The acronym of the moment, CBD has been touted as a natural remedy for everything from achy feet and anxiety to severe childhood epilepsy. But exactly what does CBD oil do and how? Let’s separate the truth from the hype.
What is CBD?
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is just one of over 100 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in a plant that scientists call cannabis (and almost everyone else calls marijuana). Unlike THC, CBD does not produce euphoria or intoxication—i.e. it won’t get you high. There’s a growing body of anecdotal and scientific evidence that CBD does cause other effects, however, like tamping down anxiety and inflammation (hence the sudden interest).
What’s the difference between CBD, marijuana, and hemp?
Hemp and marijuana are part of the same plant family—cannabis—but they’re bred distinctly. Both contain CBD, but hemp contains a very low concentration of THC (.3% or less) whereas marijuana has quite a bit (15-40%).
So are hemp seed oil and CBD oil the same thing?
Not exactly. Hemp seed oil (often labeled as cannabis sativa seed oil) is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant and does not contain any CBD. The only parts of the cannabis plant that contain CBD are the leaves, flowers, and stalks. To create CBD oil, however, CBD extract (often labeled as hemp extract) is mixed with a carrier oil—like hemp seed oil or coconut. Bottom line: there’s no CBD in hemp seed oil unless it’s been added in.
Is CBD oil even legal?
That depends on two things: How the CBD oil was made, and where you live. The 2018 Farm Bill loosened regulations on CBD by removing hemp-derived products from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, and allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Currently, CBD oil that’s derived from hemp and therefore contains very minimal amounts of THC is technically legal according to the Farm Bill. Other government agencies, including the DEA and FDA, disagree, but they’re not really doing much about it at the moment. The FDA has sent warning letters to companies making misleading health claims with their CBD products, but that’s about it.
CBD oil sourced from marijuana is legal only in states with recreational use laws (that’s Alaska, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Michigan, Vermont, and DC) or by patients in states with medical marijuana laws (33 states and counting). To see if your CBD product of choice is legal in your state, check out this handy database called CBD Origin.
What are the benefits of CBD oil?
CBD naturally boosts levels of your body’s own endocannabinoid called anandamide, the so-called bliss molecule associated with runner’s high. All that bliss binds to your cannabinoid receptors, located throughout the brain and body, which helps reduce pain, spasms, and inflammation. “Unlike THC, CBD can also bind to your serotonin receptors, which helps regulate sleep and mood, and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety,” says Michele Ross, Ph.D, author of Vitamin Weed and founder of Infused Health, an online platform for cannabis education and health coaching. CBD is also a historical hack for period-related pain—Queen Victoria’s doctor gave her cannabis for menstrual cramps back in the 19th century.
As restrictions on cannabis continue to lift, expect more research to emerge. Though the science is still in the early stages, there has been promising data on the benefits of CBD oil for mental health issues like anxiety and PTSD, as well as all types of physical ones: acne, psoriasis, inflammation, gut problems, neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.
What should you look for when buying CBD oil?
CBD is either full-spectrum—extracted with all the other cannabinoids from whole cannabis plants, or a CBD isolate—an extraction of only CBD. While CBD isolates are the most legally unproblematic, many experts believe in “the entourage effect”— that whole-plant, full-spectrum CBD is more effective when activated by the plant’s other cannabinoids.
Then there’s the question of how much CBD you’re getting. Since the FDA hasn’t really tackled oversight, mislabeling of CBD products is rampant. Recent Penn Medicine research showed that almost 70% of CBD products available online mislabeled their CBD content, inflating the concentration of CBD. Choose products from reputable companies, preferably those that have been third-party verified. In addition, opt for CBD that’s grown on organic farms (manufacturers can’t claim their product is certified organic, but they can tout if it comes from an organic farm), and that’s obtained using CO2 (carbon dioxide) extraction. It’s by far the safest method, as other processes involve using toxic solvents like butane and hexane, which can leave residue behind in the final product. If any of this information isn’t readily available on a product’s website or packaging, simply ask: many brands are happy to share for transparency’s sake. And if they’re not, you’re better off buying elsewhere.