It’s now been a year and a half since the passage of the Hemp Farm Bill of 2018, which legalized the production and sale of cannabidiol (CBD) products in most states across the nation and sent a flood of CBD products into the market. And turns out many Americans — including the older set — are happy to climb on board the CBD bandwagon.
For instance, a nationally representative survey of more than 4,000 Americans by Consumer Reports found that 64 million have tried CBD — that’s more than 1 in 4 of us. And while most CBD users are in their 20s, 38% of those who’ve tried it are over age 45.
That said, we tend to use it for different reasons. For instance, 42% of Baby Boomers use CBD for help with joint pain, while only 15% turn to it for help with anxiety. Conversely (and perhaps obviously), more Millennials use CBD for anxiety relief (32%) and fewer take it to ease joint pain (15%).
But regardless of the reason behind our use, most of those surveyed said the herbal remedy was effective. In other words, if you’re unfamiliar or haven’t tried it yet, you might be missing out on a powerful, natural ally for wellness and optimal aging.
If you’ve got questions, I can help. Here are answers to the most common queries I get about CBD.
What Is CBD?
CBD is the primary chemically-active component of hemp, a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant — the same species that marijuana belongs to. While hemp and marijuana plants look the same, there’s an important difference in their chemical composition.
Marijuana contains varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, a type of substance that falls into a category of chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Hemp, on the other hand, contains mostly CBD — also a cannabinoid — with only trace amounts of THC. In fact, to be legally defined as hemp, the plant extracts must contain less than 0.3% THC.
THC and CBD have dramatically different effects on the body when taken internally. Though as cannabinoids, they both exert actions in the body by activating the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex regulatory system in the body that influences mood, sleep, reaction to stress, memory, pain responses, metabolism, immune functions, and reproductive functions. The difference between how THC and CBD affect the ECS lies in how they bind to endocannabinoid receptors: THC binds tightly to receptors, whereas CBD binds only weakly. Why does that matter?
THC’s tighter grip on endocannabinoid receptors causes an exaggerated or euphoric response — in other words, it makes you high. It also suppresses or downregulates natural chemical messengers of the endocannabinoid system called endocannabinoids. This promotes dependence on and habituation to THC, a serious drawback to marijuana use.
By comparison, CBD binds more weakly to receptors and evokes a normal response — you feel like your normal self, but without experiencing euphoria, drug-like effects, or any risk of habituation. CBD increases or upregulates both endocannabinoid receptors and natural endocannabinoids, with the effect of balancing the entire system. In addition, CBD affects serotonin receptors in the body, positively affecting mood and gastrointestinal function, and it naturally increases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that we naturally produce to suppress pain.
What Are the Benefits of CBD Oil?
Thanks to its effect on the endocannabinoid system, CBD has a number of science-backed health benefits. CBD helps:
- Normalize the response to pain
- Improve stress resistance
- Improve resilience and stamina
- Promote natural sleep
- Enhance sense of wellbeing
- Support healthy immune system function
- Reduce inflammation in the body
All-in-all, CBD can be a great source of support to have around when life gets to be too much — no matter what way it becomes too much. it’s not just the CBD in hemp that provides benefits, however.
The whole-plant or full-spectrum hemp extract, also known as CBD oil, provides a range of other chemical substances. For starters, there are a host of other cannabinoids that are similar in chemical structure to CBD and play a supporting role to CBD (none of which cause euphoria or habituation like THC).
Other important chemicals to know about: Native terpenes, compounds that are also found naturally in essential oils and that give plants their scents and flavors. Some people would say that the native terpenes in hemp have as much value as CBD and the other cannabinoids, and I don’t disagree. The list of natural terpenes found in CBD oil includes but is not limited to:
- Delta Limonene (also found in lemons): One of the most common terpenes in nature, delta limonene has been shown to help neutralize gastric acid, support normal peristalsis (the movement of food through the digestive tract), and ease symptoms of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).
- Pinene (also found in pine needles): A potent microbiome-balancing terpene, pinene has been shown to be effective against certain strains of bacteria.
