Cannabis consumers have long been interested in the potency levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main chemical compound in marijuana that is responsible for the “high” that comes from cannabis use. THC levels rest on a continuum, with higher levels leading to more intense highs. The level of THC has also been one of the main factors that can predict whether a particular strain may be more desirable than others, since the over saturation allows users to experience more intense highs with less consumption or effort. As marijuana continues to be explored for its potential benefits of use, another chemical compound has made its way to mainstream interest in strain choice, cannabidiol. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound that is also derived from the marijuana plant and although has been found to be non-intoxicating like its THC counterpart (it is not mind-altering), CBD still needs to be explored on its safety and effects of consumption.

Marijuana strains that are high in CBD levels tend to give users the effects of having functional and clear headed responses without the euphoric high that is associated with high-THC strains. This allows users to experience some benefits to marijuana such as being able to control pain, inflammation, anxiety or other chronic conditions without feeling “out of control”. CBD is usually preferable to cannabis users who are intensely sensitive to the side effects of THC such as induced anxiety, paranoia and dizziness, but need the medical benefits it produces. CBD can be ingested just like any other strain of marijuana, ranging from smoking it out of a bong, to taking an oil capsule, to applying CBD infused lotion.

Users usually take CBD for a variety of reasons but most commonly it has been found to be helpful in treating:

  • Seizures
  • Epilepsy
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Opioid withdrawal

In particular, it has been used predominantly in treating a rare and debilitating disease known as pediatric epilepsy. The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel unanimously approved the CBD-derived medication, Epidiolex, in April 2018, to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. “That’s really the only area where the evidence has risen to the point where the FDA has said this is acceptable to approve a new drug”, stated Timothy Welty, who is the chair of the department of clinical sciences at Drake University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Des Moines, Iowa. “CBD is also being produced without any regulation, resulting in products that vary widely in quality”, said Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

CBD is extracted from flowers and buds of hemp or marijuana plants. Along with the hype of its non-intoxicating and beneficial side effects, many argue that this strain is “natural” and comes from plant-based origins, which in turn makes it appear safer to consume. As mentioned earlier, the FDA has only approved CBD for treating one particular and rare disease of childhood epilepsy. For the rest of CBD’s potential benefits, there is simply too little evidence to make a direct conclusion. Some states have made marijuana use legal, which can add to making the CBD benefits appear like a good idea, but it’s important to keep in mind that marijuana is still federally illegal and we still do not have enough scientific evidence to confirm that it does not have dangerous and sometimes life threatening side effects to its use. Another major concern with CBD use is that although CBD production is legal on a state level, there are no regulations on potency levels and what constitutes as an agreed-upon dosage. “CBD is being produced with no regulations, products often vary widely in quality and potency”, said Marcel Bonn-Miller. “It really is the Wild West”, Bonn-Miller stated, “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people”.

Another concern with CBD usage stems from it being a chemical compound found in marijuana. Different strains of marijuana are often not pure. Many people make hybrids of the plant and since it has so many derivatives in how it is produced and consumed, THC and CBD can often be combined and mixed. This means that if someone is solely looking for CBD products and their effects, there are no regulations that guarantee that each product will be created the same way, with consistent levels of CBD across batches. This is particularly concerning for those individuals who experience adverse effects to the THC, which include anxiety, paranoia, dizziness, etc. A 2017 study led by Bonn-Miller found that 7 out of 10 CBD products didn’t contain the amount of marijuana extract  that was promised on the label and 43 percent of the products contained too little CBD, while 26 percent contained too much. What’s even more concerning is that 1 in 5 CBD products contained the intoxicating pot chemical THC. “CBD is kind of a tricky drug because it’s not very well absorbed orally, less than 20 percent of the drug is absorbed orally. If it isn’t made in the right way, you may not be getting much drug into your systemic circulation”, stated Bonn-Miller.

When considering using marijuana for its CBD chemical component, it is important to make sure proper research is done prior to consuming it. While many people argue that marijuana, and CBD in particular, has many positive and medicinal benefits, the case of childhood epilepsy remains the only case to date in which the FDA has approved any CBD product for medicinal use. Another thing to keep in mind with any substance use is the potential for that substance to become abused. Many people use substances without doing prior research on them and later experience potential abuse or even fatal side effects. Just because CBD doesn’t “get you high”, doesn’t guarantee that it is free from the risk of abuse.