A Balanced Approach for Cannabidiol Use in Chronic Pain
Cannabidiol (CBD), the major non-psychoactive constituent of Cannabis sativa L., has gained traction as a potential treatment for intractable chronic pain in many conditions. Clinical evidence suggests that CBD provides therapeutic benefit in certain forms of epilepsy and imparts analgesia in certain conditions, and improves quality of life. CBD continues to be Schedule I or V on the list of controlled substances of the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States. However, preparations labeled CBD are available publicly in stores and on the streets. However, use of CBD does not always resolve pain. CBD purchased freely entails the risk of adulteration by potentially hazardous chemicals. As well, CBD use by pregnant women is rising and poses a major health-hazard for future generations. In this mini-review, we present balanced and unbiased pre-clinical and clinical findings for the beneficial effects of CBD treatment on chronic pain and its deleterious effects on prenatal development.
Cannabis and its components are being widely used for chronic pain, especially given the multifaceted and persistent nature of chronic pain in many conditions (Kalant, 2001). Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the major phytocannabinoids, has gained significant attraction because it is devoid of the psychoactive effects associated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another major constituent of cannabis (Leweke et al., 2012). With the recent rescheduling (Schedule V) of CBD as Epidiolex for the treatment of Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes there has been a major shift in the view of these ancient molecules for their medicinal potential (Laux et al., 2019). Preclinical and clinical studies have indicated a potential benefit of CBD use in chronic pain associated with multiple conditions (Wade et al., 2003). However, increasing access to cannabis derived products especially CBD partly because of their approval for recreational and medicinal use in the United States poses risks with inadvertant side-effects from overuse, contamination with adulterants in preparation or harsh chemicals in the plant cultivation, and its teratogenicity in the offspring of users (Bonn-Miller et al., 2017; Young-Wolff et al., 2017; Rubin, 2019). In this mini-review we will evaluate literature discussing CBD use in treating intractable pain and the potential hazards of its overuse and/or misuse (see Figure 1 ).
Pros and cons of cannabidiol use in chronic pain.
Chronic Pain In The United States
Chronic pain affects between 50 and 116 million American adults, a staggering number that surpasses those affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined (Committee on Advancing Pain Research Care and Education, 2011; Nahin, 2015; NIH, 2020). In addition, these reports conclude that chronic pain costs between $560 and $635 billion annually in both medical expenses and lost productivity. Although there have been some recent therapeutic advances, many patients with chronic pain develop tolerance to conventional medical treatments or suffer adverse effects from widely used prescription medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents or opiates, that have high addictive potential (Labianca et al., 2012). As early as 2003, formulations containing CBD have been used in the clinic to study its efficacy in reducing pain when traditional treatment options have failed.
Reliability and Safety of Cannabidiol Labeled Products
Human use of Cannabis sativa L. for rituals and medicine dates back millennia, and it has made recent advances in treatment of varied conditions (Kalant, 2001; Whiting et al., 2015; Aviram and Samuelly-Leichtag, 2017; Ren et al., 2019). CBD is the major non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis and is also found in hemp, a subspecies of Cannabis sativa that does not produce psychoactive compounds in significant amounts (Pertwee, 2006; Hilderbrand, 2018). With the exception of Epidiolex, a Schedule V preparation, which is a pharmaceutical CBD extract from the plant, cannabis-derived CBD still remains a Schedule I substance according to the United States (US) Drug Enforcement Administration (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2018). However, the US Hemp Farming Act of 2018 legalized the cultivation and refinement of hemp and its constituents, thus beginning a trend of mass marketing for CBD products both legal and illegal (Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill, 2019; Mead, 2019). In states where cannabis has been approved for recreational and/or medical use, there are efforts to equip dispensary staff with scientific knowledge to make evidence-based recommendations, but these efforts are limited and often overshadowed by anecdotal understanding of CBD and other cannabinoids (Haug et al., 2016; Piermarini and Viswanath, 2019). Of major concern, CBD-labeled products have flooded the markets, including, but not limited to, inhalants, bath salts, cookies, ointments, and liquids, for human use. Many forms tout medicinal value for claims that have not been scientifically evaluated. Reports indicate that the cannabinoid content in products purchased online were only accurate in 26 of the 84 products tested (Bonn-Miller et al., 2017). In a more recent report, safety of using unregulated CBD products has been questioned because, of 20 popular CBD products tested by CannaSafe, a cannabis-testing company in California, only 3 contained the contents claimed on the labels (Rubin, 2019). Of these, 2 products had no CBD, and about half of the CBD products had less than 20% of the CBD content claimed. Additionally, toxic gases and solvents were reported in some of these CBD products. Thus, these unregulated products labeled CBD may be a serious health hazard. An urgent need is to regulate CBD products after reliable testing to prevent the inadvertent harmful effects of unidentified constituents of products labeled CBD.
