Power Plant

A physician’s take on the highs and lows of hemp-derived CBD

Written by Lauren B. Johnson

The Cannabis sativa plant has cultivated a thorny reputation over the last century, primarily due to its hallucinogenic compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), just one of more than 100 naturally occurring chemicals in cannabis. But another cannabinoid has been flying high recently for its wide variety of supposed health benefits without the psychoactive effects: cannabidiol, or CBD.

A cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC is classified as hemp; more than that and it becomes marijuana. Over the past decade, changes in state policy have legalized hemp and its derivative CBD. “South Carolina initially approved hemp farming for CBD to control severe seizure disorders in children,” explains Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated family physician Dr. Valerie Scott.

While the best-studied use of CBD is as a seizure medication, researchers have also analyzed the oil in treating arthritis and anxiety. Many turn to CBD for relief of pain, inflammation and muscle tension. Anecdotally, people also claim the supplement helps them to stay calm, aids with focus, alleviates stress and promotes sleep.

CBD can be purchased in a variety of formats, including oil, gel capsules, chewy candies and topical applications. “Unfortunately, there’s no quality control,” says Dr. Scott, who advises purchasing any CBD products from a pharmacy rather than a random checkout counter. “I would also avoid having people who sell CBD manage my chronic medical problems.” Remember that good-quality CBD will be pricey.

When it comes to CBD use, the largest pitfall may be drug-herb interactions. “CBD is metabolized through a common pathway in the liver, so some significant interactions can occur,” says Dr. Scott. For example, the compound may cause clotting or fatal bleeding when combined with the blood thinner warfarin (brand names Coumadin and Jantoven). “CBD is natural, but that doesn’t necessarily make it safe to take with other medications,” warns the doctor. As with any supplements or drugs, talk with your physician or pharmacist about possible side effects and interactions before using CBD.

Myths about CBD

Cannabidiol often gets a bad rap because of its frequent association with marijuana. Here, we straighten out three of the most common misunderstandings about CBD.

  1. CBD will get you high. FALSE

CBD does not cause a “high” like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While both are cannabinoids, THC is the compound that causes psychoactive effects when consumed with marijuana.

  1. CBD will show up on a drug test. FALSE (MOSTLY)

CBD alone won’t trip an alarm on a drug screen, but some products may have trace levels of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient. In a high enough quantity, those could lead to a positive test. The bottom line? “If a positive test could jeopardize your employment (something like security clearance), it’s probably best to avoid the risk; the rest of us, however, should be fine,” says Dr. Scott.

  1. CBD use is illegal. FALSE

Purchasing and using hemp-derived CBD products has been federally legal in America since 2018. State restrictions on CBD products still vary, however; in South Carolina, hemp-derived CBD is legal.

Photographs by (top) n defender/Shutterstock; (oil) Creativan/Shutterstock