Pain reliever, inflammation soother, acne treatment, anti-ageing, rosacea, anti-oxidant, stress reducer, mood booster, anxiety addresser, sleep aid… I literally can’t think of a beauty ingredient that has worked so hard in a long time. Not even coconut oil or retinol, whose benefits have largely been restricted to topical uses. Unlike CBD, which comes as everything from edible gummies and tinctures to skincare salves and facial oils.
No wonder this buzzy ingredient shows no signs of slowing down its trajectory of taking over the beauty and wellness industry. An increasing number of brands are putting it from and centre on their bottles and CBD sales are sales are estimated to touch $22 billion by 2022.
Which is an ironic turnaround from the ’60s, when cannabis (or weed, pot, grass, dope, reefer, ganja and hash in street parlance) was hidden away in smoky corners and dank corridors. A dark secret rather than a pretty bottle shouting from the billboards.
But what exactly is CBD? Is it safe? Will it get you high? Is it legal? Should you even bother with bringing it into your routine?
CBD may be a superstar ingredient but it’s definitely a case of buyer beware.
The industry remains largely unregulated and there are way too many unscrupulous brands trying to take your dollars without concern for either safety or efficacy. Too many brands (including major names) are using it in shady marketing, even though their products actually don’t even contain any CBD.
So, I felt it’s time to cut through the confusion, myths and false marketing to put out the things that nobody is telling you about CBD. Let’s cut through the clutter.
First, what is CBD?
CBD is the street name for cannabidiol – an oil derived from the cannabis plant. The most common cannabis plants are hemp (cannabis sativa) and marijuana (cannabis indica). CBD is only one of the 109 compounds, collectively called cannabinoids, which are derived from cannabis plants.
However, CBD does not contain the element that cannabis is most (in)famous for: THC. Scientifically known as tetrahydrocannabinol, THC is the psychoactive compound that gets you high.
Any CBD preparation that contains more than 0.3% THC is illegal in the United States. In the UK, this value stands at 0.2%. These values are nowhere near enough to get you high. Sorry 😬.
The legality of CBD
It’s complicated, so I am going to try and put it as simply as possible:
- The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp-derived cannabinoids from the Controlled Substances Act. So, hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states. That is why you are more likely to find hemp-derived CBD in skincare and wellness products.
- However, off-the-shelf marijuana-derived CBD is still illegal (as it contains much higher amounts of THC), except in the states where marijuana is legal both medically and recreationally. These are (at the time of publishing): Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Colombia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
- Marijuana-derived CBD can be procured from pharmacies against proper medical authorisation in another 23 states. Most often, there are very strict rules for who can get approval.
These laws, however, are in a constant state of flux, so please check with your local council.
So, is hemp oil the same as CBD?
No, categorically not.
In fact, this is one of the biggest misunderstandings surrounding the CBD skincare and wellness industries. And, unfortunately, several brands are taking advantage of the confusion to up-sell products that contain only hemp oil rather than CBD.
Some, in fact, are outright conning the consumers.
There is now even a name for this phenomenon: Industry insiders call it #weedwashing.
Don’t get me wrong: Hemp oil (also known as hemp seed oil and cannabis sativa oil) is a lovely emollient. It’s light, nourishing, packed with fatty acids and non-comedogenic. But that’s about all. Hemp oil is not an active ingredient and you can pick up a great bottle from Whole Foods for a fraction of the price that a true ‘CBD’ product would typically cost.
The difference between hemp oil and CBD lies in both extraction processes and the part of the plant that’s being used. The former comes from cold pressing the plant’s seeds. CBD, on the other hand, is extracted using supercritical [carbon dioxide] from the plant’s seeds, flowers and stalks. It’s a thicker, more viscous oil that has several medical and skincare benefits, like soothing inflammation and calming anxiety.
How do you know that it’s actually CBD and not just hemp oil? Look for CBD, cannabidiol, whole plant hemp, hemp extract, cannabis sativa extract, phytocannabinoids or phytocannabidnoid rich (PCR) on the label.
Terms to avoid: Cannabis sativa oil, cannabis sativa seed oil, hemp seed oil and hemp seed extract.
What should you look for in a high quality CBD product?
Not all CBD oils are created the same either. There are three kinds of formulations:
Full spectrum CBD: Sometimes also listed as “whole plant CBD”, this is where you get the whole plant, including certain other cannabinoids and 0.3% or less of THC. Full spectrum CBD is the most potent formulation. The presence of these other compounds creates an “entourage effect”, which helps the CBD work better. Think of it as taking turmeric with a pinch of pepper – the latter helps it absorb more easily into the body.
Broad spectrum CBD: Basically full spectrum CBD without the THC, this also has the entourage effect.
CBD Isolate: This is purely the cannabidiol extract. And in this case, ‘pure extract’ does not necessarily mean more potency, as it comes without the entourage effect. It’s also cheaper and more heavily processed. However, CBD Isolate does not have any fragrance or taste, which may make it better able to assimilate into a multi-ingredient formulation.
What about dosage?
Here, you will have to do some mathematics. But it’s not that difficult: Simply take a look at the label and compare how milligrams of CBD the bottle contains, vis-à-vis its total volume. For instance, a 30ml bottle of tincture that contains 250 milligrams of CBD will give you a much stronger dose per drop than a 2-ounce body oil with the same amount.
CBD: Topicals vs Ingestible
Does chewing a CBD-based chocolate have the same effect as applying a CBD body lotion.
In short: No.
Topicals are the way to go if you are looking to cool down a sunburn, heal acne, bring down inflammation or treat aches, pains and cramps. That’s because CBD products work with skin receptors to bring quick relief to the area where you’ve applied the product.
Ingestibles, on the other hand, are for calming down anxiety and bringing about stress relief as they move into your bloodstream. Still, they won’t get you high!
Have you ever been #weedwashed by a CBD product? Let us know, so we can call them out.