CBD (cannabidiol) is a therapeutic compound produced by cannabis. It is commonly extracted and processed into oils, gummies, topicals, and other products that have no doubt sparked your curiosity. And with curiosity comes a load of questions.
This guide is here to lend a hand and provide answers to consumers’ most common questions about CBD, starting with the most basic so you never feel lost. You can start from the beginning or jump straight to whichever CBD question is currently burning hottest for you.
Common CBD questions
What is CBD (cannabidiol)?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis and hemp. CBD oils, gummies, and other products are continuing to grow in popularity as ways to manage anxiety, stress, pain, and other symptoms.
We typically associate cannabis with getting stoned, but CBD can be extracted from the plant to make products that come without the high or the smoke.
We typically associate cannabis with getting stoned, but CBD can be extracted from the plant to make products that come without the high or the smoke. The molecule in cannabis that gets us high is called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and nowadays, you can turn to cannabis-derived CBD products with little to no THC for clear-headed symptom relief.
It’s not just THC and CBD, either—cannabis produces dozens of potentially therapeutic compounds called cannabinoids. We’re slowly getting to know them as legalization spreads, and so far, they seem pretty friendly to us humans and our many ailments.
How does CBD work in the brain and body?
Each of our bodies has a set of receptors that interacts with cannabis compounds called cannabinoids, like CBD. These receptors, found throughout the body, comprise the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex signaling system that ensures our bodies maintain homeostasis.
Put another way, the endocannabinoid system keeps us in balance by directing the communication traffic in our bodies. Cannabinoids such as CBD interact with this system, mimicking natural compounds (called endocannabinoids) produced by the body.
In the human body, CBD influences cannabinoid receptor activity and encourages production of the body’s natural endocannabinoids. Interestingly, CBD also affects activity beyond the endocannabinoid system and can also interact with opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors. The ability of CBD to interact with so many different systems throughout the body suggests it has the potential to open new frontiers in psychiatry and medicine.
Can CBD make you feel high?
Unlike THC, CBD is not intoxicating. Why? Both THC and CBD are cannabinoids, but they behave very differently in our bodies.
THC stimulates what are called CB1 receptors. When CB1 receptors are activated, humans generally experience feelings of euphoria—or, for some, anxiety and paranoia. CBD doesn’t activate CB1 receptors, so we don’t feel euphoric, anxious, or stoned when taking it.
In fact, CBD can actually reduce THC’s ability to stimulate CB1 receptors, helping to block some of THC’s not-so-fun side effects. For those prone to anxiety and forgetfulness when consuming cannabis, CBD is a good tool to keep on-hand.
What are some conditions CBD can potentially treat?
CBD is a compound with diverse medical potential, so it’s no surprise that it’s become a trendy “cure-all” in the wellness space of late. Considering there’s currently no supervision over ingredients in CBD oil and other products, or the medical claims tied to them, it’s OK to be skeptical. We encourage that.
These claims often begin with anecdotal evidence, early research, and animal studies, but human studies are finally starting to fill in the gaps around CBD’s touted benefits. With that caveat in mind, here’s what we understand about CBD’s potential therapeutic applications.
CBD and anxiety
Ask around and we don’t doubt you’ll find a friend, relative, or acquaintance who swears by CBD for anxiety and stress relief. And there’s no reason yet to doubt it; so far, a majority of CBD research suggests it may be beneficial for anxiety symptoms, possibly by influencing activity in the serotonin system.
For quick relief of acute stress and anxiety, consider vaporizing high-CBD strains that also contain an array of botanical compounds—or try a clean, lab-tested CBD oil. Ingesting CBD oil may also help alleviate anxiety on the fly, but the effects are not instantaneous.
CBD and pain
According to research so far, CBD seems to help with two types of pain: neuropathic and inflammatory.
According to research so far, CBD seems to help with two types of pain: neuropathic and inflammatory. For other types of pain, CBD appears to be less effective. The euphoria-causing cannabinoid THC appears to also lend pain-relieving benefits, so if that’s your use-case, you might consider a product with both CBD and THC. You may even consider starting with a low dose of THC (2.5 to 5mg)—one likely to deliver little to no detectable high—to see if it enhances the painkilling power of CBD.
