From gummies to pills to beauty creams, CBD is everywhere: Americans spent more than $350 million on products with this cannabis compound in 2017. And devotees claim it boosts health and has all the bliss-out benefits of weed, minus the paranoia. But how much do you really know about it? We’ll be honest, what it is (and isn’t) and what is does and how it works is complexâ€”and had us more than a little confused before we started working on this project. So we asked an expert, Alex Capano, chief science officer for Ananda Hemp, a Kentucky-based health and wellness brand specializing in CBD productsâ€”a woman who spends all day every day studying CBDâ€”to breakdown everything we might possibly want to know about the plant derivative. That way, you can feel confident adding it to your medicine cabinet (and nightstand, and handbag) ASAP.
Though theyâ€™re both found in a cannabis plantâ€”meaning either hemp or marijuanaâ€”using CBD (full name: cannabidiol) is a far cry from smoking weed. Like THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD is a cannabidinoidâ€”a molecule that helps the functioning of our endocannabinoid system, which regulates our mood, sleep cycle, inflammation, immune response, and more. But unlike THC, CBD isnâ€™t psychoactive. â€śIn other words, CBD canâ€™t get you high,â€ť says Alex Capano, chief science officer for Ananda Hemp, a Kentucky-based health and wellness brand specializing in CBD products.
â€śThey both are relatively safe, but CBD is arguably safer for several reasons,â€ť she says. For one, it wonâ€™t affect your motor skills or cognition, so you can use CBD and still drive your car or get through a day at the office without causing coworkers to raise an eyebrow. Also, while the THC in a joint, vape pen, or gummy might leave you feeling paranoid, CBD is actually an anxiolytic (meaning it nixes anxiety) and anti-psychotic.
Both THC and CBD come with potential therapeutic benefits (read: can help ease your aches) but they work in different ways. THC decreases the perception of pain, while CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory. Also, CBD alone can treat severe epilepsy. THC, for its part, is better at alleviating chemotherapy-induced anorexia or HIV-associated cachexia, explains Capano, because it increases appetite (hello, munchies). As she puts it: â€śCBD can help with nausea, but itâ€™s not going to make you eat a bag of Doritos.â€ť
Yes and no. Legality is a complex topic because it depends on where your CBD product comes from, says Capano: â€śCBD is legal at the federal level only if itâ€™s derived from U.S.-grown hemp that has a license and permit under the Farm Bill; if yours is flown in from overseas and is derived from marijuana plant, itâ€™s technically not federally legal,â€ť she explains. (A cannabis plant is either hemp or marijuana, depending on how much THC is in it. Hemp has 0.3 percent THC or less by weight when harvested, while marijuana has more than 0.3 percent THC by weight and is still federally illegal.)
Making it more complicated: Some states have restricted CBD sales, so even if your product was derived from federally legal hemp, it’s legality where you live does vary by state. Thereâ€™s a chance, Capano says, that you might run into law enforcement whoâ€™s not up-to-date on the bill and arrest you for possessing itâ€”but itâ€™s unlikely.
There are tons of CBD products on the market, from lotions you rub on to capsules you swallow and tinctures you drop under your tongue. All these are made similarly: By extracting CBD, or cannabidiol, from a cannabis plant and then diluting it with a carrier, such as coconut oil, explains Capano. The way you choose to use it is totally a matter of preference and might require some experimentation.
You canâ€™t OD on CBD, but dosage is personal. â€śMore does not necessarily mean better,â€ť warns Capano. â€śThe response dose curve looks like a bell, so you want to hit the top of the bell without going over.â€ť When figuring out your optimal dose, add a bit more every three days or so and see how you respond. If you get to a point where you donâ€™t feel any extra benefit (or feel worse), youâ€™ve gone too far; dial it back a bit the next day.
