More and more people are taking cannabidiol (CBD) oil for general health and to treat an array of ailments, especially since the 2018 Farm Bill made CBD and other hemp products legal at the federal level.
Growth in the CBD market has been staggering: In 2018, the global market was valued at $4.6 billion with a projected annual growth rate of just over 125% between 2019 and 2026. In the United States alone, sales are expected to top $20 billion by 2024.
Commercial CBD typically comes from the hemp plant, which is a type of cannabis. Marijuana comes from a closely related cannabis plant that contains CBD in lower levels.
However, CBD does not get you “high.” The cannabinoid (cannabis-derived chemical) responsible for the high of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ-9-THC), which is found at extremely low levels in hemp. CBD products can’t legally contain more than 0.3% THC.
If you’re not familiar with CBD, trying to choose a product can be complicated and overwhelming. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate it, which means there’s no standardization or daily-use guidelines. Research is in the early stages, meaning there are more questions than answers.
Additionally, CBD sellers offer products in numerous forms and formulations. When you’re trying to figure out which products to try, you need to consider several factors:
- Why you’re using it
- The best type for you
- Where it’s grown
- Whether it’s tested, by whom, and how you can tell
More than 25% of Americans say they’ve used CBD. One in seven use it regularly. People who’ve used CBD are more likely than non-users to be:
- Around 40 years old
- Middle class
- College graduates
- Employed full time
The only FDA-approved prescription form of CBD is Epidolex, which is indicated for seizures in hard-to-treat forms of epilepsy. All other forms and uses of CBD are non-prescription and not FDA-approved. People take CBD for a lot of different purposes, including:
Often, people use CBD with their doctor’s blessing and guidance. Any time you consider adding something new to your regimen, even something natural, you should discuss it with your doctor.
If you want to try CBD, be sure to talk to your doctor about it first—especially if you have a chronic condition and are on medication. Many pharmaceuticals, including Coumadin (warfarin) and Onfi/Sympazan (clobazam), can interact negatively with cannabinoids.
A few different types of CBD are available. Which one you choose depends in part on what you’re taking it for. The types are:
- Isolate (pure CBD)
- Broad-spectrum (many cannabinoids but no THC)
- Full-spectrum (all cannabinoids, including low amounts of THC)
An isolate is CBD that has been isolated from the plant. It’s a pure, tasteless, odorless, crystalline form that can be finely powdered or a little lumpy.
Isolate is especially potent and, if it comes from a reputable seller, should contain absolutely no THC. If you want to cook CBD into edibles, isolate is a good choice because it won’t change the flavor of the food.
The main drawback of an isolate is that cannabis has more than 100 different cannabinoids that may have health benefits that CBD alone does not, so a product containing more cannabinoids may alleviate more symptoms. On the other hand, this feature becomes a benefit if you’re sensitive to any of the other cannabinoids.
Broad-spectrum CBD products typically contain all of the cannabinoids except for THC. These various cannabinoids, with all of their different effects on the body, can cause what’s called the “entourage effect,” which basically means that they all work better together than apart.
Some of them, when taken together, make each other work better. Some may also cancel out the side effects of others.
You may be interested in broad-spectrum CBD products if you’ve tried isolate and it didn’t work well for you. It’s also good for people who:
- Want the effect of a full-spectrum product but live in a state with strict THC laws
- Cannot risk a positive drug test
- Have a sensitivity to THC
- Don’t want the high of THC
- Aren’t familiar with the effects of marijuana and are nervous about the THC
Broad-spectrum products, however, are less researched and harder to find on the market. Also, many of them have the strong “skunky” odor and flavor associated with marijuana, which some people may find unpleasant.
As the name implies, full-spectrum CBD products contain all of the cannabinoids, including THC. To be legal, though, even full-spectrum products can’t contain more than 0.3% THC, which means it’s pretty weak.
You’ll get the complete entourage effect from the full spectrum, so it may have more medicinal benefits than isolates and broad-spectrum CBD.
That “skunkiness” is something you can’t avoid with these products, though. Even though the THC levels are low, it’s possible that it could show up on a drug test. You might also experience the psychoactive and sedative effects associated with THC.
