Q: Several stores in my area sell CBD products—including a coffee shop that offers a "shot" of CBD oil in your latte—and I’ve been getting emails about CBD-infused products from chocolates to lotions. Does that mean CBD is legal?
A: As with most things cannabis-related, the answer is complicated. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive chemical compound that comes from marijuana or its close relative hemp (both are varieties of Cannabis sativa). But unlike another well-known compound from the marijuana plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not get users “high.” Literally thousands of CBD products are now being marketed in stores and online, promoted for uses ranging from pain relief to insomnia, and researchers are studying it as a treatment for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, anxiety, cancer, chronic pain, and schizophrenia.
As of early 2019, 47 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have passed laws making CBD legal for medical or recreational uses. That’s more than have legalized medical marijuana (33 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, about one-third of which—including D.C.—have also legalized recreational use).This Consumer Reports article provides an interactive map that shows the legality of marijuana and CBD by state, as well as the three states where cannabis remains illegal in any form. By hovering over each state you can also see more specific details of where marijuana or CBD can be dispensed and for what purposes.
Whether CBD is legal at the federal level is complicated. Marijuana, from which CBD is sometimes derived, is classified as a Schedule 1 substance (illegal drug). But CBD can also be derived from hemp, which, like marijuana, is a variety of cannabis. Although the cultivation of hemp has historically been pretty tightly restricted in the U.S., that’s changing due to Congress’s recent passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. The legislation includes a provision that reclassifies hemp (formerly an illegal substance) as an agricultural crop. The law will make it much easier for farmers to legally grow hemp. But whether it means that CBD products derived solely from hemp plants—which by definition must contain 0.3 percent or less THC—will become legal remains unclear.
Confused yet? There’s more: The FDA released a statement in late December 2018 reaffirming that despite the Farm Bill’s passage, CBD remains an illegal ingredient in food and dietary supplements, regardless of where it comes from. The agency to date has approved only one product containing CBD: the cannabis-derived prescription drug Epidiolex, which won approval in 2018 for the treatment of two rare forms of childhood epilepsy.
Bottom line: There isn’t yet enough evidence to recommend CBD for any medical use aside from the epileptic conditions it’s approved for. More research is also needed to establish CBD’s safety and appropriate dosing range. We’ll be watching the research closely as it comes out, and reporting back when there are sounder conclusions to draw.
If you decide to try CBD in the meantime and live in a state where it’s legal, Consumer Reports offers tips for using it safely. Among them: Check with your doctor first, buy it from a dispensary (not online), and steer clear if you’re pregnant or nursing.
Also keep in mind that CBD products are largely unregulated right now, so there’s little guarantee that they contain the labeled amounts of the chemical. Indeed, a study published in 2017 in JAMA tested 84 CBD products purchased online and found that 70 percent were mislabeled, containing either more or less than the claimed amount of CBD. And one-fifth had detectable levels of THC.