CBD products. (Photo/Julie Brannon)

The CBD Conundrum

in news/town square

For a few years now folks have been jumping on the CBD bandwagon faster than fleas can hop on a sleeping hound dog. It’s in high demand as a natural treatment for pain, anxiety, insomnia, GI issues, PTSD, seizure disorders, and other conditions. Many users absolutely swear by it. “It’s helping so many people with so many issues by improving their quality of life,” says Dr. Sangita Patel, PharmD, owner of Sunlife Pharmacy in Palm Harbor. 

Cannabidiol comes from agricultural hemp, not marijuana, and doesn’t get you high. There are literally hundreds of companies producing a dizzying array of CBD products: tinctures, topicals, and gummies, even snack chips, shampoo, and dog food. Geez. This genie isn’t just out of the bottle — it pulled up and moved to Istanbul. But there’s a problem in CBD land. Actually, two BIG problems.

First, CBD is illegal under Federal law. Still, some states — Florida included say it is legal as long as it contains less than .3% THC.  As a natural products retailer this pretty much makes my head spin.  My customers demand it so I supply it, but I’m breaking Federal law in doing so. The odds of the feds coming after me are slim to none, but I’m still taking a risk. I do it for just one reason:  I want to make sure my customers have access to a safe product, manufactured with superior practices, and perhaps most important of all -— with sound, third party scientific testing behind it to ensure quality. Dr. Patel offers a number of CBD products, but she has also carefully vetted the companies that manufacture the products she carries. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for a guy behind the counter at the gas station or some joker selling God-knows-what’s-in-it CBD at the flea market.  With US sales projected to reach 1.8 billion by 2022 you can bet shysters will be cashing in with crappy product as long as they can get away with it, so we shouldn’t underestimate the potential threat to public safety.

And there’s the second problem: CBD products are not currently regulated by the FDA, and as such are not required to be produced under GMP rules (Good Manufacturing Practices) and other regulations established to guarantee safety, purity, and consistent quality.  Personally, I’ll rest easier when the FDA gets off its hands and grants CBD status under the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (yes, supplements are indeed regulated by the FDA) but it’s impossible to say if or when that may happen. Natural products associations have been pressuring the FDA to get moving. [Read letters from representatives of these organizations here and here.] Just last month the New Jersey Senate passed a resolution calling on Congress and the President to help protect consumers by setting safety standards for CBD.  But for now it remains the wild, wild, west when it comes to CBD, and buyers must beware. 

Fortunately there are a few very good companies producing very good CBD products, voluntarily using GMP rules. These are the brands I stick with. Same goes for Dr. Patel.  “Just make sure you are buying from health professionals or those who know CBD and can educate you and help you in getting to the right dose,” she adds. Here are some more tips that may help you navigate the possible pitfalls of CBD use.

The most important first step is to determine if you can even take CBD.  Many can’t. Forget it if you’re pregnant or nursing, and if you take any prescription meds at all you must do your homework or the results could be disastrous. For example, Dr. Patel urges caution when taking anti-coagulant medications. See, the body metabolizes toxic compounds and certain drugs through what’s called the cytochrome P-450 pathway. CBD acts like a roadblock on that pathway, which can cause a dangerous build up of drugs in the body. Grapefruit also blocks cytochrome P-450, so the easy litmus test is this: if you can safely eat grapefruit while taking a certain medication, then CBD is probably safe for you. Still, I highly recommend checking with your doctor or pharmacist before using CBD if you take meds or have a serious health condition.

Stick with major brands from reputable stores. Make sure there’s a QR code or lot number on the box, along with a Supplement Facts box that lists every ingredient and specifies the amount of CBD per serving in terms of milligrams (mg’s). It’s a head scratcher, but some companies label their product with the total mg’s of CBD in the bottle. So look for the mg’s per serving. Dr. Patel advises full spectrum, organic, and American grown, from a company that has all its research and quality controls in place.

Scan the QR code or go to the company’s website and look up the lot number. How is the hemp grown? Is it US Hemp Authority certified? What extraction method was used?  Look for third party test results. These should be on the lab’s letterhead, refer to a specific batch, and include a Certificate of Analysis, a Pesticide Report, a Terpenes Profile, and a Heavy Metals report.  All this information will be easily accessible if the product is worth a darn. If it’s not, then drop it like a hot potato.  Oh, and don’t be fooled by ingredients or potencies listed as “proprietary.” That usually means they don’t want you to know what’s in it.  

As far as dosing, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s a matter of finding the dose that gets the job done for you. Quality products will always have a “suggested dose” on the label, but we all have different absorption rates, body weight, and pain tolerances. Research is sparse, but available studies say CBD is generally well tolerated even at very high doses — which I recommend against.  Dr. Patel suggests starting at 20-25mg per dose. “That’s the average dose of a healthy person. Increase it slowly every 3-5 days to see where you get relief, and it’s best to divide your doses throughout the day. CBD lasts about four to six hours so dividing doses will make the effects last longer.” If CBD doesn’t seem to get the job done in a couple of weeks, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Trust me, there are plenty of other natural options available. 

CBD can be a marvelous therapeutic tool for a number of different conditions as long as it’s produced with high standards, has good science behind it, and is used safely. But we have to be educated consumers, and maybe a bit activist.  A letter to your congressman urging the adoption of federal guidelines and safety standards probably wouldn’t hurt.

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice, nor is it designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor should it be considered a substitute for the expert care of a qualified health professional.

Julie opened Bailey's Naturals Herbal Apothecary in beautiful downtown Safety Harbor in 2005, and since then has assisted countless clients reach their health goals with her passion for natural medicine. She is a writer and in-demand lecturer, dedicated to empowering others toward lifestyle choices that result in glowing good health. Julie is also committed to preserving and promoting ethnobotanical medicine and she "can't think of anything more exciting or wonderful than sharing the remarkable healing power of plants with the world"..... or anyone who will listen.