I was shocked to see recently that some cafes in my community are advertising CBD on menus as a healthy ingredient in lattes and smoothies! Some “health oriented” bars are adding it to cocktails.
In some places like New York City, cannabis food trucks sell an assortment of candy and other goodies containing CBD to passersby.
With no age restrictions on its use, some people – even children – are likely consuming CBD on a very frequent basis.
While a growing chorus of voices recommend CBD oil for all manner of ailments with glowing reviews and assurances of its safety, consumers would be wise to think very carefully before jumping on the bandwagon.
This article seeks to pull back the curtain on the CBD story and reveal the very real potential dangers of use by otherwise healthy people so that you can make a truly informed decision for your family.
Please note that I am not disputing the benefits of cannabis in this article. I know it helps a lot of very sick people manage their illness in a comfortable way without the need for pharmaceuticals. What I am presenting is the other side of the story that is usually not discussed – even glossed over in favor of aggressive marketing to otherwise healthy people.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD oil is an alternative remedy for inflammation, pain, seizures and many other conditions. It is gaining widespread popularity over pharmaceutical drugs to treat the same ailments.
Manufacturers make CBD oil by diluting the active ingredient cannabidiol with a carrier fat such as coconut oil. Depending on what carrier oil is used (i.e., saturated fats or vegetable oils), the remedy then appeals to a wider variety of people. In other words, CBD fans can find an oil that fits their particular food philosophy on fats.
You might be surprised to learn that cannabidiol is one of over a hundred compounds known as cannabinoids. The buds, flowers, leaves and stalks (not seeds) of the hemp plant contain them. Other common names for this plant are marijuana or cannabis.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, is another well known cannabinoid in hemp plant matter. It is best known for its mind altering effects, which pot smokers experience firsthand. (1)
Fans of CBD oil claim that cannabidiol is safe because it has zero inherent psychoactive properties like THC. However, this is disputable, if not downright false, in light of research on both animals and humans. More on this later.
Hash (Cannabis) Oil vs CBD Oil vs Hemp Seed Oil
It is important to understand the key differences between the three primary oils derived from the hemp or marijuana plant. These characteristics determine whether the oil is used as food or medicine and, in turn, whether it is even legal or not.
CBD oil falls in the gray area, which is why it is so confusing and potentially dangerous for anyone except those who are gravely ill with few other treatment options. Hopefully, the discussion below will help clear things up for you!
Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil
As described above, manufacturers create medicinal CBD oil by blending cannabidiol with a carrier oil. This active ingredient is either isolated or alcohol extracted from whole cannabis plant matter.
CBD was legalized in all 50 states by the 2014 Farm Bill, which served as the springboard for its explosive growth. However, this approval came with an important caveat. The legislation required extraction of CBD for academic research or under a state pilot program. Since then, a number of states broadened this narrow definition, which legalized other CBD manufacturing processes. (2)
Hemp Seed Oil
CBD oil is vastly different from hemp seed oil, which is a food and not medicine. It is made by cold pressing the seeds on the cannabis plant. The resulting oil is high in inflammatory omega-6 fats. Hemp seeds contain no THC and hence the oil should technically not contain any either.
Some countries require testing for THC in hemp seed oil to verify purity. Typical requirements are that there are no more than 5-10 or even zero parts per million (ppm) detected in the final product.
Hemp Oil (Hash or Cannabis Oil)
In comparison, hash or cannabis oil does contain high inducing THC. It is also misleadingly known as honey oil.
It comes from aerial parts of the marijuana plant except the seeds. This medicinal or recreational oil can be made from any of the three sub-species of the cannabis plant – Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and more rarely Cannabis ruderalis.
Hash oil is illegal for recreational use in most states but is approved for medicinal use by a growing list of others. It is usually consumed by eating or smoking. It is also sold in cartridges for use in vaping pens.
In summary, while hemp seed oil is widely recognized as safe and available on healthfood store shelves all across the country, hemp oil is still regulated as as a medicinal only drug in some states and completely outlawed in others. CBD oil falls in the gray area somewhere between the two.
The question that remains to be answered is its safety. Does the narrow legalization of CBD in the 2014 Farm Bill guarantee its safety? Or is it actually more risky than consumers have been led to believe?
CBD Oil Risks
The side effects of consuming cannabidiol are very real though commonly glossed over by those selling it.
CBD oil may potentially interact in a negative way with anti-epilepsy drugs. As of now, only in vitro (test tube) observations exist with no living organism testing proving safety. Drugs that may interact include: (3)
- carbamazepine (Tegretol)
- phenytoin (Dilantin)
- phenobarbital (Luminal, Solfoton, Tedral)
- primidone (anti-seizure)
According to a review of existing research by the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the most common side effects of consuming CBD or CBD oil include:
- nausea or vomiting
- anxiety or depression
- changes in appetite/weight
While there is a well known link between psychotic disorders and pot, CBD is generally regarded as anti-psychotic. (4)
How can this be if a CBD side effect is psychosis? (5)
Perhaps this common belief is simply not true!
Psychoactive Effects of Cannabinoids
Perhaps cannabinoid oil purveyors tend to ignore the well established reactions because the side effect profile of CBD is better than pharmaceutical drugs used to treat similar conditions.
In addition, proponents of CBD oil use insist on its safety because cannabidiol is not mind altering like its cousin cannabinoid THC.
