What is CBD? It’s in everything from beauty products to lattes, but those three letters are thrown around so much that you’d be forgiven for not knowing what CBD is, exactly. More importantly, you might be wondering, is CBD safe?
Despite how widespread it is, CBD isn’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and more research needs to be done on its safety and effectiveness, particularly for young people. According to the FDA, there are some potential health concerns associated with CBD—ones that might not be immediately obvious to you if you take it.
Still, many are using CBD, so it’s worth knowing what exactly we’re dealing with. No, it’s not marijuana, but it’s not just some made-up branded nonsense, either—as per usual, it’s a little more complicated than that. We asked experts to break down what CBD is, how it makes you feel, how you use it, the FDA’s stance, and what the compound’s future looks like.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, an active ingredient derived from the cannabis sativa plant that “does not cause a ‘high’” on its own, according to a 2018 article posted on Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing site.
Unlike THC, cannabidiol won’t cause any kind of high, whether it’s extracted from hemp or marijuana (two types of cannabis sativa plants).
So, while CBD can be found in marijuana, ingesting it certainly wouldn’t make you feel the same way marijuana would. Dr. Akash Bajaj, M.D., MPH, medical director of Remedy Pain Solutions, has found in his practice that CBD has helped his patients find balance. “In medicine, we tend to segment sleep, stress, anxiety, and other symptoms separately, but in reality, they are all tied together. If I have a patient in chronic pain, they will not sleep well, which will lead to higher stress and anxiety levels the next day,” Bajaj told Teen Vogue.
How does CBD work?
“CBD works by interacting with receptors throughout the body, none of which cause a euphoria or ‘high,’” Bajaj told us. “Generally, CBD users may feel a wave of calmness, certain types of pain relief and better sleep.”
Those receptors are part of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), explained Bajaj.
But what the heck is an “endocannabinoid system”? (And why are all these words so long?)
According to a September 2019 paper published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the ECS is „globally involved in maintaining homeostasis in the body, connecting all of the body’s organs and systems.” Research has found that the ECS has been implicated in a variety of ailments, from „chronic inflammatory conditions … to anxiety and migraines.”
While the ECS is supposed to keep your body running smoothly, it was theorized in one study from 2004 that ECS deficiencies could lead to notoriously treatment-resistant ailments like chronic migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome—but more research needs to be done.
Though some have found pain relief with topical CBD products, CBD generally isn’t the way to go for an instantaneous effect. “It is one of those things that you may not feel immediately, but over time, you will notice improvements,” Bajaj said. But, the FDA cautions that we don’t know the impacts of using CBD for an extended amount of time.
FDA approval, research, and other sticky things about CBD
While anecdotally, many say CBD has helped them with pain relief, sleep, and more, it’s certainly not a magic cure-all, just like other wellness products. Many doctors are still understandably unsure about CBD.