Last year, nearly 600 acres of Pennsylvania farmland were devoted to hemp — not exactly marijuana, but about as close as you can get. Like marijuana, hemp was long a controlled substance and illegal to grow. But the federal government has eased up on hemp, most significantly in 2018, when it began allowing farmers to grow “industrial hemp.”
Hemp contains CBD. And legalization of hemp has led to an explosion of CBD products being sold online and in retail settings from chain drug stores to health food stores to beauty parlors. In a dramatic example, Sheetz last month began selling products containing CBD in about 140 convenience stores throughout Pennsylvania, including many in the Harrisburg region.
Here’s why it’s a big deal: CBD is associated with wide-ranging health benefits — or at least claims of benefit — for ailments including joint pain, anxiety, seizures, and many more. There are even CBD products for pets.
But the CBD industry is largely unregulated, with a lack of controls on things such as ingredients and labeling. On top of that, there’s a shortage of research demonstrating both the health benefits and the possible harms of CBD.
“The problem is we don’t really have proof that they have strong benefit for all the conditions they’ve been touted for,” said Dr. William Trescher, a pediatric neurologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital.
There’s much worth knowing about CBD – to understand what’s going on and, most importantly, to make sure you don’t harm yourself or a child with CBD.
Here’s a rundown:
Q: What is CBD?
A: Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the major compounds found in the cannabis plant. Marijuana is a variety of Cannabis. So is hemp. Both marijuana and hemp contain CBD. But here’s a major difference: marijuana is heavy on tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is what causes the high. Hemp has no significant amount of THC.
Q: Does CBD make you high?
A: No. CBD doesn’t have the psychoactive properties of THC.
Q: Pennsylvania has a law which strictly controls use of medical marijuana, including CBD. People can get it only at state-regulated dispensaries, and only with a recommendation from a doctor. So how can all these stores be selling CBD?
A: One key reason is the CBD in products being sold by retailers comes from the hemp plant.
Q: Is CBD legal as long as it comes from hemp?
A: Not necessarily. The legal situation is cloudy. It can be argued CBD for ingestion is technically illegal. The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lacks the resources to police CBD products. The FDA recently held a hearing and listened to about 140 speakers talk about the pros and cons of CBD. It’s possible the FDA will impose more regulations on CBD. But for now, sales are burgeoning for CBD-infused products including creams, capsules, CBD vaping devices, foods, beverages and even gummies.
Q: Can CBD cause me to flunk a drug test?
A: Technically, no. Hemp and hemp-derived CBD has virtually no THC, which is what drug tests target. Yet there is a batch of lawsuits by people who say they flunked drugs tests and were fired from their jobs after using CBD. On expert told Consumer Reports it’s possible a CBD product might have more THC than stated on the label.
Q: How popular is CBD?
A: A lot of people are using it. A survey by Consumers Reports recently concluded that about a quarter of Americans have tried CBD for a health-related reason, and one in seven of those are using it every day. It’s especially popular among people in their 20s, with 40 percent saying they’ve tried it, Consumer Reports found.
Q: What are they using it for?
A: A long list of conditions, including: joint pain, seizures, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia and seizures. Many of the people surveyed by Consumer Reports said they have replaced prescription drugs with CBD. Many said said CBD enabled them to stop using opioid painkillers.
Q: How much proof is there that CBD really helps with those things?
A: Not much. Because of the long-standing bans on hemp and marijuana, there’s limited research. Thats means no one can even say for certain what dose might be enough, or too much. Still, many researchers and people within the government believe CBD has great medical potential, and they support clinical trials. The New York Times wrote, “The World Health Organization said last year that CBD is generally well tolerated, with a good safety profile and no addictive effects. It also noted the potential for adverse effects caused by interactions between CBD and medications people may be taking.”
“It is important that people are aware of the differences in CBD products,” said Nate Wardle, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman. “Products that are sold in convenience stores, grocery stores and other locations are made with hemp. These products are not regulated, and may not have been tested to determine what is in the products. Medical marijuana products containing CBD are sold in the dispensaries as part of the medical marijuana program and are closely regulated and evaluated at laboratories to determine the makeup of the product, so you know you are getting what the label addressed for the product.”
Some researchers believe the most significant benefits of CBD might involve its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory for things such as joint pain, and to ease certain brain-related ailments such as anxiety.
Q: So what might your doctor say about store-bought CBD?
A: Dr. Trescher, the local pediatric neurologist, stresses the lack of definitive research pertaining to health claims associated with CBD and the potential side effects and harms. “I think the evidence is not clear, in my humble estimation,” he said. Trescher said that if an informed adult wants to try the product, he wouldn’t argue against it. But he raises major alarms about giving it to a child. Trescher said it’s possible CBD poses negative impacts on the developing brain, especially in someone under 18.
“I would say my strong advice is not to do that,” he said.
Q: Are there other possible harms?
A: There is little regulation of what goes into CBD products. That causes worry over unwanted ingredients such as pesticides. There’s also cause for worry about inaccurate labeling, experts say. Some hospitals have reported cases of people being poisoned by CBD-related products. In covering the recent FDA hearing on CBD, The New York Times quoted a lawyer who works for a coalition of hemp producers. “Our enemy is not the FDA,” he said. “Our enemies are CBD companies that make false claims or sell products that are bad.”