Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has exploded in popularity over the past few years. It’s everywhere – added to drinks, lotions, pet treats, and more. But is this cannabis compound actually safe to use? Let’s take a closer look.
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What is CBD?
Before answering whether CBD is safe, it helps to understand exactly what it is and where it comes from.
What is CBD and where does it come from?
CBD is one of over 100 active compounds produced by cannabis plants called cannabinoids. The most well-known cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana that creates a “high.” Unlike THC, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects.
CBD can be derived from both marijuana and hemp plants. Though marijuana and hemp are similar in many ways and contain overlapping compounds, the amounts vary significantly.
Hemp naturally produces higher levels of CBD and only trace amounts of THC (no more than 0.3%). Marijuana contains both THC and CBD, but usually has lower levels of CBD compared to THC.
Due to its negligible levels of THC, CBD derived from hemp is legal at the federal level in the United States, while CBD from marijuana is still federally illegal. However, state laws on both marijuana-derived and hemp-derived CBD vary.
How CBD works in the body
The human body produces its own cannabinoids through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS helps regulate essential functions like immune response, sleep, appetite, pain response, and more. When consumed, cannabinoids from cannabis plants can influence this system by binding to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body.
Unlike THC, CBD does not stimulate or bind directly to the body’s cannabinoid receptors. Instead, research indicates CBD may modulate multiple non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels. Through these complex interactions, CBD is thought to positively influence the ECS and help reduce inflammation, balance neurotransmission, and provide other benefits. However, most human studies have involved small sample sizes, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions on effectiveness.
Are CBD products legal?
In 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act, also known as the Farm Bill, legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products that contain no more than 0.3% THC. This legislation allowed hemp-derived CBD to proliferate across the country.
However, the legal status of CBD remains complicated on both state and federal levels due to CBD’s relationship to cannabis. Let’s break it down further.
Federal law on CBD
Hemp-derived CBD containing less than 0.3% THC is legal at the federal level. The FDA still regulates CBD products, but does not currently approve CBD as a dietary supplement or allow health claims.
State laws on CBD
States have taken different approaches to CBD. While CBD from hemp is legal nationwide, some states restrict CBD sales in certain situations. It’s important to check your state’s specific CBD laws.
Safety and side effects
According to current research, CBD appears relatively safe for most healthy adults when used in appropriate doses based on guidance from a medical professional. Reported side effects are typically mild. However, there are some potential health risks to consider before trying CBD.
Toxicity and overdose risk
High doses of CBD have been well tolerated in research studies with few significant side effects. In one study, doses as high as 1,500 mg per day were administered without evidence of toxicity to the human body.
There have been no reported fatal overdoses directly attributed to CBD consumption. However, extremely high doses may result in side effects like diarrhea, changes in appetite, and fatigue. There may also be interactions with other medications that increase side effects.
CBD can interact with medications metabolized by the liver’s cytochrome P450 enzyme system, which are involved in metabolizing toxins and processing many drugs. Specifically, CBD may inhibit the activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes like CYP3A4 and CYP2D6.
This can alter concentrations of substances metabolized by these enzymes, possibly increasing side effects of medications like blood thinners, steroids, antidepressants, antibiotics, calcium channel blockers and chemotherapy drugs.
Those on any medications that carry grapefruit warnings should use extreme caution with CBD due to similar inhibition of liver enzymes. It’s critical to discuss CBD use with a doctor when taking other medications to allow for proper monitoring.
Other side effects
Aside from interactions with other drugs, research shows possible side effects of CBD include liver injury, diarrhea, appetite and weight changes, and fatigue. Changes in sleep and gastrointestinal issues appear to be the most commonly reported side effects.
Buying safe CBD products
Since the CBD market remains unregulated, it is buyer beware when purchasing products online and in stores. Here are some tips for vetting CBD quality and safety:
Look for quality and testing
Searching for any warning letters, public statements or litigation regarding a CBD manufacturer can help identify potential problems. Companies committed to transparency often prominently display third-party lab test results. Look for Certificates of Analysis (COA) indicating potency and purity.
Avoid products making false health claims
Reputable brands follow FDA guidelines and avoid making definitive claims that CBD can treat or cure specific conditions and diseases. Distrust brands that make egregious claims about CBD without proper studies to back them up.
Talk to your doctor first
Discuss with your doctor before trying CBD, especially if you take any medications. Your doctor can monitor you for potential interactions and side effects.
Early research indicates CBD is relatively low-risk for most people when used properly, but there are potential side effects. To maximize safety, choose quality-tested products from reputable CBD brands, use CBD under medical oversight, and verify your state’s legal status.
FAQs About CBD Safety
Is CBD addictive?
No, CBD does not appear to be addictive or habit-forming according to current research. However, more studies are still needed.
Can you fail a drug test due to CBD?
It’s unlikely but possible. Full-spectrum CBD may contain trace amounts of THC that could show up on highly sensitive drug tests. However, broad spectrum and isolate CBD products that are verified THC-free should not cause failed tests.
Can you drive after taking CBD?
There is little evidence that typical doses impair driving ability, but CBD may cause drowsiness, especially at high doses. It’s best to refrain from driving until you know how a specific dose affects your motor skills and alertness.
Can you take too much CBD?
Yes, extremely high doses may cause side effects like diarrhea, fatigue, and interactions with other medications. Start with a low dose and only increase gradually under medical supervision.
Is CBD safe during pregnancy?
At this time, there is insufficient research to establish whether CBD is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Pregnant women are advised to avoid CBD until more studies are conducted.