CBD is H-O-T right now. But what is CBD exactly? Is it legit (and legal to consume)? This beginner’s guide to CBD answers those questions and more.
What Is CBD?
CBD is cannabidiol, a phytochemical found in hemp, or cannabis sativa. Yes, that’s the same botanical name as cannabis, aka marijuana. The plants are related, but they’ve long been bred for different purposes. Hemp is a federally legal agricultural plant primarily grown for its nutrient-dense seeds, strong fibers, and CBD content.
“Hemp is also cannabis, but hemp doesn’t have a high amount of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol],” says Dr. Kisha Vanterpool, the medical director for Medicinally Jointed, a wellness center and spa in Philadelphia. “It is primarily a CBD-containing plant. THC is a part of cannabis that is responsible for psychoactive effects; CBD does not have that similar effect. CBD and THC are two separate compounds that are biochemically different.
What Are the Purported Benefits of CBD?
If CBD won’t get you high, what is CBD oil good for? It has to do with CBD’s impact on the central and peripheral nervous systems.
“Just like the immune or digestive systems, all mammals have an endocannabinoid system,” says Emily Kyle, MS, RDN, CLT, who is also a holistic cannabis practitioner. Neurotransmitters in the endocannabinoid system interact with CBD. “The main responsibility of the endocannabinoid system is to help maintain homeostasis in the body,” she says.
This is why so much research is going into CBD. But does CBD work? The results are mixed. The strongest evidence of CBD’s efficacy comes in the treatment of severe childhood epilepsy, and recently the FDA approved the first-ever medicine derived from cannabis sativa.
CBD and anxiety
According to a 2019 case review in the journal Permanente, CBD “may hold benefit” for anxiety disorders, but controlled clinical studies are still needed. Another 2019 review, published in Current Psychiatry Reports, reported that the pre-clinical evidence on CBD found it reduced both acute anxiety and learned fear, and that “larger-scale placebo-controlled clinical studies are warranted.”
CBD and sleep
A 2017 review in Current Psychiatry Reports found CBD “may hold promise” for some aspects of sleep, but was inconclusive. Higher doses of CBD administered to subjects with insomnia improved total sleep time and decreased wake-ups during the night. However, lower doses were associated with increased wakefulness.
CBD and pain
A 2018 research review in JAMA Psychiatry found that cannabinoid drugs may increase pain tolerance without reducing the actual pain. A 2017 German review found limited evidence of CBD’s efficacy treating nerve pain, but insufficient proof of its value to other types of pain. However, a 2016 animal study in the European Journal of Pain found that applying CBD topically could reduce inflammation and pain from arthritis.
Are There Any Negative CBD Effects?
So what’s the downside to CBD? “There are no harmful side effects that we’re aware of, but more research studies need to be done,” says Vanterpool. A report from the World Health Organization also found CBD to be generally well tolerated and nonaddictive.
CBD may interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, cautions Vanterpool, so consult with your healthcare provider first. And don’t use CBD if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive.
“It’s more important that someone is very cognizant of where they’re getting their CBD from,” says Vanterpool. “Some companies will post the certificate of analysis that will tell the consumer the info they want to know. Like whether that product truly has CBD in it, the amount it contains, and has it been tested.”
Can You Ingest CBD?
You can ingest CBD as a gummy or add a hemp oil/CBD oil to your morning latte. But, says Kyle, there are more effective ways to take it.
Research suggests the bioavailability of CBD is much lower when ingested. Kyle says that inhalation and topical applications are much better absorbed, “making them a much more cost-effective way to use CBD,” she adds.
So what’s the best way to take CBD? “It’s all about personal preference — there’s no wrong or right way to take CBD,” says Vanterpool. “A tincture can be just as effective as a gummy. With a gummy,” she notes, however, “you must take note of the sugar content.”
Vanterpool says that a CBD tincture or oil takes about an hour or two to kick in, while a gummy could take three to four hours. “The duration of effect is similar, about four to five hours,” she says.
Is CBD Legal?
CBD derived from hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC content is legal on a federal level. “The Hemp Farming Act within the broader 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp in this country,” says Vanterpool. “As of December 2018 it is legal, and that can assuage people’s fears around whether they can use CBD products.”
Kyle adds that each state and city can have their own laws. “So it’s important to check with your local health or law enforcement offices,” she says.
The Transportation Safety Administration recently announced it will allow passengers to fly with CBD oil, “which makes using CBD away from home much easier,” Kyle says. (As of July 2019, selling and using CBD is illegal in three states: Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota, despite the federal law.)
How to Shop for CBD
In health food stores, dispensaries, and even some supermarkets, you’ll find CBD tincture, CBD vape oil, CBD edibles (like gummies or chocolate), CBD lotion, and even CBD-infused cold brew.
But, when choosing CBD products, quality matters, so Vanterpool recommends going to a medical professional or health food store you trust. They’ll have done the research to find high-quality, effective products.
“You want to ensure the hemp used to produce the oil is grown in the United States, preferably with organic farming methods,” adds Kyle. She adds that you also want CBD extracted using CO2 (carbon dioxide) supercritical extraction. Some companies use harmful solvents that “leave unwanted and potentially harmful residues,” she says.
“CBD isolate” will contain 0 percent THC. “Full-spectrum CBD” or “full-spectrum CBD hemp oil” can contain trace amounts of THC (again, less than 0.3 percent). While it won’t get you “high,” it can show up on a drug test. Choose CBD isolate if that is a concern.