Clinical Outcomes for Cannabidiol in Intractable Chronic Pain
Since the early 2000s, clinical trials involving CBD for the treatment of chronic pain have shown effects ranging from placebo-equivalent to highly effective; many of these studies have been well-designed randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled. In a mixed cohort of patients suffering from intractable pain due to multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, brachial plexus injury, and limb amputation, CBD treatment significantly reduced pain on a visual analog scale (Wade et al., 2003). However, these studies were often limited by small cohorts, and the varied disease states indicated that the beneficial effects of CBD are context dependent, which was illustrated in a study where treatment did not improve outcomes in patients suffering from Crohn’s disease (Naftali et al., 2014). CBD was also seemingly effective in treatment of chronic pain associated with kidney transplantation and when given topically to patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy of their lower extremities (Cuñetti et al., 2018; Xu et al., 2019). As well, in patients with fibromyalgia, CBD treatment decreased pain by more than 30% in significantly more patients than placebo (Van De Donk et al., 2019). In studies of generalized chronic pain, CBD treatment did not significantly reduce measures of pain, however there was consistent improvement in patient-reported quality of life and quality of sleep (Notcutt et al., 2004; Capano et al., 2020). A New Zealand study on the safety of CBD treatment in 400 non-cancer chronic pain patients indicated its safety for prolonged use, which was accompanied by self-reported improvements in pain and quality of life (Gulbransen et al., 2020).
The majority of clinical studies for the treatment of intractable chronic pain with CBD typically utilized a combination of 1:1 CBD : THC, which was often in the form of the well-tolerated oromucosal spray Sativex (Nabiximols in the US) (Johnson et al., 2013; Sellers et al., 2013). Combination of the two often improved upon the deleterious and psychoactive effects of THC-only administration (Ueberall et al., 2019). The CBD : THC formulations were effective at reducing mean pain scores in chronic pain patients with multiple sclerosis, improved neurophysical measurements in response to noxious stimuli, reduced intractable chronic pain in advanced cancer, and improved refractory/neuropathic pain following failed spinal cord surgery (Rog et al., 2005; Conte et al., 2009; Johnson et al., 2010; Portenoy et al., 2012; Mondello et al., 2018). There is contradictory evidence that CBD : THC treatment does not always relieve chronic pain in patients with brachial plexus avulsion or advanced-cancer, as evidenced by studies in two-independent cohorts, thus indicating the heterogeneity in disease contexts for which cannabinoids may be effective; of note, although pain was not significantly improved, patients in these studies indicated an improved quality of life (Berman et al., 2004; Fallon et al., 2017; Lichtman et al., 2018). There is a demonstrated need to further understand the mode of action of CBD, and these results are promising, but efficacy of treatment must also be evaluated in other disease states that produce chronic pain such as diabetic neuropathy, rheumatic diseases, and sickle cell disease (Fitzcharles et al., 2016).