With a tincture, Capano recommends starting with 10mg of active cannabinoids (this should be on the label). In some products, 10mg is a few drops; in others, itâ€™s a whole milliliter. Put the oil under your tongue and hold it there (no swallowing!) until it absorbs. If taking orally (e.g., popping a pill), youâ€™re going to need more, says Capano, because you lose a bit of the active ingredients to something called first-pass-metabolism by the liver. A pill with 15 or 20 mg of CBD might be comparable to 10 mg of a tincture. â€śAlso, keep in mind that oral ingestion results in a delayed onset,â€ť she says, â€śso wait an hour or two before adding anymore, especially if thereâ€™s THC in there.â€ť
For oils, creams, and other topical treatmentsâ€”which are a great option for eczema, burns, or other skin conditionsâ€”â€śdosage depends on the concentration of the product, but generally just apply a small amount, as needed,â€ť suggests Capano. Topicals also can help with headaches or migraines if you apply it at onset. And if getting your CBD with a vaporizer, start small. â€śYou need less from a vaporizer and will have a very rapid onset,â€ť she says. For this reason, she recommends trying just 2.5 mg at first.
Whenever youâ€™re starting out with a new product, the best time to try it is right before bedâ€”just in case it makes you drowsy, says Capano. Even if it doesnâ€™t, youâ€™re pretty much guaranteed a good nightâ€™s sleep.
Yes, and it may be your best bet if youâ€™re hoping to achieve quick pain relief. Of all the options for taking CBD, vaping has the most rapid onset; youâ€™ll feel its effects within minutes, says Capano. â€śSome people use CBD daily for prevention of a migraine, but if they feel one coming on, vaping might be a good way to get an almost-immediate CBD delivery to abort a migraine quickly,â€ť she says.
One caveat: Most vaporizers use either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin (PG or VG). Those are added ingredients used as carrier oils, and unfortunately we donâ€™t know yet whether theyâ€™re safe to vaporize, warns Capano. If immediate pain relief isnâ€™t a priority, another option, like a tincture, cream, or capsule (which take longer to set in), might be the safer way to go.
Like Capano explained above, the perfect dose varies from person to person. It also depends on a few thingsâ€”the first being whether youâ€™re using an isolate or full-spectrum product. Isolate products are pure CBD while full-spectrum products contain multiple cannabidinoids and oils, vitamins, and more natural compounds. â€śWith full-spectrum products, you need a lower doseâ€”and that might prevent drug interactions and will be easier on your liver,â€ť says Capano.
Your ideal dosage also varies based on how youâ€™re taking itâ€”youâ€™ll need less from a tincture than a capsule, for instance, because tinctures have a greater bioavailability (meaning more gets into your bloodstream and causes an effect).
But as a general rule? â€śStart low and go slow,â€ť recommends Capano. â€śMore isnâ€™t always better, itâ€™s like a bell.â€ť Start with 10 mg of active a couple hours before bed. Each day, you can increase the amount slightly and take note of how you feel; dial it back when you donâ€™t feel any extra benefit (or even feel a little worse) from additional milligrams. The sweet spot will likely be between 10 and 40 mg a day.
Unlike smoking a joint, using CBD wonâ€™t leave you with a giggling fit or the munchies. It can, however, make you sleepy. â€śThe most common side effect is drowsiness, so donâ€™t take it for the first time and get behind the wheel or head into a big presentation,â€ť advises Capano. Wait to see how your body responds, just in case. In some cases, CBD can exacerbate heartburn or lead to mild allergic reactions, such as hives (though this is likely a reaction to the carrier oil added to the CBD, says Capano). Using CBD can also cause diarrhea or change in appetite or weight, according to a recent German study.
All that being said, if youâ€™re taking CBD for a condition like anxiety or epilepsy, the potential drawbacks are generally milder or less of a nuisance than the side effects you might expect from traditional medical treatments.
The real concern when it comes to side effects, says Capano, is whether or not the CBD in your medicine cabinet is legitimate. You first need to find out if itâ€™s even real CBD, as synthetic can be dangerous. Then look into how the plants are grown, how the product is manufactured, and what quality-assurance tests the brand conducts to ensure safety and the elimination of pesticides, chemicals, microbes, and molds. â€śItâ€™s an unregulated industry, and thereâ€™s a lot of great branding and marketing out there, but unfortunately transparency is rare and not knowing what youâ€™re getting is common,â€ť warns Capano. â€śUsually that risk just means wasting your money, but it could be harmful, if there are dangerous chemicals in there, for example.â€ť Contact the company with these questions; any reputable brand will be willing to provide customers with all these details.
