With major drugstore chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens now testing out CBD sales in select states, it's clear the more Americans have access to manufactured cannabis products then ever before. But many are still fuzzy on the difference between CBD and THC, or specifically how it relates to marijuana.
CBD doesn't get you high, but is known to have anti-anxiety and pain relief qualities. As such, local dispensaries are focusing more on CBD education than ever before to spread the word about this up-and-coming cannabis concentrate.
CBD Wellness sells its products, including tinctures and topical remedies, at multiple dispensary locations throughout Tucson. Matthew Scott, founder of CBD Wellness, has worked in the botanical health and wellness industry his entire life, and this passion for wellness drives him to take his understanding of the plant seriously.
"Some of these stores you'll walk into, and often there can be people who don't really know about this plant or its medicine," Scott says. "And my question was always, 'Where's the real medicine?' Some of the stuff that's out there is just ridiculous. I want to make actual wellness. I want to do it right."
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound derived from cannabis that is not known to have any of the psychotropic effects of THC. CBD Wellness employs local testing labs to ensure accuracy in their product. This comes in part from Scott feeling some frustration in testing other products and finding significantly lower, or even absent levels of CBD.
"If CBD is done right, it can really help," Scott says. "Some of the changes are night-and-day."
The key differentiation between CBD and THC, the psychotropic effects, dictates how they're regulated, how they're sold, and how they affect a user.
CBD's legality depends on the source it comes from. If CBD is derived from marijuana, it is technically a schedule one controlled substance, because the Controlled Substances Act defines marijuana as all parts of the plant. However, if CBD is derived from hemp, it is not a controlled substance, as hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act as part of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
The difference between marijuana and hemp has a similarly simple distinction to the U.S. government: Both are the cannabis plant, but hemp contains 0.3 percent THC or less, whereas marijuana contains much higher THC concentrations, generally between 15 to 40 percent.
"The government doesn't really understand the plant, unfortunately. But they understand money." Scott says. "That's why it's so important to educate the people."
Due to CBD long being a controlled substance in many countries, there is a lack of definitive clinical research on the compound. But with CBD becoming legal and near-ubiquitous, new academic reports on the substance are released on a near-weekly basis. A scientific view shift on the compound can be seen in just the past few years.
According to the 2014 academic article "Cannabidiol: Pharmacology and potential therapeutic role in epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders" published in the National Library of Medicine: "CBD appears to be well tolerated in humans but small and methodologically limited studies of CBD in human epilepsy have been inconclusive."
But just a few years later, in 2018, the FDA approved CBD as a treatment for rare, severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, in patients 2 years of age and older. This new drug, Epidiolex, was the first time the FDA approved a drug containing a purified drug substance derived from cannabis.
However, this gradual acceptance is not to declare free rein for CBD companies. Throughout 2017 and 2018, the FDA issued multiple warning letters to certain CBD businesses for advertising unsubstantiated health effects.
Scott says many people's hesitancy to try CBD products stems from two main misconceptions: that it's illegal, and that it doesn't work. Scott says because of CBD's close ties with marijuana, some people might immediately close themselves off from it. But the fact these products are now openly being sold in common stores like Walgreens and CVS show a growing acceptance.
"Once [marijuana] is legal, I think a lot more people will try it out." Scott says. "Then, they'll no longer have that fear of trying it."
Scott also says a large amount of "junk" medicinal products sour some experiences. He says some people purchasing a CBD product from a store that doesn't know the true science behind their products might lead unaffected users to think "If they've had one, they've had them all."
But for many, CBD can provide a simple and effective remedy for a large amount of health problems. Take Tucson local and cancer patient Carole, 75, who first used CBD three years ago. She was experiencing side effects from her cancer treatment, which caused her to feel extremely ill.
"The worst of it was that I had severe intestinal and abdominal symptoms," Carole says. "I lost a very significant amount of weight, about 15 pounds in less than two weeks. I could not eat. I was dehydrated. I couldn't walk. I had to be taken to the doctor every day. I had horrible, horrible pain."
Carole received a CBD tincture after she "had tried everything" in terms of traditional medicine from doctors.
"I started to use that really out of desperation," Carole says. "I really knew nothing about the drug at all. I started to use it every day, and it was the first and only thing that gave me relief."
Carole still continues to use CBD products for similar symptoms, and continues to experience effective results. While she doesn't use CBD for what people initially recommended it for, that is better sleep and anti-anxiety, she uses topical ointments for pain.
"When I started to do some reading and got a little bit more knowledgeable about what I was doing, and looking at dosages and product and stuff like that, I felt that I got the most benefit locally from salves." Carol says. "I had a lot of joint pain because I have bone cancer, and I got very significant relief locally... It was the only thing that did anything at all, and what it did was significant."