Both industrial hemp and marijuana are members of the cannabis family, but they are treated differently under federal law. Industrial hemp, as defined by the federal government, is cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC by weight. Marijuana is defined as any cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC by weight.
If CBD oil comes from hemp, it is federally legal. If CBD oil comes from marijuana, it is federally illegal. State laws, however, vary widely.
Although cultures around the world have used cannabis for centuries, Americans are just now beginning to understand what cannabis and the chemical compounds in it do to the human body. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, in particular, has become wildly popular for its alleged health benefits, but is CBD oil legal?
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Cannabis is filled with chemicals. Arguably the most well known of these chemicals is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Whereas THC is largely responsible for cannabis’ “high," CBD does not result in a high. Supplement manufacturers are making CBD into many forms, including oils, tinctures, pills, and lotions. Some supposed benefits of using CBD include:
It depends. In terms of federal law, the legality of CBD oil depends largely on where the CBD came from and where it is being used, so it is important to understand some cannabis fundamentals.
Every U.S. state allows for the use of cannabis in some form, but each state’s laws are different. For example, Washington state law allows residents to legally consume CBD oil for recreational purposes, whereas South Dakota state law categorizes CBD as a Schedule IV controlled substance and allows citizens to use CBD only in forms that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, e.g., Epidiolex.
America’s relationship with cannabis is complicated. According to federal law, cannabis — including CBD — is still predominantly illegal, although there are exceptions. Even with the continuing federal prohibition of cannabis, most U.S. states have enacted their own cannabis-related laws. As such, CBD oils reside in a legal grey area.
Ingredients that are derived from parts of the cannabis plant that do not contain THC or CBD might fall outside the scope of 301(ll), and therefore might be able to be added to food. For example, as discussed in Question #12, certain hemp seed ingredients can be legally marketed in human food. However, all food ingredients must comply with all applicable laws and regulations. For example, by statute, any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive, and therefore subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by qualified experts under the conditions of its intended use, or the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive (sections 201(s) and 409 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. §§ 321(s) and 348]). Aside from the three hemp seed ingredients mentioned in Question #12, no other cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients have been the subject of a food additive petition, an evaluated GRAS notification, or have otherwise been approved for use in food by FDA. Food companies that wish to use cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients in their foods are subject to the relevant laws and regulations that govern all food products, including those that relate to the food additive and GRAS processes.
 Gunn, et al. Prenatal Exposure to cannabis and maternal and child health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2016; 6:e009986.
A. No. Under section 301(ll) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 331(ll)], it is prohibited to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which has been added a substance which is an active ingredient in a drug product that has been approved under section 505 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 355], or a drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and for which the existence of such investigations has been made public. There are exceptions, including when the drug was marketed in food before the drug was approved or before the substantial clinical investigations involving the drug had been instituted or, in the case of animal feed, that the drug is a new animal drug approved for use in feed and used according to the approved labeling. However, based on available evidence, FDA has concluded that none of these is the case for THC or CBD. FDA has therefore concluded that it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added. FDA is not aware of any evidence that would call into question these conclusions. Interested parties may present the agency with any evidence that they think has bearing on this issue. Our continuing review of information that has been submitted thus far has not caused us to change our conclusions.
18. How can patients gain access to cannabis or cannabis-derived products for medical use through expanded access?
A. Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than eighty biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Parts of the Cannabis sativa plant have been controlled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) since 1970 under the drug class “Marihuana” (commonly referred to as “marijuana”) [21 U.S.C. 802(16)]. “Marihuana” is listed in Schedule I of the CSA due to its high potential for abuse, which is attributable in large part to the psychoactive effects of THC, and the absence of a currently accepted medical use of the plant in the United States.
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD is the second-most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and it has many potential therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-anxiety, and seizure-suppressant properties. CBD can be sourced from both marijuana plants and hemp plants, the latter of which is legal in the US if they contain minuscule amounts of THC.
Because marijuana is still categorized as a Schedule 1 substance, CBD that is derived from the marijuana plant is still considered federally illegal. While hemp is now considered an agricultural commodity, it still must be produced and sold under state regulations that implement the bill. States must submit their plans for regulating the cultivation of hemp to the USDA. Some states have chosen not to allow hemp cultivation.
What is CBD?
Since federal cannabis prohibition is still in place, CBD laws vary significantly from state to state. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Despite the Farm Bill’s passage, the FDA has issued a directive that no CBD, not even hemp-derived, may be added to food or beverages or marketed as a dietary supplement. Given the flood of CBD products on the market already, the FDA has begun re-evaluating that stance. But the agency’s slow movement has created further confusion on the state level. States may attempt to regulate CBD in food, beverage, dietary supplements, and cosmetic products independently of the FDA’s rules but federal law makes it clear that the FDA has jurisdiction.
Most reputable CBD producers typically include the following information on their CBD product labels: