13 Facts You Need to Know About CBD

Updated: Nov. 04, 2022

If you’re seeing these three letters on products ranging from capsules to cappuccinos, along with enticing claims that CBD relieves stress, chronic pain, and more, you may wonder whether this new health craze is for real. You might also wonder why some CBD products are labeled with what looks like a marijuana leaf. Here’s what you need to know before you try it.

It’s not the same thing as medical marijuana

CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is found in cannabis plants. Most of the CBD products for sale nationwide are made from hemp, a type of cannabis that is a botanical cousin to marijuana. CBD won’t make you high—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the substance that does that, and there is very little if any of it in hemp. (The maximum amount of THC legally allowed in CBD products is 0.3 percent.) Here’s some more in-depth information on CBD, if you’re still curious.

Legal restrictions are fading but not gone

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of banned substances, where it had lived alongside marijuana since the 1970s. (Hemp can also be turned into paper, clothes, and more.) But in Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota, CBD is still outlawed. And in states where marijuana is legal for medicinal or recreational use, CBD products can be made from marijuana and might, therefore, contain more than the legal limit of THC. Those products can’t be carried or shipped across state lines, says the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

It’s taking surprising forms

CBD is commonly sold as a liquid, or tincture, that you place under your tongue. You can also smoke it via a vape pen with cartridges containing CBD oil, or buy pills and topical creams. Other CBD-­infused products include bath bombs, ice cream, cocktails, and coffee. Total sales are estimated to top $1 billion by 2020.

It works on the brain and throughout the body

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes CBD as “neuroprotective,” meaning it affects the nervous system, including your brain. It interacts with receptors throughout your body, helping it to relax, fall asleep, and block pain signals.

Some people swear by it

According to Consumer Reports surveys, 26 percent of Americans have tried CBD, and the majority of users say it helped with anxiety, joint pain, sleep, and other issues.

It has been used for centuries

Ancient tablets mention that CBD was used medicinally in Asia as far back as 1800 BC. American medical journals from the 1700s cite hemp seeds and roots as treatments for incontinence and skin inflammation.

However, there’s (mostly) no proof that CBD delivers

Despite the anecdotal evidence, CBD has not been widely studied, which is not surprising considering it was illegal until recently. As Orrin Devinsky, MD, a professor of neurology, neuro­surgery, and psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, puts it, “There’s a lot of religion out there, but not a lot of data.” The few (mostly small) studies conducted found that CBD can relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Animal studies show it has promise for helping with nerve pain, diabetes, depression, and more. But until larger, well-designed human studies demonstrate clear benefits, any claims for CBD products are just that. NIH invested $15 million in research in 2017, a promising start.

It has been proved to help one condition

Last summer, the FDA approved a drug containing CBD called Epidiolex, which has been shown to reduce severe, mostly untreatable epileptic seizures in children.

You can’t be certain what you’re buying

In states where marijuana is legal, you can purchase CBD products at licensed cannabis dispensaries. Those products are tested to make sure they contain what they claim. Elsewhere, because CBD is not yet regulated by the FDA, it’s up to manufacturers to do the quality control. A 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association analysis reported that almost 70 percent of products sold online do not contain the amount of CBD stated on the label, with some containing more and some containing less. Look for companies that test their products and share the results, such as Bluebird Botanicals, Charlotte’s Web, and Floyd’s of Leadville. Also, CVS and Walgreens have begun selling topical CBD in a few states and certify that their products are lab-tested for quality and purity.

You might experience side effects

While CBD has no known serious risks, Dr. Devinsky points out that it can cause fatigue, weight loss, and diarrhea. It could also interact with some medications. Talk to your doctor before you start taking CBD (or any other new drug or supplement).

It might take time to kick in

Vaping and liquid forms may provide fast relief for acute pain, but most CBD products take days or weeks to show any benefits. You may have to try several products before you find one that helps you. In states where marijuana is legal, dispensers are trained to assist.

Your pet might benefit

Ask your vet about CBD tinctures, capsules, and treats for horses, dogs, and cats, marketed to help relieve hip and joint pain, anxiety, and seizures.

It offers one big promise

According to the World Health Organization, CBD is nonaddictive, which means it could be an alternative to habit-forming opioid drugs. In their new book Cannabis and CBD for Health and Wellness, Aliza Sherman and Junella Chin, DO, write, “We believe someday cannabis will be in everyone’s medicine chests like it used to be.” Assuming, of course, CBD lives up to its hype. This 16-year-old certainly believes it will.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest