CBD is generally presented as a natural remedy. After all, it comes from a plant and hasn’t shown any life-threatening side effects in studies so far. However, this may not be enough to conclude that it’s a completely safe substance. Research on its toxicity levels and potential interaction with other medicines is still on the way. In this article, we look at what the latest science tells us about CBD, and how safe it is for us.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound found in the cannabis plant. It belongs to a family of compounds called cannabinoids, which have many properties that affect the human body. Cannabinoids act on the human endocannabinoid system, which regulates things like mood, appetite, pain and inflammation in our bodies.
When CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant, it is usually activated and placed in a carrier oil. The activation process makes it bioavailable, meaning it is able to have an effect on the body.
Unlike another, more famous cannabinoid called THC, CBD is not psychoactive. This means that taking it won’t make you “high” and won’t alter your consciousness. In fact, taking CBD doesn’t feel like much to a lot of people. But it does have a wide range of effects on the body, many of which make it an effective treatment for conditions such as:
- Crohn’s disease
- Neuropathic pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep disorders
CBD products that contain trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) are now legal on a federal level in the United States. However, they are not FDA-approved, and may still be illegal in certain states. Check your local laws before making a purchase.
CBD is available in many different types of products. It can be ingested orally, inhaled with a vaporizer or made into a topical cream. But are these products actually safe to use? Let’s find out!
Few side effects
The first thing to note about CBD is that it’s a substance with only minor side effects. A 2017 comprehensive review of research on CBD found that few studies showed any dangerous side effects of CBD. When patients complained about the effects of CBD, it was often because of minor digestive and appetite-related issues.
For example, CBD could make some people nauseous. It could also cause diarrhea in some people. Finally, some found it made them gain or lose appetite, sometimes resulting in weight changes.
While these are serious side effects that might prevent someone from taking CBD, none of them are life-threatening. In fact, most other substances from the plant kingdom have a similar range of side effects. It’s important to remember that just because a product is natural, that doesn’t mean that it agrees with everyone’s body.
Fewer side effects than many drugs
What’s more important, and what the review stressed, was that CBD is a safer alternative to other medicines. When studied for the treatment of conditions such as epilepsy or psychotic disorders, CBD was sometimes as effective as other, more traditional drugs. However, it had much milder side effects and was found to be much less toxic.
There are a number of drugs that CBD could potentially complement, if not replace. For example, it can be used for the treatment of chronic pain, which might reduce the need for more harmful painkillers like opioids.
So is CBD safe? Not 100%, as no medicinal ingredient ever is. But it is safer than a lot of other medicines traditionally used for the treatment of pain, inflammation or epilepsy, for example.
One thing that makes CBD a lot safer than other drugs is that it has been shown to be non-addictive. This is useful because of its medicinal properties not just as a painkiller, but also as an antidepressant, an anti-anxiety medicine and a sleeping aid. Many medicines that are commonly used to treat these conditions do have addiction-forming properties, which makes it hard for patients to quit taking them.
CBD, on the other hand, can be used for as long as the condition requires, but is not a habit-forming substance. So is CBD oil safe compared to other anxiety, sleeping or pain medications? For the most part, yes, and a lot less addictive too.
Interaction with other drugs
The interaction of CBD with other drugs is more worrying than its (relatively mild) side effects. There are a number of plants that can interact with medicines you may be taking. For example, some medicines should not be consumed alongside plants like grapefruit or peppermint. CBD can also interact with certain molecules and lower the effects of prescription medication.
If you are taking prescription medication, consult your doctor before taking any CBD.
In general, drugs that shouldn’t be mixed with CBD include:
- All drugs that carry a grapefruit warning
- Some chemotherapy medicine
- Some anti-epileptic drugs
- Some antiviral drugs
While CBD has few side effects on those not taking prescription medicines, it could prove fatal to those who rely on medical treatment for certain conditions.
Other things to consider
CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant. As with any other plant-based medicine, its level of toxicity depends a lot on farming practices. For example, CBD that is grown using a lot of chemicals and pesticides might have a higher level of toxicity. Whenever possible, we recommend choosing CBD oil that is certified organic.
CBD oil, like any other plant oil, can also go rancid. When oil goes rancid, it’s not only unpleasant to the taste but also dangerous for the body. In general, it is recommended to keep CBD oil in the fridge, or not to keep a bottle open for more than a couple of months at a time.
Finally, many people like to vape CBD, as it offers faster release into the system. But vaping, like other forms of smoking, can have dangerous side effects. In particular, it is associated with greater odds of developing lung disease, and with respiratory problems.
What we don’t know
The 2017 review that concluded that CBD had a good safety profile also issued a couple of warnings. In particular, it noted that the effect of CBD on hormones had not been studied enough. Many medicinal plants (such as soy or maca root) can modify our hormonal levels. Whether CBD is able to do the same remains to be determined.
The study also raised the question of long-term CBD use. Most studies on CBD are conducted over the course of a couple of weeks or months. We have insufficient data to establish the effects of CBD when taken regularly over the course of several years.
So, is CBD safe? What we know about CBD is very positive in terms of safety: it only has few side effects, is non-addictive and is generally a better alternative to chemical drugs for treating the same conditions. However, there are also a couple of potential issues, such as the presence of pesticides in CBD oil and its interaction with certain prescription drugs. Finally, there’s what we don’t know: does CBD influence our hormones, and does it have more side effects when taken over the long term? As with most CBD research, we simply don’t have enough data yet. All we can say for now is that research on CBD is promising, and it is certainly a lot safer than a lot of the drugs it could potentially complement or replace.