You may be interested in full-spectrum CBD products if:
- You’ve tried the other types and haven’t had enough relief
- Your doctor recommends a THC-containing product
- You have symptoms specifically alleviated by THC
- Marijuana is legal in your state, thus eliminating legal concerns about the THC content
- You’re not worried about drug testing for employment or other reasons
Hemp-Derived vs. Marijuana-Derived CBD
Federally legal CBD is derived from hemp seed, which, by law, can’t contain more than 0.3% THC. In states where marijuana is legal, dispensaries may sell CBD that’s derived from marijuana seeds and contain much higher levels of THC. Depending on the ratio of THC to CBD, these products may cause a high, impair you, or show up on a drug test.
CBD products come in a variety of formulations, some of which may have different absorption rates or be better for certain applications. Available formulations include:
- Where marijuana is legal, edibles
Typically, CBD oils, isolates, and tinctures are taken sublingually (under the tongue). Liquids may come as a spray or with a dropper. You hold it under your tongue, usually for a minute or two, and then swallow it.
Sublingual delivery offers the advantage of quick absorption into your bloodstream through the tissues in your mouth. This gives you the effects faster and prevents the CBD (and any other cannabinoids in the product) from being filtered out by your liver or degraded by the digestion process.
Sublingual forms are also easier to take if you have trouble swallowing pills.
Keeping a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum product under your tongue may be unpleasant if you’re bothered by the taste.
The dosage of isolates can’t be tricky to get just right, as you don’t need much of these potent products and will likely be measuring powder in a tiny spoon. If you have vision problems or an unsteady hand, you may be better off with a sublingual liquid or a capsule.
You can get CBD oil in creams, lotions, balms, waxes, and liquid that are meant to be applied directly to places where you have soft-tissue or nerve pain.
Topical CBD gives you relief quickly and right where you need it. According to animal studies, this appears to be a safe and effective way of relieving pain and inflammation without side effects.
Topical CBD doesn’t produce the “burn” associated with capsaicin. If you’d like to avoid the minty fumes of many topicals, it’s easy to find CBD products that don’t contain menthol.
You may benefit from some of the systemic effects of CBD, which you won’t get with this method. Additionally, these products tend to cost significantly more than most topicals on the market.
Don’t confuse skin care products, such as eye creams, for topical pain products (or vice versa) as these are unlikely to give you the results you want.
You can buy capsules and softgels that contain CBD oil or isolate and swallow them just like any pill. Some products may also contain other supplements, so be sure you know the full ingredient profile of anything you purchase and want to take everything that’s included.
Single-ingredient products may be best when you’re adjusting to something new so you know what’s causing any benefits, side effects, or allergic reactions.
If you already take several pills, it might be easier to add one more capsule than to tinker with sublingual products. On top of that, the dosage is consistent in this formulation, whereas you may get more variation if you’re counting drops or measuring isolate with a tiny spoon.
This may not be the best formulation for you if you have trouble swallowing pills. Because of the time it takes to digest, you won’t experience the benefits as quickly as you would with sublingual CBD. Your liver and the digestive process will also have an impact on how much CBD reaches your bloodstream.
Edible products containing CBD aren’t legal at the federal level, but you may find them at marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.
Common commercially produced edibles include gummies, chocolates, flavored sprays, gum, chewy candies, hard candies, cookies, teas, and cold drinks. Keep in mind that these products may be made with marijuana-derived CBD.
Some people choose edibles just because they like the taste. Others want a discrete way to use it publicly.
Exact dosing is difficult with edibles because a batch of something may end up with uneven amounts throughout. Anything resembling candy or soda may attract the attention of children, and packaging may not be child-proof.
Edibles and THC
Because marijuana dispensaries often sell CBD edibles that are made with marijuana-derived CBD, they may contain substantial amounts of THC.
This can lead to problems if you transport them into a state where marijuana is illegal, if you give them to someone who’s underage or doesn’t have a medical-marijuana card, or if you have to take a drug test for any reason. If you’re not accustomed to the effect of THC, you may also find yourself impaired.
