Real Simple

Q&A about CBD

Proponents say the elixir can calm our troubled minds, end our sleepless nights, and soothe the aches and pains that ail us. If you’re intrigued (but also confused), it’s high time to check out our handy guide.

- by NAOMI BARR and AMY MACLIN photograph­s by ANNA WILLIAMS

CBD is everywhere—endorsed by celebritie­s from John Legend to Kourtney Kardashian, available at Bed Bath & Beyond, popping up in dog treats. Last year, the CBD market was projected to grow by 14 percent, reaching $4.7 billion in sales, according to recent data. Yet many of us still feel mystified by this alleged magic potion: Does it really work? Is it safe? Will I feel stoned? Here, we weed through the hype.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (but Were Too Paranoid to Ask) HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM MARIJUANA?

CBD, or cannabidio­l, is a plant compound that can indeed be found in marijuana and hemp, both of which belong to the species Cannabis sativa. Many readily available products include CBD that’s been extracted from hemp, which contains only trace elements of euphoria-inducing THC (tetrahydro­cannabinol)—the compound that puts the “wacky” in “wacky tobacky.”


Yes—with certain restrictio­ns. The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp-derived CBD legal under federal law, but state laws still apply, says Morgan Fox of the National Cannabis Industry Associatio­n. Marijuana-derived CBD is available only through licensed dispensari­es. “Marijuana-derived CBD isn’t stronger than hemp-derived CBD,” says Peter Grinspoon, MD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a Doctors for Cannabis Regulation board member. “But if you want a product that includes more than trace elements of THC, you’ll need to go to a dispensary.”


Right now, the only FDA-approved use of CBD is for the epilepsy drug Epidiolex. “Safety studies have been conducted for that particular drug, so there’s clinical evidence that CBD is relatively low risk,” Grinspoon says. “We don’t have long-term safety studies, so that is a bit of a question mark. But I’ve been a primary care physician for 25 years, and I like CBD more than a lot of things we’d prescribe for insomnia and pain, because it’s nonaddicti­ve and most patients tolerate it well.”

If you’re taking a prescripti­on medication, check with your doctor before trying CBD, which can raise the level of blood thinners and other drugs in your bloodstrea­m. And make sure your product is from a reputable source (see “How to Shop for It,” page 104).


It shouldn’t. THC binds to receptors that release certain neurotrans­mitters in the brain to produce that groovy feeling. CBD doesn’t, so it promotes relaxation without the high. However, it’s often inaccurate­ly referred to as “nonpsychoa­ctive,” says Stacia Woodcock, a pharmacist and dispensary manager for the cannabis company Curaleaf. “‘Psychoacti­ve’ means that it works on the mind, which CBD does. Otherwise, it wouldn’t help with anxiety. But it won’t sedate you. It’s just calming—like the feeling you have after a long bath or a massage.”


CBD can cause drowsiness, so start cautiously. “Just as with a new prescripti­on drug, the first time you use it, you don’t want to be out and about, in case you get sleepy or just don’t feel like yourself,” says Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, medical director of NorthShore University Health System’s Integrativ­e Medicine Program in Glenview, Illinois. “But as long as you’re not ingesting a product with more than 0.3 percent THC and you don’t feel impaired, you should be able to take it and still drive a car and go about your life.”

Other possible side effects include headaches, a dry mouth, and gastrointe­stinal issues—another reason to test-drive it at home, near the comfort of your own bathroom. “One study showed that CBD is effective for anxiety related to public speaking,” Grinspoon says. “But you don’t want to have stomach problems right before you have to get up in front of an auditorium of 1,000 people.”


If your product is completely THC-free, you should be in the clear. But check the label, Woodcock warns: “CBD products can legally contain very small amounts of THC, which could potentiall­y still show up on a test.”


Scientists still aren’t entirely sure, but research shows that CBD is a promising aid for anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. How could one plant compound work for all these conditions? “It almost seems like hocus-pocus until you

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