Hemp plants produce flowers that typically grow along the stalk and near the smaller-sized sugar leaves. This part of the plant is rich in cannabinoids, which are naturally occurring compounds that trigger neurotransmitter activity in the central nervous and immune systems.
The flowers on psychoactive cannabis plants contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid that produces euphoric high, but hemp cannot get people high because it only contains trace amounts of THC. However, hemp plants do contain cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid with potentially far reaching medicinal applications.
Frontiers in Endocrinology published a study in 2020 that highlighted this potential: “CBD is considered as a potential therapeutic agent due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, neuroprotective, and potential anti-obesity properties.” Other studies suggest CBD may help with pain, insomnia and even certain mental health disorders. In the U.S., the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes its antiepileptic effects, and extensive research is ongoing as to the validity of CBD’s other potential uses.
While some people consume CBD by smoking flower, it’s more commonly consumed as an extract. Chemists use processes like carbon dioxide extraction to pull the compound from the flowers, and the crystalline CBD is then typically added to an oil base that’s smoked, eaten or applied topically.
As a chemical that affects neurotransmitter activity in the body, CBD is taken orally to maximize its potential health and wellness benefits. A growing number of people, however, are now applying CBD creams to their skin to reduce pain and inflammation. Large-scale studies have yet to confirm these benefits, but anecdotal evidence suggests it might help improve conditions like sunburn, arthritic pain and immobility. Unlike seed oil, however, there’s less evidence to suggest that CBD provides real value as a beauty product, with the possible exception of reducing redness and inflammation. Some beauty products simply add it to seed oil and use the CBD to justify a higher price point, yet it’s the seed oil that’s primarily responsible for the improvements in the skin.
Studies will eventually determine which benefits are real and which aren’t, but the quality of the CBD is another important factor in considering use. The combination of shady operators, a complex extraction process and the rush to jump on the CBD bandwagon make certain products less reliable.
In 2019, the Mayo Clinic warned, “Care must be taken when directing patients toward CBD products because there is little regulation, and studies have found inaccurate labeling of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol quantities.” Case in point, a 2018 study ran tests on 14 different CBD brands, and nine came back wanting. Worse still, the FDA found that some brands add dangerously high levels of lead, and it issued a mandatory recall of several CBD products in July 2020.
The only viable CBD products of any kind are formulated by pharmacists in FDA-registered facilities and feature batch-tested, third-party verified information on sourcing, extraction method, dosage levels and the hemp plants themselves (e.g., organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free). Furthermore, CBD is a compound, not an oil, so find out the type of oil it’s in and make sure it does not contain additives like parabens, colorants, phthalates or sodium laureth sulfate. As a largely unregulated product, CBD oils should be thoroughly researched to avoid an inferior and potentially harmful experience.