Less than 20 years ago, I used to drive past billboards warning against the use of marijuana. Use it or possess it, the signs warned, and you’ll go to jail.
Two weeks ago, I was in a health food store with a 60-year-old relative who bought a (perfectly legal) cannabis derivative known as CBD Oil. Why? Because he thinks it’ll help his heart.
Hype usually moves faster than science, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be curious about what might work for you.
Given the CBD explosion, we thought it’d be helpful to look at:
- What we do know about CBD, according to research
- What we don’t know
- If you’re considering CBD, what you should do
But first, a little background.
What is CBD Oil?
The acronym “CBD” is short for cannabidiol, which is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. From a chemical perspective, CBD looks almost exactly like it’s more famous sibling, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is what gets you stoned. CBD doesn’t.
Potential Benefits: Why are people so interested in CBD lately?
There have been studies in recent years that show CBD may be beneficial to your health. The most established (so far) is treatment for severe seizures. The research is so compelling that the FDA recently approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex, which will be available by prescription for those with rare forms of epilepsy.
There are a few other areas where CBD has shown some promise. Chronic pain is one. Anxiety is another. It may also be useful for decreasing inflammation. In a recent video, Dr. Mike T. Nelson said he thinks CBD could be useful for those in contact sports because of its potential effect on maintaining the blood-brain barrier after impact. So, from a scientific perspective, the compound is worth examining further.
CBD Oil Risks: Are There Any?
Well, now let’s talk about what we don’t know.
For nearly all of the other claims people make about CBD nowadays – i.e. that it will ease glaucoma, or help your sleep, or battle cancer — the honest answer is: No one knows yet.
Despite all of the excitement around CBD, data on its long term effects are lacking. A big reason why? It’s part of a Schedule 1 narcotic, which means that studying it can be enormously complicated.
That uncertainty hasn’t stopped a legion of new CBD oils from coming to market, however. And that’s where consumers like us face an even bigger unknown: What’s actually in the bottle?
Nelson describes the situation as follows:
“There are a couple companies working to do it the right way and a piss ton of ‘fly-by-night, let’s-put-ditchweed-in-a-bottle-since-most-people-won’t-know’ companies too.”
Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, echoes those sentiments. He told HealthDay News the following about the explosion of CBD oils in the marketplace.
“It really is the Wild West,” Bonn-Miller said. “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people.”
Bonn-Miller backs up his point with data. He recently conducted a test of various store-bought CBD Oils. His team found that about 43 percent of the products had less CBD than advertised. And if you work at a job that drug tests employees, take note: Bonn-Miller also found that about 1 in 5 CBD products contained THC.
Bonn-Miller’s study isn’t the only deep dive into publicly available CBD that’s come back with dubious findings. An investigation by NBC 4 in New York found that every over-the-counter CBD supplement they purchased contained less than half of the CBD advertised on the label. A few contained none at all.
More concerningly, NBC found that some samples contained high levels of pesticides. One had potentially harmful levels of lead.
What’s more, with the most recent Farm Bill in the U.S. making hemp production legal, there will be more CBD products coming to market in the future. (Hemp is a cannabis plant that contains less than .3% THC). And unless the FDA changes its stance toward supplements (something that has been in discussion lately), these products will make it to market with little to no oversight.
Simply put: For anyone who does want to buy CBD oil, the Wild West is about to get wilder.
So should you take CBD Oil?
If you’re considering using CBD Oil, first ask yourself “why.”
If the answer is “to address one of the data-backed concerns that the compound can potentially address,” then fair enough. We recommend speaking with your doctor first.
But, if the answer is “because a bunch of my friends, people at my gym, or a person I heard on a podcast said I should try it,” you may want to hold off. The data likely isn’t there to support their claims.
The next question to ask: Is CBD Oil legal for me to own? No matter how beneficial you think it is, there’s no supplement worth going to jail over. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown showing if its legal where you live. (Note: U.S. States only.)
So if you do go shopping for CBD Oil, you’d want to look for…
- CBD sourced from therapeutic hemp rather than industrial hemp. The therapeutic strands are richer in CBD, and therefore require fewer chemicals to process.
- Proof that the product came from a registered lab that follows cGMP standards and AHPA guidelines.
Nelson says, “If it’s really cheap, I don’t know that I would trust it. If the company only makes CBD, that makes me nervous. (<-Editor’s Note: A brand that makes CBD only could be problematic because it’s easier to set up shop, make one product, and then just go under if they get into trouble.) Ask the company for their traceability.“
You can ask by calling or emailing the company’s customer service line directly. “A big part of what I do personally is to see how cooperative they are,” Nelson says “You can ask about their COA, or Certificate of Analysis put out by their Quality Assurance department that shows the product meets its specifications.”
Nelson adds that you can tell a lot by how the manufacturer responds.
“Legit companies are more than willing to help you out and show that they are different,” Nelson says. “Non-legit companies will try to talk you out of specific request, give you the runaround, or just won’t answer emails or phone calls. There is not a 100% foolproof way to know for sure, just steps to hedge your bets as best you can.”