Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has gone from a total unknown to one of America's favorite supplements in just a few short years. Legal hemp-based products are thought to produce a myriad of health benefits, from alleviating inflammation to reducing anxiety.
CBD is a cannabinoid, and is created by plants in the cannabis family. Traditional marijuana strains generate a small quantity of CBD, but this is typically out-matched by a higher amount of psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The opposite is true with hemp, where there is much more CBD than THC.
CBD advocates like to talk about the safety of products, especially relative to other medicines and supplements. But does CBD oil have any side effects? The short answer is that there are a couple of things that CBD users need to be wary of when taking products, but in general, CBD is safe. Now for the longer answer.
In this post, we'll identify what makes CBD safer than marijuana, a few potential side effects and how to avoid them, and how CBD products affect us differently, depending on how the cannabinoids get into the bloodstream.
CBD is non-intoxicating
The first thing to know about CBD is that it’s non-intoxicating. It doesn’t matter how much CBD you consume, or how you take it, there’s no way that CBD can generate the psychoactive effects that come from cannabis with THC. Why is CBD non-intoxicating? It’s to do with how the compound interacts with receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). THC produces psychoactive effects by binding with CB1 receptors in the brain. In contrast, CBD doesn’t bind with CB1 receptors and actually limits activity at them. This effect is apparent with marijuana that has higher levels of CBD - these strains don’t get you as ‘high’.
Knowing that CBD won’t adversely affect your physical and mental faculties is the most important thing for many users. Recreational cannabis smokers may love the psychoactive effects, but for medicinal users, these would certainly be considered a side effect. With CBD, there is nothing to worry about, whether the product is made with a CBD-isolate or full-spectrum hemp extract. Hemp naturally has a small quantity of THC. However, this is outweighed by greater amounts of CBD, and the fact that hemp products must have less than 0.3% THC. This legal limit means that companies have to be cautious about which types of hemp they use. And it’s one reason why lab-testing has become so common in the CBD scene. A product analysis from an accredited third-party lab will always state how much THC is present.
World Health Organization says CBD has "no abuse potential"
In a world full of misinformation and disinformation - particularly on the Internet - it’s more vital than ever to ensure you’re getting accurate and truthful content. For general health matters, the World Health Organization (WHO) is a go-to source, and the United Nations organization has had a fair bit to say about CBD since it has become more prominent.
The Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) published a critical review of CBD in mid-2018. This was the WHO’s first detailed publication on the cannabinoid. To quote a crucial line from the report, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.” The authors also commented that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” They also noted that there have not been any recreational abuse incidents related to CBD, and nor has pure CBD led to any “public health-related problems.” The report also mentioned a study that showed CBD did not caused any subjective intoxication or psychotic symptoms in a massive 600mg dose.
The WHO’s stance on CBD is very welcome, and suggests that there are no major health risks to taking CBD, in its pure form. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all CBD products are safe. Indeed, we know that’s not always the case. America’s hemp-based CBD industry is unregulated, and that opens the door for poor quality and dangerous products making it onto the market. However, since we know that CBD itself is safe, providing you purchase from reputable vendors who are transparent about their practices and make lab reports available, you shouldn’t encounter any issues.
Possible side effects of CBD
That said, just about any drug has the potential to produce side effects - and this risk is exacerbated when drugs are combined. In this section, we’ll consider some legitimate concerns surrounding CBD oil and other CBD products. Remember that nothing stated here should be construed as medical advice. Consult with your doctor or another medical expert if you have queries about taking CBD - they are best placed to offer advice according to your situation.
CBD oil side effects on the liver?
The media picked up on a study in 2019 that suggested CBD can cause liver damage. It’s no great shock to see negative stories making headlines about CBD, with these products emerging from nowhere in such a short space of time. As with any new in-demand health product, cynics abound, and accusations of CBD being “snake oil” or dangerous are never far away.
