By the end of this year, a bill is set to pass in Congress that will make it even easier to find a product that seems to be on the tips of everyone’s tongues (or under their tongues) these days: CBD. Short for cannabidiol, it’s one of the many phytochemicals in the cannabis plant family thought to provide healing benefits, only it won’t make you high and generally has no harmful side effects. (It’s already been FDA-approved to treat epilepsy in children, an indication of just how safe this compound is.) While the scientific underpinning of why it helps so many maladies is still in its infancy, early studies and anecdotal evidence suggests it can help many conditions: arthritis, anxiety, chronic pain, depression, insomnia, and eczema are just a few. It may even curb cravings to addictive substances, like alcohol and nicotine.
While this natural compound is generally easy to find online and in states where it’s legal, the 2018 Farm Bill will mean that hemp-derived CBD will soon be legal to sell and buy nationwide. Given the number of ways you can take CBD, as a tincture, a balm, a pill, a patch, an oil you vape or a flower you can smoke—not to mention the endless brands to choose from—I’ve compiled a few tips for making an educated purchase. All of it is based on the reporting I did on the science of CBD and its effects on me. Think of this as a quick hit of that long read.
1. Go full spectrum.
Cannabis and hemp contain more than just CBD and THC— they are filled with over 100 compounds called cannabinoids that are thought to enhance each other’s benefits and create what’s known as an “entourage effect.” These phytochemicals include terpenes, aromatherapeutic cannabinoids that can create a sedating effect, just like those found in another familiar, calming herb, lavender.
Hemp-derived CBD is the kind you can buy over the counter. It contains a negligible amount of THC, so there are only trace amounts of it in a “whole plant” or “full-spectrum” product. Still, one study found that there was enough THC in full-spectrum products, which some have used to treat childhood-onset epilepsy, to make a child high.
2. Know the source.
Brooklyn’s first medical marijuana dispensary, Citiva, opens Dec. 21. There you can find cannabis-derived CBD tinctures blended with THC, which take full advantage of the entourage effect, and for cases like chronic pain or severe anxiety, may be more helpful.
Barring that, you can also do your research on hemp-derived CBD. Hemp is thought to contain lower amounts of CBD than cannabis, and is a “bioaccumulator,” meaning it absorbs environmental toxins. Given the amount of hemp you need to distill it into a CBD product, these toxins would accumulate in the distillate, too, so it’s important to know where your CBD is grown.
Here in the states, growers are cultivating hemp to contain even more CBD, though, just as cannabis growers bred high-THC strains for a stronger high. If your CBD comes from hemp organically grown in a state like Colorado, Oregon or Kentucky, places where the hemp industry is well established, you should feel confident you’re getting a quality product. Still, it’s a bit of a trial and error, buyer beware proposition—these “supplements” are all unregulated, and it’s been shown that 70% of CBD products do not contain the amount they claim to. (Which may explain why you don’t feel a thing, or feel too much.)
3. Figure out the best formulation for you.
If you’re buying a lotion or balm, it will only affect the area where you apply it. The easiest and fastest way for the body to absorb CBD is through vaping CBD oil or hemp flowers, or taking drops sublingually, by holding the tincture under your tongue for a minute or two. Suppositories are supposedly good—but do you really want to go there?
Taking CBD in capsule form is convenient and doesn’t have the strong herbal taste of an oil. But your body will metabolize it in a way that lowers its “bioavailability,” or amount that hits your bloodstream. So if you do choose a pill, you may want to increase your dose.
4. Experiment to find your dose.
Speaking of “your dose,” the labeling on these products is often confusing. Many recommend 15 or 25 mg a day, even though there is no set amount that works for everyone.
There’s also no known harm of overdose, although it can affect a certain enzyme that could impact how other drugs work in your body. Generally speaking, it’s safe enough to experiment to find the right amount for you. Keep a journal like this CBD Jotter from Goldleaf to keep track of what works, and when.
5. Give it time.
Unless you’re combining CBD with THC, it’s possible you won’t feel the effect from CBD immediately. If you’ve got an issue you’re trying to heal or help, use that as your litmus test to see if it alleviates what ails you. Just know that it might take a few weeks for you to notice any improvements and it could be operating as a Placebo. There’s no harm in that, in my opinion, aside from lightening your wallet a bit.
6. Get personal recommendations.
The science of CBD is still so new, and many of its beneficial uses are anecdotal. So go to shops that specialize in these products, like Clean Market, and ask around, or purchase it online from shops dedicated to cannabis, like Miss Grass. Someone you know is probably using CBD, and if the product works for them, it might do the same for you.