CBD is getting a lot of attention lately. It has been touted as a natural medicinal alternative for a variety of health problems. It is a substance promoted as a wonderful ingredient to add to your morning smoothie or post-workout power drink. You can even get some CBD enhanced brownies! Due to changing attitudes and ongoing scientific research, CBD is the latest super-substance marketed to treat depression and anxiety, headaches, and pain. But as with any new popular supplement, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. So, let us clear up some misconceptions.

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is a chemical found in the Cannabis sativa plant, marijuana, or hemp. There are over eighty chemicals identified in the Cannabis sativa plant, but here lies the difference. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the major active ingredient in cannabis. According to Healthline.com, “Hemp plants are cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3 percent THC, while marijuana plants are cannabis plants that contain higher concentrations of THC.” Cannabidiol, the second major active ingredient, contains minimal amounts of THC. While the consumption of THC creates a feeling of “being high” or intoxicated, CBD does not.

CBD is usually sold as a supplement in oil form. The first step is making CBD oil is to cultivate and harvest plants that contain high amounts of CBD and low amounts of THC. Hemp plants can vary in their cannabinoid content. The second step is extraction. Extraction solvents are used to separate and collect the essential oils and compounds from the stalks and seeds. Preferably, producers use a supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) process that uses non-toxic fluid CO2 as a solvent. Supercritical CO2 is considered GRAS or Generally Regarded as Safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the third step, the solvent is forced through the ground plant material and pulls out the CBD, essential oils, and lipids. Then the solvent is removed from the final product, creating an oil naturally high in CBD. Most CBD oil undergoes decarboxylation, a heating process that makes cannabinoids easily usable in the body. Decarboxylated cannabinoids can immediately interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body and are involved in various physiological processes, including appetite, mood, memory, and, most importantly, pain-sensation.

Because CBD does not create feelings of intoxication, and because of its possible health benefits, many religious leaders consider CBD to be halal for medicinal purposes. Imam Radwan Mardini, Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA®) religious advisor, says, “CBD is halal to be used in medicine and over the counter relief for pain and headaches. It comes from a halal source and does not do damage to physical health according to the viewpoints of so many medical doctors and health professionals.”

With growing popularity, CBD products can be purchased online, in natural supplement stores, and in some big-box retailers. Pure CBD oil can be consumed directly, and CBD is available in all kinds of products, including gummies, skin serum, supplement capsules, protein bars, and energy drinks. There are also CBD-infused bath salts, beauty soaps, and body lotions, and of course, there are CBD vape cartridges and oil tinctures. And along with these products are the promise of a natural alternative to treat many common ailments.

IFANCA food scientist Dr. Saeed Hayek, states, “Many CBD claimed health benefits include relief for anxiety, depression, and stress. Other claims are that it serves as a mood optimizer and sleep helper and for skin treatments such as acne and psoriasis.” He says, “However, CBD also has some side effects, so you need to be aware when taking these CBD supplements, especially for people with any health issues or pregnant women.” According to MayoClinic.org, “CBD use also carries some risks. Though it is often well-tolerated, CBD can cause side effects, such as dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness, and fatigue. CBD can also interact with other medications you’re taking, such as blood thinners.”

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly advises against CBD usage by pregnant women and people with pre-existing health conditions. Also, the FDA says, “CBD can cause liver injury. Male reproductive toxicity, or damage to fertility in males or male offspring of women who have been exposed, has been reported in studies of animals exposed to CBD.” Yaqutullah Ibraheem Muhammad MS, RD, LN, says, “CBD is derived directly from the hemp plant, and by itself does not cause a high. But there is not sufficient high-quality evidence for human studies yet, and without the studies, effective doses for CBD can’t be pinpointed. CBD is mostly available as an unregulated supplement, so it is hard to know exactly what you are getting.”

The FDA has approved only one CBD drug for the treatment of epilepsy, and it is monitored as a controlled substance. Cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, and other CBD creations remain illegal to prescribe for medical use or to use as an ingredient in foods or dietary supplements. The FDA “recognizes the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds may offer and acknowledges the significant interest in these possibilities. However, the FDA is aware that some companies are marketing products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in ways that violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), and that may put the health and safety of consumers at risk.” So those CBD products that are currently on the market are illegal, according to the FDA. However, some state laws allow the sale of products containing CBD

Differing state regulations have led to confusion and claims of fraudulent CBD products. Some companies claiming that their products have similar effects to prescription drugs have received warning letters from the FDA for making unsubstantiated health claims. Furthermore, the FDA is still formulating regulations for CBD products. In the meantime, due to a lack of regulation, there are many counterfeit CBD products on the market. And with any fake product, its consumption can lead to health risks. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported fifty-two people from Utah were sick due to consuming counterfeit CBD oil, with thirty-one of them ending up in the emergency room. In February 2019, the New York City Department of Health announced plans to fine restaurants that sell food or drinks containing CBD, beginning in October 2019.

CBD may be the next wonder supplement, but lack of federal regulation and continuing scientific research leaves more questions to be answered. Until more studies are done, and there are proper measures to protect consumers from fraudulent products, CBD usage will be a risky alternative to already-regulated food and drug products.

Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer living in Atlanta, GA. You can find her work at www.kellycrosbydesign.com.