Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD, is the “it” health trend of the moment. The chemical compound found in cannabis plants made its way into America’s hearts over the last few years thanks to all its purported benefits, including the potential to help people get a better night’s sleep and stave off anxiety, as well as with even more serious matters like fighting nausea in cancer patients and assisting children suffering from epilepsy disorders.
However, despite CBD being everywhere and in everything—infused in popular snack brands and even sewn into the fabric of workout clothes—people seem more confused than ever about what exactly this hemp extract does. So with help from two cannabis-specialist doctors, we’re unpacking five of the biggest CBD myths and looking at the facts from all sides.
Myth #1: CBD can get you high.
Is CBD psychoactive like its cousin THC (or Tetrahydrocannabinol, found in marijuana)? Here’s the short answer: No, CBD cannot get you high.
The longer answer: It depends on how you define “psychoactive.” According to Jordan Tishler, MD, president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the medical advisor at cannabisMD, it’s technically incorrect to say CBD is non-psychoactive. This is because “CBD does seem to exert some effect on mood, at least in some research, so technically it is psychoactive,” he explains.
But don’t get it twisted—CBD isn’t going to give you those classic Cheech and Chong vibes. “It doesn’t cause any intoxication like THC or cannabis,” Dr. Tishler says.
“It’s also important to understand that the vast majority of positive research has been done with [medical] cannabis that contains THC as the major ingredient,” he says. “The intoxication is merely a side effect—and all medications have side effects. Managing those side effects is important for the best outcome but certainly not a reason to avoid cannabis as a medicine.”
Myth #2: There’s little to no research around CBD.
According to Junella Chin, DO, an integrative cannabis physician and medical advisor for cannabisMD, “There are over 20,000 PubMed citations regarding the endocannabinoid system (ECS), cannabinoid receptors, and research regarding the physiological mechanisms of ECS components and how it works on other neurotransmitters of the brain and body.”
However, Dr. Tishler notes that this answer comes with a major caveat, too. “There is a growing body of research in rodents, but not so much in humans,” he says. “The exception to this is research on human children with rare genetic seizure disorders—which is helpful and well done. The absence of human research for anxiety, depression, and pain is quite concerning in light of the marketing efforts around CBD.”
Myth #3: All CBD is made and produced the same way.
This is a big fat “no.” When making a CBD purchase, it’s crucial to do your homework to ensure you’re both getting the real deal, and to ensure you’re getting something safe.
“Patients must find third-party tested brands from labs that are reputable and licensed,” Dr. Chin says. “I recommend CBD-rich products made using only organic, CBD-rich, whole-plant extract because this offers the best safety profile and superior medicinal benefits.”
As Dr. Chin notes, a 2017 study published in JAMA found that many CBD products available for purchase online were actually mislabeled. The team purchased 84 products sold online as CBD-containing products. Of those, only 26 were labeled accurately (containing CBD within 10 percent of the claimed amount); 36 of the products had more CBD than their labels said, and 22 products had less. And, perhaps most frightening of all, the researchers also found THC in 18 of the 84 samples.
“Patients must look for clear labeling, lab-tested, dosing on the bottle, stability, extraction methods, as well as tests for solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, and fillers.” she says.
Myth #4: A little CBD each day—or only one time—is enough.
To really feel the effects of CBD you need to take it every day and you need to take a lot of it (and we’re talking about a lot).
“This is an area where the research is remarkably consistent,” Dr. Tishler says. “For mice, children, and the few adult human studies, the dose to have any effect is always in the range of 10 to 20 milligrams per kilogram of weight a day. Or, for an average 70 kilogram human (about 154 pounds), about 700 to 1400 milligrams per day. Obviously, no one is actually taking that much—in part because CBD is so expensive—so all the anecdotes are really a placebo.”
However, Dr. Chin explains, if you want to give it a try, aim for 20 to 50 milligrams per day. “If taking it for occasional inflammatory pain, usually patients do well with 25 to 50 milligrams per day,” Dr. Chin says, adding that for her patients with “seizures, Parkinson’s, ALS, chronic, and debilitating pain, the cannabinoid dosage varies and are much higher.”
Myth #5: CBD is a magic ingredient with no side effects.
Again, this one isn’t true. In fact, CBD can have some rather serious side effects depending on what other medications a person is taking at the same time.
“It’s important to understand that at those effective (read: high) doses, CBD can interact with conventional medications and potentially be quite dangerous,” Dr. Tishler says.
As Harvard Health Publishing also explains, CBD can cause a few slight side effects including nausea, fatigue, and irritability in some people. CBD can also interact with certain drugs like the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of other medications in your blood “by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does,” Harvard Health says.
“A significant safety concern with CBD is that it is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. Currently, the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. So you cannot know for sure that the product you buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label,” according to Harvard Health. “In addition, the product may contain other (unknown) elements. We also don’t know the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition.”
Long story short, while we know a lot of good things about CBD, namely from users’ testimonials, there’s also a lot still left in the unknown. Before starting a CBD regimen, make sure to speak to your doctor and do your research on which brand is right for you.