4 min read

CBD: Everything You Need To Know

A Chemist Debunks The Biggest Myths About Cannabidiol

Because of its close association with cannabis, CBD often gets a bad rap. But where there’s stigma, there’s misinformation, and despite its popularity there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding CBD. So we’ve boiled down the buzz and distilled the science. From a chemist to a sceptic, here’s why some of the fallacies surrounding the trendy supplement are a bit dubious.

Myth: CBD Is Weed

The biggest misconception is, hands down, that CBD is the stoner’s safer cousin. A tamer THC, if you will. Yes, CBD is one of the many compounds derived from Cannabis sativa (aka weed), but not all of its molecules have the psychoactive properties that makes the plant largely (il)legal and (in)famous. THC, the most popular psychoactive phytocannabinoid, is a molecule related to, but totally distinct from, CBD.

On paper, CBD and THC molecules look very similar. Chemically speaking, however, they’re different creatures. Our bodies are very smart and equally specific: they only recognise molecules of a certain geometry. Only molecules of a certain geometry will trigger (or block) specific biological pathways. CBD and THC are chemically distinct enough that they won’t trigger similar responses. Read: CBD won’t get you high. For that same reason, it won’t even show up on a drug test. In fact, there’s evidence that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of CBD actually reverse the negative effects of THC.

Myth: CBD Isn’t Safe

While it’s true that scientists still don’t fully know CBD’s exact anti-inflammatory and antioxidant biological mechanism, the plethora of reports we have is enough to determine its safety. Most studies that have been conducted in an attempt to determine how CBD works, and what it works on, have noted that higher CBD doses don’t cause any undue harm to patients over the course of clinical trials. It works up to a certain point, but after it reaches its threshold, little to no undesired effects materialised. If there are any side-effects to CBD, they’ve only been found at very high doses, taken for long periods of time, and include slight sleepiness.

Myth: CBD Is Just A Fad

Ok, CBD is safe, but is it effective? Given how much press it’s received, you’d be forgiven for thinking of CBD as nothing more than the kind of hyped-up ingredient found in a Shoreditch cafe. But Instagram likes and scientific rigour don’t have to be mutually exclusive, because CBD is both trendy and legit, and its value as a cannabinoid is not to be shrugged off.

The biggest reason for which it’s dismissed as a wellness fad is because it’s often labelled as an “antioxidant”. To a chemist, terms like “antioxidant” and “anti-inflammatory” are a bit of a catch-all: they refer to the way by which the molecule is “active” in biological conditions, without detailing the exact conditions necessary for the mechanism to become efficient, or even effective.

This vague terminology grants the wiggle room necessary for brands to create a laundry list of benefits. Several trendy ingredients, because of their source, quality, or amount, qualify as nothing more than trends because they boast innumerable advantages without delivering on a single one well. But CBD isn’t one of them. Numerous in-depth academic and pharmaceutical studies detail promising, if not proven, results that CBD can deliver enormous medicinal benefits. The length of the list does not, in this case, degrade the validity of each item.

Myth: CBD Is Illegal

CBD is legal. THC is illegal. In the US, hemp-based CBD with less than 0.3% (i.e. a tiny amount) of THC was made legal for consumers in 2018, while CBD with less than 0.2% THC has been legal in the UK since 2017. Even the World Health Organization recommends that CBD, for its demonstrated efficacy and safety, be listed as an unscheduled drug. This means that its use and purchase are all above board—no prescription or shady back room deals required.

There is however, a slight caveat. Although CBD is legal, not all of it is regulated. This means the CBD in your latte, or sold your local health store, is likely unregulated. 300 mg of CBD oil doesn’t equate to 300 mg dosage of CBD, and these products often come without specified dosages. Yes, they’re safe for use, but they’re also likely not providing the benefits as advertised. They rely more on the hype of wellness fads than they do on the proven effectiveness of their products. The worst case scenario is that CBD is an expensive placebo.

Pharmaceutical-grade CBD, on the other hand, is regulated. Its doses are highly controlled, as well as its delivery methods.

CBD is both trendy and legit.

With the leverage of millennial popularity, scientific studies on CBD have withstood the challenge of public scrutiny. Granted, more studies need to be done, but the ones that exist show CBD as a completely safe and therapeutic ingredient. As interest in CBD and its sales increase, more research and development will be conducted. Until then, at least we’ve busted the myths.

Illustrations by Erin Rommel @second.marriage.

Written by Lizzy Trelstad. Lizzy is a NYC-based chemist specialised personal care and cosmetics, and is the founder of Beaker.

CBD Phytocannabinoid THC

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