What is CBD?
CBD is essentially cannabis, minus the strong psychoactive bits. The carbon-oxygen-hydrogen compound can be found in high concentrations in Cannabis sativa and less-potent hemp plants. Sometimes manufacturers mix it with traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis-based chemical that gets people high, but it generally doesn’t carry the same dopamine-heightening and possibly addictive properties.
Like THC, though, CBD works its “magic” by cozying up to the nervous system. From what molecular scientists know so far, it somehow changes proteins found all over the body that are responsible for managing pain, inflammation, mood, appetite, and even memory. It’s still unknown how extensively it affects that internal chemistry, especially when combined with other ingredients, says Johns Hopkins University food scientist Kantha Shelke.
Is it legal?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently updated its CBD regulations to state that it supports further research on benefits, safety, and use. For now, the extract is considered a controlled substance if it comes from cannabis plants. It’s less restricted when it’s harvested from hemp.
That seems relatively straightforward, but throw local laws into the mix and the standards become a lot more unwieldy. CBD is legal to sell and buy in one form or another around the US, though it’s harder to hawk across state lines because of the federal regulations. In places where it’s lawful, the ingredient can be added to any product as long as it contains less than 0.3 percent THC and is marketed as a cosmetic or supplement. If it’s labeled as a drug or dietary substance it has to undergo clinical tests and win FDA approval before the public can lay hands on it. The agency has only approved one CBD medication so far: Epidolex, which is used to treat the same genetic syndrome that Charlotte Figi had. Best cbd oil for health
Overall, the FDA seems unconcerned with low doses of the extract in food and wellness items. It does, however, caution against giving CBD products to children, pregnant and lactating people, and pets.
What are the proven benefits?
Some of the best research on CBD’s therapeutic effects comes from treating childhood epilepsy (thanks to the Figi family), schizofrenia, sleep deprivation, and anxiety disorders. The chemical has shown strong results in relieving all four of these conditions, with “a clear calming effect,” according to one 2019 analysis. That said, most of the studies exploring this connection don’t include a control group, or a baseline for comparison.
When it comes to looking at CBD for pain relief, the research is even more flimsy. Tests have shown that it can be effective against arthritis in rats, and that it might work as well as opioids for multiple sclerosis and cancer patients. But many of these treatments also included some amount of THC, so it’s hard to say if CBD was the primary cause of relief.
There’s also the question of which forms of CBD are safe enough for consumers but strong enough to make a difference. For neurological conditions like anxiety or apnea, the chemical needs to be absorbed into the bloodstream to have maximum impact. That means it needs to be ingested, inhaled, or rubbed in at high concentrations. But as health reporter Sarah Jacoby wrote in Self while vetting her own CBD buys, many of the proteins that trigger pain and inflammation are located between the skin and veins. So, any cream or gel that wants to counter aching joints and tight muscles needs to be able to get through the dermis but not as deep as the blood vessels. That’s a tall order for any drugstore formula.
Does CBD get you high? What does the research say?
THC, another chemical component of cannabis, drives most of the effects we typically associate with the drug, such as the subjective “high.” There’s this perception that CBD is not psychoactive, but I think that’s inaccurate. Research from our lab and others shows that CBD can produce subjective drug effects. CBD drug effects are different from THC and do not seem to produce intoxicating effects where performance or cognition is impaired. While that’s not a bad thing, impacting mood and behavior is a psychoactive drug effect. For example, caffeine is a psychoactive drug because it affects brain function and mood.
Are products that contain CBD safe?
There’s an inadequate regulatory framework to ensure that these products are tested, appropriately labeled, and free of contamination. There’s no way to tell how much a person should take or how to determine if it’s even helping their condition, and we still don’t know what kinds of patients are going to best benefit from CBD versus another medical intervention. Researchers are most commonly studying CBD’s application in anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and inflammation, and autism.
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