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Today, marijuana is legal in 11 states for adults over the age of 21, and legal for medical use in 33 states, according to Business Insider. In Connecticut, it's only allowed for medical use, but you can still find CBD—a cannabis-derived product—on the shelves at gas stations, health food stores, and vape shops. So, what exactly is CBD and what does it do?
What is CBD?
According to Dr. Matthew Fisel, a naturopathic physician in Guilford, "Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of more than 100 cannabinoids found in Cannabis sativa."
When we hear the word cannabis, we think marijuana. But not all cannabis plants are the same. If the plant contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it's classified as hemp.
"Any product labeled CBD is sourced from hemp leaves and other plant parts," says Fisel.
So, CBD comes from low-THC cannabis plants—but why would people want to ingest it, since THC is what's responsible for marijuana's high?
"CBD oil contains natural phytocannabinoids, which are fats that bind to cannabinoid receptors in both the brain and the nervous system throughout the body. Endocannabinoids are the feel-good molecules our bodies naturally secrete when we feel safe or are doing something we love to do, and CBD mimics these chemicals in the body," explains Fisel.
Most CBD products don't include CBD exclusively, but are an extract of everything in the hemp plant, which includes "multiple compounds that work synergistically with CBD," according to Fisel.
How do you use it?
Fisel typically prescribes his patients a dose of 10 to 100 milligrams of CBD per day. In general, the smaller amounts are for anxiety, while larger doses are for pain and inflammation.
"Various clinical trials and research studies have demonstrated that CBD has broad therapeutic value, including reductions in seizures, psychotic symptoms, anxiety, depression, inflammation, neurodegeneration, symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain," says Fisel.
"It's important to note that there is no 'one size fits all' approach when using CBD, so there will often be some level of trial and error with dosing," Fisel says. "It's typically advised that patients use a gradual 'step-up' approach, incrementally increasing the dosage until a desired therapeutic benefit is reached."
According to a recent article from Harvard Health Publishing, more research is needed on CBD—but initial studies show promise. The biggest scientifically proven triumph of CBD is its ability to stop seizures. Patients with childhood epilepsy syndromes don't often see results with traditional antiseizure medications, but "in numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases it was able to stop them altogether," states the article.
Is it safe?
"At the typical doses suggested above, CBD will have little chance of producing side effects or toxicity," says Fisel. The most common side effects are minor: dry mouth, sweating, hunger, red eyes, and sedation/fatigue. However, Fisel recommends caution for patients who take medication for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, or seizures, as a more serious adverse reaction could occur.
The safety of CBD products may depend more on something else entirely: Because CBD is classified as a dietary supplement, it isn't regulated by the FDA. That means you can't be certain how much active ingredient is in a CBD product. It also means the products don't go through rigorous safety testing, so they could be contaminated. The same caution should be used as when buying any dietary supplement.
"Because cannabis can concentrate environmental chemicals like heavy metals and pesticides, it's important to choose products that provide data on raw materials used, as well as certificates of analysis from third-party testing that measures mold levels, solvent residue, and toxic exposure," Fisel says. "Another sign of good quality are products that list the milligram amounts of CBD per dose."
The third-party testing is integral to knowing what you're buying.
"A lot of places are selling products that don't have any CBD in it—it's just hemp oil," says Jeffrey LaChance, owner of the CBD Cellar in Guilford. "All the products we sell have a QR code on them and it goes to a site where you can see the test results."
As with any dietary supplement, it's always best to consult your doctor before starting it.
Everything else aside, "CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of certain other medications in your blood by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does," according to Harvard Health.