CBD: What’s all the fuss?

It seems like you can’t turn around these days without seeing something related to CBD, or cannabidiol, products. A neighbor recently asked me what, if anything, I knew about the health benefits of CBD oil. I had recently read an article in Consumer Reports, which provided a little bit of insight, but her query made me want to delve a little deeper – for my own knowledge and to field potential questions from my coaching clients. I’ve tried to simplify what I have learned into a few key questions and answers below:

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound extracted from both the marijuana plant as well as its close relative the hemp plant. One of the most important things to know upfront is that CBD does not get users high. It is another compound in marijuana – THC or tetrahydrocannabinol – that produces its psychoactive properties.

 

What do people use it for?

A growing body of preliminary research suggests some of CBD’s properties may improve health. Early studies suggest that CBD affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a series of receptors found throughout the body that are involved in regulating many of our critical biological processes. These processes include sleep, memory, mood, and metabolism. Because CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system, it is believed to help promote homeostasis in the body, reducing the sensation of pain and inhibiting inflammation.

Due to its purported anti-inflammatory properties, many individuals use CBD products to relieve pain from things like arthritis as well as general muscle soreness. Another popular reason cited for its use is to reduce stress and anxiety. Others report that it improves sleep.

 

Does it work?

The jury is still out, primarily due to a lack of sound, scientific research (e.g., randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard when it comes to research). Many experts point out that most CBD product claims are based on anecdotal evidence, as it is still an unregulated industry at this time. The strongest scientific evidence is for CBD’s effectiveness in treating two rare but devastating forms of childhood epilepsy. In July 2018, the FDA approved the first prescription medicine (Epidiolex) with CBD as its active ingredient to help those patients manage seizures.

Scientists admit though that one of the key reasons for the lack of scientific evidence is due to government rules that have prevented federal money from being used to research CBD’s possible health benefits (more on that in the next section). The good news is some of those regulations are being lifted and just last year, the National Institutes of Health awarded $140 million toward cannabis research, with $15 million dedicated to CBD studies.

 

Is it legal?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as there are different laws and regulations at the state and federal levels. It starts with the fact that for decades, federal law did not differentiate hemp from other cannabis plants. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act banned cannabis of any kind. This recently changed with successful passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which essentially allows farmers to grow hemp and legalizes hemp derivatives like CBD. It also removes CBD extracted from hemp from the DEA’s list of “Schedule 1 drugs” (whereas marijuana and THC remain on the list). These changes should allow for more research, BUT now that the FDA has approved a CBD-based prescription drug, it is recommending that any product that markets CBD for health purposes should go through its rigorous official drug approval process. And we know that that can mean years of research and scrutiny before products make it to market.

In addition, the FDA has indicated that when CBD is added to food, it is then considered a “food additive” – and the FDA has not yet approved CBD for that purpose. Unfortunately, this has left health officials in many states in the position where they feel the need to crack down on food and drinks with CBD. The good news in all of this is that it is pushing the FDA to determine how to regulate CBD and clarify the current confusion over its legal and regulatory status. So, stay tuned for a more definitive answer regarding the legality of CBD products.

 

Bottom line

I am glad that my neighbor’s inquiry prompted me to learn more about CBD and its potential health benefits. I think I am more open to trying it to see if it helps with either stress relief and possibly joint pain (my knees and hips are starting to show their age). However, I plan to discuss it with my physician at my annual physical this fall, just to get her professional opinion about it and to make sure there are no reasons I should not take it.

Below are some general recommendations to consider before you try CBD:

  • It is always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before taking any kind of supplements that are not regulated by the FDA. You want to ensure that CBD products will not interfere with any other medications (prescription or over the counter) you are taking. You also want to be sure CBD products will not aggravate any existing medical conditions.

 

  • Do your research on the quality of the products and pay particular attention to the actual contents of the product. Many online products that were tested had less CBD than advertised and some had no CBD at all. You can ask to see the Certificates of Analysis (COAs), which provide results of tests related to the actual contents of the products. Any reputable company should be willing to share those results.

 

Sources:

Consumer Reports article October 2018 issue – “New Hope for Pain Relief?”

Consumer Reports article May 2019 issue – “CBD Goes Mainstream”

Harvard Medical School Health Blog: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476

Green Compass Global: https://greencompassglobal.com/The-Science/?mitem=28279

Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/