7 Surprising Facts You Didn't Know About CBD
A scientist sheds some new light on the often misunderstood cannabinoid.
Fueled by the burgeoning global wellness industry and the passage of the Farm Bill, consumer demand for CBD rich extracts, tinctures, capsules, edibles, beverages, and topicals has skyrocketed.
But despite its popularity and extensive ongoing research, CBD remains mostly misunderstood. This is due, in part, to a misinterpretation of research on this newly descheduled hemp derivative and to misleading marketing claims. To further complicate the matter, CBD sales and the media hype have greatly outpaced federal regulations and legislation, confusing consumers about CBD's safety and efficacy.
Related: Is CBD Really FDA Approved?
As a cannabinoid scientist and researcher, I have spent a significant part of my career examining and characterizing the enigmatic nature of CBD and other cannabinoids to share these findings with the world. In that spirit, here are a few things you may not know about CBD.
1. CBD use isn’t that widespread.
While news coverage may lead you to believe that everyone uses CBD, it has yet to go mainstream fully. One survey found that while 86 percent of Americans have heard of CBD, only 18 percent have actually tried it.
2. It’s possible to feel a “high” from using CBD products.
Consumers who opt for full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD products may not be aware that they’re also likely taking THC. The 2018 “Farm Bill” defines hemp as cannabis with no more than .3% THC. While .3% THC seems low, if you apply that amount to many hemp-derived products, it equates to roughly 2.7mg of THC per mL. At this level, the average adult would likely experience THC-like effects at less than one t-spoon and may result in a positive THC drug test.
Importantly, the FDA recently randomly tested several CBD products on the market and found that roughly half inaccurately reported their CBD or THC content, thus failing to inform consumers of their intoxication potential.
The best way to avoid inadvertent THC consumption is to choose a product that publishes its third party testing (unassociated testing laboratory) to ensure accurate labeling of its contents. For many, appropriately labeled isolated CBD products may be the best choice for those who wish to avoid the effects of THC.
3. CBD is just one of 120+ cannabinoids being studied.
Excluding some nuances, CBD is one of many produced by the cannabis/hemp plant that people should not refer to as “The CBDs.” Current research is focused on other isolated cannabinoids and looking at potential plant synergies such as “the entourage effect", which is the combined effect of different phytocannabinoids that work together to produce a greater effect than alone.
Some cannabis plant components like terpenoids and cannabinoids may work together or can counteract each other. But with CBD, it is a matter of research to find the best, most effective combination, or what components are counterproductive.
4. “Full Spectrum” and “Broad Spectrum” don't mean much.
The terms “Full Spectrum” and “Broad Spectrum” are not scientifically accepted terms and refer to a wide range of often uncharacterized products. No two products are the same unless they are part of the same batch. The effects you receive from one product may be very different from another product, even if they are both “Broad Spectrum.” The same may be true for different batches of the same product.
To date, the most reliable data available on CBD effects are based on research using isolated CBD, which is typically very consistent from batch to batch. These studies are known as RCTs (Randomized Controlled Studies), meaning they have a control group to determine if the placebo effect or CBD causes positive responses. To determine if one product is superior to the other, one would need to conduct a randomized study comparing two products. As of now, no large controlled studies have been conducted to prove product superiority.
5. There IS a ‘best way’ to consume CBD.
In terms of bioavailability (the proportion of a drug absorbed per administration route into circulation), oil-based products including soft gels are most likely to provide superior absorption to solid formats such as capsules. Additionally, CBD bioavailability is greatly affected by food. Research has shown that high-fat meals increase CBD blood levels by 3- to 5-fold. In other words, taking 25 mg of CBD with a few slices of pizza may be like taking 75 mg of CBD on an empty stomach.
6. CBD shows the potential for treating COVID-19.
Recent headlines have touted CBD as a possible coronavirus treatment. Although the results are exciting, a great deal more research is needed. One small study suggests that cannabis-derived CBD may help those suffering from severe lung inflammation in more serious cases of COVID-19. In this study from researchers at Augusta University in Georgia, CBD appeared to reduce some ARDS or acute respiratory distress syndrome related effects—a dangerous symptom in COVID-19 caused by an overactive inflammatory response in mice. Researchers sometimes refer to this reaction as a ‘cytokine storm.’
Additionally, CBD has previously demonstrated the ability to decrease the number of inflammatory cytokines in cellular models. But it is unknown if these effects occur in humans, what dose they need, and if these effects would help treat COVID-19 related symptoms. Additionally, it remains unclear whether other drugs designed to treat COVID-19 could interact with CBD.
7. CBD's greatest risk may have nothing to do with CBD
The regulatory void created by continued deliberation on CBD's safety may pose more of a public health risk than CBD itself. Without regulation, consumers and patients purchase products that may contain heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, and other harmful substances.
The worry is that we might see long term negative safety effects from the contaminants found in unregulated CBD. If negative effects are identified, they will likely limit further research and prevent the identification of potentially beneficial properties of CBD.
Clearly, there remains much to learn and uncover about cannabinoids and their many functional benefits. Rather than turning National CBD Day into another “Black Friday” shopping holiday, going forward, let’s use it to increase consumer awareness about CBD and celebrate current and future cannabinoid research.
Hunter Land, director of cannabinoid research at Canopy Growth Corporation, has devoted his career to researching cannabis-derived medicines and their application across a variety of conditions, leading clinical development of the first FDA-approved CBD medication, Epidolex.