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Over the last couple of years, CBD has become a household word. CBD can be found in foods, supplements, cosmetic products, and even animal health products. You may have seen CBD products on the shelves of stores that range from 7-Eleven to Whole Foods Market.
CBD is marketed as the latest health miracle, with claims that it will relieve pain, anxiety, and depression. Some companies go so far as to say that CBD can treat cancer, autism, multiple sclerosis, and other serious health conditions. Many of these health claims are unproven and have come under serious scrutiny.
Because CBD is so freely available (along with the fact that it does not cause the mind-altering effects of marijuana) many people believe that CBD is a risk-free product. Consumers are using CBD products without medical supervision. They are also asking questions of their natural healthcare practitioners—including nutrition therapists. We answer some of those questions here.
How is CBD different from marijuana?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is one of more than a hundred different active plant compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant. Collectively called phytocannabinoids, these compounds act on cannabinoid receptors in the human body and brain.
Aside from CBD, the other most studied phytocannabinoid is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC produces the mind-altering effects of marijuana. Unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive properties.
CBD and THC are present in both the marijuana plant and the hemp plant, but in different amounts. Marijuana and hemp are the same genus and species (Cannabis sativa), but they have been cultivated over the years for very different purposes.
Marijuana has been cultivated for its recreational use and contains high levels of THC. Hemp has been cultivated for agricultural and nutritional use and contains higher levels of CBD. CBD is only a minor component of marijuana and produces none of the mind-altering effects.
How is CBD regulated?
Until 2018, all cannabis products were considered controlled substances, with no differentiation between hemp, marijuana, or any extracts from these plants. The 2018 Farm Bill changed that. The bill defined hemp as containing less than 0.3% THC and removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp was deemed legal as a food and supplement.
Companies quickly interpreted the legality of hemp to mean that they could market products containing hemp derivatives and isolates, such as CBD. Despite statements from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in opposition, CBD products began popping up across the country.
As of April of 2020, the following quotes were taken from the FDA website regarding the regulation of CBD:
“Other than one prescription drug product to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any other CBD products.”
“We are aware that there may be some products on the market that add CBD to a food or label CBD as a dietary supplement. Under federal law, it is illegal to market CBD this way.”
“The FDA is evaluating the regulatory frameworks that apply to certain cannabis-derived products that are intended for non-drug uses, including whether and/or how the FDA might consider updating its regulations, as well as whether potential legislation might be appropriate.”
Without consistent oversight from the FDA, there are serious concerns about the quality of CBD products. The FDA claims that they have tested the chemical content of some consumer products and found they do not contain the levels of CBD that are claimed. Some products contain unsafe levels of pesticides, heavy metals or other contaminants.
Consumers should be cautious when choose CBD products. Look for reputable companies that source and isolate the CBD with integrity. Ask for third-party documentation of CBD content as well as testing for impurities and contaminants.
Is CBD Safe?
The most reliable information on the safety of CBD comes from the new drug applications and prescribing information for the FDA-approved drugs containing CBD. Those two drugs are Epidiolex (CBD only) and Sativex (CBD and THC).
The safety information of these products shows that CBD could have potential interactions with drugs because of how it is metabolized and influences the activity of liver enzymes. Another concern posed by CBD is that it may damage the liver, especially in people who already have a liver disease or who consume a lot of alcohol.
Other common side effects that were observed in the clinical trials of CBD drugs were decreased appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, insomnia or sleep disturbances, gait disturbance, and infections.
Although this information comes from CBD-containing medications, consumers should be aware that CBD isolates may not be entirely without risk.
What are the Health Benefits of CBD?
The FDA-approved medications that contain CBD are indicated for specific types of seizure disorders (Epidiolex) and for pain associated with multiple sclerosis and cancer (Sativex). Consumer CBD products should not be making any disease-specific claims.
Many of the mechanisms of how CBD acts in the body are not entirely understood. We do know that it modulates the endocannabinoid system by acting on cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). CBD is commonly used to support healthy immune function and healthy inflammatory pathways. It might reduce stress and occasional anxiety by supporting healthy mood.
Is CBD a whole food?
CBD is not a whole food or a whole plant. It is an isolated compound from the hemp plant. CBD is extracted from hemp for use in pharmaceuticals and consumer products.
Taking CBD rather than a whole-hemp extract is similar to taking beta-carotene instead of eating a carrot. CBD comes from hemp, but the whole plant contains more than a hundred related compounds. Many have suggested that a whole-hemp extract offers synergistic benefits that are greater than taking CBD alone.
For those who want to use the whole plant rather than a CBD isolate, whole-hemp extracts can be purchased as herbal supplements. Reputable companies will source, harvest, and extract hemp with the highest quality standards. They will test their products for active compounds as well as impurities.
How does CBD fit in with Nutrition Therapy?
Nutrition therapy means using food and nutrients to support the body for better health. Nutrition therapy begins with food, but many practitioners also recommend vitamins or supplements.
Nutrition therapists and their naturally minded clients may be intrigued by the possibilities of CBD. It is a natural compound that is extracted from a plant that appears to offer a range of health benefits.
Although CBD might be beneficial as a supplement to nutrition therapy, I encourage you to learn more about its risks and benefits before grabbing a bottle of the shelf. Consider the option of a whole-hemp extract as a more synergistic way to support the endocannabinoid system. And most of all, seek out companies and brands with integrity to be sure that the products you are recommending or using yourself are the highest quality possible.
Stay tuned in for our post next week on the Endocannabinoid System 101.
About the Author
Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute. She is also the owner of ND Pen, providing branding, copywriting, and website design services for integrative healthcare practitioners. Connect with Sarah at www.ndpen.com.
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