There are more than 80 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, with THC being the primary one, followed by CBD. However, in the hemp plant, which is a different strain of the species Cannabis sativa, CBD is the main active ingredient, and THC is barely present, making its use and legality more widespread. The reason that CBD is such an effective form of support for human health is due to the body’s endogenous cannabinoid system. This regulatory structure of the body has millions of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system, which react not only to plant-derived cannabinoids (such as hemp and marijuana) but also to natural cannabinoids produced within our body. When hemp oil is used and processed by the body, it is effectively boosting the function of the endocannabinoid system, helping our body regulate itself in many different ways.
To make matters more confusing, nine states (including California, Washington, and Colorado) let residents buy cannabis-based products with or without THC. Nearly two dozen other “medical marijuana states” allow the sale of cannabis, including capsules, tinctures, and other items containing CBD or THC, at licensed dispensaries to people whose doctors have certified that they have an approved condition (the list varies by state but includes chronic pain, PTSD, cancer, autism, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis). Sixteen more states legalized CBD for certain diseases. But because all these products are illegal according to the federal government, cannabis advocates are cautious. “By and large, the federal government is looking the other way,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the Washington, DC–based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), but until federal laws are changed, “this administration or a future one could crack down on people who produce, manufacture, or use CBD, and the law would be on its side.”
With that being said, let’s discuss the wonderful thing we call CBD oil. CBD, cannabidiol, is one of over 85 active cannabinoids identified in hemp and other cannabis plants. CBD oil is derived from hemp, due to its abundance naturally occurring in the plant. CBD oil is extracted using the whole plant, stalks or flowers. Since hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, CBD oil products are non-intoxicating.
Under federal law, cannabis (from which both CBD and marijuana are derived) is illegal everywhere, although the laws against it aren’t generally enforced in states that have legalized marijuana. Some manufacturers claim that CBD culled from legally imported industrial hemp, which has little to no THC, is fine to ship across the U.S., but many experts disagree, noting that because hemp comes from the same species as marijuana, cannabis sativa, all CBD falls under the DEA’s Schedule 1 designation. “This creative interpretation of the law runs afoul of reality,” says the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC, think tank.
Isolates are typically the CBD oil product of choice for those who get drug tested or are sensitive to other cannabinoids such as THC. Products labeled as isolates will generally be highlighted as being 99+% “pure CBD.” Usually, these products will have nothing but CBD in them because the CBD has literally been isolated from everything else. You can find pre-made isolate oils that typically consist of a carrier oil, such as MCT oil, infused with the crystalline isolate powder. You can also find the “raw” CBD crystalline powder or slabs (a form of concentrate) on its own.
Scott Shannon, M.D., assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado, recently sifted through patient charts from his four-doctor practice to document CBD’s effects on anxiety. His study, as yet unpublished, found “a fairly rapid decrease in anxiety scores that appears to persist for months,” he says. But he says he can’t discount a placebo effect, especially since “there’s a lot of hype right now.”
Miller, whose clients include patients referred by physicians, uses CBD in a variety of delivery modalities that she has found effective. “Patches can be worn for pain or anxiety management. Capsules or concentrated drops can be taken orally for pain, inflammation, sleep, and anxiety. Balms and creams can be used on the hands and feet to manage arthritic pain. Vaping is another delivery method,” she says.
Yes: CBD extracts can’t always be trusted. A 2017 JAMA paper reported that almost 70 percent of all CBD products sold online do not contain the amount of CBD stated on the label. Of the 84 products bought from 31 different companies, 42 percent contained a higher concentration of CBD oil than the label claimed, and 26 percent of the products contained less than the label claimed. The remainder of products contained the labeled amount—give or take 10 percent.
There are thousands of unique varieties of hemp. The cultivars used for CBD oil contain significantly higher concentrations of CBD than others. Using these uniquely potent plants, it is possible to extract cannabis oil that contains significant levels of cannabidiol, as well as essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.