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CBD products are everywhere. But do they work?

By now, you’ve probably run into a product containing cannabidiol, also known as CBD. It’s in everything from drinks and pet products to lotions and chewable gummies. Even major drugstore chains have announced they will start carrying CBD products in certain states.

But many people still don’t really know what CBD is. Is it marijuana? Is it legal? Does it actually work? Is it safe?

The answers to those questions aren’t necessarily straight­forward. The only thing that is clear at this point: The marketing has gone way ahead of the science and the law when it comes to CBD products.

That said, CBD is thought to be a safe and effective option for certain conditions. Below, we sort through the confusion by answering some of the most common questions about CBD.

Is CBD marijuana?

Yes and no. Cannabidiol is one of the two best-known active compounds derived from the marijuana plant. The other is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the substance that that produces the “high” from marijuana.

CBD does not get you high, but the idea that it’s not psychoactive is something of a misconception in his opinion. It does change your consciousness. You may feel mellow, experience less pain, and be more comfortable. In addition, some CBD products do contain small amounts of THC.

While CBD can come from marijuana, it can also be derived from hemp. Hemp is a related plant with 0.3% or less of THC. This plant is often used to make fabrics and ropes. As of 2018, Congress made hemp legal in all 50 states, and consequently CBD derived from hemp is also legal. The rules around marijuana-derived CBD, however, are far less clear.

Is marijuana-derived CBD legal?

Again, yes and no, depending on where you live. In some states marijuana is legal for both recreational use and medical use. In other states, it’s legal only for medical use. And in some areas, it’s not legal at all.

When it comes to CBD products, the FDA is still trying to get its arms around the issue. The agency is just starting the process of hashing out some rules regarding CBD sales. Officials recently formed a working group to create guidelines that could allow companies to legally market CBD products. Currently, CBD products are considered supplements, which aren’t FDA-regulated, and it is illegal for companies to make health or therapeutic claims about the products in their marketing. In announcing its effort to set CBD marketing rules, the FDA also signaled that it is cracking down on CBD companies that are using “egregious and unfounded claims” to market their products to “vulnerable populations.”

Currently, there is only one CBD product that has FDA approval: a prescription medication called Epidiolex, used to treat some rare severe seizure disorders in children. The bottom line is that in order to understand whether CBD is legal where you live, you’ll need to consult your state health department website or professionals in your community.

Does CBD work?

Yes, there is evidence that CBD works for some conditions, but certainly not all the conditions it is being promoted for these days. There’s no evidence, for example, that CBD cures cancer. There is moderate evidence that CBD can improve sleep disorders, fibromyalgia pain, muscle spasticity related to multiple sclerosis, and anxiety.

People report that oral CBD helps relieve anxiety and pain and also leads to better sleep. However, the same may not be true for a host of other CBD products on the market today, in particular those that are rubbed on the skin. It’s hard to know whether these have any clinical benefit, because they haven’t been tested sufficiently.

Testing also shows that many products don’t contain what’s claimed on the label. For example, they may have less CBD than advertised. So, buyer beware.

Where should you purchase CBD products?

If you are interested in trying a CBD product, it’s best to seek one through a dispensary, which is an establishment legally licensed to sell marijuana, if they are available in your state. Dispensary products must be labeled so you can see exactly how much CBD is in the product and whether it also contains THC. A small amount of THC in a CBD product isn’t typically problematic. But larger amounts could cause a “high” and may present a risk if you are going to drive.

Also, keep in mind that CBD products aren’t standardized and will vary. It helps to keep a journal recording what type of CBD product you took, how much, and your response to it. This will help you track what works and what doesn’t for your condition.

Is CBD safe?

The safest way to take CBD is orally, as a tablet, chewable, or tincture (a concentrated liquid typically administered with a dropper). Steer clear of any illegally sold synthetic CBD products, sometimes called “spice” or “bath salts.” These products have induced psychotic reactions in some people and pose a major health risk.

For adults, CBD appears to be a very safe product. CBD does produce side effects for some people, including nausea, fatigue, and irritability. It may also interact with certain medications, so always check with your doctor before use.

But for children under age 21 it’s a different story. It’s also not clear if any amount of CBD is appropriate for children.

Evidence regarding CBD is still building. Now that some states have legalized recreational and medical use of marijuana products, including CBD, scientists are finding it easier to conduct research. More will be known in the next 5 to 10 years, including whether there are yet undiscovered problems associated with long-term use.

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Cannabis for the Non-Stoner: 11 of the Best CBD Products to Try Right Now

I used to pop Aleve as if they were Tic Tacs. Three at a time, four at a time—whatever would get the job done. And if that meant taking 15 gel caps a day so be it. Liver be damned.

You see, I experienced my first “episode” at 31. I was standing over the sink one fall morning and sneezed. Hard. Before I knew it, my lower back gave way. Then a tremendous pain engulfed my body. And get this: The episodes recurred whenever they felt like it—peskier than a hungry mosquito. Twice a year if I was lucky, more if I wasn’t. (Once, in Paris, I actually had to purchase a cane. The only consolation to that otherwise crippling experience was that it felt comically chic: I was hobbling in The City of Light, clad in Hermès scarves.)

Aurora Elixirs is marketed as a mixer for cocktail creation. It is, however, a very good drink that . [+] can stand alone.

But during a trip to Las Vegas in 2017, I discovered CBD—the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in Cannabis Sativa and hemp. I’d heard about it but I was skeptical. Could pain that had once rendered me dependent on a cane be helped by a single gumdrop? It sounded like one for the birds. I was never a big pot smoker growing up, nor have I ever been one to follow health fads. (I drink matcha because I like it—not because I think it will add years to my life.) But when I started reading more about CBD’s benefits it all made sense to me. The enthusiastic pro-CBD proclamations from friends didn’t hurt either. Plus, the prospect of natural pain relief was enormously appealing.

“CBD is extremely anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. A normal person may use it to prevent conditions such as arthritis or even topically to prevent acne breakouts,” Dr. Shivani Amin, a physician and cannabis expert who is a member of the AMMPA (American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association), says. “I think CBD shows great promise for the future. It all boils down to educating the public about the correct usage and understanding the plant better.”

Plus Products make a variety of CBD, THC, and CBD:THC candies—all of which are packaged in nifty . [+] little tins that’ll fit anywhere.

But be wary of the products you buy and do your research. Some cannabis products work while many don’t, mainly due to lack of regulatory testing from the powers that be and quality control within companies, which is apparently common in the cannabis industry. Your best bet to avoid buying bogus products is to purchase your goods in states where cannabis is legal—because certain systems, standards, and protocols have already been put in place (such as seed-to-sale tracking).

So I went on a months-long mission to try various CBD edibles, tinctures, balms, and vapes. What I soon discovered was that cannabidiol is no lightning bolt cure. Think of it as taking maintenance meds: You have to consume it regularly—in a dose and delivery method that works for you—to notice the progressive increase of benefits. It also doesn’t leave you completely devoid of the misery of pain. Instead, CBD helps make pain infinitely more tolerable—downgrading it from ER-worthy agony to manageable discomfort.

And dosing is crucial.

“The most common symptoms I treat with CBD are inflammatory conditions and it is also often used for pain,” Dr. Amin says. “Dosing is patient dependent. I always start low and go slowly. I have found that 15mg of CBD is a good starting dose for most patients. You have to be careful after that and titrate each patient individually due to the chance of potentially increasing anxiety and depressive symptoms. I have found the most convenient way for most of my patients to consume CBD is through tincture form. But capsules and edibles are also great ways to consume CBD on a daily basis.”

San Francisco-based Pot d’Huile is beloved by pro-cannabis chefs and home cooks because of its . [+] uncompromising flavor. The company even hosts pop-up dinner collaborations with chefs.

Another thing I learned: CBD becomes more effective when taken in conjunction with a low dose of THC (tetradhydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis). For those who worry about getting high, fear not. I was initially concerned about the possibility of diminished faculties. After all, many single-serving THC edibles start at 10mg—but it’s good to note that most people won’t need even half as much. So you can do as I do and cut THC chocolate squares or gummies as you see fit—and then “pair” them with a CBD edible or tincture. I’ve also started to microdose edibles that contain both CBD and THC. (I quarter or halve a Dixie Synergy Milk Chocolate 1:1 depending on how I feel.)

“Skepticism comes from lack of understanding. I have treated many patients with chronic conditions with full spectrum CBD and attained great results,” Dr. Amin says. “I also believe the public needs to understand that CBD works in conjunction with THC. Usually this requires at least 3–5% THC to work for serious forms of pain and more chronic medical conditions. I have patients come in with chronic and severe pain expecting to have their pain alleviated with just CBD. Although CBD works well for pain, in many situations patients with severe pain need to have some THC. [The cannabinoids ] work synergistically to help ease severe pain.”

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Recess, a flavored sparkling water drink with hemp extract and adaptogens, has been popular among . [+] millennials. But the verdict is out on whether it’s effective or not.

These days I’m a believer. It’s difficult to ignore the fact that Epidiolex—the CBD-based epilepsy medication—was approved by the F.D.A last year. Or that athletes are abandoning NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen) for greener alternatives. Then there are Alfie Dingley and Billie Caldwell in the UK: Their cases involving rare forms of epilepsy have prompted UK home secretary Sajid Javid to say that specialists will soon be able to prescribe cannabis-based medication. Beyond that, nearly 7% of Americans are already using CBD—and given the population, that’s a staggering number.

Me? I haven’t taken an Aleve in more than a year. And no episodes either. Not after a particularly grim run or even a grueling Krav Maga session. Not even during a week-long fitness retreat. So here are a few of CBD favorites that have helped me deal with pain and soreness—plus a few THC–CBD combo products for those who are so inclined.

Kiva Confections’ Terra Bites come in two flavors: chocolate-covered coffee beans and . [+] chocolate-covered blueberries. It’s great when paired with a CBD-only edible.

I’m a sucker for packaging. And so I was immediately drawn to Lord Jones’ gumdrops, which are infused with broad spectrum CBD (not to be confused with full spectrum and isolate). It’s mighty convenient for frequent travelers like me who may want to take CBD while out and about: Just drop the (chichi) box in your purse—as opposed to worrying about leakage from a bottle of tincture. It also helps that they’re delicious—a little overly sweet but that’s hardly a crime. The downside? It’s pricey. Purchased online a nine-gumdrop box will set you back $45. In a shop like Clover Grocery in New York, it costs $50.

The New York Times may have called cannabis brand, Beboe, the Hermès of cannabis. But Lord Jones’ . [+] packaging is actually reminiscent of an Hermès box.

For home cooks like me, I recommend CBD extra virgin olive oil because of its versatility. You can drizzle it on everything from salads to pizza and even brambleberry ice cream. I even make a miso-honey glaze while using a little bit of the stuff. In particular, I’m a big fan of Pot d’Huile, which was founded by San Francisco-based Yannick Crespo. It’s stellar. For one thing, it tastes exactly the way good EVOO should—with none of that “green” marijuana aftertaste. It also doesn’t remind me of Bertolli—not that there’s anything wrong with it. But you know, delicious EVOO is nothing like Bertolli. Crespo attributes Pot d’Huile’s non-compromising flavor with the ethanol extraction process that the company uses, which is slightly more expensive—in addition to using locally-sourced oil from Northern California. The flavor is so good that Pot d’Huile regularly hosts pop-up dinners with chefs who are so into it. (And if you ever find yourself in a city where they’re hosting, it’d be a shame to skip out.) But beyond all that, Pot d’Huile makes dosing easy: It’s 1mg of CBD per 1ml of olive oil. So all you’ll really need to incorporate CBD EVOO into your meals are measuring spoons. And yes, they do have THC olive oils as well—at $50 for 100ml. In the future, the company also has plans on creating a THC–CBD oil. Easy peasy.

For chefs and home cooks, Pot d’Huile extra virgin olive oil is a pantry must-have.

If you’re the kind of person who eats, drinks, and cooks with honey, then this is the CBD product for you. Put it on ricotta toast with some figs. Make a salad dressing or sauce with it. Use it to sweeten your tea. Dump spoonfuls of it on your breakfast yogurt or oatmeal—then top the whole thing off with berries. Hell, you can even eat it right out of the jar. Anything goes, really. Just make sure you’re minding your dosage.

Got a sweet tooth? Into CBD? Then Potli’s CBD honey is what you’re looking for.

I’m ordinarily not a chocolate or sweets person. But when it comes to edibles, this delivery method works best for me when I’m traveling and away from my kitchen. Kiva’s products are what I carry whenever work (or pleasure) takes me on extended trips. The ginger dark chocolate and espresso dark chocolate are my favorites. They’ve got just enough THC and CBD to help ward off jet lag and fatigue. I also take them when I’m extra sore from running or Krav Maga. (It really does wonders for pain and inflammation.) But it’d be a disservice if I only mentioned Kiva’s chocolates. The company also offers Camino gummies, of which the sparkling pear and wild berry, are superb. The THC-only Terra Bites chocolate-covered blueberries are a gift from the gods—they work, they fit nicely in my purse, and they’re delicious. Also: a single dose (5mg) is low enough so that when paired with a CBD-only confection, such as Lord Jones’ gumdrops, there’s not really a high. You only get a pleasant mellowness that radiates throughout your body, which is almost akin to a mild boozy buzz—in a happy and good way. (In budtender lingo, it’s called a body high.)

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Kiva Confections’ CBD:THC ginger dark chocolate is just the right amount of sweet. And no, you won’t . [+] taste the cannabis (which sometimes leaves a bitter green aftertaste) at all. The flavor is all chocolate.

I’m not big on CBD drinks. But I can appreciate that others are. And in the cannabis world, CBD and THC drinks abound: There’s CBD Living Water, Recess, Vybes, Lagunitas HiFi Hops, Somatik Cold Brew, Kikoko Tea, and more. But Aurora Elixirs is what I was drawn to. It’s marketed as a mixer for when you want to make cocktails. I, however, think it’s perfectly fine on its own. Pop it in the fridge to cool and drink it whenever you need it. No complicated recipe or garnish required.

Aurora Elixirs is one of many CBD drinks in the market. But this one is the most refreshing.

One major factor I considered when narrowing down this roundup is flavor. It comes in second to dosage—because nobody wants to consume anything that tastes remotely medicinal. Valhalla’s Tropical Twist is both tasty and dosed conveniently: Each gummy contains just enough THC and CBD to ease pain and promote recovery. And because it packs flat, it’s easy to stash and carry around. (I actually put a whole package in my laptop sleeve for accessibility when I’m on the go.)

If you’re not the kind of person who’s willing to “hack” CBD and THC edibles to pair with each . [+] other. Valhalla’s individual doses are ideal, ratio-wise.

This is what you’ll want (or need) if you’re looking for a “light” reprieve from discomfort. Or if you’re trying a THC:CBD edible for the first time—without any of the unpleasant side effects. Or if you’re taking CBD on a daily basis as maintenance. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Plus’ pineapple and coconut gummies will do you no harm. It’s a safe bet for beginners.

If you really want something that’s ultra-low dose, Plus Products’ pineapple and coconut gummies . [+] deliver less than 2mg of THC—just enough to work in conjunction with its 5mg of CBD.

If you really want something that’s ultra-low dose, these goji berries are the way to go. At 1mg THC and 2mg CBD per piece, there’s no going wrong. And it’s even more delicious than Plus Products’ pineapple and coconut gummies. Beware though: They’re beyond tasty so it’s very easy to forget that they actually contain cannabis. The organic goji berries are sourced from Tibet via Imlak’esh Organics and the chocolate complements them perfectly. I could eat three handfuls. But, of course, I won’t.

Trying a THC-CBD edible for the very first time? These goji berries are the way to go.

Cheeba Chews has a major fan base partially because of its potency and consistent dosage. (Even Andy Cohen enjoys them.) And for good reason. Each miniscule 1:1 chew contains 50mg of THC and 50mg of CBD. So consume it with caution. Here’s how: Place the taffy in the freezer for three to five minutes and cut it into tenths. That will give you a reasonable dose of approximately 5mg of THC and CBD per piece. Under no circumstance should you eat the whole chew—depending on your tolerance level, you may experience palpitations, anxiety, or a general sense of being mentally unwell. As an acquaintance put it, “You take too much and you feel like you’re losing your mind.” (Personally, I only have two teeny pieces and that’s on a bad day.) No relatively healthy person wants or needs 50mg of THC.

Cheeba Chews has a major fan base partially because of its potency and consistent dosage. And for . [+] good reason. Each miniscule 1:1 chew contains 50mg of THC and 50mg of CBD. So consume it with caution.

Mighty Health’s Balance formula is exactly what you need if you don’t care for chocolate, tinctures, olive oil, gummies, or vapes. Balance comes in capsule form. And while it contains a good dose of CBD, it’s not just a CBD pill. It’s a neutraceutical, which is technically not recognized as a separate category by the F.D.A—instead, neutraceuticals are pretty much treated like dietary supplements. This one in particular contains ashwagandha, L-Theanine, theobromine, and curcumin. I know, it sounds very Goop-y. But the most important thing is its per-capsule CBD content, which is a good dose at 10mg.

While Mighty Health’s Balance contains a good dose of CBD, it’s no ordinary a CBD capsule. It also . [+] contains ashwagandha, L-Theanine, theobromine, and curcumin.

Let’s say you’re in no mood for edibles, vapes, or capsules. Or none of the aforementioned delivery methods suit your lifestyle. Simply buy a full-spectrum CBD tincture such as the one Ojai Energetics offers. It’s unlike most tinctures, which are clear and oil based. This one is a deep moss green—extracted from whole plant—and water soluble. So you can put a dropper full into your coffee, chai, smoothie, or anything else really. And you can be sure you’ll be consuming all of it. (There won’t be any residue sticking to the sides of your glass—the way it is with many other oil-based drops.) Another plus is that it’s surprisingly sweet for something that looks like a bitter green juice made of 100% kale. I typically use two full droppers in my (home-brewed) chai and it’s helped tremendously with post-workout soreness.

Unlike most tinctures, which are clear and oil based. Ojai Energetics is a deep moss green—extracted . [+] from whole plant—and water soluble.