Research from the 1970s seems to confirm that CBD is well tolerated up to 600 mg without psychotic episodes. (6)
However, more recent research disputes this assumption.
Conversion of CBD to THC
Researcher Kazuhito Watanabe, PhD and his team at Daiichi College of Pharmaceuticals, Japan discovered a disturbing problem with cannabidiol. (7)
They found that CBD converts into THC, the same psychosis inducing substance found in weed. In addition, CBD converted into two other THC-like cannabinoids known as HHCs (hexahydroxycannabinols). All three produced high inducing symptoms in mice.
This research indicates that THC is not the only mind altering cannabinoid in hemp. It also suggests the possibility that a person can be exposed to brain altering, high inducing substances by simply consuming CBD.
Getting High on CBD?
Acidity is necessary for the conversion of CBD to THC and the two psychoactive HHCs. Researchers performed this conversion using artificial digestive juices. The change accelerated in the presence of some kind of sugar (or alcohol).
In people consuming CBD oil, this would parallel as acidity in the stomach. Since people commonly consume CBD oil in sugary lattes, candy, goodies, smoothies or alcoholic beverages, this situation mimics the reality of many people who use it.
Effects of THC Derived from CBD
To test the effects of these components, the researchers then injected mice with small quantities of the THC and HHCs converted from CBD. The researchers tested for the four most common symptoms of THC exposure including:
- Catalepsy – loss of sensation or consciousness
- Hypothermia – drop in body temperature
- Prolonged sleep
- Reduced pain perception
Mice injected with small amounts of THC and HHCs converted in artificial gastric juices from CBD tested positively for all 4 pot exposure symptoms.
Follow-up research in 2016 published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research gives additional pause.
More than 40% of epileptic children orally administered CBD exhibited adverse events, with THC like symptoms the most common. In their conclusion, researchers challenged the accepted premise that CBD is not high-inducing.
Gastric fluid without enzymes converts CBD into the psychoactive components Δ9-THC and Δ8-THC, which suggests that the oral route of administration may increase the potential for psychomimetic adverse effects from CBD. (8)
Is CBD Oil Safe for Children?
The takeaway of existing research as of this writing seems to indicate extreme caution when it comes to ingestion of CBD oil especially by children.
Research definitively shows that THC exposure affects their developing brains in a negative way – perhaps permanently. The important point here is that consuming CBD or CBD infused oil can initiate this THC exposure – not just smoking or vaping pot. The Journal of Current Pharmaceutical Design warns:
The literature not only suggests neurocognitive disadvantages to using marijuana in the domains of attention and memory that persist beyond abstinence, but suggest possible macrostructural brain alterations (e.g., morphometry changes in gray matter tissue), changes in white matter tract integrity (e.g., poorer coherence in white matter fibers), and abnormalities of neural functioning (e.g., increased brain activation, changes in neurovascular functioning). (9)
CBD During Pregnancy
The Journal Future Neurology warns that cannabis exposure crosses the placenta. “Human epidemiological and animal studies have found that prenatal cannabis exposure influences brain development and can have long-lasting impacts on cognitive functions.” (10)
Since CBD partially converts to THC under acidic conditions, women who consume CBD oil for morning sickness or other discomforts of pregnancy should understand that use may mimic using pot directly. Just because CBD oil is natural and works effectively to alleviate symptoms does not mean it is safe for your baby.
Always discuss any supplemental foods with a practitioner before use!
CBD from Hops and Other Non-Cannabis Plants
Some CBD products and oil come from plants other than cannabis. Hops is one that is popular currently. (11)
People that use non-cannabis CBD mistakenly believe that they are safe from THC. False marketing of these products encourages this line of thinking.
Be warned that no matter where CBD comes from, the potential for conversion of CBD to THC in the digestive tract exists. CBD is ultimately a cannabinoid no matter what plant it comes from. Thus, unless the CBD is applied transdermally or intravenously to avoid the acidic conditions within the digestive tract, the risk for THC exposure and brain-altering effects still exists.
To give you a example of how this works, consider how beta carotene converts to Vitamin A in the digestive tract. It doesn’t matter if the beta carotene comes from carrots, peppers or squash. This nutrient will still potentially convert to Vitamin A. The same principle applies to CBD that is consumed orally. The digestive process can result in conversion to THC no matter what plant is the source of the CBD.
Is CBD Safe for Anyone?
Consumers desperately need more research about the high-inducing effects of CBD-to-THC that could manifest as a result of the digestive process.
The half life of oral CBD in the body is about 2 days. Thus, depending on how much a person consumes and how often, the potential risk of psychosis could increase over time depending on individual metabolism.
It seems that, as of this writing, the prudent course of action for the cautious consumer is to adopt a wait and see attitude toward CBD and CBD oil products pending further research on the very real potential for mind altering, pot-like effects.
Some companies are already working to develop synthetic transdermal CBD. Such a drug would bypass the gastrointestinal tract and avoid bioconversion to psychoactive THC and/or HHCs. Of course, this treatment likely has its own set of yet unknown dangers!
While the risks of THC exposure from CBD oil and other products are likely of little concern for gravely ill people who desperately need it, for otherwise healthy people and children, beware! It seems wise until further research is concluded to treat CBD oil, candy, and other products just like any other high inducing drug. Just. Say. No.
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.