The Lowdown on Vaping CBD
Vaping, which is smoking substances with an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) device, has grown in popularity among CBD users just as it has for nicotine or THC. However, a rapidly growing body of research shows that vaping any of these substances poses serious health risks.
In a 2019 study, researchers state: “Research on the health effects of vaping, though still limited, is accumulating rapidly and making it increasingly clear that this habit is far from harmless.
“For youth, it is a gateway to addiction to nicotine and other substances. Whether it can help people quit smoking remains to be seen. And recent months have seen reports of serious respiratory illnesses and even deaths linked to vaping.”
In 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that vaping, in adolescents and young adults, represented a “major public health concern.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has issued warnings that you should refrain from vaping entirely.
A 2019 study of vaping both with and without nicotine showed damage to the airways and temporary impairment of arterial function. A 2020 study reported consistent lung injury in people vaping cannabinoid oil.
Another study reports that multiple forms of pneumonia and other throat and respiratory illnesses are associated with vaping in general.
The problem with vaping stems from the heated ingredients becoming aerosolized—forming small particulates—that are then inhaled deeply into the lungs. Along with the CBD or nicotine, the product may contain flavorings and solvents that are known to damage the lungs and have other negative health consequences.
Among the known chemicals used in some e-liquids is propylene glycol, which is a volatile organic compound that turns into formaldehyde when heated. In people who do vape, Consumer Reports recommends looking for products labeled “solvent-free oils” to ensure it doesn’t contain this dangerous chemical. However, avoiding this one chemical doesn’t protect you from all potential harm due to vaping.
From the CDC
Much about vaping remains unknown since it’s a relatively new area of study. However, much of what researchers have learned suggests that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking, as many people mistakenly believe it is. With other, safer delivery methods available for CBD, you have many options that don’t pose the same risks.
So far, no CBD dosing recommendations are available for general health or specific conditions. Your doctor may be able to help guide you, and you may be able to find information on dosages used in medical studies on your illness(es). Short of that, it’s generally considered best to start with a low dosage and build up gradually.
Different CBD products express potency in different ways. Don’t confuse this with the percentage of CBD in the product—that has to do with purity, not potency. Instead, look for milligrams (in topicals) or milligrams per milliliter (for oils and isolates). The higher that number, the stronger the product.
When considering how strong a product you want to try, remember that the way you take it has an impact on how it affects you. For example, if you’re taking an edible or adding CBD to juice, you’ll need a stronger product or more of it than you would if you took it sublingually.
Everyone responds to CBD differently, so finding the best strength, type, and formulation can take trial and error.
Unless you’re buying a crystalline isolate, the product you buy will contain more than CBD and other cannabinoids. You should be sure you understand what ingredients are in the product you buy and what their purpose is. If you have allergies or sensitivities, be sure you carefully check the ingredients list for anything that may bother you.
Some of these oils come with their own purported health benefits and each has its pros and cons.
Some CBD products contain essential oils such as menthol, orange, or lavender. These may be added for flavor, fragrance, and/or the purported health benefits of the particular oil.
Keep in mind that essential oils are generally poorly researched and aren’t regulated by the FDA. Because they’re fat-soluble, essential oils may increase absorption, as well. The presence of these oils may make certain types of use dangerous.
For example, some essential oils shouldn’t be ingested. You may be allergic to some of them. Others can irritate the skin and therefore shouldn’t be used topically. Others may increase the risks of vaping. Be sure you research any essential oils in these products before using them.
Flavorings, Extracts, Sweeteners
Especially in broad- or full-spectrum products, these added ingredients may help it taste better. Even isolates contain these at times. Some extracts, such as those from fruits and vegetables, may be added for potential health benefits, as well.
While flavorings, extracts, and sweeteners are in a lot of our foods and should be safe to ingest, you should check for allergens and know that these substances may add more risk to vaping (which isn’t recommended, anyway.)
Arnica is a homeopathic pain remedy that’s common in CBD creams, balms, and rubs. It’s a popular ingredient for arthritis relief and muscle pain. Thus far, research on arnica is in its early stages, but research is promising.
Arnica is considered safe for most people, but allergies and side effects are possible. If you’ve never used arnica or CBD before, it’s best to try one at a time to make sure you tolerate them well before taking them in combination.