The research on CBD and the liver was conducted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and published in Molecules. Researchers argued that high doses of CBD could cause liver damage in 24 hours, with death a possible worst-case scenario. Researchers used animal models (mice) for the study. However, there is good reason to believe this investigation was deeply flawed, and that the alarming findings are way off the mark.
Analysis from Project CBD showed that the study’s authors had exaggerated the risks of CBD while ignoring the benefits - an early indication that this would be a “hit piece”. Furthermore, the study makes no mention of how CBD research on mice is often not a reliable guide as to how the substance affects humans. In addition, the scientists used a ridiculously high dosage of CBD (2460mg/kg). This is more than 120 times the maximum recommended dose of the only FDA-approved CBD drug in the US, Epidiolex.
More studies are always welcome. But the “evidence” that CBD is harmful for the liver is not just questionable, it’s non-existent.
CBD oil side effects on the kidneys?
There have been a handful of reports that CBD may have a negative effect on the kidneys. But there has been hardly any research on this issue. But there are two studies we can draw upon, both of which speak positively about how the kidneys respond to CBD.
The first was featured in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics way back in 2009. The study, which was carried out on mice, found that CBD reduces inflammation, oxidative stress and cell death in the kidneys. The researchers concluded that CBD improved renal function, and that CBD could perhaps be a future protective treatment for “cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity.”
The second was published in 2017, in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Physiology. It documented the general effects of cannabinoids on the kidneys. The study clarified that both CB1 and CB2 receptors from the ECS are expressed in the kidneys, a sign that cannabinoids have a role to play in them. The researchers noted that there was a lack of understanding on how both endocannabinoids and exo-cannabinoids (i.e. CBD) influence renal function. But it’s possible that cannabinoids could be essential for the development of new treatments to manage “kidney disease and its complications.”
Clearly, there’s much we still don’t know. But from the existing evidence, we can say - with a dose of caution - that CBD looks to be more helpful for the kidneys than not.
Can CBD oil give you a headache?
Some people use CBD oil to manage migraines. And indeed, marijuana has hundreds - if not thousands - of years of history as a migraine remedy. Some experts even believe that cannabinoids can treat the notorious “aura” migraine symptoms by regulating the ECS. So, why do some people say that CBD gives them a headache?
The most likely answer for this is that they have been using low-quality CBD. Cowboy companies making knock-off CBD products could be adding all kinds of ingredients that may trigger a headache. This could apply with vape juices and tincture oils, which must be made with carrier oils to dilute the hemp extract. Headaches could perhaps be caused by an extract that hasn’t been cleansed of toxins and harmful byproducts. The hemp plant picks up all these chemicals when growing, as it is a bioaccumulator. This is excellent for the soil, but bad news if planning to consume the hemp. The best CBD brands use a process called supercritical CO2 extraction, to make the cleanest and safest CBD hemp oil possible.
If you have been experiencing headaches, try using third-party lab-tested CBD products. We have several available, including products from our very own CBD Genesis range.
Mixing CBD with other drugs
Combining CBD with other pharmaceutical drugs may be problematic, but this can only be looked at on a case-by-case basis. In short, CBD interferes with the cytochrome P450 system. More than half of the pharmaceutical drugs available in the US are thought to be metabolized by the cytochrome P450 system, a key group of liver enzymes. Large dosages of CBD deactivate these enzymes. In turn, this affects how much of a drug becomes active, increasing the risk of overdoses. It’s currently unknown how much CBD needs to be taken to affect cytochrome P450 system activity.
CBD’s disruptive effect on these liver enzymes appears to affect the metabolization of:
- Calcium channel blockers
- Beta blockers
Employing the “grapefruit rule” is one way of telling whether CBD consumption may affect any other drugs you’re taking. Grapefruits and CBD both deactivate enzymes in the cytochrome P450 system. If you are worried about using CBD with any drugs you’re currently on, discuss this with your doctor. They may advise adjusting your dosage of CBD or your meds. They may recommend that you steer clear of CBD until your treatment plan is finished.
How to stay safe when buying CBD
Hopefully this article has demonstrated that CBD is not dangerous. But there are still steps to take to ensure you stay safe with CBD products.
