CBD exists at the confluence of three huge consumer trends. The first is the herbal supplement boom, a $49 billion-a-year industry that has seen rapid expansion since about 2010. The second is the rise of the anxiety economy, in which all sorts of products, from fidget spinners to weighted blankets, are pitched as reducers of the mild panic of everyday life. And the third is the near-overnight creation of a legitimate cannabis industry, thanks to the spread of marijuana legalization.
Despite this, CBD is something nobody knows much about, and certainly nobody is monitoring it properly. CBD is widely marketed as a supplement, despite the Food and Drug Administration saying it does not qualify as such (this is because it is an active ingredient in drugs which are either approved or under investigation to be approved). CBD goes largely unregulated by the agency; on the FDA’s FAQ page, a vague answer maintains there are “many factors in deciding whether or not to initiate an enforcement action.” The Department of Agriculture handles research grants and pilot programs for hemp, but that’s where its involvement ends.
One of the earliest success stories involves a young girl named Charlotte who was given an ingestible oil derived from Charlotte’s Web, a CBD strain that was specifically developed to provide her with all the benefits of the drug without the high. In less than two years, Charlotte went from a monthly seizure count of 1,200 to about three. Other success stories followed and more parents have begun to speak out, particularly parents who are desperate for access to this life-saving treatment.
As mentioned above, cannabis and hemp differ in the levels of naturally occurring THC that they contain. THC is a cannabinoid like CBD. However, its properties are very different and often antagonistic to the effects of CBD. Hemp is naturally high in CBD and low in THC; the reverse is true of cannabis. In fact, hemp contains only about 0.3% – 1.5% THC, while cannabis contains about 5% – 10% or more THC.
Oh, was I just talking about Girl Scout cookies? I prefer showers over baths—we all have an allegiance to one or the other—but we can’t ignore how many memes have come out of #bathbombs. It’s satisfying to watch them fizzle, they turn your bath into fun colors, and they claim to provide aromatherapy benefits, too. They’re also much tidier than traditional bath salt products; just chuck one in and wait!
Hemp Oil is also from the Cannabis Sativa plant but only the seed is cold-pressed to obtain the oil. It is also called Hemp Seed Oil. It is not tested for C B D content but most likely contains a small amount as it is from the Cannabis Sativa Plant. Hemp Oil is regulated in its production and is tested for THC amounts but is not tested for C B D amounts.
By definition, ointments must be infused with medicine, in this case CBD, and are of a semi-solid almost mucus-like consistency. Creams typically involve water or some type of aqueous substance as their base, while salves utilize only oils or waxes for their foundation. Ointments tend to contain a combination of oils, water and alcohols within their formulation.
“We’ve found that an effective dose for psychological issues, like stress anxiety, generally tends to start out at 6 mg and can go up to 20 mg,” says Zachary Clancy, a horticulturist and clinical herbalist at the Alchemist’s Kitchen, which sells a wide range of CBD goods at its retail store in lower Manhattan and also sells wholesale to restaurants. (Clinical herbalists can complete any of a variety of educational programs and apprenticeships to gain that title.)
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.
Interestingly, the memo argues that while California is willing to challenge the federal government’s authority when it comes to legalizing cannabis, it’s not willing to challenge the federal government when it comes to hemp. The memo states: “Although California currently allows the manufacturing and sales of cannabis products (including edibles), the use of industrial hemp as the source of CBD to be added to food products is prohibited. Until the FDA rules that industrial hemp-derived CBD oil and CBD products can be used as a food or California makes a determination that they are safe to use for human and animal consumption, CBD products are not an approved food, food ingredient, food additive, or dietary supplement.”
Cannabis has been used medicinally for centuries, as a sleep aid, a pain and nausea reducer, to relieve anxiety and other mood problems. In the mid-1960s, scientists identified the first cannabinoid. Since then, scientists have gone on to identify more than 80 individual cannabinoids and continue to investigate them for their potential symptom-relieving and disease-fighting abilities.
Donald Abrams was a member of the committee that reviewed the evidence that went into producing the report, and he said that the studies they reviewed overwhelmingly used pharmaceutically available preparations that contain THC, including dronabinol, nabilone and the whole-plant extract spray nabiximols, which contains equal parts CBD and THC. It’s impossible to know whether the benefits of cannabis can also be obtained from CBD alone, Abrams said, because CBD is just one of 400 chemicals present in the plant. So far, CBD in isolation has been studied in only a handful of randomized, placebo-controlled trials (considered the gold standard of evidence in medical research), and the evidence remains sparse.
A few weeks ago, in a bike shop–slash–coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I saw a little sign for a new product on offer: a CBD lavender latte. I didn’t get one, in part because it was 80 degrees outside, and also because my experiences with CBD are somewhat mixed. I have some gummy fruit candy that puts me straight to sleep, and I found using an oil dropper on my tongue too disgusting-tasting to be worth whatever marginal benefits it may have given me. But I knew other anxious people have had good experiences with CBD, and I like coffee, so I was interested — though I did wonder if coffee (a stimulant) and CBD (a cannabinoid thought to have relaxing properties) might just cancel each other out.
So is it possible that despite all this anecdotal evidence, low-dose CBD is a placebo? Sure, because, say it with me: We don’t know anything about CBD. “Unfortunately,” says Baron, “we are nowhere near close to having any definitive trials on effectiveness for most symptoms claimed to benefit from CBD with trials that are scientifically relevant, such as prospective randomized placebo-controlled trials.”
CBD is derived by growing cannabis, drying it out, pulverizing it, and then, often, using a rotary evaporator filled with an ethanol solvent to extract the CBD. (There are some other methods, but the ethanol one is common.) It’s a pretty old and fairly low-tech technique, but it’s effective. What you end up with is, hopefully, about 99 percent pure CBD in the form of white powder, which is called CBD isolate. (Some CBD is billed as “full spectrum,” which means it contains other things from the cannabis plant, like a bunch of other cannabinoids, but there’s no formal definition for full spectrum.)