Some CBD formulations contain vitamins and other supplements that may offer additional health benefits, especially for muscle pain, joint health, inflammation, and sleep. Common ones include:
While these ingredients are generally good for you, anything can be harmful in large amounts. Before buying these products, consider your diet and any supplements you already take. You may already be getting enough of these nutrients, which means adding more could lead to side effects or just be a waste of money.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds, and cannabis naturally contains dozens of them. They’re not just fragrances, though—many of them are believed to have benefits, such as improving the absorption of cannabinoids, though these properties are not yet well understood by the scientific community. However, they are suspected of being part of the entourage effect.
Terpenes aren’t generally added to CBD products but will naturally occur in broad- or full-spectrum formulations and may be mentioned in the product description. If you see the term “terpenoid,” though, it’s referring to terpenes that have been extracted and processed. Less is known about these, so you may want to avoid them in favor of naturally occurring terpenes.
If you want to avoid terpenes due to their smell, taste, or affect on your breath, you may prefer isolates or products with strong added flavors.
A peptide is a compound consisting of linked amino acids, some of which have health benefits. A popular peptide to combine with CBD is collagen, which may have some benefits for joint function and skin health.
Some products say they contain peptides with certain health benefits without saying exactly what those peptides are. Ingredients lists have to contain all of the substances in the product but many use scientific or common names and may not specifically identify them as peptides.
This shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but if you want to know more about the peptides in a product, contact the company. It should be able to provide that information.
Once you know about the products themselves, it’s time to find a reliable place to purchase them. A lot of Internet scams have cropped up to take advantage of the huge market growth, so you need to know who you’re buying from.
Know Where It’s Grown
Location counts. Stick to companies that use U.S.-grown hemp for their CBD products because imported products aren’t subject to the same testing standards. Even further, look at what state it was grown in.
According to Consumer Reports, Colorado has the best hemp program, followed by Oregon, because those states changed their laws well ahead of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Third-Party Testing and Certificate of Analysis
Don’t just trust that the company is selling legitimate products—make sure test results are available for you to look over. That way, you know you’re not giving your money to a disreputable company that sells an inferior or even dangerous product.
A certificate of analysis (COA) will show you the CBD levels, THC content, and any contaminants that may be in the hemp itself. Some companies go beyond what’s required by law and pay to have the finished product tested, as well.
Specific things to check the COA for are:
- ISO 17025, which means the testing lab meets high scientific standards.
- Validation by one of these organizations: Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
- If one of those organizations isn’t listed, check with the International Organization for Standardization to see if the testing lab is accredited.
If the company doesn’t have this information freely available, buy elsewhere.
Consider Organic Hemp
All agricultural products carry a risk of exposing you to pesticides and other chemicals. Brands that are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are less likely to cause this exposure.
You can take further steps to check on the company selling the CBD.
- Check with the FDA to see if they’ve issued warning letters about questionable products or unproven claims.
- Beware of grandiose health claims, as it’s illegal for companies to make them and can be a red flag that they’re disreputable.
- Be sure product labels include contact information on the company. It’s required by law to be there and is a sign that the company is legitimate and following regulations.
You can find CBD products with widely varying prices. While there’s no guarantee that more expensive products are better, be wary of extremely low prices.
The process of growing and processing CBD is time-consuming, tedious, and expensive, so a price that’s well below the market average is likely too good to be true. Don’t let a low price persuade you to take a risk on a company or product that doesn’t meet standards.
If you’re buying from a local shop or dispensary, look for one with knowledgeable employees who can answer your questions and help guide your selection.
Talk to people you know who’ve used CBD products about where they buy and which products they prefer. Check online support boards for people with your health concerns and see what people there recommend. (You should still research the company and products yourself, but this can give you a place to start.)
A Word From Verywell
This may seem like a lot to go through, but if CBD has a beneficial impact on your health and well-being, it may be worth the time and effort. It’s also worth it to make sure you’re getting a quality product and not being scammed by a disreputable company.
As always, be sure to include your doctor in the conversation, both before you take CBD and as you experience any benefits or side effects.