Sticking with known brands that are open about how they source and make their products is a good first step. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not influence the CBD industry through regulation. There have been incidents in the US and elsewhere of companies not putting as much CBD into their products as stated. Some haven’t even included CBD at all. At best, this means you’re getting short-changed. At worst, if you’re reliant on CBD, it could even be harmful for your health.
Brands should have no qualms about making lab reports available to all customers, and potential customers. These should be conducted by accredited laboratories that have no ties to the CBD company. Be sceptical of brands that claim to test products “in-house” - they may have something to hide. Also, make sure you can actually access the report. Some companies may claim their products are third-party tested, without showing the proof.
It’s worth paying a little more for products made via supercritical CO2 extraction. Health is wealth, and using an inferior oil to save a few bucks could spare you from the headaches some have reported feeling.
How to stay safe when using CBD
There’s no cognitive or physical impairment to worry about from CBD. However, very large doses could make you pretty sleepy. Products made especially for relaxation - such as indica-dominant vape juices - are even more likely to have this effect. These CBD products are most effective when you are able to chill out and enjoy them. If high doses of CBD make you tired, don’t drive or operate heavy machinery. You cannot get a DUI from taking CBD. But if CBD makes you drowsy, driving could put you and others at risk.
When just starting out with CBD, measuring out and keeping a record of your dosages is a sensible strategy. Unlike prescription drugs, there are no set guidelines for taking CBD. And as your weight, metabolism speed and other factors influence its effects, you will know better than everyone what dose is right for you. So, get in tune with your body!
What to expect from different CBD products
Each CBD product has unique qualities, and the effects are often rather different. This can take even seasoned CBD users by surprise. Here’s a quick summary of what to expect from the industry’s most popular CBD products.
CBD flower: Flower looks and smells like psychoactive marijuana, but it’s still non-intoxicating. Typically smoked, CBD flower effects hit rapidly, and generally last for three hours.
CBD e-liquids: E-liquids (or vape juices) deliver CBD in the same way as flower - through inhalation. No smoking side effects is the main advantage of e-liquids over flower.
CBD tincture oils: Taken under the tongue, CBD tinctures kick in slightly slower than flower and vape juices. Some users dislike the powerful, hemp taste of tinctures. Have a glass of water to hand if this applies to you!
CBD edibles: The CBD from edibles is absorbed into the bloodstream more gradually. The first effects tend to come around 30 minutes after consumption. First-time CBD edible users should wait for a couple of hours before upping the dose. It’s a common mistake to take more than necessary!
CBD concentrates: Concentrates are the most potent form of CBD available. Just a single vaporized hit of wax or a crystal will deliver tens of milligrams of CBD. Appropriate for high-dose CBD users.
CBD capsules: Capsules have much in common with edibles. The CBD is activated in the bloodstream only after the capsule is digested, and the CBD is absorbed through the stomach. Again, novices should wait for two hours or so before increasing the dosage.
CBD creams: Creams, balms, salves and lotions are applied to the skin. These products often contain several other natural ingredients. These products are used to ease pain, manage skin complaints and to enhance skin quality. Cannabinoids from creams do not reach the brain, so aren’t directly effective for anxiety, stress or low mood. However, relieving pain or improving skin condition may help indirectly.
CBD oil has many more benefits than risks. In comparison to marijuana, CBD does not pose any short or long-term mental health threats, and if anything, is therapeutic. The World Health Organization’s comments on CBD are encouraging. Moreover, the World Anti-Doping Agency now allows athletes to take CBD in competition, too.
As CBD has become more prevalent, some negative stories were inevitable. But CBD oil side effects in humans are few and far between. The research seized upon by mainstream media outlets has, on occasions, bordered upon scaremongering, as explained in the section on the liver. There are times when you may need to use CBD with caution, or take a short break because of other medications you’re on. But there are no inherent risks to CBD use, and CBD is much, much safer than some other products that have appeared on the health and wellness scene in the past.