- Myrcene (also found in hops and mangos): This terpene has been shown to help synergize the activities of other terpenes and plant compounds in several ways, pointing to the importance of a full-spectrum extract.
- Linalool (also found in lavender): Long associated with improved memory and alertness, linalool is also associated with reduced pain after surgery as well as reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Eucalyptol (also found in eucalyptus): Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action in eucalyptol helps calm spasms in the respiratory tract and clear mucus.
Cannabis terpenes and the other cannabinoids in hemp work to magnify or enhance the properties of CBD and other cannabinoids. This synergistic phenomenon, called the “entourage effect,” is considered by many experts in the industry to be essential for gaining the full benefit of the hemp plant.
By contrast, when CBD is isolated from the full spectrum of chemicals found in hemp, it behaves very differently. Drugs created from CBD isolate require higher doses of CBD to achieve therapeutic benefit, and they come with much higher potential for side effects. Though CBD isolate has a place in treating certain states of illness, full-spectrum CBD oil is the best way to gain the natural benefits of the hemp plant.
What Are the Best Ways to Use CBD?
Pure condensed CBD oil is a thick oil or paste, but it’s typically mixed with a carrier oil such as hemp oil (from hemp seeds, which don’t contain cannabinoids) or coconut oil to a specific concentration of CBD. Flavorings such as chocolate or peppermint are often added to mute the distinctive cannabis taste — which actually comes from the terpenes, not the cannabinoids.
The CBD oil mixture typically comes in a small bottle with a dropper to administer the oil mixture orally. A few drops to a dropperful of the CBD oil mixture are placed under the tongue for direct absorption into the bloodstream. The remainder is swallowed.
How much oil you should use depends on the concentration of CBD extract in the oil mixture and the desired dosage. CBD concentration varies from product to product, but the amount of CBD per milliliter (ml) should be clearly stated on the bottle.
The average dose range is 10-50 mg of CBD, one to three times per day, though much higher doses of 100-500 mg are generally well tolerated. Some people will notice benefits at the lower end of the dose range, but most people will need 15-30 mg to notice any effects.
Which means you’ll need to do a little experimenting to find the dose that’s right for you. That can be a little tricky, because different products provide different concentrations of CBD, so the packaging usually states how much CBD is in the entire bottle as opposed to the amount in a certain number of drops or dropperfuls.
Here’s a little guidance if you’re taking the oil in liquid form:
- One dropperful of a low concentration product (100 mg CBD per fluid ounce) will provide about 3 mg of CBD per dropperful — not enough to notice any significant effects.
- A dropperful of the medium grade product (500 mg of CBD per fluid ounce) will deliver about 15 mg of CBD — a good starting dose.
- A dropperful of a high concentration product (1200 mg CBD per fluid ounce) will provide about 50 mg of CBD per dropperful.
As with any medicinal herb, start at a low dose and gradually build up to a higher dose as you get used to the effects of the substance. Most people notice benefits almost immediately, but some experts suggest that full benefit does not occur until after a couple of weeks of consecutive use. That being said, some people do report tolerance, requiring increased doses of CBD oil to gain the same benefit. The discrepancy is likely due to variation of effect in different people.
In addition to the CBD oil drops, I keep a topical CBD oil preparation on hand to apply to overstressed joints, such as knees, ankles, feet, wrists, and lower back, when the strain of a workout or work in the yard causes discomfort. Here again, the CBD provides benefit, but it’s the terpenes that make the difference. Most topical products combine CBD oil with other essential oils for maximum anti-inflammatory benefits.
Note that CBD oil is also sold in capsules and by vapor products, but I consider these preparations to be less ideal ways of gaining the benefits of CBD extracts. The vapor products are quick and short acting — perfect for recreational use, but not for providing lasting benefit. Capsules miss out on primary absorption into the bloodstream.
Is CBD Oil Safe?
I feel very comfortable using CBD because it has a well documented safety profile. I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t think it was completely safe. Both full-spectrum CBD oil and purified CBD isolate have been shown to be remarkably safe and well tolerated in both animal and human clinical studies.
Reported side effects of CBD oil are generally mild and uncommon. Possibilities include tiredness, loose stools, and mild changes in appetite and weight (either increased or decreased). Personally, I have never experienced any side effects from CBD oil.