Mechanistic Insights For Cannabidiol Treatment Of Chronic Pain
Few preclinical studies have been performed to evaluate the mechanism of analgesia for CBD treatment of chronic pain. Currently available studies rely on rodent and in vitro models but suggest molecular pathways that may be used to enhance CBD use in the clinic, or offer alternative approaches for higher efficacy. Evidence strongly supports that prolonged treatment (i.e. > 7 days) with CBD alleviates chronic pain caused by chronic constriction injury of the sciatic nerve in rats and mice in a cannabinoid receptor-independent manner, and treatment is coincident with decreased hepatic cytochrome p450 and intestinal P-glycoprotein that may increase bioavailable circulating CBD (Costa et al., 2007; Comelli et al., 2008; Casey et al., 2017; Abraham et al., 2019). In vitro studies using human embryonic kidney cells reveal that at high doses CBD interacts with and selectively activates α1– and α1ß-glycine receptors, but these results have yet to be confirmed in vivo (Ahrens et al., 2009; Foadi et al., 2010). Alternatively, there is preliminary evidence that CBD may interact with α3-glycine receptors to reduce inflammation and hyperalgesia following simulated neuropathic pain by ligation of the L5 spinal nerve in adult Sprague-Dawley rats (Xiong et al., 2012). CBD also attenuates hyperalgesia in a mouse model of diabetic neuropathy with data suggesting that treatment reduced inflammatory milieu (Toth et al., 2010). Mouse models of pain associated with chemotherapy were simulated by Paclitaxel treatment, in which CBD produced an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect via interactions with spinal cord 5-HT(1A) receptors (Ward et al., 2014; King et al., 2017). CBD also exerts analgesia in a 5-HT(1A)-dependent manner in streptozotocin-induced diabetic neuropathy in rats (Jesus et al., 2019). Similar to human studies, CBD did not produce complete analgesia in all models of chronic pain; in a cisplatin-induced mouse model of neuropathy, CBD attenuated but did not prevent hyperalgesia (Harris et al., 2016). Mechanical hyperalgesia was improved by CBD treatment following traumatic brain injury in mice, myofascial pain in rats, and 6-hydroxydopamine-induced mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, however these studies require follow-up to inspect potential mechanisms of action (Belardo et al., 2019; Wong and Cairns, 2019; Crivelaro Do Nascimento et al., 2020). The preclinical work being done to disentangle the mechanisms of CBD in providing analgesic support in chronic pain is flourishing, but much remains in the wake of chronic disease and enhancing our understanding of the mechanisms at play.
Public Health Hazards And Teratogenicity Of Cannabis Products
Rising legalization and use of medical and recreational cannabis and CBD products raises significant health concerns with regards to both unregulated sources of these products discussed above as well as the health effects of prolonged usage. A recent multistate outbreak of coagulopathy from synthetic cannabinoids has been traced to the presence of long-acting anticoagulant rodenticides in “fake weed” (Arepally and Ortel, 2019). Furthermore, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased awareness of the risks of severe pulmonary disease associated with use of electronic cigarette devices to “vape” tobacco and cannabis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 23, 2019). The effects of long-term cannabinoid use are especially unclear in pregnant women, in whom potential teratogenic effects could have implications on future generations. Cannabis and CBD use are rising amongst pregnant women. An estimated 4% of pregnant women use cannabis, and in California, which recently legalized cannabis, about 20% in a cohort of 18- to 24-year-old pregnant women reported using cannabis products in retrospective studies (Young-Wolff et al., 2017). These numbers are likely to rise as legalization continues throughout the US, and pharmaceutical strength preparations become available for several conditions, and because of the availability of CBD through stores and online sources (Millar et al., 2019). While several studies have focused on THC during pregnancy, investigation focused on the effects of CBD usage by pregnant women before, during, and/or after pregnancy are rare. Thus, there is an unmet need to examine the potential effects of CBD on embryonic and fetal development and the postnatal health of children exposed to CBD before birth. We will summarize here conclusions from both animal and human studies on some possible effects of CBD prenatally, perinatally, and postnatally.
