CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the cannabis plant. It’s a naturally occurring substance that’s used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. Unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it’s not psychoactive.
Nope. The cannabis plant is made up of two main players: CBD and THC. CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant, so what that means is you won’t have any effects like euphoria, says Junella Chin, an osteopathic physician and a medical cannabis expert for cannabisMD. Some people, for unknown reasons, just react differently to CBD, Dr Chin adds. About 5% of people say they feel altered after taking CBD. Usually they’re the same people who have side effects from Advil or Tylenol. It’s also crucial to buy third-party-tested CBD for quality assurance. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD, it is possible to buy a product that is more or less potent than advertised, or even contains small amounts of THC.
You’ve probably heard the terms cannabis, marijuana, and hemp all tossed around in relation to CBD. The plant Cannabis sativa has two primary species, Hemp and Marijuana. Both contain CBD, but there’s a much higher percentage in hemp, which also has very low levels of THC (less than 0.3%) compared to marijuana.
When people talk about Hemp oil, they refer to oil extracted from the hemp seeds. There are no cannabinoids—CBD or THC—in hemp oil. This ingredient is high in healthy fats and mainly used in beauty products for its moisturizing benefits.
The only CBD medication that is currently FDA-approved is Epidiolex, which was approved last year for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. But many people swear CBD has helped with a slew of other health conditions, including back pain, osteoarthritis, even cancer.
“My practice has patients walking in every day asking about CBD,” says Houman Danesh, MD, director of integrative pain management for the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But while there’s lots of anecdotal evidence, he says, “it’s still very difficult to say” what the real benefits are due to a lack of research.
CBD might be worth trying to manage symptoms of anxiety. “[CBD] tells your body to calm down and reminds you that you’re safe,” Dr. Chin says. “It mellows out the nervous system so you’re not in a heightened ‘fight or flight’ response,” she says, so people with anxiety may find it helps them feel more relaxed. Still, one of the biggest misconceptions about CBD is that it’s a wonder drug. “A lot of times people think CBD is a cure-all, and it’s not,” Dr. Chin says. “You should also have a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and good nutrition—CBD is not going to fix everything.”
It really depends on what your goal is and why you’re taking CBD in the first place. Some people don’t want to ingest anything and therefore prefer a topical CBD cream or ointment. The biggest differences between tinctures, edibles, and vape pens are speed of delivery and how long the effects last. Vape relief is faster but wears off faster too—usually in about two hours, says Dr. Chin.
Tinctures and edibles take longer to work but last four or five hours. “A tincture looks like a little liquid that you put under your tongue, and you feel relief within half an hour,” Dr. Chin says. “If you prefer to taste something, you choose an edible, whether it’s a capsule, gummy, or baked good.”
What does the label look like?
We don’t mean the color or millennial font. If it’s a dietary supplement, it should have a back panel with an FDA disclaimer and warning section, according to Beatty. “Ideally, it would be preferable to have access to their third-party lab testing results too.”
Speaking of which: Has it been third-party tested?
Nearly every expert Health spoke to agreed that your CBD products should be tested by a third party to confirm the label’s accuracy. This is a real concern in the industry—take the 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association study, for example, which tested 84 CBD products and found that 26% contained lower doses than stated on the bottle. Look for a quality assurance stamp or certificate of analysis from a third party.
What’s the dosing?
When thinking about dosing, also consider whether your CBD is full-spectrum or isolate: Full-spectrum could include other cannabinoids like CBN or CBG (important since there’s something called the ‘entourage effect’. They’re more effective when all together than any one of them alone)
Does it claim to cure any diseases?
If so, hard pass. You should avoid any company that makes disease claims. That means they’re either willing to break the rules or they’re not aware of the rules.
Is there a batch number?
You should be able to locate the batch number as a way to identify this product in case it was improperly made so the company can carry out a recall.
Are there additional ingredients or excipients?
As with any supplement, you want to know everything you’re ingesting in addition to the main product. Supplements Fact Panel should state all main ingredients and quantities, along with additional excipients
The latest Farm bill passed last year, removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA’s, purview. “Hemp can now be grown freely under federal law, which, of course, is huge,” Parrish says. “But while it’s legal under federal law, it’s up to each state to set their own policy.” “It’s kind of ironic,” says Parrish. “With marijuana, we have got the federal government saying ‘No’ and a bunch of states saying ‘Yeah, it’s OK’—but with hemp, the feds say ‘Yeah, it’s OK,’ but we still have some states saying it’s not.”
That same 2018 Farm Bill means you can now travel between states with legit CBD products. “Flying with CBD should pose no issues now,” Parrish says. However, if you’re traveling with a tincture, be mindful of TSA limits on how much liquid you can carry on an airplane, she adds. (You can also mail CBD products, just like “companies that comply with the Bill can ship their hemp-derived CBD products anywhere in the U.S.,” Parrish notes.)
It should not, as long as you’re buying third-party tested CBD with no added THC, says Dr. Chin. But she does point out that athletes, who often are required to take drug tests that are more sensitive, “could potentially test positive” for trace amounts of THC if they’ve been using CBD products with low levels of THC.
Tempted to give your pup one of those CBD dog biscuits? “Generally, we expect CBD products to be safe, and they could show some benefit for anxiety in pets,” says John Faught, DVM, a veterinarian based in Austin, Texas. But the challenge when considering CBD products for pets is the same as with people: lack of research. “I believe there are good products out there today, but I also don’t know how to distinguish them at this time,” Faught says.