CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound in the cannabis (aka marijuana) plant—and it’s a recently buzzy ingredient in the health and wellness sphere.
First things first: we’re not talking about that kind of buzz—CBD by itself won’t get you high. But it does hold promise as a medicinal powerhouse... albeit one with caveats and confusion. Here's some background and clarification from two CBD experts.
The background on the buzz
Cannabis contains more than 120 chemical compounds—the primary one being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the one that gets you high. For decades, cannabis research has focused on THC and its psychological effects. But in recent years, attention has turned to CBD, as scientists have identified it as a potent antioxidant with potential to treat various health conditions.
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About 10 years ago, studies showed CBD’s ability to treat strokes and myocardial conditions in mice and rats. This triggered an “explosion of research,” says Pal Pacher, a pharmacologist and cardiologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, that continues today.
Now, there are many different types of medical and commercialized CBD products, including tinctures (liquid extracts), capsules, topical salves/creams and plants you can smoke (of course) or eat.
People are turning to CBD products with the beliefs that they may a) treat certain health conditions and/or b) promote “homeostasis and a balanced physiology,” says Sarah Cohen, secretary, R.N., of the American Cannabis Nurses Association and an agent with PDI Medical, a medical marijuana dispensary in Illinois.
The CBD in these products is either extracted from hemp (a variety of cannabis that has less than .3% THC), extracted from other varieties of cannabis that may contain higher amounts of THC, or created synthetically in a lab.
The benefits of CBD
CBD is purported as a treatment for many conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, colitis, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autoimmune disorders, inflammatory diseases, and even cancer.
“But the only [100%] proven benefit for humans is anti-epileptic,” says Pacher, who has been studying CBD for more than 10 years, particularly as a treatment for heart disease and diabetes. Several clinically valid studies have shown that CBD in pure form is effective in decreasing the frequency of seizures in children with a rare, treatment-resistant form of epilepsy.
As for its other alleged benefits, many of them are anecdotal, from studies that were conducted on animals, or from studies with other limitations, says Pacher (e.g. studies that were not double-blind, had a small sample size, etc.). This means that no matter how promising these results or first-hand observations may be, we cannot yet extrapolate them to definitively say that CBD does, or doesn’t, cure or alleviate the symptoms of certain conditions.
The legality of CBD
Although CBD products are widely available, they are not technically legal in all 50 states. Marijuana laws vary by state and on the whole, are murky and open to interpretation. Check SafeAccessNow.org for more on your state’s legislature, recommends Cohen.
The drawbacks to CBD products
Because there’s no regulatory agency that oversees the production of CBD, it’s difficult to know the quality, potency and contents of a CBD product.
“With marijuana [in general], you have to be careful because it can accumulate heavy metals and pesticides [from the soil in which it’s grown],” says Pacher.
As for the potential risks of consuming CBD, while it’s been proven as relatively safe in clinical trials, says Pacher, “anything you put into your body can have side effects,” says Cohen. Because CBD does have the potential to interact with drugs, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before trying it, especially if you currently take any medications that have a narrow safety window for efficacy, like blood thinners.
And lastly, certain CBD products, especially those derived from a plant (rather than manufactured synthetically) may have trace amounts of THC. While a trace amount of THC likely wouldn’t make you high, it could show up on a drug test.
What to consider before trying it for yourself
Many of the studies that showed CBD’s medicinal benefits involved relatively high doses, says Pacher. For example, the child epilepsy study involved CBD taken in 500 mg doses, which is the amount that an entire bottle of CBD tincture might contain.
Another caveat: CBD products typically aren’t cheap. A bottle of tincture containing 1,000 mg of CBD, for example, costs $44 on VerifiedCBD.com. A bottle with 1,000 mg from CBDistillery.com. will set you back $70.
“It should not be this expensive because it doesn’t cost that much to extract,” says Pacher of the generally high cost of CBD products. “People are making lots of profits on this.”
How to find quality CBD products
“Quality control is a big, big issue,” says Pacher of CBD products. “You can go to the internet and find hundreds of places selling CBD.” Some products are genuinely high quality; others are not—and it can be hard to tell the difference.
Cohen’s advice: do your homework before buying. Call CBD companies and ask if they can provide more information on their products, including how much CBD the product contains, where it was manufactured, how the CBD was extracted (or created synthetically) and what other ingredients, like THC, are included.
In general, it’s best to buy CBD that was manufactured in the U.S. as industry practices for growing marijuana are typically safer here than in other countries, says Cohen. But again, because there are no official regulations, buying American-made CBD doesn’t guarantee safety or quality.
And to reiterate, not all CBD products are legal in all 50 states—so do your legal homework as well.
The bottom line
CBD is making waves in the health and wellness sphere right now because of its potential to treat various conditions and promote overall health. But remember: the science is still preliminary, and CBD products are expensive, not yet well regulated and not yet legal across the country—so it may be wise to hold off. At least for now.
That said, if you’ve considered all of these caveats, and you decide you still want to give CBD a go, “start low [in dosage] and go slow,” says Cohen.
It's called CBD. Here's what you should know before jumping on the bandwagon.
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