CBD use during early gestation could pose a risk to critical pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy events. Successful pregnancy depends on reciprocal interactions between a competent embryo and a receptive endometrium in the mother. In early gestation CBD, THC, and cannabinol are thought to inhibit embryo implantation and placenta development by altering endometrial receptivity (Neradugomma et al., 2019). However, this effect has yet to be seen outside transformed human endometrial cell models. Exposure to CBD in chick embryos decreases the viability of the embryo by 50% to 80% dependent on CBD concentration and can delay embryonic development (Gustafsson and Jacobsson, 2019). Similar delays in embryonic development have been reported in zebrafish embryos exposed to CBD albeit without the decrease in viability (Valim Brigante et al., 2018). Teratogenicity of CBD has been reported in mice where prenatal exposure leads to an increase in craniofacial malformations and eye defects (Fish et al., 2019). Interestingly, these teratogenic effects are similar though milder than those observed for alcohol, THC, and the synthetic cannabinoids HU-210 and CP55,940 countering the popular perception that CBD is an unequivocally safe alternative to THC and other cannabis constituents (Fish et al., 2019). In humans, retrospective meta-analysis has determined that in utero exposure to cannabis is associated with a decrease in birth weight and increased need for neonatal intensive care in infants (Gunn et al., 2016). This effect is likely due in part to the effects of CBD as low birth weights in mice offspring have been reported in response to prenatal CBD exposure exclusively (Fish et al., 2019). The observed teratogenic effects of CBD exposure may be due to the compound itself and/or due to CBD working synergistically with other teratogenic compounds perhaps by enhancing permeability of xenobiotics through the human placental barrier thereby increasing fetal exposure (Feinshtein et al., 2013).
Effects on hormonal and reproductive function following maternal exposure to CBD have been reported in male mice. CBD exposed mice had lower testicular weights and lower overall levels of testosterone (Dalterio et al., 1984). These effects are in line with reports of hormonal and reproductive effects due to postnatal exposure to CBD or cannabis in rats and monkeys. Chronic doses of THC or CBD in rat suppress hepatic testosterone oxidation by selective inhibition of male-specific cytochrome p450 in the adult male rat (Narimatsu et al., 1988). Chronic doses of CBD in rat also cause a significant reduction in testosterone formation and a decrease in testicular enzyme activity (List et al., 1977). In both rhesus monkeys and rats, gonadal function is altered due to exposure to THC or CBD which leads to hormonal imbalance including a decrease in testosterone in male rats and an increase in follicle-stimulating hormone in male monkeys (Rosenkrantz and Esber, 1980). Together, these data suggest that CBD may influence spermatogenesis and libido in males.
Maternal exposure to CBD is also likely to cause neurochemical changes in the brain of the offspring. The α1-adrenergic and D2-dopaminergic receptors in the cerebral cortex and striatum of rats exposed prenatally to either CBD or THC exhibited smaller binding affinities for their respective ligands and hypothalamic dopamine levels in mice have been observed to be greatly depleted in CBD-exposed males as well (Dalterio et al., 1984; Walters and Carr, 1988). Overall, these studies suggest that prenatal exposure to CBD is likely to alter the production of testosterone, the function of the male gonads, and the receptor ligand interactions in the brain of offsprings.
Rising prevalence of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD presents an opportunity for the treatment of intractable chronic pain for which primary treatments are insufficient or not possible. As depicted by the studies reviewed herein, the use of CBD is context-specific, and it should not be used indiscriminately (see Table 1 ). Preliminary mechanistic studies indicate conservation of function via modulation of hepatic cytochrome p450 leading to increased bioavailability of endogenous mediators of pain (i.e. serotonin) and exogenous analgesics (i.e. THC). Therefore, it is important to continue studies into the conditions for which CBD may be effective as a treatment via novel actionable targets. Simultaneously, the growing access to unregulated CBD products, which may be adulterated with potentially toxic compounds, requires regulation and education about CBD for its potential benefits and/or adverse effects in health and disease. This is especially the case in pregnant women, which raises the highest possible risk for the developing fetus and future offsprings. Unfortunately, efforts to discuss the dangers of CBD use have been severely lacking and require immediate attention to prevent the irreparable harm to the masses from the tsunami of CBD products.
