What is CBD Oil? An in Depth Look at Uses, Benefits and Risks

What is CBD Oil? An in Depth Look at Uses, Benefits and Risks

Hailed as an effective treatment for sleep disorders, anxiety, addiction, and other medical problems, CBD oil has fueled a billion dollar industry seemingly overnight. In states across the U.S., the once-controversial natural remedy is being infused into gummy bears, baked into muffins, and blended into lattes.

Although there’s no shortage of CBD oil products on the market, there is  deficiency in authoritative information on how CBD works, its benefits and risks, and how it can promote healthy sleep. If you are interested in learning more about CBD oils, this guide will provide unbiased information on the background, benefits, risks, side effects, and legality of this product.


What is CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol — more commonly referred to as “CBD oil” — is one of more than 100 different chemical compounds found in the the cannabis plant. These compounds, known as “cannabinoids”, react with a biochemical communication system in the body called the endocannabinoid system. The recently discovered network of cannabis receptors plays an important role in psychological functions like sleep, pain, mood, and appetite.

Perhaps the most widely known cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound responsible for the majority of the psychological effects. Like THC, cannabidiol is also found in marijuana. But unlike THC, cannabidiol does not induce intoxication or get you “high”.

Instead, CBD oil helps promote relaxation, healthy sleep, and pain relief. Because the compound is associated with a variety of health benefits but lacks mind-altering effects, it is being marketed as treatment for insomnia and other sleep disorders, in addition to issues like anxiety, epilepsy, and pain.

Although CBD oil can be manufactured synthetically, it’s most easily and often harvested from industrial hemp. To harvest CBD oil, producers use extraction solvents to separate and collect CBD oils from the seeds and stalks of the hemp plant. The oil is typically tested for cannabidiol content and treated in a heating process known as decarboxylation, which helps the CBD react more easily with the body.

A member of the cannabis family, industrial hemp contains high amounts of natural cannabidiol but negligible amounts (less than 0.3 percent) of mind-altering THC. In the U.S., there are two primary categories of hemp-extracted CBD oil products available:

  • Crystalline isolate. This type of oil has been purified to remove THC and all other cannabinoids, so only CBD remains.
  • Full spectrum or whole plant CBD. When CBD oil is referred to as  full spectrum or whole plant, the product contains other cannabinoids. This could include trace amounts (0.3 percent or less) of THC, along with cannabinol (CBN) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). Some studies have shown that full spectrum CBD may be more efficient due to its synergistic reactions with the terpenes and minor phytocannabinoids present. Keep in mind that the trace amounts of THC in full spectrum CBD oil could compromise a drug test.

Virtually non-existent levels of THC make it impossible to get high on CBD oil that has been extracted from industrial hemp.

Note that in states where marijuana is legal, CBD oil can also be extracted from marijuana plants. When extracted from marijuana plants, CBD oil may have higher levels of THC — as much as 30 percent — and include psychoactive effects.



Cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol are two of the most widely used and best-known of the 100+ compounds in the cannabis genus. While they are extracted from the same family of plant, the two compounds interact with your body in dramatically different ways.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a psychoactive compound. By stimulating dopamine release and activating cannabinoid receptors, THC can alter the brain in a variety of ways and induce a “high” or sense of euphoria.

On the other hand, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound and does not induce a high. On its own, CBD can treat health problems like sleeplessness, stress, anxiety, and depression. When combined with THC, CBD may actually minimize the psychotropic effects of THC by inhibiting the THC from binding to cannabis receptors. Research suggests combining the two compounds may help reduce the negative effects of THC, such as paranoia and increased anxiety.


CBD Benefits and Uses

After decades of villainization with the rest of the cannabis industry and scheduled as a narcotic, cannabidiol has only just begun to be researched and understood. Even in the early stages of research, medical scientists have discovered CBD oil could be used to treat a variety of physical and mental ailments.

Specifically, researchers have found CBD oil may be therapeutic for the following physical conditions:

  • Cancer. After avoiding cannabinoids for fear of unwanted psychoactive effects, some scientists are becoming increasingly interested in the non-psychoactive CBD oil as a potential anti-cancer drug. Recent research has found that CBD oil and cannabinoids can hinder the spread of cancer and induce the death of cancer cells.
  • Heart disease. A growing body of evidence suggests CBD can help treat heart disease and strengthen the cardiovascular system by protecting against inflammation and other damage.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies have named cannabidiol as an effective treatment for IBS because of its ability to control the neuroimmune system, a network of structures connecting the gut microbes, immune system, and central nervous system.
  • Glaucoma. Researchers have discovered CBD could potentially be used as a topical therapy to treat glaucoma. CBD and other cannabinoids have been shown to protect neuron cultures from glutamate-induced death.
  • Seizures and epilepsy. In recent years, medical researchers have become increasingly interested in CBD as a treatment for seizures and epilepsy, particularly for children. CBD contains anticonvulsant properties like other cannabinoids, in addition to the advantage of being non-psychoactive.
  • Acne. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabidiol has been introduced to lotions and other skincare products to treat acne.
  • Chronic pain. CBD has been demonstrated to help ease pain and inflammation in a variety of chronic pain diseases, including arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Beyond treating physical conditions, studies show CBD may be able to treat the following mental ailments:

  • Sleep disorders. One of the most intriguing properties of cannabidiol is its ability to promote restful sleep. CBD has been used for centuries across many cultures as a sleep aid. Modern research  finds that CBD can help improve sleep in a variety of ways, including regulating sleep patterns, alleviating pain, and reducing stress.
  • Anxiety. Mounting evidence shows that cannabidiol may be able to help reduce anxiety symptoms. CBD may be a powerful treatment for a variety of forms of anxiety, including social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Depression. Abnormalities in the endocannabinoid system have been linked to depression and suicide. Research finds that CBD oil can help increase and stabilize the release of serotonin, a natural mood regulator.
  • PTSD. Studies find that the endocannabinoid system may be an ideal avenue for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CBD oil can be used to help minimize PTSD symptoms, including anxiety, nightmares, and insomnia.
  • Stress. Scientific findings link the endocannabinoid system to the regulation of stress and other emotional behaviors.


CBD Oil Risks

A review of studies with humans and animals has shown the following risks may be associated with CBD oil:

  • Lack of data. While many of the potential benefits of CBD oil have been observed in animals, a limited number of studies have been performed with humans. There is also a lack of data regarding how CBD may affect children or long-term users after several decades.
  • Toxicology. Although research shows CBD has a relatively low toxicity, not all potential interactions have been studied. Further research may be warranted on CBD’s effect on hormones, the immune system, and embryonic development.
  • Lack of regulation. Due to uncertainties about marijuana legality, there is limited FDA regulation surrounding CBD oil. Lack of regulation means CBD products may vary widely in quality, labeling, purity, and reliability.
  • Interactions with other pharmaceuticals. Studies suggest that CBD oil may interact adversely with certain drugs. CBD and other cannabinoids can inhibit the liver enzyme P450, which metabolizes many medications. At certain doses, CBD could impact the metabolization of pharmaceuticals like anti-epileptics, steroids, and antihistamines.
  • Overdosing. As with other cannabinoids, there have been no reported fatal overdose levels of CBD oil. Studies show that patients can tolerate quite high doses of cannabidiol. That said, high doses of CBD may increase severity of side effects such as drowsiness and nausea, and an excessive dose of CBD oil may be less effective than a moderate amount.

Side Effects

Some mild to moderate side effects have been observed in humans taking CBD oil. Reported side effects include:

  • Changes in weight and appetite. Like other cannabinoids, CBD oil may induce feelings of hunger. An increased appetite can lead to a change in eating patterns, which in turn can result in weight gain.
  • Tiredness. A natural sleep remedy, CBD oil may incite feelings of drowsiness. Feelings of tiredness could last for two to six hours, depending on the method of consumption.
  • Dizziness. CBD oil may cause a minor drop in blood pressure, resulting in an initial feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Diarrhea. Diarrhea has been reported as a side effect accompanying high levels of CBD oil. To avoid diarrhea, users are advised to lower their dosage.
  • Dry mouth. As with other cannabinoids, CBD oil may interfere with saliva production and cause dry mouth or “cottonmouth”. This condition may lead to feelings of thirst and mild discomfort.

