In the past few years the popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) has been growing like a weed. So what exactly is CBD?
CBD is the second most prevalent active ingredient of cannabis. This comes just behind the psychoactive compound that makes the use of this plant in flux across state governments around the country: THC.
THC, the compound that produces a high, is only present in a specific strain of cannabis: marijuana. Yet there is still heavy debate over the entire cannabis plant, including all of its strains. One of its legal strains, hemp, has been cultivated for over 12,000 years and has been used in textile products, food and industrial products.
CBD has become so prevalent that the cannabinoid market is expected to reach $89 billion by 2024, according to Mordor Intelligence. This is due to a number of reasons, such as the growth of pharmaceutical therapy, but perhaps the biggest reason is state governments’ relaxation of marijuana laws. Currently 11 states and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes while 33 others have legalized it for medical purposes. Unlike marijuana, there have been no laws directly declaring pure CBD illegal, as it is classified as hemp if produced and sold legally. This allows users to legally turn to CBD for ailments many use medical marijuana for, such as pain and epilepsy.
The sale and use of CBD has become such a weighty matter that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the sale of hemp and its extracts, including CBD. The main restriction in this bill distinguishes hemp from marijuana: By federal law, hemp cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC. If it does, it is considered to be marijuana, which is currently labeled as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Purveyors have begun to take advantage of this restriction by selling CBD products with this exact amount of THC. A local purveyor, Java N Jane, located on West Street in Annapolis, sells goods both with and without THC.
“We most certainly carry products with THC in it,” says owner, Kendall Rae. “That would be considered our full spectrum. Broad spectrum does not have THC and we actually carry both in Java N Jane.”
While full spectrum products may not be considered “pure” CBD, the small amount of THC they contain does not conjure the same psychoactive effects as marijuana does. “I tell [customers] all the time that CBD is the non-psychoactive component of the hemp plant. So if you are there looking for a high, that’s not what you’re going to get,” says Rae.
The Hype About CBD
So, if it doesn’t cause a high, why do people use CBD? It is used in its variety of forms to assist with numerous health issues. These include epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, arthritis, and chronic pain, according to the Harvard Health Blog.
“[CBD] is linked exclusively to treating nausea, pain, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, acne . . . the list continues to go on and on,” explains Rae. “I for one have used it for my own depression and anxiety and [for epilepsy] and it has helped me tremendously.”
In fact, such positive outcomes of CBD use led to FDA approval of the medication Epidolex for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes in patients over age two.
CBD is also effective at treating several different types of chronic pain. One study from the European Journal of Pain used an animal model to demonstrate that CBD applied on the skin assists in easing pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. Other studies have shown CBD to inhibit inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
While no studies have shown that CBD products with THC in them can impede these health benefits, organizations like the FDA still urge consumers to be wary of any compounds acquired from cannabis.
“While the agency recognizes the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds may offer, the currently available data leave open crucial questions about whether these products are safe or effective,” says FDA Spokesman Michael Felberbaum.
One of the concerns surrounding CBD products is the true purity of full spectrum goods. In order to obtain THC and CBD, an extractor must draw out the compounds through virtually the same exact process. Thus a mistake in this process can lead to the supplier inadvertently giving you a CBD product containing THC if it has not gone through the FDA approval process.
But some purveyors, such as Java N Jane, ensure that the pure, full spectrum CBD products they sell are indeed THC free.
“We get all of the lab reports from all of the items we sell at Java N Jane so if a customer comes in and they have that same question [about whether THC can slip into our products], it’s not something they have to take my word on. I can simply print out the report from the lab that it was actually extracted from,” says Rae.
Just as the legal parameters surrounding marijuana are stringent in Maryland, the laws surrounding the use of CBD are stiff as well.
“Hemp products must meet any applicable FDA requirements and standards, just like any other FDA-regulated product,” stated the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, Amy Abernethy, during a congressional testimony. “These safeguards help ensure that Americans have access to safe and accurately labeled hemp products, and, in the case of drugs, that patients can depend on the effectiveness of these products.”
Many products that have not been cleared by the FDA and are thus illegal may attempt to trick consumers by being labeled as “hemp-based.” These products have likely not gone through the FDA-approval process and their compounds may be labeled incorrectly.
While these non-regulated hemp-based products could prove to be dangerous to consumers, there is currently not enough research to state definite claims of any hazards CBD may cause. “A key goal of our work is to identify and collate all available data to help us answer these questions in order to make sure that the American public is protected,” says Felberbaum.
On behalf of the FDA, Abernethy has publicly stated, however, that the use of CBD can lead to, “potential liver toxicity, drug interactions, and drowsiness.” But since no substantial cases exhibiting any of these harms directly tied to CBD have been made public, many users and purveyors of CBD have little fear of its potential health concerns.
“I have not seen anyone who has complained,” says Rae. “I have a return policy and I’ve been in business since April 20th and we have yet to do a return.”
Ready to Try CBD?
For those interested in trying CBD, the compound is available for purchase in several different forms. The most common forms of CBD products include tinctures, oils, cosmetics, creams, gummies, powders, and off-the-shelf beverages.
While Rae provides customers with each of these options, she recommends different types of CBD for distinct ailments, such as the indica strain for those who struggle with sleep and the sativa strain for those who struggle with depression or anxiety.
Furthermore, the efficacy of CBD can vary with the method of consumption as well. Some CBD consumers claim that using tinctures provide a faster and more powerful effect while “milder” gummies have the benefits of better taste and longer-lasting results as they must go through the entire digestive system after consumption.
While you can purchase and consume CBD from local purveyors, the sale and marketing of food and dietary supplements with CBD is against the law. As stated in congressional testimonies and other speeches given by FDA officials, the FDA continues to evaluate the regulatory frameworks in products containing CBD.
“Ultimately, the steps the FDA is taking will allow us to continue to clarify our regulatory authority over these products, seek input from a broad range of stakeholders and examine a variety of approaches and considerations in their marketing and regulation,” says Felberbaum, “while continuing to make sound, science-based decisions to protect the public’s health and safety.”