WTF Is It And Should You Try It?

WTF Is CBD And Should You Try It?

You can swallow it, smoke it, or slather it all over your skin.

WTF Is It And Should You Try It? is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every now and then, we take a closer look at the lifestyle trends taking over our news feeds and find out whether they're worth the hype.

There have been a lot of "next big things" in the health and lifestyle world, but few have taken off as quickly as CBD.  It's the hottest new ingredient in beauty products, essential oils, and wellness beverages. You can swallow it, smoke it, or slather it all over your skin. 

And this is just the beginning. The Hemp Business Journal estimates the CBD market will grow to a $2.1 billion market in consumer sales by 2020. According to Forbes, that's a 700 percent increase from 2016. 

To find out whether we should be excited for it to take off, I spoke with two CBD experts — Heather Jackson, CEO at The Realm of Caring Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding cannabinoid research initiatives, and Sarah Cohen RN, CHPN, from the American Cannabis Nurses Association

Mironmax Studio / Shutterstock.com 
Mironmax Studio / Shutterstock.com 

So, what is CBD?

The cannabis plant can produce over 100 unique, chemical compounds called "cannabinoids." Different cannabinoids can have distinctly different effects on the body. One cannabinoid you've probably heard of is THC which causes the high a person gets when smoking marijuana. But there are many others. 

One of them is cannabidiol or CBD for short. Unlike THC, CBD doesn't get you high. There are no intoxicating or euphoric effects associated with ingesting it. You won't feel buzzed or extra good. But CBD could potentially help to eliminate certain negative symptoms. 

Also unlike THC, you can legally order CBD online and use it in 49 states. In the U.S., Indiana is the only exception. This is exciting because, according to Jackson, research is showing "CBD to be the cannabinoid with the longest list of potential therapeutic benefits."

"Researchers have called CBD the 'boy scout molecule' meaning it does the right thing, in the right place, at the right time," she said.

What are the benefits?

Before I give you an answer to this question, it's important to understand that most cannabinoid studies have been done in a petri dish or have only been tested on animals. "The legality, or rather, lack of legality pertaining to cannabis in the U.S. has made it extremely difficult to conduct studies in humans using cannabis or the compounds produced by the plant," Jackson said. "There has been almost no research done on humans."

One study that has been done on humans showed CBD can effectively treat a form of childhood epilepsy. But, for the most part, we can't draw definitive conclusions about the benefits of CBD for humans from scientific research. 

While other studies done in the lab may look promising, sometimes things that work on cell cultures don't work when they're given to people. That said, studies performed in a petri dish or on animals have found CBD can reduce inflammation, pain associated with inflammation, seizures, nausea and vomiting, tremors, anxiety, depression, and more. 

"CBD can help restore balance and proper function to virtually any cell, tissue, or organ in the body," Jackson said. "Due to this, the list of symptoms and conditions that CBD can help alleviate is extensive."

In lieu of the ability to perform clinic research on humans, the Realm of Caring Foundation is working on observational research. "In partnership with researchers at Johns Hopkins University and University of Pennsylvania, we are operating an online Observational Research Registry (ORR), which is the largest of its kind in the country," Jackson said. "It consists of validated measures and other standardized practices and measures in designed questionnaires that capture baseline data as well as change through time. There are cannabis and non-cannabis users with a plethora of diagnoses who are participating, allowing us to gather a wide and deep longitudinal data set with which we can make internal and external comparisons." 

In addition to preclinical research, there's a ton of anecdotal evidence out there.

From helping people manage their chronic pain, to reducing their anxiety, to improving their sleep, there have been tons of articles written about how CBD has benefited those who've tried it. And, of course, there's also social media, where people are recommending CBD after it helped them manage their painful symptoms. 

To add to the anecdotal research, I spent a month trying all kinds of CBD products.

I'm talking Not Pot's chocolates, Sagely Naturals' CBD + Turmeric capsules, Charlotte's Web's CBD infused oils, Vertly's lip butter, and a few different creams and gummies from Diamond CBD. These products didn't just come in different forms from different brands, but they also varied in dosage. 

I don't have a diagnosed disorder that I thought CBD could help me treat, but I do sometimes get anxious, stressed, and have trouble sleeping. I was curious to see if taking CBD would help in these areas and was pleasantly surprised. 

During the first few days, I kept waiting for something to "happen." But that's the thing about CBD — it's not supposed to make you feel something, but it does help you suppress certain feelings.

For me, CBD wasn't life-changing, but it did come with benefits. The effects are definitely subtle, but I did find myself feeling less stressed than usual for the month. I was more calm, focused, and energized. And I slept better. I almost always fall asleep quickly, but often wake up one or two times throughout the night. While taking CBD, I didn't wake up halfway through my sleep cycle which meant I was much more refreshed in the morning. Perhaps most surprising to me was that I felt no negative side effects.

Courtesy of Ari Marini
Courtesy of Ari Marini

So, should you try it?

"CBD stands to benefit almost everyone, no matter where you fall on the spectrum from healthy to sick, and no matter your age," Jackson said. "As long as you consult the use of CBD with your doctor and research how to acquire and use it responsibly, then almost anyone can try it."

However, that doesn't mean anyone should. 

"We would suggest that pregnant and nursing mothers refrain from using CBD due to a lack of research on potential outcomes," Jackson said. "Also anyone who needs to pass a drug test because they are prescribed certain medications, like opioids or to keep their job won't want to use CBD because most products contain trace amounts of THC that can build up in the system after prolonged use." 

Of course, like any medication, CBD can affect people differently. Different people may see results much more quickly than others. "Because it takes time for CBD to accumulate in the body, effects can take up to three weeks to become evident," Cohen said. 

Courtesy of Ari Marini

What should you look for when purchasing a CBD-infused product?

"Any cannabis product that is used as a medicine or supplement should be lab-tested for heavy metals, pesticides and other impurities. These days, it seems you can walk into any spa and buy a 'healing CBD oil,'" Cohen said. "Be wary — make sure what you are putting in or on your body is tested and safe, preferably made in the U.S., where consumer protections tend to be more robust."

As far as dosage, Cohen recommends that you "start low, go slow." "It may be counter-intuitive to some, but truly, that is the safest way to precede," she said. 

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