Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical compound in the same family as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both of these two major compounds are members of the Cannabinoid family. Derived from the Cannabis or Marijuana plant, “phytocannabinoids” (phyto meaning plant in Greek) are a diverse group of neurotransmitters that interact with related chemical pathways in animals called the “Endocannabinoid system.”
Unlike THC however, CBD does not produce the classic psychoactive marijuana high. CBD instead enhances and balances THC’s effect and helps control things like anxiety, epilepsy, inflammation, pain, depression and addiction. During the prohibition of Cannabis, most strains were bred to be high-THC and low-CBD for the recreational user looking for the “high.” Since the medical marijuana movement began to gain steam, many producers are now producing high-CBD medical strains once again.
Is CBD Legal?
CBD’s legal status is in a confusing gray area. The DEA has issued statements effectively clarifying that CBD is one of the illegal substances banned under the heading of the marijuana plant. However, state-level medical or recreational marijuana laws in 44 states protect and allow for the distribution of CBD. A federal court in California has even ordered the DEA to stop harassing medical marijuana providers who were operating legally under state law. The clash between federal and state laws is an ongoing issue with the movement to end the prohibition of cannabis in the United States, and increased awareness of CBD as a non-psychoactive substance with numerous medical applications seems to be a catalyst for change.
Just recently, the DEA officially moved some CBD-derived medicines to Schedule 5 from Schedule 1 on the Controlled Substances Act, however this ruling only applies to FDA-approved medicines. Currently, the GW Pharmaceuticals drug Epidiolex is the only CBD medicine approved by the FDA.
CBD and the FDA
CBD’s medicinal legal status in many states and the current climate of changing opinions about Cannabis’s medicinal powers has resulted in a rush of products to market that are capitalizing on the hype. Under its mission statement of “protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs” the FDA has become involved in the struggle.
Since 2015 the FDA has sent 44 warning letters to various producers of CBD medicines, ordering them to stop marketing and advertising unapproved uses of CBD and in some cases revealing the products did not even include the advertised levels of CBD, occasionally none at all. As a federal agency, the involvement of the FDA further confuses the legal space of medicinal cannabis, especially after they argued for the de-scheduling of CBD in October 2018.
Currently there are numerous commercial brands selling CBD products ranging from tinctures, to topicals, to soda throughout the United States. The states where CBD can be most easily found by consumers, however, are California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska — in other words, the states have legalized recreational cannabis. These states have testing requirements of licensed producers and processors.
CBD and the Future
CBD’s non-psychoactive nature and proven therapeutic benefits indicate further potential, alongside other Cannabinoids. In the weakening climate of prohibition, it’s important to begin to spread information and understanding about the difference between the broad use of “medical marijuana” and the specific medicinal cannabinoids like CBD and possible derivative drugs.
Early studies and anecdotal reports reveal massive potential, but there have been concerns over the quality of the original research. Large, double-blind studies by major research institutions have finally begun in the last few years and soon our understanding of the exact benefits and side effects of CBD will explode.
CBD in the News
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