Is CBD safe? Common Questions Answered

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If you’re confused about the safety and legality of CBD, you’re definitely not alone. Thanks to CBD’s erroneous conflation with the psychoactive components of marijuana, hemp-based CBD has triggered a lot of confusion among a lot of people.

You may find yourself particularly curious about CBD facts due to its boom in mainstream consciousness. Coca-Cola just announced that it’s interested in investing in CBD-infused beverages down the road (1).  Forbes published a prediction that will CBD become a $2.1 billion industry by 2020 (2). And the FDA just approved the CBD-based drug Epidiolex for childhood seizures (3).

With all the conflicting information and confusion out there, we’ve put together a guide on CBD that should break down some common questions about its safety, use, and legality:

What is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is one of the hundreds of chemical components that make up cannabis plants (4). These chemicals are known as “cannabinoid compounds.” Though there are too many to name here, some examples of these are THC, CBDA, CBN, and CBG (5).

Interestingly, research into these cannabinoid substances has revealed that our bodies and brains contain a complex system called the endocannabinoid system, which interacts chemically with cannabinoids. Cannabinoids can bind with CB1 receptors, which regulate the central nervous system; or the CB2 receptors, which regulate immunity, the GI tract, and the peripheral nervous system (6). By binding to these receptors, cannabinoids send messages to the body to do things like sleep, regulate appetite, and moderate mood.  Different cannabinoids interact slightly differently with the endocannabinoid system.

One of the most well-known of all the cannabinoids is CBD, which has no psychoactive properties and is particularly interesting to researchers in the medical field due to its unique anti-inflammatory, analgesic (7), neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-seizure properties (8).

What’s the difference between Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?

Because they are both cannabinoids, many people have confused THC with CBD.

  • THC is the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, which means it’s the one responsible for producing the “high” associated with marijuana use. THC interacts with receptors in the brain responsible for, among other things, perception, coordination, and thinking (9).
  • CBD, on the other hand, is completely non-psychoactive.  CBD is one of at least sixty cannabinoids, and it can be isolated from those other compounds during processing. Therefore, you can purchase CBD by itself that contains no or very low amounts of THC. Usually, the amount of THC present in the CBD you would buy online is small enough that it wouldn’t even register on a drug test, and certainly wouldn’t get you “high.”
The Cannabis Family: What’s the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?

It’s easy to associate CBD with the psychoactive properties of THC due to a fundamental confusion regarding industrial hemp and marijuana plants. Let’s clear up the confusion with a simple break down:

Cannabis Plants

The reason some people associate hemp and marijuana is that they are in fact part of the same family of plants, called cannabis sativa. Though they’re in the same family tree, these two plants have different properties and uses (10).

  1. Marijuana / illegal – Usually, marijuana plants contain about 10-30% THC. This is what makes them attractive for use in psychoactive drugs. Part of the reason for this high count is that marijuana plants have been aggressively bred and cultivated for increased levels of THC.
  2. Industrial Hemp – By contrast, hemp plants have been grown for a variety of different industrial and textile uses in the United States for hundreds of years. They contain more CBD than marijuana plants and significantly less THC (less than 0.3%).
Should you purchase Hemp-Based CBD Online or use a Recreational?

When consumers purchase CBD oil online from a reputable company, they’re actually getting a product made from hemp (not marijuana). However, it can contain from 0% to 1% THC in Switzerland.

If you’re curious about pursuing CBD, keep in mind that medical and recreational distilleries that sell CBD might not limit the amount of THC in their products. So if you’re not opting for a regulated online purchase of CBD, you might receive a product that contains enough THC to produce a “high” feeling.

This is easily preventable by practicing care as a consumer and making sure that any CBD product you do buy has been laboratory tested.

What do USA Federal Regulations say about CBD?

In a unanimous 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in 2004, the DEA explained why hemp containing minute quantities of THC is not regulated nor illegal (11):


But they cannot regulate naturally-occurring THC not contained within or derived from marijuana–i.e., non-psychoactive hemp products–because non-psychoactive hemp is not included in Schedule I.

And in May 2018, the DEA issued a directive regarding cannabinoids in the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) which regulates products (12):


The mere presence of cannabinoids is not itself dispositive as to whether a substance is within the scope of the CSA…

Therefore, according to the DEA, the “mere presence” of cannabinoids in a substance isn’t enough, according to the DEA, to qualify CBD as a Controlled Substance.


Right now, if you go on any website that sells hemp-based CBD products, you’re going to see the full FDA warning:


“These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, diagnose or cure and disease.”

These FDA disclaimer statements are necessary because the FDA does not currently regulate CBD and its efficacy. This may be changing rapidly as, for example, FDA-approved drugs like Epidiolex become more mainstream.

The Senate Farm Bill

In June 2018, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation that aims to legalize the cultivation, production, and sale of industrial hemp (13). This is an important bill for farmers who cultivate hemp, as they’ll finally be able to insure their harvests. Also, the bill hopes to decrease the imported and foreign-produced hemp, keeping these sales within the U.S. economy.

Given that recent reports from Forbes have projected CBD sales could see a 700% increase by 2020, easing cultivation, processing, and selling of hemp-products in the United States makes a whole lot of economic sense (14).

So, is CBD Safe?

Generally, CBD at responsible levels is considered safe. In many instances, it’s considered more than just safe: researchers are pouring resources into how CBD can help individuals with various medical conditions. Its efficacy for treating epilepsy has been proven with the advent of Epidiolex, and CBD has been studied for its use in disorders like Traumatic Brain Injury (15), Anxiety Disorders (16), and chronic arthritic pain (17).

Studies have shown relatively few side effects from the use of CBD. Any identified side-effects are considered mild: for example, CBD can interact with the endocannabinoid system that regulates salivary glands, which can lead to a dry or “cotton” mouth in some users (18).

Because it’s a completely different compound than THC (and from an entirely different plant), there’s no risk of some of the unsavory side effects associated with marijuana. Though it’s always helpful to talk with your physician when it comes to incorporating new components into your lifestyle, CBD is generally considered a mild, non-psychoactive, and legal substance.




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