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Earlier research found fewer than a third of 84 products studied contained the amount of CBD on their labels. Some users of CBD have also failed drug tests when the product contained more THC than indicated.

By Dawn MacKeen

Cannabis containing 0.3 percent or less of THC is hemp. Although last year’s Farm Bill legalized hemp under federal law, it also preserved the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of products derived from cannabis.

Is CBD harmful?

For students with generalized social anxiety, a four-minute talk, with minimal time to prepare, can be debilitating. Yet a small experiment in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that CBD seemed to reduce nervousness and cognitive impairment in patients with social anxiety in a simulated public speaking task.

A recent chart review of 72 psychiatric patients treated with CBD found that anxiety improved, but not sleep. “Over all, we did not find that it panned out as a useful treatment for sleep,” said Dr. Scott Shannon, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, Denver and the lead author of the review in The Permanente Journal.

Cannabidiol and THC are just two of the plant’s more than 100 cannabinoids. THC is psychoactive, and CBD may or may not be, which is a matter of debate. THC can increase anxiety; it is not clear what effect CBD is having, if any, in reducing it. THC can lead to addiction and cravings; CBD is being studied to help those in recovery.

Some CBD products may contain unwanted surprises. Forensic toxicologists at Virginia Commonwealth University examined nine e-liquids advertised as being 100 percent natural CBD extracts. They found one with dextromethorphan, or DXM, used in over-the counter cough medications and considered addictive when abused; and four with a synthetic cannabinoid, sometimes called Spice, that can cause anxiety, psychosis, tachycardia and death, according to a study last year in Forensic Science International.

Guimaraes VM, Zuardi AW, Del Bel EA, Guimaraes FS. Cannabidiol increases Fos expression in the nucleus accumbens but not in the dorsal striatum. Life Sci 2004;75(5):633-8. View abstract.

Formukong EA, Evans AT, Evans FJ. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity of constituents of Cannabis sativa L. Inflammation 1988;12(4):361-71. View abstract.

Uses & Effectiveness ?

Hacke ACM, Lima D, de Costa F, et al. Probing the antioxidant activity of [delta](9)-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol in Cannabis sativa extracts. Analyst. 2019;144(16):4952-4961. View abstract.

Naftali T, Mechulam R, Marii A, et al. Low-dose cannabidiol is safe but not effective in the treatment of Crohn’s Disease, a randomized controlled trial. Dig Dis Sci. 2017 Jun;62(6):1615-20. View abstract.

Carlini EA, Cunha JM. Hypnotic and antiepileptic effects of cannabidiol. J Clin Pharmacol 1981;21(8-9 Suppl):417S-27S. View abstract.

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (marijuana). While CBD is an essential component of medical marijuana, it is derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. While CBD is a component of marijuana (one of hundreds), by itself it does not cause a "high." According to a report from the World Health Organization, "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD."

CBD is readily obtainable in most parts of the United States, though its exact legal status is in flux. All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it. In December 2015, the FDA eased the regulatory requirements to allow researchers to conduct CBD trials. Currently, many people obtain CBD online without a medical cannabis license. The government’s position on CBD is confusing, and depends in part on whether the CBD comes from hemp or marijuana. The legality of CBD is expected to change, as there is currently bipartisan consensus in Congress to make the hemp crop legal which would, for all intents and purposes, make CBD difficult to prohibit.

How is cannabidiol different from marijuana?

Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability. CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of certain other medications in your blood by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does. A significant safety concern with CBD is that it is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. Currently, the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. So, you cannot know for sure that the product you buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label. In addition, the product may contain other (unknown) elements. We also don’t know the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition.

Some CBD manufacturers have come under government scrutiny for wild, indefensible claims, such that CBD is a cure-all for cancer, which it is not. We need more research but CBD may be prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD is currently is mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting. If you decide to try CBD, talk with your doctor — if for no other reason than to make sure it won’t affect other medications you are taking.

CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.