CBD (or cannabidiol, a derivative of the cannabis plant) is having a moment. You can slather it on in the form of lotion or body oil, and you can drink it in coffee or a cocktail. And because CBD derived from hemp is legal nationwide, it’s pretty easy to find and buy online — in oil form, but also in gummy candies, chocolates, and breath mints. CBD, unlike THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant), won’t get you high, either, so it’s ostensibly easier and safer to use in one’s day-to-day routine. As with most trendy “miracle” ingredients, the claims made regarding CBD’s potential benefits are far-ranging, but what’s different is that, so far, the research seems to back these claims up: for instance, the FDA is on the verge of approving CBD in the treatment of childhood epilepsy. It’s also been proven to soothe arthritis, and to ease nausea and vomiting in patients who’ve undergone chemotherapy.
Of most immediate interest to me, though, is the hypothesis that CBD may be able to treat anxiety — which it’s said to do by elevating anandamide, a chemical thought to be anxiolytic, in the brain, according to Dr. Esther Blessing, an assistant psychiatry professor at NYU who studies the benefits of CBD. As someone who relies on 40 milligrams of Prozac a day to keep my anxiety in check, plus the odd Xanax in the event of a panic attack (or air travel, which terrifies me), I’m always interested in affordable and “natural” supplements which might help relieve my symptoms. I expect to remain on Prozac (or something like it) for the long haul, but if there’s something out there that might make it easier for me to sleep without grinding my teeth, or for me to fly, I’m eager to try it. Especially if one of the formats it’s available in is candy.
So over the past few weeks, I sampled three different CBD products (not all at once) to see if they worked for me.
Diamond CBD Gummies
I first spotted this product on a glamorous friend’s Instagram, and was both intrigued and pleasantly scandalized, the way I am when anyone I know Instagrams a drug of any kind, even if I also do it. Recreational marijuana is now legal in ten states and Washington, D.C., and 20 more allow for medical use. And yet, the stigma against it — and its byproducts — remains. Arrests have slowed in states where marijuana has been legalized, but black people are disproportionately punished, with arrest rates about ten times higher than those of white people. I am white, and thus face virtually no risk of arrest for consuming or purchasing marijuana, let alone CBD. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t worried about ordering CBD gummies of my own (see: the aforementioned generalized anxiety disorder). I kept expecting a catch during the ordering process, but none arrived, and the gummies were delivered to my doorstep a week later.
Now: the packaging on the product I ordered (watermelon slices, delicious) lists the recommended serving size as “1 or 2 gummies.” I ate just one, to be safe, and I’d be hard-pressed to distinguish how I felt afterward from getting deeply stoned: I was “relaxed” to the point of catatonia, able to get up from my bed only for the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby in my freezer. I ate it standing up, droopy eyed, talking nonsense to my bewildered roommate. Twenty minutes later, I fell into a dreamless sleep. A few nights later, I tried eating only a half of a gummy, and a few nights after that, I ate a quarter. The effects were definitely less pronounced with each reduction, but I also definitely felt high every time. Not fun high. Dead high.
As it turns out, I … might have been. Because CBD remains unregulated, it’s easy for sellers to mismarket and mislabel their products — and to leave a lot of information out. “On the internet, people can get away with a lot of stuff,” says Dr. Gabrielle Francis, a naturopath and chiropractor who calls herself The Herban Alchemist. Francis tells me she warns clients against buying CBD isolates (which are “purely” CBD, often in powder form) in favor of full spectrum CBD, which includes a range of cannabinoids — most notably, trace amounts of THC. Many people who take it won’t feel any noticeable psychoactive effect, but if you’re somewhat of a, uh, THC lightweight, you might. (For the record, my gummies also contained a small amount of melatonin, which helps explain the drowsiness — but I only found that out afterward.)
