For nearly a decade, Danielle Brand-LeMond, 39, dealt with persistent anxiety and trouble falling asleep. “There were nights I barely slept,” she says. As someone who prefers natural antidotes to pharmaceuticals, Brand-LeMond began taking herbal remedies and hormones like melatonin, but nothing worked. Then, last year, Brand-LeMond’s father, who owns a health food store, suggested she try CBD oil.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a nonpsychoactive compound from cannabis touted as a promising therapeutic for a variety of health conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, pain, and epilepsy-related seizures. The market for CBD could surpass $1 billion by 2020, according to one estimate.
These days, Brand-LeMond swallows a dropper of CBD oil once a day, four times a week. She says she’s less agitated. “I feel like it’s effective,” she says.
There’s a trend of taking charge of your own health and relying less on medical professionals.
“Depending on where you look and what you read, CBD will cure all that ails you,” says Robert Carson, an assistant professor of pediatric neurology at Vanderbilt University who has studied CBD. There’s plenty of solid data that CBD helps with epilepsy, he says. “In the other areas, it’s more tricky.”
A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2011 found that people who took an oral dose of 400 milligrams of CBD experienced reduced anxiety levels, for instance.
Studies show that CBD can reduce the frequency of seizures and improve quality of life for people with epilepsy. In one study from last year, 62 percent of caregivers said their child’s epileptic condition improved while taking CBD. In June 2018, the FDA approved a CBD oral drug known as Epidiolex as a treatment for two rare types of epilepsy. It marked the first time the agency approved a marijuana-derived medication.
Still, a lot remains unknown about CBD, and some experts caution that businesses are running wild with early research.
“It’s very disconcerting for me” that CBD is so easily accessible without adequate studies, says Yasmin Hurd, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who has researched the effects of cannabis. “CBD is not a cure-all.”
When the FDA approved Epidiolex in June, it made clear that the approval was for one specific CBD medication and for one specific use. In the past, the agency has cracked down on CBD companies marketing unapproved health benefits from their products. Right now, companies selling CBD products operate in a legal gray area since, technically, the FDA does not allow CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement, though state laws may still allow it.
CBD can be sourced from marijuana or hemp, and most CBD products on the market come from the latter. That’s because hemp contains only trace amounts of THC — the chemical in marijuana that creates a high — and is more lightly regulated than pot. That doesn’t mean it’s legal to ship CBD from state to state, but prosecuting the sale of CBD hasn’t been a priority for state and federal officials.
Experts studying the compound argue that businesses are running wild with their early research.
Nonetheless, CBD is generally regarded as safe. “You can’t overdose on it,” Hurd says.
According to a newly updated report by Consumer Lab, which tests health and nutritional products, the amounts of CBD listed on oil and supplement labels aren’t always accurate. There’s also a lot of variation in the actual amount of CBD that different products contain. In testing nine popular oils and powder capsules, Consumer Lab found a lack of consistency in CBD products when it comes to both dosage and cost. Among the brands tested, dosages of CBD ranged from 2.2 to 22.3 milligrams per serving.
None of the brands tested in the report provide the high dosages that are used in clinical trials, however, and the effectiveness of low dosages is unclear. In research, participants typically take between 300 and 600 milligrams of CBD for anxiety and around 1,400 milligrams of CBD to treat seizures in adults, Consumer Lab reports.
Research is ongoing — but it’s not without hurdles. CBD derived from marijuana is hard to study, because the United States currently classifies marijuana as Schedule I drug, which means it has no accepted medical use. “They need to change scheduling for us to prove or disprove that CBD is effective for all the disorders that it claims,” Hurd says.
The restrictions don’t appear to make CBD any less appealing for some users. “I think that there’s a trend of taking charge of your own health and relying less on medical professionals,” Brand-LeMond says. “People’s attitudes toward marijuana as a whole are changing, so there’s less stigma.”
Brand-LeMond says she’s happy the compound is becoming more available as a therapeutic alternative, even if there are still gaps in the science. “I’m open to experimenting,” she says.