I’ve been researching cannabidiol (CBD) oil lately after hearing amazing health benefits, and I’m floored by what I’m uncovering. Is this cannabinoid that’s been just out of our legal reach a miracle cure for cancer, epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, and more? I’ve been using the oil myself recently for enhanced sleep, anxiety, and to lower blood pressure, and the positive effects have been nothing short of astounding.
1 in 7 adults now use CBD oil (source), and the market is saturated with CBD products claiming to help you sleep better, relieve pain and anxiety, and even combat cancer. I want you to know how to choose the right CBD oil and how to use it before you decide to dive in.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol is one of the two main cannabinoids in marijuana (cannabis), and it has a non-psychoactive effect (read: it won’t get you high). Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds present in cannabis that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that release and repress neurotransmitters in the brain. That’s right: we have cannabinoid receptors in our brain specifically designed to interact with cannabis molecules.
You’re probably familiar with THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the other main cannabinoid in marijuana that does have psychoactive properties (read: it gets you high). Though both THC and CBD are safe and non-toxic (there are no recorded cases of overdose fatalities attributed to cannabis), THC causes a release of dopamine in the brain while suppressing GABA, the neurotransmitter responsible for relaxation and feelings of wellbeing. This is one reason why people who take too much THC or smoke too much pot get anxious or paranoid along with their buzz. I can attest from my pot-smoking college days that getting too high is super unpleasant; it can trigger panic attacks and psychotic episodes. CBD has the opposite effect, however. It counteracts the effects of THC and can protect marijuana users from getting too high and experiencing psychosis. It’s actually being tested as a an antipsychotic for people with schizophrenia.
CBD vs Hemp Oil
Understanding true CBD vs hemp oil is confusing, First off, hemp plants are naturally rich in CBD while marijuana plants are rich in THC. CBD is found in the drug-producing cannabis indica plants AND the hemp-producing cannabis sativa; CBD can be extracted from marijuana or hemp plants. When CBD is extracted from non-psychoactive hemp, it is legal to purchase in all 50 United States. This is actually hemp oil. Hemp CBD oil is made from hemp seeds or stalks, and proper CBD oil is made from hemp flowers and leaves.
Hemp CBD oil that is available everywhere is regulated by the FDA as a dietary supplement, and like other dietary supplements the FDA is “not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.” CBD made from marijuana is legal only in states with medical or recreational marijuana laws.
Medical cannabis has been selectively bred for varying amounts of THC, but hemp plants are primarily male and non-flowering, so they have a low THC content. Although marijuana is mostly illegal depending on where you live, CBD is more easily attainable and somewhat legal as long as the THC content is super low, under 0.3% I believe. The laws are still pretty murky, however.
True CBD oil is made by extracting the oil from hemp flowers and leaves using solvents, carbon, or carrier oils like olive oil. It’s then used as a tincture, in topical creams, edibles, or a liquid. CBD is also available in powderized form in capsules at higher doses. Delivery methods discussed in more detail below.
BOTTOM LINE: Hemp oil and CBD oil are not the same thing! I’ve been approached by countless manufacturers of hemp oils and hemp seed oils, asking me to mention their products in this post. They’re often prohibitively expensive, $100 or more for an ounce, and don’t have the same benefits as true CBD oil, though hemp oil does contain good fatty acids and is anti-inflammatory.
Hemp oil, which is typically produced from hemp stalks, seeds, and stems, contains low levels of CBD – typically less than 25 parts per million – while CBD oil can be up to 15 percent CBD. Because the plants are related, some unscrupulous sellers of hemp oil are trying to market it for its medicinal value, which is negligible, so be aware of this. (source) Remember that hemp oil comes from the seeds of the hemp plant, and CBD is extracted from the flowers. This site offers unbiased CBD reviews, but as of now I would only buy CBD oil through a dispensary.
What Does CBD Do?
Users report that CBD has a relaxing, sedative effect on the body without the fuzzy mind high of using cannabis (and no risk of using too much and freaking out). For me, it usually produces a deep and relaxing state of calm. Sometimes I don’t even notice anything until I realize how pleasant I’m feeling.
The main uses for which I recommend CBD are to combat anxiety, insomnia, and pain and to lower blood pressure (note that if you have low blood pressure or are on blood pressure meds, you’ll need to monitor your pressure so it doesn’t drop too low). I would also highly recommend it for cancer and seizures. Its medicinal uses surpass those of any other cannabinoid, and it has been used for treating the following (source and source):
- reducing or preventing inflammation
- depression and anxiety disorders: PTSD, OCD panic attacks, social anxieties
- rheumatoid & osteoarthritis
- epilepsy & seizures
- cardiovascular disease
- pain relief
Is CBD Oil Nature’s Miracle Cure?
You may have heard the story of Charlotte, the girl who was suffering up to 300 seizures per week at age 5 before her parents tried CBD oil after exhausting other treatment options. They were stunned when the seizures stopped almost completely, now occurring only 2-3 times monthly. Charlotte is now thriving. Scientists think the CBD quiets the excessive electrical and chemical activity in the brain that causes seizures.
We know that CBD has very strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. We also know that inflammation is a main cause of disease and pain, so CBD is really effective against inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, joint pain, and even IBS. It reportedly also has powerful pain reducing properties and could be used as a non-toxic and-non addictive alternative to opiate-based painkillers like vicodin.
