Is it just me or does CBD oil seem to be everywhere?

Facebook ads will tell you that CBD oil is a hot new ingredient in morning lattes, evening cocktails, lip balms, and even pet food. Near my home in Texas, I have seen big green flags advertising CBD oil on the highway and neon signs in vape shops with those three big letters in glowing green lights. Even in the office, I am frequently asked about this apparent cure-all that is marketed for everything from chronic pain to menstrual cramps.  What exactly is it?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of about a hundred chemical compounds found in cannabis plants known as cannabinoids. The cannabinoid you are probably most familiar with is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – the chemical compound in marijuana responsible for getting people high. While a typical marijuana plant will usually have higher levels of THC than CBD, its close cousin – the industrial hemp plant – can have extremely high levels of CBD and almost no THC. This distinction between a product derived from an illegal plant and a product derived from a legal commodity has opened up the flood gates of hemp-derived CBD products and muddied the legal waters to help create a now $200million industry.

While the legal details surrounding CBD oil may be complicated, the medical benefits of CBD have been studied for decades. The World Health Organization states that pure CBD oil is safe and non-habit forming, and in 2018 the FDA approved a CBD oil capsule for use in certain types of seizure disorders (Epidiolex). Published peer-reviewed studies credit CBD oil with at least some benefit over placebo in patients with anxiety, depression, sleep difficulty, and neuropathic pain. Current ongoing studies are also looking at the effects of CBD oil for treating opioid addiction.

Before you rip up the family cotton farm to start growing hemp, know that the industry does come with some drawbacks. The wild claims that CBD oil is a cure-all are simply not true. Like any other medicine you put in your body, CBD oil is not without side effects and can adversely affect how your body absorbs other prescription medications (it is a known cytochrome P450 inhibitor).

As a dietary supplement, CBD oil is not regulated, and what you read on the label may not be what is in the bottle. Purity and active ingredient concentrations have been found to vary from product to product, and even bottle to bottle. You may find yourself getting scammed into spending upwards of $100 for a vial of repackaged cough syrup. Credible brands will usually offer third-party testing for purity and have proof that their plants were grown organically in the U.S.

Any product that can help relieve suffering with such a low side effect profile warrants a closer look. I’m looking forward to more specific research on precise CBD oil doses for anxiety, sleep, and chronic pain. As usual, do your own research, and talk to a trusted health care professional to see if CBD oil is a good fit for you and your medication regimen.