How you react to products like the CBD gummies I tried is also dependent on a kind of math problem, says Blessing. “The majority of CBD products out there will have a little bit of THC in them,” says Blessing. “And [the amount] is really important. You can get basically stoned and have problems with concentration and movement at doses as low as eight milligrams.” In other words, it’s important to be aware of a given product’s CBD-to-THC ratio — even with a CBD supplement that has as little as 2 milligrams of THC for every 100 milligrams of CBD, if you need 600 milligrams of CBD to get that anxiolytic effect, you’re also taking twelve milligrams of THC. Whether that bothers you will likely vary person to person (they have rave reviews online), but it’s the kind of thing that’s nice to know going in — and the gummies I tried don’t list THC as an ingredient anywhere on the packaging, nor do they say how many grams of CBD are in each gummy.
So, did the gummies help my anxiety? Sure. For 17 minutes I was the most carefree girl in the world. And then I was asleep.
Hempgenix CBD Oil and Energy Boost Spray
Having gotten the fun version out of the way, I was left to try CBD in oil form and oral spray form, both by the brand Hempgenix, which Dr. Francis sells in her online apothecary. Unlike the gummies, Hempgenix CBD products are hemp derivatives, which means there is even less THC present than in CBD derived from marijuana — the oil bottle’s packaging proclaims that it contains 0 percent THC, and the spray calls itself “99 percent pure CBD.” Not surprisingly, then, I did not feel high in the least after taking either product. In fact, I didn’t feel much of anything.
Francis, however, tells me her clients often experience an immediate effect. “People notice effects immediately right after they take it,” she says. “I can tell you for myself, I bought a product that had 1500 milligrams, and they recommended taking ten drops in the morning, and when [I did that], I could barely function, I was so tired.” Francis dropped her dosage, and says it’s better to start on the low side if you’re generally sensitive to medication. My oil bottle suggested taking 20 drops to start, so I shot for ten, but it tasted so bad that I gave up after eight (consuming straight oil: not pleasant!). “Some people love [the taste],” says Francis. “People who like pot, they love it.” Hm. To combat the ick factor, Francis suggests dropping the oil in a smoothie, which seems like a very Goop-friendly idea.
I didn’t get around to dumping CBD oil in anything else because I tried it for a few days and didn’t feel any effects whatsoever. Nor did I notice any effect from the moderately less-gross spray, which was labeled as “energy boosting.” For a person who isn’t already on anxiety medication, that might be different, just as it may have been different if I upped the dose. But wasn’t the whole point of this was that it was supposed to be easier and more tolerable, more natural and better-tasting than Xanax?
For her part, Blessing warns against the preoccupation with “natural” remedies for nature’s sake. “I don’t really believe that whether something comes from the ground or not is really relevant to whether it’s going to be good for you,” she says. “There are some really toxic substances in plants, but then there are also things like CBD, which looks really medicinal.”
It’s also important to remember that the CBD products I tried likely do not represent the best the future of CBD will have to offer. For instance, in the relatively little research that’s been done on CBD and anxiety thus far, the CBD used bears little resemblance to what’s commercially available today. “When people are using CBD in a clinical study, they’re using a purified form of CBD that has nothing to do with the rest of the plant,” says Blessing, meaning that it doesn’t have any THC, or any other of the chemicals typically found in cannabis, at all. (Note that this is not the same thing as CBD isolate derived from hemp.)
Still, Blessing is optimistic: there’s still considerable evidence that suggests CBD might be effective in treating anxiety, and it goes way back. “Types of cannabis rich in CBD were reported to be anxiolytic [anti-anxiety] by people in very, very old case studies from a thousand years ago in India. Soldiers with PTSD often use [high-CBD content] marijuana and anecdotally report that it reduces their symptoms.” Tests done on both humans and animals show that consuming CBD after an induced anxiety attack can reduce panic symptoms. We don’t yet know which form of CBD works best for everyone — and the number of conditions it might help relieve — but it’s a growing field of study, and one which Blessing finds very exciting. “CBD is really coming up as a useful drug in a lot of neuropsychiatric disorders, and there’s a lot of good, proper, clinical trial evidence for that,” says Blessing. “Even though there’s not good clinical trial evidence for anxiety yet, the way we understand neurobiology and psychiatry at the moment is that if something treats epilepsy and schizophrenia, it’s likely that it will treat anxiety as well.”
In the meantime, proceed with caution, read the ingredient lists, and don’t eat a CBD gummy before operating heavy machinery.