Consequence of Cannabidiol treatment in preclinical and clinical settings.
( 1 Sigma)
|HEK cells||Activation of α1 and α1ß -glycine receptors||Ahrens et al., 2009 1 ; Foadi et al., 2010 1|
( 1 Enecta Group;
2 Cayman; 3 NIH; 4 NS)
|Mice||↓inflammation; ↓hyperalgesia||Belardo et al., 2019 1 ; 4 ,Crivelaro Do Nascimento et al., 2020; (Toth et al., 2010) 2 ; (Ward et al., 2014; King et al., 2017); 3 (Harris et al., 2016);|
( 1 NIH; 2 THC Pharm; 3 GW Pharma; 4 Cayman; 5 NS)
↓ hepatic cytochrome p450
|(Costa et al., 2007; Comelli et al., 2008; Casey et al., 2017; Abraham et al., 2019) 3 ; (Xiong et al., 2012) 1 ; (Jesus et al., 2019) 5 ; Wong and Cairns, 2019 4|
( 1 Stanley Brothers; 2 Bedrocan International; 3 Ananda Professional; 4 Tilray; 5 NS)
|Humans||Patient-reported: ↓ chronic pain;
↑ quality of life; ↑ quality of sleep
|(Wade et al., 2003) 5 ; (Cuñetti et al., 2018; Xu et al., 2019); (Van De Donk et al., 2019) 2 ; (Notcutt et al., 2004; Capano et al., 2020) 5 ; (Gulbransen et al., 2020) 4|
CBD : THC
|Humans||improved refractory/neuropathic pain;
Patient-reported ↓ chronic pain; ↑ quality of life;
Improved responses to noxious stimuli
|Johnson et al., 2013; Sellers et al., 2013; Ueberall et al., 2019; (Rog et al., 2005; Conte et al., 2009; Johnson et al., 2010; Portenoy et al., 2012; Mondello et al., 2018) (Berman et al., 2004; Fallon et al., 2017; Lichtman et al., 2018); <"type":"clinical-trial","attrs":<"text":"NCT01424566","term_id":"NCT01424566">> NCT01424566; <"type":"clinical-trial","attrs":<"text":"NCT01361607","term_id":"NCT01361607">> NCT01361607; <"type":"clinical-trial","attrs":<"text":"NCT01262651","term_id":"NCT01262651">> NCT01262651; <"type":"clinical-trial","attrs":<"text":"NCT01606189","term_id":"NCT01606189">> NCT01606189; <"type":"clinical-trial","attrs":<"text":"NCT01337089","term_id":"NCT01337089">> NCT01337089|
|HES model cells||Adversely impact embryo implantation; Delay placenta development||Neradugomma et al., 2019|
(The Hebrew University)
|MCF7/P-gp, BeWo and Jar cells||↑ placental xenobiotic permeability||Feinshtein et al., 2013|
|Zebrafish embryos||Delay in embryo development;
↑ embryo activity
|Valim Brigante et al., 2018|
|Chick embryos||50–80% ↓ in embryo viability;
Delay in embryo development
|Gustafsson and Jacobsson, 2019|
|Mice offspring||↑ Eye defects; ↓ birth weight;
Abnormal craniofacies; ↓ testicular weight;
↓ testicular testosterone levels
↓ hypothalamic dopamine levels
|Dalterio et al., 1984; Fish et al., 2019|
( 1 NIH; 2 Kyushu University)
|Rat offspring||↓ hepatic cytochrome p450
↓ testicular testosterone levels
↓ binding affinities for α1-adrenergic and D2-dopaminergic receptors
|List et al., 1977 1 ; Rosenkrantz and Esber, 1980 1 ; Narimatsu et al., 1988 2 ; Walters and Carr, 1988 1|
|Rhesus monkeys||↑ follicle-stimulating hormone;
|Rosenkrantz and Esber, 1980|
|Humans||↓ birth weight
↑ need for neonatal intensive care
|Gunn et al., 2016|
CBD, cannabidiol; THC, tetrahydrocannabinol; HEK cells, human embryonic kidney cells; HES cells, human endometrial stroma cells; JAr cells, human choriocarcinoma cells; BeWo cells, human placental cell line from choriocarcinoma; MCF7/P-gp cells, MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells expressing P-glycoprotein; NIH, National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse; NS, not specified. The superscripted numbers corresponds with the vendor in the source and the cited article within that row. The symbols “↓” and “↑” indicate worsening and improvement of outcomes, respectively.