How to take CBD Oil

Amid the CBD oil industry boom, an ever-expanding variety of cannabidiol products are joining the marketplace. Different CBD oil products can be taken in a variety of different ways, including topical application, oral ingestion, sublingual administration, and inhalation. The best method for taking CBD oil may depend on your unique health goals and personal preferences.

Learn more about the four main methods of taking CBD oil below.

Topical Applications

CBD oil topical products may include lotions, ointments, salves, balms, patches and bath and body care products.

These types of products are rubbed in to the skin so they interact only with the uppermost layer of cells without entering the bloodstream. Topical CBD products are primarily designed to provide relief from pain, stiffness, and inflammation. By massaging CBD products onto sore muscles, joints, and damaged skin, you can focus the CBD oil effects on target areas instead of distributing the cannabinoids throughout your body via your bloodstream.

Oral Ingestion

Oral ingestion is currently the most popular method for taking cannabidiol. There is currently a huge market for CBD oil edibles, ranging from candy to baked goods to drinks. You can also find CBD oil capsules and high-concentrate tinctures. CBD oil tinctures can be consumed directly by dropping the dose into your mouth or mixing them into foods and beverages.

Whether you eat a CBD-infused cake pop or CBD capsule, the effect is largely similarly. When you take CBD oil orally, it passes through your digestive system and metabolizes in your liver before entering your bloodstream — just as a vitamin or supplement would. Compared to other methods, taking CBD oil orally may take longer to kick in and last for an extended period of time. Oral ingestion of CBD oil is recommended for those seeking relief from anxiety, stress, and insomnia, and for those hoping to promote restful sleep.


Sublingual Administration

In addition to being taken orally, CBD tinctures can be taken sublingually. Instead of mixing the oil into food or dropping it into your mouth, you can take a CBD tincture sublingually by dropping the oil beneath your tongue.

Administering CBD oil sublingually is a quicker way to activate its effects. When taken sublingually, CBD oil is absorbed through the blood vessels beneath the tongue, bypassing the digestive system and transferring directly to the bloodstream. While oral ingestion of CBD oil can take up to 30 minutes to two hours to take full effect, sublingual administration of CBD oil can provide relief in as little as five to 20 minutes. Sublingual CBD may be ideal for pain, migraines, and acute stress.

Vaporized Consumption

The final option for taking cannabidiol, vaporized consumption, involves CBD vape oils. With vaporized consumption, you typically use a vape pen or vaporizer device to inhale CBD vape oil directly into your lungs. Vaping CBD oil helps the body absorb higher amounts of CBD at a faster rate.

When you vape CBD oil, you send the cannabidiol directly to your lungs where it is distributed through your bloodstream. This fast-absorbing , potent method is often preferred by those experiencing panic attacks or in need of powerful, instant pain relief.


CBD oils are available in health food stores, pet shops, and online for delivery to destinations across the U.S. — even states where recreational and medical marijuana use is prohibited. However, the laws surrounding CBD usage in the U.S. can be incredibly confusing and legality in certain states is still murky.

On a federal level, CBD legality was established in the 2014 Farm Bill. Signed into law by former president Barack Obama, the federal bill permits the cultivation of “industrial hemp” for academic research purposes under authorized pilot programs or under state law “in which such institution of higher education or state department of agriculture is located and such research occurs”. Industrial hemp is defined as a part of the cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC. Effectively, the bill legalized CBD oil derived from industrial hemp on a national scale. Note that CBD oil derived from marijuana plants is still illegal under federal law.

On a local level, however, laws surrounding hemp – and marijuana-based CBD oil – may vary from state to state. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently 10 states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana THC and CBD use. Meanwhile, a total of 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, have legalized marijuana and cannabis for public medical use. Beyond those states, there are 15 states that restrict access to CBD products derived from industrial hemp with less than 0.3 THC. Currently, there are four states where lack of legal concessions regarding CBD and low-THC products make legality unclear: Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Refer to the infographic below to learn more about CBD and marijuana laws in your specific state.



Touted for a variety of health benefits, CBD is flooding the marketplace in the form of topicals, edibles, tinctures, and vape oils. If you’re considering purchasing CBD oil, it’s important to consider your health goals to determine the best form of CBD oil for you. For those seeking to promote restful sleep or relieve insomnia, consuming cannabidiol edibles or mixing tinctures into food or beverages is recommended. For more information on cannabinoids and sleep, check out the resources below.
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