Just a few years ago, cannabis was better known as marijuana, hemp was considered a fiber, and only a small fraction of people in the United States had ever heard of CBD. Over the last few years, it seems CBD has launched to stardom in the world of health and wellness. From professional athletes and celebrities to busy moms and retired grandparents, thousands of people are jumping on the CBD bandwagon and touting its benefits. Although CVS and Walgreens just recently announced plans to stock their shelves with CBD products soon, indicating a more mainstream shift, many consumers have lingering questions and concerns about the illustrious compound. “To answer some of those questions and demystify the proliferation of CBD, let’s review some of the basics regarding the increasingly popular products.” Hemp vs. Cannabis – Semantics Matter Before we dive into the specific details about CBD, we must first define the differences between these two plants. By scientific definition cannabis, marijuana, and hemp are all the same species of plant, known as cannabis sativa l. However, by legal definition, there are a few differences in the terminology: Hemp: By definition, hemp is a version of cannabis sativa l. which produces less than .3% THC. As of December, with the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp can be legally cultivated in all 50 states. Traditionally, we tend to think of industrial hemp as a tall, lanky crop grown in vast fields; however, many quality CBD producers grow hemp similarly to legal cannabis for maximum cannabinoid yield. Cannabis: Formerly known as marijuana, the legal definition of cannabis includes any cannabis sativa l plants which produce more than .3% THC. While still considered illegal at the Federal level, by exercising their 10th Amendment rights, 33 states legalized medical cannabis, and ten states allow recreational consumption. Ironically, cannabis can produce low levels of THC with extremely high levels of CBD and still be considered cannabis, but by law, hemp crops producing more than .3% THC must be destroyed. Additionally, it takes much more plant material to produce hemp-derived CBD products than cannabis-derived CBD products. On average, most hemp crops only produce about 10 per cent CBD by volume, while some varieties of cannabis produce as much as 20-25% CBD. Speaking of Ambiguity Although hemp can be legally planted and grown all across the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to create a full set of regulations regarding how the product can be marketed and sold. In fact, in a recent statement, Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the FDA announced it could take years for the agency to come up to speed and issue rules and standards for the cultivation, extraction, and sale of hemp-derived CBD products. In the meantime, consumers need to be educated and diligent. From the FDA’s perspective, lack of regulation means products may be mislabeled, contain more THC than intended, or worse, contain toxins or contaminants which could contribute to worsening health problems. All of which are valid concerns. Discovering CBD Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is just one of the hundreds of naturally-occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. Named cannabinoids, scientists and researchers have been studying these compounds in cannabis and hemp for several decades. In fact, as one of the most studied cannabis compounds to date, CBD was initially discovered in the 1940s. Research intensified in the late 80s when Israeli scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system, which exists in every vertebrate animal on the planet, even fish! Here are a few facts every consumer should know before purchasing CBD products: CBD alone does not cause the ‘high’ associated with cannabis. Unlike THC, cannabidiol does not bind with the receptors in the brain. In fact, research shows that CBD has little affinity for endocannabinoid receptors at all. Instead, the molecule interacts with other receptors to mitigate and control different chemical responses in the body to elicit a particular effect. CBD is extracted from the leaves and the flowers of the hemp or cannabis plant. Hemp seed oil certainly has nutritional benefit including Omega 3s, but the seeds and stalk of the plant contain little to no CBD. Products made from hemp seed oil do not naturally contain CBD. Some CBD products do contain THC. As mentioned earlier, hemp does provide a small amount of THC, unless the producer is using advanced processes like flash chromatography to remove the THC from the final extract. While the amount may not be enough to cause a cerebral effect, it may be enough to test positive at work if your employer has an employee drug testing policy. Hemp is a bio-accumulator. Basically, this means hemp is mother nature’s clean-up crew. By absorbing the toxins and heavy metals, like arsenic, cadmium, and lead from the soil, hemp can be extremely beneficial for the environment. Unfortunately, the plant stores these toxins in its leaves, and ultimately accumulating in the extracts. Testing is Critical When the FDA gets around to applying rules and regulations to the CBD market, you can be sure there will be a wide range of required tests to ascertain product potency and safety. From