. PHILIP WATKINS: So, technically, from a herbal medicine standpoint, I guess, you’ve actually gone too far, and you’ve ingested, if you like, too much THC. Because technically you should have a relaxed feeling. You should feel the benefits but you shouldn’t get any further than that.


DR. PHILIP WATKINS: So, to your point though, yeah hemp shouldn’t get you high. It’s non-psychoactive and it works with the receptors that are all over the body, and this is why the cannabinoid system is of such interest, because there are receptors for the cannabinoids and CBD in the lungs, the heart, the digestion, the peripheries – so your arms and legs, pretty much everywhere.

CHRISTEL: So, what is this system, the internal system that you speak of, what is it in the body? What is it referring to? Nerve endings, or blood, or what is it?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Yeah, so the big thing about it more than anything is that it’s primarily driven towards actually being around to help the different systems and the different organs of the body. So, the endocannabinoid system itself refers to the collection of the receptors. So, there are CB1 receptors in the brain and the spinal cord. Then there are CB2 receptors in the other periphery areas, so the lungs, and the heart, and the immune cells, and the pancreas and that type of thing. This is where it becomes quite exciting, because we understand that CBD is what we call a polytrophic, so that’s just a fancy name for it has more than one effect. Vitamin D is also polytrophic in that it has more than one effect on the body. So, the reason why this system is actually being researched a lot is because it can have quite a whole-body effect on everyone really, because we all have this endocannabinoid system. So, it’s really, really exciting.

CHRISTEL: That is wild.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: It is crazy isn’t it, that everyone’s got it? You know, and you can – yeah.

CHRISTEL: And yet, you know, I mean, I don’t even know how to refer to it as a substance, as an herb or a medicine, or however you want to refer to it – it’s been so stigmatised.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: It is, yeah, and that’s changing.

CHRISTEL: Yeah, it is.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: It needs to change as well, and I think, just broadening that, you know, you’ve got other forms of medicine that are also having their stigma changed. I’ve been following Rick Doblin who has created an association called MAPS, which is – the name’s quite strange – in the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. But he created a strategy after the Vietnam War to use MDMA for post-traumatic stress syndrome, stress disorder.

And it’s taken fifty years now and that is now, as of last year, been funded to actually help veterans with PTSD. So, there’s a really big change in the air in relation to things that we have originally – you know, without being too hyperbolic about it, originally demonised or had a negative relationship with, and now seeing that they can actually help us.

CHRISTEL: Yes, I mean, you know, to compare it to something like alcohol, which is perfectly legal and yet perfectly abused at the same time.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Sure, sure. So, I think this is where we need to find a happy balance between the educational side of it. Obviously, from a therapeutic element, we need to really, kind of, help people understand cannabis, and I think, moving away from – maybe educating people a little bit more about how marijuana was named, for example.


DR. PHILIP WATKINS: I think the other side of this, though, is that we often think about cannabis for its acute elements as well, and I think one of my personal interests in relation to CBD is actually more related back to what’s called the glymphatic system in the brain. Now, tell me if I’m talking too much.


DR. PHILIP WATKINS: I get excited about this. One of the reasons why you need to go to sleep, alright, is that your brain-

CHRISTEL: Because I’m tired.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: No, this is, because you’re exhausted, yeah. It is because your brain actually needs to clean house. The glymphatic system is kind of a collection of different kind of vessels and transport systems that actually clean the waste products out of your brain, but also help to potentially transport neurotransmitters like serotonin and the chemicals that make you feel good. Also, other things that are really important like glucose. This process of somewhat brain detoxing while you’re sleeping is governed by a chemical called an astrocyte. Now, one of the cool things about CBD is that CBD actually is now considered to increase the levels of astrocytes in the brain, so that when you go to sleep you have got enough stimulus for the brain to detoxify itself. Now, when it comes to aging, one of the reasons why this glymphatic system is quite interesting to people is because, as you age, your glymphatic activity goes down, it actually reduces. This is where we start to see that the brain is unable to somewhat clean itself and this may be potentially why we’re seeing a higher incidence of things like Alzheimer’s and dementia, and some of these other brain degenerative diseases.


DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Because it just can’t clean itself.

CHRISTEL: Dirty mind.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Indeed, yeah I didn’t think that, but you’re right on. It’s literally like that, though, right? And you talk about clean eating as another side of that. But then, you know, having this consistent astrocyte level, it means that we may actually be able to find a way through long-term administration of something like CBD. And, you know, hemp seeds – there are new ways of coming out with this. They may actually really protect our brains for a lot longer. So, whilst we kind of consider anti-inflammation, there’s some really great research in psoriasis for skin from the anti-inflammatory nature of CBD, osteoporosis – there are a lot of things that people don’t necessarily know about. But, as I said for me personally, I think we’re all worried about both for ourselves, our parents and our grandparents, I guess having a cognitive decline of sorts and we may, through the attenuation of this system or managing the endocannabinoid system with CBD, we may have found a potential way to, kind of, somewhat protect or at least stem the decline. So, there are longer term benefits coming out of the research that might be really super, super beneficial for everyone.

CHRISTEL: So, let’s talk about how you actually take CBD. I guess, how is it best effective to stimulate or speak to your endo-say it again?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Endocannabinoid system.

