What is Cannabidiol (CBD) and what we know about it

Cannabidiol (CBD) is widely available in stores and online.  You may have even seen advertisements boasting about the the benefits of incorporating CBD into your daily routine. So what exactly is CBD and why is it suddenly everywhere?

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, it is one of over 100 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the cannabis or marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa.

What is CBD and what can it help?

How is cannabidiol different from marijuana or cannabis?

Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is one of the most available cannabinoids in cannabis (marijuana) next to THC.  CBD is mainly derived from CBD-rich hemp plants which have lower THC levels than regular marijuana plants.  CBD is one of hundreds of compounds found within the cannabis plant, but unlike THC, CBD does not cause a 'high'.  Cannabidiol, according to the World Health Organization, does not carry any risk of abuse or dependence potential and to date shows no risk of any related health problems due to its use.

Is cannabidiol legal in the US?

CBD is legal in the US following the passage of the Farm Bill which removed CBD and other non-psychoactive derivatives of cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) and allowed for interstate commerce.  Some states have opted to limit or ban the use and sale of certain CBD products, such as New York, which does not allow CBD infused edibles.  The FDA is currently reviewing the status of CBD use in foods and dietary supplements and is expected to make major decisions regarding hemp soon.  Prior to the Farm Bill, CBD had to be imported from other countries as it was not legal to grow hemp in the US.  In the US, CBD must come from the hemp plant and contain less than 0.3% THC to be considered legal under the Farm Bill.  Federally, CBD is still considered part of the marijuana plant and is subject to restrictions when it comes to banking and advertising making it difficult for CBD businesses.

Cannabidiol health benefits

CBD largely came into the mainstream from its use by children to treat epileptic conditions such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastraut syndrome, two rare conditions that don't respond well to other anti-seizure medications.  The use of CBD oil drastically reduced the number of seizures and was documented in a CNN special by Dr. Sanjay Gupta called Weed which highlighted the benefits.  Epidilox, the first cannabidiol based drug by GW Pharmaceuticals, was approved for use on rare epileptic conditions bt the FDA, paving the way for future cannabinoid therapies.

Aside from seizures, CBD is widely used to manage anxiety and stress.  Several studies have been conducted regarding CBD's anti-anxiety properties including one that focused on its benefits for PTSD, GAD, PD, OCD, and SAD.  Cannabidiol may also help insomnia.  Other studies have shown that CBD may help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep as well increase the time you actually stay asleep, allowing for a more restful sleep.  Unfortunately, until the recent passage of the Farm Bill, research and studies were highly limited so more research is needed to determine the overall efficacy and safety regarding these findings.

CBD may also play an active role in relieving pain.  A study from the European Journal of Pain showed how CBD was able to reduce inflammation and lower pain levels specifically for those suffering from arthritis.  Other studies were able to demonstrate how CBD inhibits inflammation and neuropathic pain.  Again, due to the previous restrictions on research, more studies are needed to substantiate the claims.

Is cannabidiol safe to use?

Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability. CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of certain other medications in your blood by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does. A significant safety concern with CBD is that it is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. Currently, the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. So you cannot know for sure that the product you buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label. In addition, the product may contain other (unknown) elements. We also don’t know the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition.

Is all cannabidiol the same?

CBD, when isolated is the same CBD no matter where it comes from.  3rd party lab testing is an industry standard these days and helps consumers to understand the makeup.  There are several different types of tests that can be conducted such as Potency, Microbiology, Residual Solvents, Heavy Metals and Terpene.  Potency simply shows you how much active ingredient there is in the sample.  Microbiology testing focuses on how safe a product or sample is to consume.  A microbiology test will focus on more dangerous contaminants such as E.Coli and Coliforms.  Residual solvent tests show if there is any solvents left over from the extraction process.  When CBD and other cannabinoids are extracted, often volatile chemical solvents such as butane are used which should not enter our bodies in high quantities for health reasons.  Heavy metal testing tests for the amount of dangerous metals the plant has absorbed from the ground during vegetation and flowering.  Hemp plants are used to help 'scrub' or clean land since they are able to absorb large amounts of what is in the soil leaving the soil clean and ready for a different crop.   This can lead to hemp that contains high amounts of heavy metals and toxins and is unsafe to consume as is.  Lastly, terpene testing shows the amount of terpenes present and is only conducted when terpenes are actually present in the product or sample.  Isolates, a pure for of cannabinoids such as CBD or CBG, will not have any accompanying terpenes.

Key take-aways on cannabidiol

While you may have seen or read about the wide variety of benefits of CBD, there is not enough research to back some of the heavier claims such as curing cancer.  Indeed these claims are putting many companies on the hot seat with the FDA who will from time to time send out warning letters to companies making unfounded claims.  Most recently, claims about the ability of CBD to treat or prevent the Cornoavirus have made rounds online.  There has been no verified studies to back this idea and it should be disregarded.  CBD may benefit some of the symptoms associated with stress from the pandemic, such as anxiety and insomnia, but as a treatment for Covid-19, CBD lacks any factual research.  Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD is currently is mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting. If you decide to try CBD, talk with your doctor — if for no other reason than to make sure it won’t affect other medications you are taking.