The wave of marijuana legalization in recent years has more and more Americans toking up legally and experimenting with everything from candy to skincare products infused with cannabis. But, there’s one type of cannabis product that’s been getting a lot of buzz — and, it won’t even get you high.
CBD products have become increasingly popular in recent years, as more and more producers market CBD as the new “it” drug for the health and wellness set — one that has been touted as a pain reliever and a treatment for anxiety, among other potential applications. Last year, consumer sales of CBD products topped $350 million in the United states, more than triple the amount sold in 2014, and various estimates predict the market could reach $2 billion within the next two to four years.
So, what exactly is CBD — and why are you able to get your hands on it even if you don’t live in a state where cannabis is legal?
What is CBD?
The term “CBD” is a nickname for cannabidiol, which is one of several cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, that are found in cannabis and hemp plants. Of course, the most famous cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the main psychoactive component in marijuana (aka, the part that gets you high). Because CBD is not psychoactive, it does not create the same buzzy effects typically associated with marijuana when ingested.
Think of CBD as THC’s straight-edge cousin. But just because CBD won’t get you high, that doesn’t mean it has no side effects or potential uses.
What does it do?
Because of the overall legal ambiguity around the cannabis plant (marijuana is federally illegal, but dozens of states have legalized it for medical and/or recreational purposes in recent years), the jury is still out, somewhat, when it comes to the potential benefits and medical applications of cannabidiol.
Still, CBD is already commonly used to relieve some symptoms of anxiety, including insomnia, and there have been some studies that show it to be effective in those cases. Other studies have shown that CBD could have anti-inflammatory properties, and many CBD products are marketed for relieving chronic pain, such as arthritis. And multiple studies have found CBD to be an effective treatment for seizures, and there are various CBD products that are used by patients with epilepsy. However, major health agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization have all stated in recent years that additional CBD testing and research is necessary.
How do you use it?
Once the CBD compound is extracted from cannabis and hemp plants, it is typically packaged in the form of concentrated oil or cream.
For trendy wellness products, the oil is mixed or infused in any number of other goods, including pills, vaporizers, beauty creams, shampoos and edibles like candy, mints and flavored sparkling water. You can even get CBD-infused pet treats that are marketed to owners of dogs and cats suffering from anxiety.
And there’s a growing culture of CBD cocktail enthusiasts, spurred on by the likes of Food & Wine magazine and Gwyneth Paltrow’s growing health and wellness empire, Goop.
Recently, CNBC Make It profiled the New York City bar, Adriaen Block, where customers can choose from an entire menu of CBD-infused cocktails and food items, like a cheeseburger with CBD-infused sauce. (This reporter sampled the restaurant’s CBD-infused menu items, which were tasty — the CBD oil did not overpower — and I did feel a bit relaxed afterward, though the alcohol could have played a role in that.)
Meanwhile, in California, lawmakers recently cracked down on restaurants and cafes serving everything from coffee and juice to other foods infused with CBD.
For medicinal purposes, creams and balms that claim to treat pain can be rubbed directly on the skin and CBD oils can be taken orally, often with a dropper that deposits a drop or two in your mouth.
Is it safe?
Again, the more studies and medical research that focus on CBD, the more will be known about its side effects and potential medical benefits. For what it’s worth, in December 2017, the World Health Organization declared in a report that “cannabidiol does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.” The WHO also noted that CBD could have “therapeutic value” for epileptic seizures, but that further study is warranted to determine CBD’s potential medical use.
Then, in June, the FDA approved GW Pharmaceutical’s Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug for treating epileptic seizures — marking the first time the agency has ever approved a drug derived from marijuana.
However, it’s also worth noting that there have been several instances where the FDA has issued warnings to companies for illegally marketing CBD products with overblown and unrealistic claims, including that they can cure cancer.
But, is it legal?
Well, much like with other cannabis products, that’s kind of a gray area. On the federal level, any CBD products derived from cannabis plants are completely illegal, unless they are approved by the FDA (which only includes Epidiolex at the moment), the Drug Enforcement Agency said in September. The DEA even told VICE recently that the federal law makes no distinction between CBD derived from cannabis or hemp (a cannabis plant species with an especially low concentration of THC grown legally in roughly 40 states, mostly for industrial purposes). In other words, the official stance of the federal government seems to be that CBD products are illegal whether they are derived from cannabis or hemp.
However (and this is very important), as has typically been the case with legal marijuana, the federal government mostly looks the other way while individual states decide how to treat CBD. As such, most states allow CBD products in some form, usually for medical purposes. The 30 states that have legalized medical marijuana include CBD products in that protection, while a number of other states have specific CBD laws that allow for those products in some form, so long as they also contain no more than a miniscule amount of THC. Only four states consider all cannabis-derived products, including CBD, to be illegal: Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
Meanwhile, CBD derived solely from hemp could soon be legal everywhere. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is backing a new legislation that would remove hemp from the DEA’s list of controlled substances, which would make it legal across the country (along with products made from hemp).
In short, CBD’s legal status in the U.S. may still not be entirely clear, but with the potential for billions of dollars in sales in the coming years, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.