There is zero potential of becoming habituated to hemp CBD products. Prolonged use at high doses has not shown potential for abuse of CBD. A clinical study published in 2018 found that recreational users of multiple habituating drugs did not show abuse potential with use of CBD. In fact, evidence is showing that use of CBD can reduce addictive behavior.
Even in high doses, CBD oil will not cause euphoria or impair coordination, balance, or motor functions. Use of CBD oil has never been associated with hallucinations or abnormal mental activity.
Will CBD Show Up On a Drug Test?
Though the odds are low that CBD will cause a positive result on a drug test, it’s still a possibility, making it a legitimate concern for some people. If you are routinely tested for use of illegal drugs at your workplace, a false positive test can spell disaster.
If your employer is testing to SAMHSA guidelines (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and the testing agency is using up-to-date instrumentation to make measurements, CBD oil products should not cause a false positive test if they fit the legal definition of hemp with If you can’t take the risk, the best option is using purified CBD products that are certified to contain zero THC. The tradeoff is that purified CBD doesn’t provide the same range of benefits from other cannabinoids and terpenes as full-spectrum CBD oil.
Does the Source of CBD Matter?
In short, yes. The only issue with CBD oil from hemp is that the industry isn’t being adequately regulated. Though the Hemp Farm Bill of 2018 defines CBD from hemp as completely legal, the FDA has not set any regulations in place to govern the industry.
Let me make that clear: It’s a buyer-beware market. Many players have entered the market with substandard products. While these products are not necessarily dangerous, you may not be getting your money’s worth, and you may be putting unwanted contaminants into your body.
Fortunately, there are reputable companies producing products of the highest quality. Before buying a product, be sure to do your homework and review the company’s website. Here are some suggestions for what to look for in a CBD oil product:
Choose a Single-Source CBD Product.
Like a good wine, a quality CBD product starts with the plant it comes from. That’s because concentrations of CBD, cannabinoids, and terpenes vary widely between different strains of plants.
Many CBD products are derived from mixed batches of hemp from different sources, so it’s tough to know exactly what you’re getting from bottle to bottle. Best quality products are derived from one known source.
Full-Spectrum is Key.
I discussed this above, but in order to get the full benefits of CBD from hemp, you need a full-spectrum extract that retains all of the plant’s beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes. Look for products that are processed with a clean extraction method that provides for optimal concentrations of the full spectrum of natural plant compounds.
Opt for Organic.
Because hemp plants readily pick up toxic substances from the air and soil, best quality hemp is grown indoors under organic conditions. Buying “certified organic” is a smart choice when choosing a CBD oil product.
Make Sure It’s Third-Party Tested.
Independent third-party testing provides reassurance that what’s in the bottle is what you paid for — no more, no less. Testing reveals microbe contamination, heavy metals, pesticides, organic solvents, allergens, and other organic contaminants. It also verifies CBD concentration and that there is less than 0.3% THC. There have been case reports of positive drug screens in people using CBD oil products sold as hemp that contained higher than acceptable levels of THC.
The Bottom Line
Personally, I never considered using any cannabis product until CBD oil became legal, but what a difference it’s made in my life. I use CBD oil mainly for physical discomfort, typically when I’ve overdone it from physical exertion, such as hiking all day or kitesurfing. The effects were remarkable — not only was physical discomfort controlled, but I also slept better that night and bounced back quicker.
I also use CBD when the stress of daily life gets to be a bit too much. What a game changer. I’m more resilient, have an easier time focusing, don’t feel wiped out by the end of the day, and sleep better.
I don’t, however, rely on CBD oil for anything more than symptom control. Though CBD oil is a great herb offering a wide range of protective benefits, there are also reports that tolerance develops over time (it loses benefits with continual use). I’ve experienced this myself. After using it continuously for a few weeks, I no longer feel the benefits. In addition, there are no studies documenting long-term safety with continuous use over months or years.
For ongoing support of my health and immune system functions, I take a daily regimen of adaptogenic herbs. But I’m happy to know that CBD is always there when I need it.
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