Not only can cannabis help supplement and replace a regimen of opioid painkillers, cannabis appears to enhance the effects of opioids, allowing some patients to cut back their regular dose of pharmaceutical painkillers.
CBD and insomnia
The relationship between CBD and sleep isn’t well understood yet. So far, it appears that dosage plays a role, with higher doses appearing to be more effective than lower doses. For context, one study indicated that a 160mg dose of CBD correlated with longer sleep duration, while 25mg of CBD seemed to have no effect on insomnia symptoms.
Another consideration: What’s keeping you up at night? CBD may help with symptoms that cause sleeplessness. If pain, anxiety, or stress is keeping you from settling into sleep, CBD just might be your ticket to a peaceful mind and body—and restful sleep.
CBD and epileptic seizures
For children with epilepsy, many treatment options drag along a host of side effects that impact one’s quality of life. So when CBD began to show promise as an effective treatment for seizures with little in the way adverse effects, researchers started paying attention.
In 2018, the FDA approved a CBD-based medicine called Epidiolex for treating two forms of epilepsy—Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Although anecdotal evidence and early studies show promising results, researchers haven’t yet reached a scientific explanation for why CBD might help reduce seizures.
Does CBD show up on drug tests?
When taking a drug test, you are not being screened for CBD. But you can still fail a drug test by only using CBD products. That’s because drug tests screen for THC, and many CBD products have trace levels of THC.
Even full-spectrum CBD oils derived from hemp can test up to 0.3% THC. That’s not enough to get you high, and you’d likely have to ingest a lot of CBD oil to fail a drug test for THC. But it’s worth knowing that the risk is technically there.
Does that mean you have to avoid CBD forever? Thankfully, nope. Look for broad-spectrum CBD oils or CBD isolates—these two product types have THC stripped out, but maintain the presence of other cannabinoids and compounds found in the plant.
Is CBD illegal?
Since 1937, cannabis has been federally illegal. So was hemp until the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. Also called the farm bill, this law removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act.
Each state in the US has its own laws pertaining to hemp and CBD.
Both hemp and high-resin cannabis produce CBD, but they have different definitions by law. Legally speaking, hemp and hemp products contain less than 0.3% THC. (Further explore the differences between hemp and cannabis below.)
So CBD is legal as long as it’s derived from hemp, right? Possibly. But not always.
Each state in the US has its own laws pertaining to hemp and CBD. For example, CBD in all forms is still illegal in Idaho, Iowa, and South Dakota. In Alaska, California, Washington, and many other states, only licensed cannabis shops can sell CBD in food or beverage forms. Check Leafly’s state-by-state guide to CBD to learn more about your local restrictions.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently drafting regulatory guidelines for CBD products—the first draft is expected to arrive in early 2020. Until then, agency officials are reminding everyone that it’s illegal to add CBD to a food or to label CBD as a dietary supplement.
What’s the difference between hemp CBD and cannabis-derived CBD?
CBD is produced by both hemp and cannabis. The molecule itself is the same regardless of its source plant, but there are still important differences between hemp- and cannabis-derived CBD products.
When talking about hemp, we’re referring to the low-resin industrial crop commonly used to make clothing, textiles, food, and other materials. And in this context, we’re using the word cannabis to describe the high-resin plants that are grown specifically for medical consumption or enjoyment.
Is one source better than the other? Here’s a glance at the pros and cons of each.
- Pro: Hemp is legal federally in the US (but check your local laws to ensure it’s legal in your state), and hemp-derived CBD products are widely available for purchase online and in grocery and drug stores.
- Pro: Hemp produces only trace levels of THC, making it appealing for consumers wanting to avoid THC altogether.
- Con: Hemp produces a limited spectrum of therapeutic compounds compared to high-resin cannabis.
- Con: Hemp products are currently unregulated, leaving unreliable potencies, dubious claims, and questionable ingredients unchecked.