Aside from seizures, I’ve been researching it and talking with folks who use it to combat anxiety, depression, and insomnia and have found that it’s very effective for all. In one case, the user (a male over age 70, the father of one of my clients) was able to drop all his blood pressure meds using CBD oil along with magnesium. In my case, during a particularly stressful time. my blood pressure dropped 20 points in 2 days of taking just 15mg of CBD. Amazing. I’d also recommend it as a general tonic to help the body adapt to stress because it reduces elevated cortisol. You can also use it for your dogs (I haven’t read anything about cats); I’ve heard of at least one case where it’s stopped seizures in an older dog.
Because of CBD’s positive effects in reducing cortisol, it has a beneficial effect on the endocrine system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates your stress response. If you feel fried, wired, or unable to deal with life’s stressors, your HPA axis is likely dysregulated. CBD also reduces blood sugar levels. Check out the research here.
Initial studies on CBD and cancer are very promising. CBD may support apoptosis (programmed cell death that rids the body of old and damaged cells) and may also be effective against breast cancer by killing breast cancer cells.
How to Use CBD Oil
CBD is still classified as schedule 1 drug in the United States, and it’s not super easy to get the best quality CBD oil. As awareness is spreading, it’s getting easier. You want to be very careful about quality standards and extraction methods to ensure you are not getting an end product that has hexanes, mycotoxins, mold, pesticides, or other toxic solvents.
I live in San Francisco where marijuana laws are fairly liberal, but I really don’t know the legal ins and outs of obtaining CBD oil in other states (aside from Colorado, Washington, and other states where it’s all legal!). In San Francisco, if you have any of the conditions I’ve mentioned, it’s easy to get a medical marijuana card which gives you access to high quality CBD oil in addition to medical marijuana.
I have used and recommend these CBD oils, and as far as I know you can order them online. I also get CBD oil and gummy treats from dispensaries in California where recreational marijuana is legal. They contain true CBD oil and not hemp oil (many labels will say hemp oil only) and has stringent quality standards. There are a lot of pricey CBD oils out there, so check the dosages and manufacturing practice. You want to be able to easily take up to 30mg per dose, so if an entire bottle only provides 5mg, it may not be strong enough to work.
I recommend the oil because it’s the easiest way to start with a low dose and move up. You don’t know what your body needs and how you’ll react, so start on the lower end of the spectrum with a 5mg dose in a tincture (usually a few drops, depending) and work your way up. Remember, it’s not addictive and there’s no risk of overdose, but I have heard users report that too much can make you “fuzzy.” This will heavily depend on the CBD:THC ratio. The tinctures are at the lower end of price spectrum, less than $100 and averaging $60 or so. Because this is a new industry, demand hasn’t driven supply, so it’s still pretty pricey.
What to Look for When Buying CBD Oil
A 2017 study published in JAMA tested the cannabinoid content of 84 CBD products from 31 companies. The researchers found that a shocking 69 percent of CBD products didn’t contain the amount of CBD reported on the label. (source) Please be aware that the CBD oils you find everywhere are probably only hemp oil and aren’t regulated for quality control.
I used to only recommend CBD oils from a dispensary, but this brand I’ve been using lately is available via online order. I also like the Care by Design CBD. You can buy them in various strengths like pure CBD or 20:1 CBD:THC for example. The over the counter CBD oils I’ve tried (like NuLeaf) just didn’t work for me at all. Lately I’ve been using 1,000mg – 1,500mg CBD per bottle tinctures from local dispensaries with good results (these days I’m using it for sleep and it works magically).
I’ve been hearing good things about BlueBird concentrated CBD oils but haven’t tried those yet.
What Will CBD Do to Me?
If you’ve dosed correctly, you should notice reduction in your symptoms, whether that’s anxiety, pain, or insomnia. If you don’t feel any improvement, move your dose up day by day until you feel better OR you may need a different product. Note that you should use the oil consistently every day to get the best results. You can take as much as 100 mg or more (which, as far as I can tell, is impossible to find as a dosage in any quality CBD product unfortunately, though I HAVE seen these dosages in hemp oil), whatever works for you.
If you need a higher dose, you may want to consider the powder form in capsules, but they’re more pricey. The caps usually start around 25mg per pill. Other methods of delivery include vaporizers where you get a liquid combustible form for very quick delivery into bloodstream via inhaling, like an e-cig (I haven’t researched the potential carcinogenic effects of this though). Apparently the topical creams work great for eczema and psoriasis.
The effects should last a couple of hours. If you’re using it for chronic anxiety, I’d recommend also using adrenal support and possibly some neurotransmitter support. The great thing about CBD is that unlike THC, it won’t disrupt and suppress your feel-good neurotransmitters.
In terms of potential bad side effects, I didn’t once come across anything negative about CBD oil in my extensive research. You should not use CBD during pregnancy because we don’t yet know how this impacts the fetus. The only unfavorable review I saw was one person who claimed it didn’t work. That’s a much safer profile than many FDA-approved pharmaceutical drugs.
We still don’t know all that much about CBD quite yet. The FDA has been testing a CBD-based drug for children with epilepsy, but there aren’t any other major clinical trials to date. There is tons of research on using cannabidiol for over 23 diseases and conditions from cancer to Parkinson’s to hypertension, and you can check that out here.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.