CHRISTEL: Endocannabinoid system. How best to do that?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Great question. So, it really just depends on what you want. I think the CBD oil is one of the things that, I guess, originally came onto the market. I’ve used it topically for skin as well, so there are measures that you can take in order to help people.


As I said, my, you know, this has really only been available to me over the last two years or so, or, say, a year. So, my clinical kind of outcomes are still coming around, but, topically, you can, I have seen some great results. So, I think the research is moving towards what’s called an oral buccal spray. So, actually spraying it on the inside of your cheek, which, somewhat then kind of dodges the digestion.

CHRISTEL: Straight to the bloodstream, I guess.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Right on, yeah. So, in that, if you’re using it as a medicine, for example, so Sativex or some of the other FDA-approved or NHS-approved forms of medical cannabis, they’re generally in a spray. As I said, if you’re looking to use it as somewhat of a supplement, then the oil or, you know, less intense version of the spray is probably a good one. For the skin, definitely try it topically.

CHRISTEL: Right, right, right. So, in terms of a sort of, I guess, governing body in Hong Kong, do we have one for this sort of stuff?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: The Hong Kong Health Department is the primary one. Through the small amount of work that I’ve done with them, everyone’s still working it out. One of the reasons why this is the case is because the research is still very preliminary. So, there are certain – as I said, the rule is that if you have a lab go through your CBD offering, and it has 0% THC, at this point, in my understanding, at the time of this recording, it’s considered to be just fine.

CHRISTEL: Amazing. So, if I may, have you yourself, do you have any anecdotal, sort of any stories or anything, about your own personal experience of the benefits of this?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Sure. So, I think I can certainly speak to it from anecdotally on what I’ve used in the clinic. I think one of the cool things that, I think, I like to see is the fact that, I guess, when I treat someone’s digestion, for example, the way we perceive our environment in relation to, you know, threats and things like that are naturally going to tell our brain that it’s not safe to eat. That information then gets fed through the body and, you know, oftentimes the digestion will, kind of, receive that message and say okay well I’m going to turn myself off while you go and deal with that threat, and then we can eat when we feel safe.

Now, for a lot of people, the perception of that threat is constant, and, you know, work, email, you know, everything – 2020. So, for me, using CBD to help people, kind of, take the edge off that threat. And notice I’m not using the word stress, because I think in 2020 we can just all just say that that’s a pretty universal characteristic for all of us. But using CBD actually as part of a protocol to help someone in the broader sense has been really, really interesting to see, because that’s where I’ve gotten the best results is actually by understanding that we’re not just headless horsemen and women, and that if we come in with particular conditions such as the digestion – you know, your average kind of bloating or abdominal discomfort or things like that, that utilising something like CBD both to work with the whole system but also to work with the brain so that you can essentially give someone the mental space to, maybe, do what they need to do for themselves, you know, maybe a little bit of exercise, or change their eating behaviours – that’s been probably the most rewarding part of using CBD with my stuff.

CHRISTEL: Interesting, because I guess, you know when you say when the body or the person senses a threat and then that’s your body telling you it’s not safe to eat –


CHRISTEL: My body tells me it’s way too safe to eat a lot.

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: Yes, indeed. Look, this is, I think, so, this is the interesting thing, right? Even though you eat when you feel like it’s not safe, okay, which is fine, your body, when it comes to your digestion, won’t get –

CHRISTEL: Yes. So, I guess what I’m getting at is that perhaps something like CBD can actually put us in better touch with our bodies, because we’re so out of touch with what we need, right?

CBD can actually put us in better touch with our bodies

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: That’s a great way to interpret it, it really is. I think the other side of CBD is that, personally, I feel like it chills out what we call a hot brain.

A hot brain is kind of, I guess, more of a colloquial term for neuroinflammation. I think we now know that neuroinflammation actually really starts to hinder people’s attention centres. This is, so, when you think about that, kind of, classic three o’clock slump, right? You go and have a nice focaccia or whatever you do for lunch. In my case, there’s a multitude of different crimes I can commit at lunchtime. You know, and then at three o’clock your brain starts to slowly dump itself, and then your attention towards Pete’s big presentation starts to wander. You know, they’ve actually done some really interesting studies to suggest that, as the inflammation rises in your brain, it affects the attention centres first. So, this is where, you know, using CBD as a potential just to improve the quality of your day or any of these types of things is really good.

But to your point, you can actually then, if you were paying attention, you get a little more clarity, and then, your decision making may change from there. As a health practitioner, that’s the endgame, that’s the billion-dollar outcome, is to try and help people to retain a level of personal sovereignty for themselves, and to be able to take the reins. If we can find anything, CBD or whatever that is, to try and help people do that, I mean, that’s really a big goal.

CHRISTEL: So, just to close, can you give me that most poetic line that you shared earlier about, that beautiful line?

DR. PHILIP WATKINS: The endocannabinoid system – let’s see if I can get this right again. So, the role of the endocannabinoid system is to relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect. And I really apologise if I butchered that. I’m not a poet and my memory is, once again, on it’s – I’m just as much as good as everyone else. But, I guess that if you wanted the big neon sign, right, that description in itself really does kind of bring what a lot of people wouldn’t mind having in their day.

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