As a general rule, CBD should be out of your system within about a week after you stop using it. But it varies from person to person, and the longer and more frequently youâ€™ve taken it, the longer itâ€™ll take to get out of your body. Hereâ€™s why: Itâ€™s lipophilic, meaning it dissolves in fats and compounds in your body over time, says Capano. Thatâ€™s a good thing when youâ€™re looking to prevent pain or alleviate anxiety, as the compounded levels boost the health benefits, says Capano. But yes, it will make the CBD take longer to leave your system if you decide to stop using it.
Not only can you, but for the best effects, in most cases you actually should take CBD on a daily basis. â€śYou canâ€™t overdose on CBD, and itâ€™s lipophilic (or fat soluble), which means it compounds in your body over time, adding to potential health benefits,â€ť says Capano.
Still, â€śless is more,â€ť she says, because CBD is metabolized through the same pathway in your liver as many common prescription and OTC meds. For that reason, Capano recommends sticking with full-spectrum products (which contain multiple cannabidinoids and oils, vitamins, and more natural compounds) as opposed to isolate products, which are pure CBD. â€śWith full-spectrum products, you need a lower doseâ€”and that might prevent drug interactions,â€ť she explains. (Drug interactions are pretty uncommon, especially at low doses, but can occur with SSRIs and blood thinners.) Plus, with smaller doses, youâ€™ll avoid stressing out your liver.
â€śThereâ€™s some evidence out there that CBD can adversely affect a damaged liver, and thereâ€™s other evidence that shows it can be helpfulâ€”it seems to depend on the underlying cause of liver damage,â€ť Capano adds. If you already have liver issues, talk with your doc, keep a close eye on your dosage, and be sure to monitor hepatic enzymes every three months.
The bad news: Your body metabolizes CBD through a pathway in your liver known as CYP 450, where enzymes break up potentially harmful compoundsâ€”and itâ€™s the same pathway in your liver that metabolizes most common prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines, says Capano.
The good news: You likely arenâ€™t taking a high enough dose of CBD that it will cause an adverse reaction with any other medications you might be taking. To lower your risk even more, make sure the CBD youâ€™re using is a full-spectrum product rather than an isolate, so you can get the same benefits at a lower dose. Also, opt for a product that’s not oral, as capsules involve a first pass through the liver that tinctures and other products donâ€™t.
â€śMost people using full-spectrum CBD are taking no more than 40 to 60 mg a day, and we havenâ€™t demonstrated drug interactions at those levels,â€ť says Capano; youâ€™d likely need to use upwards of 20 mg per kilogram of your bodyweight before seeing interactions. But talk with your doctor before combining CBD with any drugs youâ€™re already on, especially if you take blood thinners or antidepressants, advises Capano.
How fast your CBD takes effect totally depends on what form youâ€™re using. Need to kick an acute ache, like a migraine, ASAP? Try vaping, suggests Capano. Vaporizing CBD has the fastest deliveryâ€”you should feel the effects set in within mere minutes.
If your needs are not quite so urgent, you might opt for a tincture; youâ€™ll still feel the effects soonâ€”usually within 20 minutes to an hourâ€”since the liquid quickly absorbs into your bloodstream after you drop it under your tongue. This usage allows the CBD to bypass a first pass through your liver that capsules require before you feel their effects.
If you use CBD daily for preventative reasons and donâ€™t need quick relief, an oral product might be for you. They take the longest to onset (read: at least an hour or two), but, says Capano, â€śtheyâ€™re a good option for people who donâ€™t like the taste of tinctures and want the convenience of capsules.â€ť
You bet. CBD can help clear up and calm down your skin in a few ways. For one, it works by relieving stress, which happens whether you take CBD orally or topically, says Capano: â€śWe know that mood, especially stress, can influence skin irritationâ€”so this is kind of a one-two punch.â€ť
It also helps cell turnover, which can improve acne prone skin and brighten your complexion. Plus, because of its potent inflammatory properties, CBD can even lessen overactive sebum production and breakouts, and can reduce the frequency and severity of eczema and psoriasis flares.