pre-cultivation soil testing to intermittent tests for THC potency and pesticide use, to final product certificates of analysis, consumers must demand transparency to ensure product safety. Many high-end, well-respected CBD providers already provide QR-coded batch test results which directly correlate to each product they sell. A Note about Synthetics Just as would-be chemists found a way to make K2, or spice-a synthetic, man-made version of cannabis, some products on the market today may also contain a synthetic CBD. Often sourced from Asia, some companies are trying to skirt the legal conundrum of CBD by using a fake chemical compound which resembles CBD. These kinds of products are extremely dangerous. Forbes reported last year, 52 people in Utah became ill after ingesting a fake CBD product. How do you avoid synthetics? Always ask where the company sources their hemp. If they won’t tell you, be skeptical. A Plethora of Products Now that we’ve defined what CBD is, and what it isn’t, the next step to successfully navigating the aisles of retail sales is understanding the difference between the various products. CBD products come in many forms, each with their own unique properties. Learning how the different products work, can help you determine which is the right product for you. When we take a vitamin, supplement, or drug only a portion of the dose ends up in our body. The amount of the substance that our body actually absorbs is called bioavailability. Different types of CBD products have different levels of bioavailability. Vapor Pens Vape pens or e-cigarette-like devices deliver the highest level of bioavailability. By inhaling the vapor, bypassing the digestive system, the consumer receives approximately 80% bioavailability of the CBD dose. Additionally, this allows for fast onset, which may be preferred by some consumers. Tinctures or Sublinguals The most common way to consume CBD is with a tincture, an oil which is dropped under the tongue and absorbed sublingually. Some CBD oils may contain flavors to make them more palatable or other ingredients or essential oils. Using this method, the consumer receives between 40 to 50% bioavailability. Edibles, Capsules, Beverages Ingesting CBD is undoubtedly the most delicious and fun way to consume CBD. Unfortunately, it’s very ineffective. With a low bioavailability, the consumer can only expect between 4 to 20% of the CBD dose to be absorbed from an edible; the rest literally goes to waste. Topicals Lotions, salves, balms, and anything which is applied locally to the skin falls into this category. Generally used for various skin conditions or localized inflammation, only a small portion of the CBD makes it through the epidural layers of skin. However, since CBD works with multiple receptors in the body, many consumers report positive results from infused topical products. Consider the Spectrum Depending on the product, hemp oils and extracts may contain other compounds extracted from the plant. On the market today, consumers can expect to see a variety of formulas including: Isolate: This is the purest form of CBD, reaching between 95-99% purity. CBD isolate is a colourless, flavourless crystallite. Full-Spectrum: These products contain CBD and other minor cannabinoids including THC, CBG, CBN, and others. Think of it like this, if we use full-spectrum to describe spaghetti sauce, CBD would be the tomatoes. Although tomatoes are tasty by themselves, spaghetti sauce gets its deliciousness from the blend of ingredients. Broad-Spectrum: Thanks to modern technology, some producers can extract the THC entirely from the oil. THC-free products are considered broad spectrum. So, using the spaghetti sauce analogy, broad-spectrum products are like making spaghetti sauce without any seasonings. Good for you, but a little lifeless. Successful CBD Dosing Finding the proper dose of CBD is a personal endeavor. Just as individuals have a unique set of fingerprints, biochemistry is also unique to the individual. Factors such as diet, current health, and genetics all play a part in affecting the way we respond to various substances including CBD. So, what product, formulation, or dose works for one person, may not work for the next. Finding the proper dose starts with three basic principles: Start Low-Start with a low dose, such as 5-10mg, two to three times daily. After three to five days at this dose, many increase their dose in 5-10mg increments until you achieve your desired results. No High-Don’t expect to “feel” anything from taking from CBD. Rather, simply look for your desired results for your wellness goals. Safety-Taking too much CBD can result in adverse effects such as stomach upset, fatigue, and digestive issues. According to GW Pharma, CBD is safe up to 1500mg per day. Finally, there are literally hundreds of CBD products on the market. If the first product you buy isn’t working for you, try a different formula or brand. As mentioned, different products affect people differently. Starting your own journey into CBD wellness begins with taking an educated approach to the products. Learning to use CBD, or other hemp and cannabis products, can seem intimidating and confusing, but through experimenting with different products and formulations, consumers all over the world are reporting incredible results.