The booming CBD craze, explained

These are two drinks from the same store. They’re the same in almost every way. But this one costs $3 extra. All it took was a few drops of this stuff
— CBD. It’s a cannabis compound you can buy in oils,
chocolates, bath bombs, face masks, gummies, coffee, lotions, even dog treats. It’s everywhere. And its proponents claim that it can help
with a lot of things: CBD exists right at the intersection of three
huge consumer trends: The 49 billion-dollar herbal supplement industry,
the growing anxiety economy, and the almost overnight rise of a legal cannabis marketplace. There’s still a lot we don’t know about
CBD. But people are buying it. This is how much consumer CBD sales have grown
in the past four years. And this is how much they’re expected to
grow. For a product this popular, CBD is barely
regulated and people tend to misunderstand its effects. So what do we know about it? CBD — or cannabidiol — is one of over
110 chemical constituents in cannabis called cannabinoids. THC — or tetrahydrocannabinol — is a different
cannabis chemical that causes the high associated with consuming marijuana. But by itself, CBD won’t get you high. You can inhale it as a vapor, or apply it
to your skin, but a popular intake method is edible
oil — since CBD is naturally soluble in fat. That easy-to-consume format is behind the
explosion of many new products we’re seeing today. But it’s also led to a lot of misconceptions. For starters, people say CBD can treat everything
from inflammation, to acne — even cancer. But there’s no proof that consumer CBD products
can treat all those ailments. We don’t have that
much data related to the therapeutic effects of cannabidiol. CBD has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
properties that have been shown to help treat psychosis, anxiety, movement disorders, multiple
sclerosis, and epilepsy and seizures. And the FDA recently approved Epidiolex, a
CBD-based epilepsy drug. But there isn’t enough research for CBD
to be prescribed as medicine for all of those other conditions. Right now, we don’t know a ton about how
CBD affects the brain, or which doses or delivery methods work most effectively. And people who take CBD sometimes do it at
risk to their own health, foregoing medically approved treatments or failing to investigate
its interactions with other drugs. And the CBD that has trickled down to retail
markets? It’s largely unregulated. Because of that, consumers often have no idea
what they’re buying — and CBD products often don’t contain what they say they do. A) They might not even have the cannabidiol that is claimed on the label — but more importantly,
B) is that some of them actually have THC in it. In 2016, the FDA issued warnings to 8 CBD
oil companies after finding that some contained either no or barely any CBD, and some contained
illegal amounts of psychoactive THC. And a 2017 study of 84 CBD products purchased
online found that almost 70 percent were mislabeled. But even when consumer CBD products are accurately
labeled, the doses tend to be very low. When you get a few drops of CBD oil in a drink,
you’re probably getting about 5-10 milligrams of CBD. You’d need 30 times that to reach the amount
of CBD that current research has found to have stress-relieving results. So even though CBD has a ton of medical promise,
the dose in the average CBD coffee is pretty negligible. But even at those levels, CBD products other
than Epidiolex are still technically illegal. When you go down the street and you buy your latte with cannabidiol, that is still considered “federally illegal. At the state level it might not be, depending on which state you’re in, but federally speaking, it is still illegal. The DEA maintains that CBD is federally illegal
— but it won’t bother going after anyone possessing or using it. And because the DEA won’t prosecute, anybody
from any state can walk into a store or go online and buy CBD products. Attitudes in health care are shifting: in
December 2017, the World Health Organization concluded that CBD is not harmful. In January 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency
removed it from its prohibited substances list. And, if passed as it stands, the 2018 farm
bill would legalize CBD and industrial hemp nationwide. CBD isn’t bullsh*t. It’s a substance with a lot of potential. But the quantity and quality in today’s
consumer products is often more of a scam than a reliable wellness supplement. What’s next for CBD depends on research. But right now, its popularity is proof that
the absence of data doesn’t prevent people from selling products. Instead, when you can claim everything — you
can sell anything.