You can even use it in place of hand sanitizer in a pinch. CBD is naturally antimicrobial and can help kill some nasty germs. Ananda Hempâ€™s oil has shown 99.9 percent antimicrobial effectiveness against staph and MRSA in tests. How well a CBD product kills germs does depend on how concentrated it is, so check with the manufacturer before relying on it. Also, keep in mind that CBD has only been shown to protect against gram positive bacteria, such as staph and strepâ€”not against gram negative bacteria, like E. coli, notes Capano. So you shouldnâ€™t rely on it for keeping you totally bug-free. â€śItâ€™s better than nothing, but CBD isnâ€™t a substitute for hand soap,â€ť she says.
Nixing your nerves is one of the top reasons people are turning to CBD products (along with lessening pain and help sleeping). Thereâ€™s still research to be done on how exactly it works to calm anxiety, but one thing we do know is that it blocks an enzyme called FAAH, which works to lower a fatty-acid neurotransmitter called anandamide, explains Capano.
For the non-scientists among us, by blocking FAAH, CBD can help increase your level of anandamide. And thatâ€™s a big deal when youâ€™re looking for a mood boost. This neurotransmitter (the same one that leads to the elusive runnerâ€™s high) is named after the Sanskrit word for joy, bliss, or happiness. Basically, says Capano, â€śCBD makes our natural bliss molecule work better for us.â€ť
Bonus: If CBD is easing your aches or increasing your ZZZs, that might in turn leave you feeling even more relaxed.
Get ready to kiss that nagging knee or back pain goodbye. Along with improvements in sleep and mood, chronic aches are the main reason people are turning to CBD. Thatâ€™s because cannabidiol is an anti-inflammatory agent. In other words, it helps reduce the inflammation causing the pain, rather than reducing your perception of pain. â€śPercocet will just make you feel like you donâ€™t have pain while CBD will get at the root cause,â€ť explains Capano. CBD also helps nix pain because itâ€™s an antioxidant itself, increases our own natural antioxidants, and works on serotonin receptors.
While all that combines to mean CBD has magical pain-slashing properties for certain aches, itâ€™s not ideal for every kind. Itâ€™s a great, effective therapeutic option for chronic pain and pain prevention (e.g. frequent headaches, ongoing back pain thatâ€™s lasted more than a week), says Capano. â€śBut if you have an acute injury, like a broken bone, CBD is not going to be a substitute for morphine in the hospital; those really strong narcotic painkillers have their place.â€ť
That said, if youâ€™re dealing with chronic pain and are already on medication for it, talk with your doctor about combining those traditional meds with CBD. More than 50 percent of long-term opioid users who added CBD to their treatment were able to reduce their opioid use and 90 percent of them had better quality of life within two months, according to research Capano recently conducted. â€śWe know that CBD is effective with pain and itâ€™s safe to use with opioidsâ€”plus, it can help with withdrawal symptoms as you lower opioid use,â€ť she says. â€śThereâ€™s pretty good data that CBD can be a treatment for substance abuse disorders. We should be motivated to use something thatâ€™s safer and doesnâ€™t have the risk of dependency or overdose.â€ť
If youâ€™re in a big city, youâ€™ve likely seen CBD all overâ€”from chic pop-up shops to your corner bodega. If youâ€™re in a small town, you can probably find it in a brick-and-mortar shop too, as lots of small, independent pharmacies are carrying CBD products now. But if you do have trouble tracking it down in person, you can easily order online and have it shipped to any state (since U.S.-grown CBD is legal nationwide per the Farm Bill). But keep in mind: â€śThere are so many online retailers, you have to do your homework,â€ť says Capano.
To make sure youâ€™re getting a legit product, research the brand before purchasing from it and find out where it sources its CBD. If you can find a company thatâ€™s vertically integratedâ€”meaning they have control over the growth of their plantsâ€”thatâ€™s ideal, notes Capano. (Itâ€™s not essential, though, and might be difficult to find a vertically integrated brand, as only a handful of companies in the U.S. are.)
You should also ask if the brand does third-party testing, what level of actives are in the product, whether it contains any microbial contaminants or pesticides. Not only should any reputable company make this info readily available, but they also should include a batch number with every product, so you can see a lab analysis. Donâ€™t be afraid to push for all these details, says Capano: â€śThe more we demand transparency that as consumers, the better the industry will get.â€ť
Want to know even more about the CBD boom we’re currently in? Check back in early April for more on the ABCs of CBD.
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