It’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing or hearing about “CBD” and its promise to cure what ails ya. It’s sold in oils, capsules, gummies, and vape pens. It’s in cocktails, coffee beverages, chocolates, and even dog food. All you have to do is pull up to your local gas station and you are likely to see a bright sign stating “CBD SOLD HERE!”
So what’s the deal with CBD? What’s the hype? Is it worth it? And should you be taking it?
This article aims to unpack the ABCs of CBD. We’ll start with some basics about this wondrous compound, then dive in to how to choose a high quality product to fit your needs.
So what is CBD anyway? CBD, or cannabidiol (can-ah-ba-DI-ahl), comes from the cannabis plant, formally called Cannabis sativa. There are many different varieties of cannabis in nature, just like there are different varieties of roses or daisies. All cannabis plants produce plant compounds that give them their medicinal properties, define their aromas, and protect them from predators. Each variety of cannabis produces a different concentration and proportion of these compounds. Some of the active compounds in cannabis plants are special plant oils called cannabinoids. More than 100 different cannabinoids can be found in cannabis plants, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is known for its psychedelic effects, and cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD. Other cannabinoids include cannabinol, cannabinoid acids, cannabigerol, and cannabivarins. Cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3% THC are classified as hemp. Cannabis plants that contain more than 0.3% THC are considered marijuana.
Our bodies’ natural cannabinoids
Did you know that the human body makes its own cannabinoids? You may remember learning about your endocrine or neurological system in school, but you probably didn’t learn about your Endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a crucial body system which is full of receptors for natural cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. Our natural endocannabinoids have fancy long names like N-arachidonoyl ethanolamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol.
Endocannabinoids are made in the spaces between our nervous system cells (neuronal synapses) when certain neurotransmitter receptors are activated. This fascinating system is involved in many important functions of our central and peripheral nervous systems, our endocrine system, and our immune system. The ECS has an important role in balancing a host of physiological functions to help maintain homeostasis in our bodies. If the ECS is out of balance or functioning suboptimally, health can be impacted negatively.
The presence of the endocannabinoid system is how plant-derived cannabinoids, called phytocannabinoids, work. Phytocannabinoids are able to bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system and have physiological effects similar to, or greater than, our natural cannabinoids.
We have two different types of cannabinoid receptors on our cells, one called cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and another called cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2). CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and are largely responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabinoids. THC binds to CB1 receptors, which explains the high that people experience when using marijuana. CB2 receptors are found primarily in the immune system but can also be found in connective tissue cells, bone cells, and some nervous system cells. CBD and other cannabinoids bind to CB2 receptors, which is why we think that such compounds can help with immune regulation, stress modulation, and mood.
Is CBD legal?
The legality around hemp and CBD is tricky, and fascinating. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production and sale of hemp and its extracts on a federal level and removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. Remember that hemp is cannabis that contains less than 0.3% of THC. This change in the law suddenly allowed hemp and its active components, such as CBD, to be accessible to consumers legally.
But here’s the catch. The bill put the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in charge of overseeing how hemp and it’s plant compounds are regulated – a lofty task, even for an agency as big and powerful as the FDA. To date, the FDA has not approved any CBD products (with the exception of one prescription drug used to treat a rare form of epilepsy). They state that there is “very limited available information about CBD, including about its effects on the body.” Until more studies are done and more evidence exists, FDA-approved access to CBD will likely remain limited.
So how do we explain the abundance of CBD products on the market? Well, the multi-billion dollar CBD industry has sort of given the F-You to the FDA and has created products ahead of FDA regulation or approval. The industry is huge and lucrative, and the FDA simply hasn’t had a chance to keep up. The Farm Bill was passed in December 2018 – less than a year ago at the time of this writing. Think about how many products have hit the shelves since then. It has been almost impossible for the FDA to keep up with the monitoring of these products. They have sent warning letters to many of the larger producers of CBD-based products, but they also have a long list of bigger fish to fry. To read more about the FDA’s stance on this, click here.
Because of this, just about any product that you buy that claims to be “CBD” is illegal. Yes, you read that correctly – illegal. The FDA explicitly prohibits the sale of CBD in any unapproved dietary supplements, food, or health products. So that CBD cafe latte? Illegal. CBD spiked chocolate? Illegal. CBD infused into your fish oil? Illegal. CBD for your pet? Illegal.
Should you take CBD?
Does that mean that you shouldn’t use CBD? Not necessarily. We know from loads of research that CBD and other cannabis plant compounds have medicinal and healing properties. Many folks find cannabinoids helpful for sleep, anxiety, inflammation, and chronic pain.
There is a way to bring CBD to market, and a few smart companies have figured this out and are doing it right. It’s important that you, as an informed consumer, know what to look for if you plan to purchase and take CBD and other phytocannabinoids. From here on out, we’ll refer to CBD-containing products as phytocannabinoid products. Technically, that’s what you should be purchasing until the laws shift. I’ll still refer to CBD specifically when discussing that compound in isolation. So let’s dive in: here are some tips for choosing the best phytocannabinoid product for you:
THE ABCs of CBD (oops! phytocanabinoids):
Phytocannabinoids are not highly bioavailable when taken orally (i.e. swallowed), mostly because they have to go through the digestive tract and be processed by the liver before entering your bloodstream. Because of this, swallowing or eating phytocannabinoids in the form of capsules, gummies, or edibles doesn’t result in much therapeutic benefit. Some studies estimate that only about 5% of ingested CBD is absorbed. More generous studies suggest that it may be more like 20%. Either way, that’s not a high rate, and means that much higher doses need to be consumed in order to get the desired effect. Taking phytocannabinoids in a sublingual tincture or lozenge form increases absorption substantially, so this is generally the best way to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to these products.
