CBD oil has garnered a great deal of attention in the past few years for its efficacy as a wellness product that doesn’t get you high. It first became popular with miracle tales of helping alleviate seizures for children with epilepsy. For instance, Charlotte Figi, for whom the high-CBD strain of cannabis Charlotte’s Web was named, became famous when Sanjay Gupta covered her progress using CBD, which helped her go from hundreds of seizures a week to nearly zero.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prominent cannabinoid, or chemical compound, in the cannabis plant. It’s useful for treating pain, inflammation, seizures, anxiety, and numerous other ailments. And unlike THC, the main cannabinoid in cannabis, it has no psychotropic effects.
Once products high in CBD and nearly devoid of THC became popular, they’ve been sold around the country and the world. But the legality of CBD is still hazy, while many of the products on the market are questionable. Here’s your guide to determining what’s snake oil, what’s the real deal, and whether it’s legal.
Hemp vs. Marijuana Derived CBD
CBD oil and other products can either be derived from hemp or marijuana. Low-resin hemp plants are usually grown for industrial purposes, such as for fiber or seed oil, while high-resin marijuana plants have higher amounts of THC.
CBD products derived from marijuana, rather than industrial hemp, tend to be healthier. Industrial hemp tends to be lacking in cannabinoid content altogether, which means that manufacturers need to use a lot of hemp to extract a small amount of CBD, and that process increases the risk for also extracting contaminants. Hemp is a bioaccumulator, which sucks up toxins from the soil. For instance, it was used to restore the soil after the Chernobyl accident. However, when you’re extracting medicine from a bioaccumulator like hemp, you’re also likely extracting the crap that comes with it.
Generally, a product derived from a marijuana plant containing more than .03 percent THC is thought to be federally illegal, while CBD products derived from hemp plants with less than .03 percent THC have been thought to be okay. However, it’s more complex than that.
Federally, CBD, industrial hemp, or anything with less than .03 percent THC could still be technically illegal. The legality of a CBD product hinges not on the THC percentage of the plant from which it was derived, but on the actual plant material. So rather, CBD products that are made from marijuana bud (no matter how much or how little THC it has) are illegal, while products made from hemp stalks cultivated outside the United States are legal.
According to a DEA spokesperson, “If the products are derived from the non-psychoactive part of the marijuana plant, then you’re talking a non-controlled substance.” Otherwise, CBD products may still be federally prohibited.
When “CBD Oil” is Actually Snake Oil
Hemp-derived CBD products are regulated only as dietary supplements, which means the FDA hasn’t reviewed them for safety and efficacy before they’re marketed to the public as wellness products. In 2015, a number of firms that were marketing CBD for the treatment of certain diseases received warning letters from the FDA, which found that some of these products didn’t even contain CBD. Meanwhile, a number of other CBD products contain a cocktail of chemicals, pesticides, and other additives that could make you sick.
If you’re in the market for CBD, make sure the product you buy is derived from whole-plant cannabis. Project CBD, an educational resource, urges readers to make sure the label clearly demarcates the product’s ratio of CBD to THC per dose, when it was manufactured, and a batch number, which designates quality control. Also make sure the product is free of corn syrup, trans fats, GMOs, thinning agents, additives, or preservatives. According to Project CBD, higher quality products should also have undergone lab testing to make sure it’s free of mold, bacteria, pesticides, solvent residues, and other contaminants. Avoid anything with BHO, propane, hexane, hydrocarbons, or other solvents that manufacturers often use to extract CBD and other cannabinoid oils.
Navigating the CBD landscape can be tricky, but for many, the relief CBD provides is worth it if you buy the right stuff.