DA wrote the manuscript and prepared it for communication. CV co-wrote the manuscript and prepared the table. SK reviewed the contents and prepared the figure. VS contributed to the structure and edited the manuscript. KG defined the content, searched the literature, supervised the writing, and edited the manuscript.
We gratefully acknowledge funding from NIH grants U18 EB029354 and HL147562 to KG. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Conflict of Interest
KG reports grants from Grifols, Cyclerion, and 1910 Genetics, and honorarium from Novartis, Tautona Group, and CSL Behring, outside the submitted work.
The remaining authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
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Every Question You Have About CBD—Answered
There's no question that CBD is the buzzy wellness product of the moment. If you live in a state where it's currently legal, you might feel like CBD has gone from being sort of around to absolutely everywhere all at once. Coffee shops sell CBD lattes, spas offer CBD facials, beauty companies are rushing to release lotions with CBD or hemp oils in their formulas. And everyone from your anxious coworker to your arthritis-suffering dad wants to get their hands on some CBD gummies.
But even though it's infiltrating pretty much every corner of the wellness world (hi, vegan CBD brownies!) many people still find CBD a little confusing—especially when it comes to figuring out the right way to use it and how to make sure the stuff you're buying is, you know, actually legit. Below, we asked experts to answer the most pressing questions about CBD.
OK, first things first. What is CBD?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the Cannabid sativa plant, whish is also known as marijuana or help, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
It's a naturally occurring substance that's used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. Unlike its cousin, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the major active ingredient in marijuana, CBD is not psychoactive.
So you’re saying CBD won’t get me high?
Nope. The cannabis plant is made up of two main players: CBD and THC. "CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant, so what that means is you won't have any effects like euphoria," says Junella Chin, DO, an osteopathic physician and a medical cannabis expert for cannabisMD. "You won't feel sedated or altered in any way."
There are two possible exceptions to this. The first is that some people, for unknown reasons, just react differently to CBD. According to Dr. Chin, about 5% of people say they feel altered after taking CBD. "Usually they're the same people who have side effects from Advil or Tylenol," she says. You never know how your body will react to any new supplement, so when taking CBD for the first time, do so safely under supervision.
It's also crucial to buy third-party-tested CBD for quality assurance (more on this later). Because the FDA doesn't regulate CBD, it is possible to buy a product that is more or less potent than advertised, or even contains small amounts of THC.
Where does hemp come in to all this?
You've probably heard the terms cannabis, marijuana, and hemp all tossed around in relation to CBD. The plant Cannabis sativa has two primary species, hemp and marijuana. Both contain CBD, but there's a much higher percentage in hemp, which also has very low (less than 0.3%) levels of THC compared to marijuana.
When people talk about hemp oil, they're referring to oil extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant. There are no cannabinoids—CBD or THC—in hemp oil. This ingredient is packed with healthy fats and often appears in beauty products for its moisturizing benefits.
What are the health benefits of CBD?
The only CBD medication that is currently FDA-approved is Epidiolex, which the agency approved last year for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. But many people swear CBD has helped with a slew of other health conditions, including back pain, osteoarthritis, even cancer.
"My practice has patients walking in every day asking about CBD," says Houman Danesh, MD, director of integrative pain management for the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But while there's lots of anecdotal evidence, he says, "it's still very difficult to say" what the real benefits are due to a serious lack of research.
"Right now, you just have pharmacies trying to make some sort of sense out of it and say, 'Yes, it works for this,'" he says, "but that's not the way medicine is practiced—it should be based on evidence, and there's not a lot of evidence to really support these claims."
Still, is CBD worth trying for pain management?
There are two main types of pain, Dr. Danesh says: musculoskeletal and nerve. "There could be benefit for both conditions," he says.
The tricky part is that there's some evidence suggesting CBD works best for pain when combined with a little THC, says Dr. Danesh. "Depending on what type of pain you have, you might be able to do just CBD, but sometimes you need CBD and THC." This makes accessing a product that will actually help you more difficult due to different regulations in each state. In New York, where Dr. Danesh practices, for example, CBD is available over the counter. But as soon as you add THC, you need a prescription.
Figuring out how much you should take is challenging as well; the dosage that alleviates one patient's pain might do very little for someone else. "And until we can study it, it's the wild west," Dr. Danesh says.
The takeaway? "I think CBD is a safe thing to try," says Dr. Danesh. But he urges patients to push for more research by putting pressure on representatives to get national bills passed that allow scientists to look closer at CBD and the conditions that respond to it.
What about my anxiety—can CBD help with that?
CBD might be worth trying to manage symptoms of anxiety. "[CBD] tells your body to calm down and reminds you that you're safe," Dr. Chin says. "It mellows out the nervous system so you're not in a heightened 'fight or flight' response," she says, so people with anxiety may find it helps them feel more relaxed.
Still, one of the biggest misconceptions about CBD is that it's a wonder drug. "A lot of times people think CBD is a cure-all, and it's not," Dr. Chin says. "You should also have a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and good nutrition—CBD is not going to fix everything."
I’ve heard of edibles, tinctures, vape pens. What’s the best way to take CBD?
It really depends on what your goal is and why you're taking CBD in the first place.
Some people don't want to ingest anything and therefore prefer a topical CBD cream or ointment. "You can apply it to muscles, joints, and ligaments and still get a nice, localized release," Dr. Chin says.
The biggest differences between tinctures, edibles, and vape pens are speed of delivery and how long the effects last. Vape relief is faster but wears off faster too—usually in about two hours, says Dr. Chin. "Say you wake up in the morning and pulled your back out, you might want to take CBD through a vape pen, which delivers in 10 minutes."
Tinctures and edibles take longer to work but last four or five hours. "A tincture looks like a little liquid that you put under your tongue, and you feel relief within half an hour," Dr. Chin says. "If you prefer to taste something, you choose an edible, whether it's a capsule, gummy, or baked good."
What should I look for when shopping for CBD products?
"There are literally hundreds of CBD brands at this point," says Brandon Beatty, founder and CEO of Bluebird Botanicals and an executive vice president of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable. Here are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping.
What does the label look like?
We don't mean the color or millennial font. If it's a dietary supplement, it should have a back panel with an FDA disclaimer and warning section, according to Beatty. "Ideally, it would be preferable to have access to their third-party lab testing results too."
Speaking of which: Has it been third-party tested?
Nearly every expert Health spoke to agreed that your CBD products should be tested by a third party to confirm the label's accuracy. This is a real concern in the industry—take the 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association study, for example, which tested 84 CBD products and found that 26% contained lower doses than stated on the bottle. Look for a quality assurance stamp or certificate of analysis from a third party (aka not the actual brand) or check the retailer's website if you don't see it on the product's label.
What’s the dosing?