Take home point: Choose a sublingual phytocannabinoid oil/tincture over a capsule, edible, or gummy.
B: Broad Spectrum.
CBD was not meant to travel alone. In addition to CBD, cannabis contains other phytocannabinoids and additional plant compounds that have therapeutic properties. These include a group of compounds called terpenes which are responsible for the distinct aromas of different cannabis types. We know that terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids to enhance the effect of the cannabinoids. We call this the “entourage effect,” and much is being learned about how these compounds work together to provide certain clinical benefits. A good review of terpenes can be found here. Good quality phytocannabinoid products will contain CBD, terpenes, and perhaps some other phytocannabinoids, too.
Take home point: Look for a broad spectrum phytocannabinoid product that contains not just CBD, but also terpenes and other cannabinoids.
During their growth, cannabis plants readily absorb pesticides, heavy metals, and other dangerous compounds in soil and water. Because of this, you should know where your cannabis was grown, and under what conditions. Finished products should always be tested for purity and contaminants, and as the consumer, you should have access to this information.
Take home point: Look for non-GMO, organic phytocannabinoid products from companies that are transparent about the potential for contamination. The best products will even tell you the amounts of heavy metals or pesticides which may be lurking in their products. This information should be readily available on product websites or from representatives.
Dosing phytocannabinoids varies by the product and the individual, and you should consult with a medical practitioner who is well versed in the administration of phytocannabinoids before determining the right dose for you. Learn how to read the labels on phytocannabinoid products. Don’t be fooled by the dose that is on the front of the bottle – this may describe the total volume of oil, not the potency of the phytocannabinoid itself. Find out how much of the specific phytocannabinoids are in each dose. Companies that comply with FDA regulations know that explicitly stating the amount of CBD in each dose on the label is unlawful. You may have to consult with the company website or representative to gather this info in these cases. If the dose of CBD is written on the label, the company is out of compliance with current law. This doesn’t mean that the information is inaccurate, but it doesn’t say much about the company’s knowledge of the law.
Take home point: Be sure that you know the dose of the specific phytocannabinoids in the product that you are taking, and consult with a practitioner to determine the right dose for you.
Don’t believe claims that phytocannabinoids will help every ailment known to man. Consult with a practitioner to discuss whether phytocannabinoids may be beneficial for you. Any phytocannabinoid product that claims to do anything specific is illegal, because health claims are only legal for prescription drugs. If a manufacturer doesn’t know this very basic law, I wouldn’t trust anything else about their product.
Take home point: Don’t use a phytocannabinoid product that claims to do anything specific – that’s illegal. The science is still young, but there are many health benefits of phytocannabinoids being explored. Work with a practitioner to determine if phytocannabinoids are for you.
F: FDA regulations.
By now you know that CBD is regulated under the FDA, but the FDA hasn’t approved any specific over-the-counter CBD products yet. Despite this, CBD products abound. So should you trust a company that is blatantly breaking the law? I wouldn’t. There are companies that are doing this the right way – delivering a high quality hemp oil product full of phytocannabinoids to the public in a way that is legal and inline with FDA expectations. Any product that calls itself CBD oil (or “CBD anything”) is unlawful and could be stripped from the market at any moment.
Take home point: Choose products that know the law and are complying with FDA regulations.
G: Good manufacturing practice.
CGMPs, or current good manufacturing practices, are a set of regulations enforced by the FDA to ensure the highest quality in pharmaceutical production. To quote the FDA directly:
CGMPs provide for systems that assure proper design, monitoring, and control of manufacturing processes and facilities. Adherence to the CGMP regulations assures the identity, strength, quality, and purity of drug products by requiring that manufacturers of medications adequately control manufacturing operations. This includes establishing strong quality management systems, obtaining appropriate quality raw materials, establishing robust operating procedures, detecting and investigating product quality deviations, and maintaining reliable testing laboratories. This formal system of controls at a pharmaceutical company, if adequately put into practice, helps to prevent instances of contamination, mix-ups, deviations, failures, and errors. This assures that drug products meet their quality standards.
In 2007, the FDA mandated that supplement companies comply with cGMPs, yet to date, many companies are still not in compliance, meaning the products in their bottles may not match the ingredients on their labels, or that they fail in quality control. Companies that comply with cGMPs are proud to announce this, and the cGMP logo should be easily visible on the packaging and website. To read more about cGMPs, click here.
Take home point: Choose products from companies that implement cGMPs.
I hope this provides a helpful overview so that you can be an informed consumer of phytocannabinoid products if you choose to use them. The hemp industry is growing fast, and it will be exciting to see what happens in the coming years as the science and business of hemp moves forward.
I bet you are wondering if I have a phytocannabinoid product that I trust. Well, I sure do, and for all of the reasons outlined above. Metagenics, one of my favorite and most trusted supplement companies, makes a broad spectrum hemp extract which is pure, non-GMO, and organic. Each bottle can be traced back through Metagenics’ TruQuality program online so that you can see exactly how much CBD is in each dose. You can also check for toxins, pesticides, and other contaminants. Metagenics offers transparency at its finest, and is unlike any other company in this promise. If you and your healthcare provider decide that a phytocannabinoid product is appropriate for you, give Metagenics’ Hemp Oil a try. Click here to access, and use promo code HEMP to save 10% on all future orders!
Have you tried phytocannabinoids? What benefits have you received from using them? I’d love to hear your experiences! Comment below and let me know.