The popularity of medical marijuana is soaring, and among the numerous products consumers are seeking are CBD, or cannabis oils.
A wealth of marketing material, blogs and anecdotes claim that CBD oil can cure whatever ails you, even cancer. But the limited research doesn’t suggest that cannabis oil should take the place of conventional medication, except for in two very rare forms of epilepsy (and even then, it’s recommended only as a last-resort treatment). And, experts caution that because CBD oil and other cannabis-based products are not regulated or tested for safety by the government or any third-party agency, it’s difficult for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting.
What Is CBD?
Simply put, cannabis oil is the concentrated liquid extract of the marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa.
Similar to other herbal extracts, the chemicals in cannabis oils vary depending on how the extract is made and what chemicals were in the plant to begin with.
Cannabis plants produce thousands of compounds but the most well recognized belong to a class called cannabinoids. There are several cannabinoids but the two that are most well-known among consumers are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
THC is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana and it is what people are searching for when they want a product that gives them a “high.” Unlike THC, CBD isn’t known to cause psychoactive effects, and is therefore attractive to those who want to avoid the high but who believe there are other benefits of CBD.
CBD products that don’t contain THC fall outside the scope of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Controlled Substances Act, which means CBD products are legal to sell and consume as long as they don’t have THC. That’s likely one of the reasons why CBD products, including CBD oil, are becoming more socially acceptable and increasingly popular. In 2016, Forbes reported that CBD products are expected to be a $2.2 billion industry by 2020.
How Are CBD Oils Consumed?
The physiological effects of cannabinoids can vary widely from person to person, and also depend on how they’re consumed. That lack of predictability is one of the reasons why cannabis oil is a challenging candidate for developing into a medicine, Ward told Live Science.
“Two people may eat a brownie [made with cannabis oil] and one may absorb massive amounts of cannabinoids and the other may not,” Ward said. “How long it takes to work and how long it stays in the system differs greatly.”
It’s a little more uniform when the product is absorbed by smoking or vaping the oil, Ward said. But, “there are obvious concerns about smoking something.” A 2007 review published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that smoking marijuana resulted in similar declines in respiratory system health as smoking tobacco. A similar review published in 2014 in The American Journal of Cardiology found that marijuana smoke inhalation can increase the chances of heart attack or stroke. Neither review analyzed the effects of vaping cannabis oil alone, so it’s unclear if it has the same health risks as smoking other marijuana products.
Why Do People Use Cannabis Oil?
People claim that cannabis oil can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, though evidence to back up these claims is often lacking. For example, according to Medical News Today, people use cannabis oil for conditions ranging from pain to acne; some even claim the oil can cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.