CBD oil has been splashed across the internet as a miracle cure for everything from anxiety to insomnia, but is it really all it’s made out to be? We investigate.
First things first: cannabidiol (aka CBD) is not an oil
“Though in certain circumstances it may have actual oil added, CBD is a goopy extract that’s chemically closer to a wax,” explains Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard College and Harvard Medical graduate who runs InhaleMD, a practice that focuses on using cannabis to improve patients’ lives. “CBD is a medicine derived from cannabis or hemp.”
Which brings us to another important point to clear up: hemp and marijuana are part of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L., and share many similar traits. “The biggest (and the legal) distinction between the two plants is that hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC (the compound responsible for the psychoactive or ‘high’ feeling), whereas marijuana contains more than 0.3 percent THC,” says Kerrigan Behrens of Sagely Naturals, a wellness/beauty brand that makes CBD-infused products.
If you’re looking to avoid a high, hemp-derived CBD is the safest bet. “Most marijuana-derived CBD products contain enough THC to give you the high [unlike hemp]. Hemp-derived CBD is a lot easier to access since it’s legal in all 50 states and can be found online or in your local natural food and supplement store. If you’re looking for a product that contains THC and you live in a state where marijuana is now medically or recreationally legal, you can also find CBD in marijuana dispensaries.”
What are the benefits of using CBD?
According to Brandon Nolte, owner of Healthy Hemp Oil, CBD is used to help people with sleep, stress and inflammation. “The amazing thing about CBD is that it actually works with current pathways that exist in your body; it works by binding to receptor sites within the brain and then activates a calming effect that can spread throughout the body. Effects can be felt as quick as 10 to 15 minutes for tinctures or as long as one hour for CBD dog treats/edibles.”
In what forms is CBD available?
“The most common form is suspended in oil — e.g., a tincture — which has an oil dropper that you either put under your tongue or a sprayer that sprays directly into your mouth,” says Behrens. “Some people don’t love the taste of CBD or the feeling of oil in their mouths, so they prefer to take CBD capsules.” Like with all supplements, there’s a lot of marketing and fluff, so make your purchases carefully.
According to Behrens, the best way to ensure you’re getting the most CBD absorbed into your body (i.e., the highest bioavailability) is to look for capsules that are water-soluble. If you’re using CBD for symptoms like anxiety or sleep, oral applications are usually your best bet but speak with an expert about dosage. “Typically, capsules come in at least 5, 10 or 20 mg of CBD,” says Nolte, who adds that since the CBD is absorbed in your stomach first, it takes an hour or more for you to feel the effects, but then it lasts for several hours (which makes it great for sleep).
If you don’t have access to an expert and are concerned about dosage, Behrens recommends starting with a small amount every day and seeing how you feel. “If, after a week or two, you’re not getting the desired effects, you can begin taking more. As far as time of day, some of our users tell us that the CBD helps to relax them and so they take it before bed, while others prefer to take it in the mornings so they can feel the effects during the day.”
Another common form and the one that is said to have the fastest effect is a vaporizer. “Using a vaporizer allows you to feel the effects of CBD within a few minutes, but it doesn’t last as long as the other forms. There are also lots of fun flavors to try in this category,” says Nolte. Another option is concentrates, which are the highest serving size of all the product types.
“It’s basically pure hemp oil with CBD and not a lot else. For that reason, they can be economical, but they also have a stronger hemp taste to them. Similar to the capsules, the concentrates last a long time, but since they are absorbed sublingually at first, they can kick in a little quicker than capsules.”
Lastly, you can find CBD in creams, lotions and salves. “These products are often infused with complementary ingredients that can help CBD’s natural ability to fight pain and inflammation (think essential peppermint oil and menthol),” says Behrens.
Is there an overdose danger?
Don’t worry, CBD cannot be lethally overdosed. It is, however, important to note that it can interact with conventional medications and potentially cause serious harm. “If you’re on a blood thinner, antiepileptic or immunosuppressant, for example, you should consult a knowledgeable cannabis specialist before taking CBD,” cautions Tishler. Ditto if you’re pregnant or nursing. You can get more information from the Association of Cannabis Specialists.
Is it even legal?
Regulation of CBD is complicated. As far as CBD oil made from marijuana, it’s confined to those states that approved marijuana for medical or recreational use. CBD oil made from industrial hemp is generally treated as a food supplement. That said, Tishler is quick to remind that it’s important to be careful with your money.
“The FDA did go after four companies last year who were selling CBD oil that contained no CBD, thus they were making false claims. Beyond that, however, the FDA has not moved to regulate it more closely. Many packages make all sorts of medical or wellness claims that just aren’t proven,” Tishler says. He adds that states may additionally regulate CBD via their state medical cannabis laws, but most people are buying CBD via the web, so that means no local control and no safety information.
CBD’s efficacy is often contested.
Before you get too excited about adding CBD to your daily wellness regimen, according to Tishler, CBD at present is mostly snake oil. “CBD can be used in children with rare genetic seizure disorders to control the seizures and at very high doses it can be an anti-inflammatory (not a pain reliever) and anti-anxiety. However, these doses are so high they are unobtainable and unaffordable outside the lab. All the people running around putting 10 mg to 40 mg of CBD tincture under their tongues and extolling its vast benefits are simply getting placebo effect.”
That placebo effect seems to be working for a lot of people, however.
Ayumi Hanaoka, founder and creative director of 2WNTY3, told us there are many extreme claims about what CBD can do and, according to him, miraculously, they are mostly true. He cites things like relieving pain, reducing inflammation and treating mood disorders.
“For the recreational marijuana user, CBD can also act as an antidote to THC and can bring you balance when you feel like you’re a little too stoned. I think the most common myth is that CBD is completely non-psychoactive. Sure, you do not feel ‘stoned’ from CBD, but there is a psychological effect — it’s just subtle and positive.”
Meanwhile, Nolte says that “CBD oil can help with sleep, inflammation/pain and stress/anxiety,” but he’s quick to add that the scientific studies of CBD are still getting started. “Currently, the evidence is extremely positive that it helps with many health concerns, but these tests need to be verified by the scientific community over a long term before we can confidently label CBD as helpful for specific ailments. For me, the anecdotal evidence was enough to try it and see for myself.”
So what’s the conclusion?
There’s no denying the anecdotal evidence. CBD oil is helping a lot of people (even athletes). That said, don’t believe any claims that sound too good to be true and if you have a serious ailment or disease, talk to a medical professional before trying CBD oil.