What you need to know about CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabis chemical

CBD, a chemical found in cannabis, is a newly popular ingredient used for everything from beauty products to therapies to treat chronic pain.

A glance online turns up CBD oil, capsules, lip balm, dog treats, shampoo and mascara.

But is it more than just a trend? The actual scientific evidence on CBD’s effectiveness is a bit thin, experts say.


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Here’s what you should know about CBD.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the active chemicals in cannabis, naturally produced by the plant. The other major cannabinoid is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

THC is known for its psychoactive properties, said Joey Ton, a trained pharmacist who works in the University of Alberta’s PEER group, which focuses on evidence-based medicine.

CBD has some of the same properties as THC but doesn’t have that same intoxicating effect.

“What they believe CBD does provide is the benefits without those psychoactive effects that THC has,” said Ton.

“CBD does not make people high,” said M-J Milloy, the Canopy Growth professor in cannabis science at the University of British Columbia.

CBD actually helps counteract THC’s psychoactive effect, he said.

Right now, as a component of cannabis, CBD is legal to sell in various preparations like CBD-heavy dried cannabis, oils and capsules but not currently in edibles like candy or in drinks. CBD-infused beauty products are not legal in Canada, according to a Health Canada spokesperson, although they’re apparently very popular in the U.S..

What is CBD used for?

Depending on who you ask, it seems like CBD is good for everything. “Certainly on some corners of the internet I think it approaches something like a panacea status,” Milloy said.

More specifically, products containing CBD are generally used to manage pain, addictions, and neurological conditions, he said. Anecdotal reports and pre-clinical trials have suggested it has benefits for pain relief and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Does it work?

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence. However, anecdotes aren’t generally enough to prove efficacy.

“For certain forms of epilepsy there’s quite good evidence shown in clinical trials that CBD is an effective treatment for these seizure disorders,” Milloy said.

“For everything else though, I’m not aware of any evidence from clinical trials that would support its use in humans.”

Ton, who co-authored a systematic review on the evidence supporting the medical use of cannabinoids, says the same – that there are good clinical trials supporting CBD use in specific seizure disorders, but not much else.

He said people who claim other effects, “What they mostly quote is maybe non-clinical trials or trials that are not of high quality to support their claims.”

As a cannabis researcher, Milloy is excited to investigate the possibilities of CBD and build up the science to support its medical and therapeutic use. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of value in the traditions and the understandings of cannabis that have been developed over the years,” he said.

“I think it’s our job now as scientists to try and apply the highest, best-quality approaches so that we can really figure out what is true, what is evidenced and what is not.”

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