This is a confusing one for many people. "A lot of brands don't do a good job of clearly instructing their consumer on the dosing," says Chris Roth, CEO and co-founder of Highline Wellness. When thinking about dosing, also consider whether your CBD is full-spectrum or isolate: Full-spectrum could include other cannabinoids like cannabidivarin or cannabigerol (this is important, since "there's something called the 'entourage effect' when all together, they're more effective than any one of them alone," Roth explains), while isolate is 100% CBD. "Some people might only need 10 milligrams of full-spectrum CBD, but with isolate, even taking 80 or 100 milligrams might not have the same effect," he says.
Does it claim to cure any diseases?
If so, hard pass. "You should avoid any company that makes disease claims," says Beatty. "If so, it means they're either willing to break the rules or they're not aware of the rules."
Is there a batch number?
You know how you check your raw chicken or bagged lettuce every time there's a recall to make sure the one you bought isn't going to make you sick? You should be able to do that with CBD products too. "This is a huge indicator as to whether they are following good manufacturing practices," says Beatty. "There should be a way to identify this product in case it was improperly made so the company can carry out a recall."
Are there additional ingredients in there?
As with any supplement, you want to know everything you're ingesting in addition to the main event. For example, "sometimes I notice that [CBD manufacturers] will add melatonin," says Dr. Chin.
Are you buying it IRL?
You can find CBD products in shopping malls, convenience stores, even coffee shops in many states right now. But when in doubt, natural grocers are a safe brick-and-mortar place to buy CBD, Beatty says. "Typically they have a vetting process that does some of the legwork for you."
That all sounds good, but is it legal?
First, a little background. Industrial hemp was legal in the United States until Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937. ("Some of our early presidents grew hemp," notes Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, a cannabis industry attorney based in Oklahoma.) Nearly 80 years later, the 2014 Farm Bill took the position that states can regulate the production of hemp and, as a result, CBD. Then last year, President Trump signed a new Farm Bill that made it federally legal to grow hemp.
This means that "consumers everywhere, if they're compliant with their state, can grow hemp and use hemp products," Parrish explains, "and among those will be CBD."
In other words, the latest bill removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA's, purview. "Hemp can now be grown freely under federal law, which, of course, is huge," Parrish says. "But while it's legal under federal law, it's up to each state to set their own policy."
These policies vary widely. Marijuana and CBD are currently fully legal for both medicinal and recreational purposes in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C. In 23 states, it's legal in some form, such as for medicinal purposes. Another 14 states permit just CBD oil. But both are illegal in Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota. For more information, the organization Americans for Safe Access has a helpful guide to the specific laws in each state.
"It's kind of ironic," says Parrish. "With marijuana, we have got the federal government saying 'No' and a bunch of states saying 'Yeah, it's OK'—but with hemp, the feds say 'Yeah, it's OK,' but we still have some states saying it's not."
Can you travel with CBD?
That same 2018 Farm Bill means you can now travel between states with legit CBD products. "Flying with CBD should pose no issues now," Parrish says. However, if you're traveling with a tincture, be mindful of TSA limits on how much liquid you can carry on an airplane, she adds. (You can also mail CBD products, just like "companies that comply with the Bill can ship their hemp-derived CBD products anywhere in the U.S.," Parrish notes.)
Will CBD show up on a drug test?
It should not, as long as you're buying third-party tested CBD with no added THC, says Dr. Chin. But she does point out that athletes, who often are required to take drug tests that are more sensitive, "could potentially test positive" for trace amounts of THC if they've been using CBD products.
Last question: Can I give it to my dog?
Tempted to give your pup one of those CBD dog biscuits? "Generally we expect CBD products to be safe, and they could show some benefit for anxiety in pets," says John Faught, DVM, a veterinarian based in Austin, Texas.
But the challenge when considering CBD products for pets is the same as with people: lack of research. "I believe there are good products out there today, but I also don't know how to distinguish them at this time," Faught says.
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