Glossary
Ever think "Forreal... What are you guys talking about?" Well, here's your chance!

There's no question that CBD is the buzzy wellness product of the moment. If you live in a state where it's currently legal, you might feel like CBD has gone from being sort of around to absolutely everywhere all at once. Coffee shops sell CBD lattes, spas offer CBD facials, beauty companies are rushing to release lotions with CBD or hemp oils in their formulas. And everyone from your anxious coworker to your arthritis-suffering dad wants to get their hands on some CBD gummies.

But even though it's infiltrating pretty much every corner of the wellness world (hi, vegan CBD brownies!) many people still find CBD a little confusing—especially when it comes to figuring out the right way to use it and how to make sure the stuff you're buying is, you know, actually legit. Below, we asked experts to answer the most pressing questions about CBD! 

OK, first things first. What is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the cannabis plant. It's a naturally occurring substance that's used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. Unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it's not psychoactive.

So you're saying CBD won't get me high?

Nope. The cannabis plant is made up of two main players: CBD and THC. "CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant, so what that means is you won't have any effects like euphoria," says Junella Chin, DO, an osteopathic physician and a medical cannabis expert for cannabisMD. "You won't feel sedated or altered in any way."

There are two possible exceptions to this. The first is that some people, for unknown reasons, just react differently to CBD. According to Dr. Chin, about 5% of people say they feel altered after taking CBD. "Usually they're the same people who have side effects from Advil or Tylenol," she says. You never know how your body will react to any new supplement, so when taking CBD for the first time, do so safely under supervision.

It's also crucial to buy third-party-tested CBD for quality assurance (more on this later). Because the FDA doesn't regulate CBD, it is possible to buy a product that is more or less potent than advertised, or even contains small amounts of THC.

Where does hemp come in to all this?

You've probably heard the terms cannabis, marijuana, and hemp all tossed around in relation to CBD. The plant Cannabis sativa has two primary species, hemp and marijuana. Both contain CBD, but there's a much higher percentage in hemp, which also has very low (less than 0.3%) levels of THC compared to marijuana.

When people talk about hemp oil, they're referring to oil extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant. There are no cannabinoids—CBD or THC—in hemp oil. This ingredient is packed with healthy fats and often appears in beauty products for its moisturizing benefits.

What are the health benefits of CBD?

The only CBD medication that is currently FDA-approved is Epidiolex, which the agency approved last year for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. But many people swear CBD has helped with a slew of other health conditions, including back pain, osteoarthritis, even cancer.

"My practice has patients walking in every day asking about CBD," says Houman Danesh, MD, director of integrative pain management for the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But while there's lots of anecdotal evidence, he says, "it's still very difficult to say" what the real benefits are due to a serious lack of research.

"Right now, you just have pharmacies trying to make some sort of sense out of it and say, 'Yes, it works for this,'" he says, "but that's not the way medicine is practiced—it should be based on evidence, and there's not a lot of evidence to really support these claims."

Still, is CBD worth trying for pain management?

There are two main types of pain, Dr. Danesh says: musculoskeletal and nerve. "There could be benefit for both conditions," he says.

The tricky part is that there's some evidence suggesting CBD works best for pain when combined with a little THC, says Dr. Danesh. "Depending on what type of pain you have, you might be able to do just CBD, but sometimes you need CBD and THC." This makes accessing a product that will actually help you more difficult due to different regulations in each state. In New York, where Dr. Danesh practices, for example, CBD is available over the counter. But as soon as you add THC, you need a prescription.

Figuring out how much you should take is challenging as well; the dosage that alleviates one patient's pain might do very little for someone else. "And until we can study it, it's the wild west," Dr. Danesh says.

The takeaway? "I think CBD is a safe thing to try," says Dr. Danesh. But he urges patients to push for more research by putting pressure on representatives to get national bills passed that allow scientists to look closer at CBD and the conditions that respond to it.

What about my anxiety—can CBD help with that?

CBD might be worth trying to manage symptoms of anxiety. "[CBD] tells your body to calm down and reminds you that you're safe," Dr. Chin says. "It mellows out the nervous system so you're not in a heightened 'fight or flight' response," she says, so people with anxiety may find it helps them feel more relaxed.

Still, one of the biggest misconceptions about CBD is that it's a wonder drug. "A lot of times people think CBD is a cure-all, and it's not," Dr. Chin says. "You should also have a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and good nutrition—CBD is not going to fix everything."

I've heard of edibles, tinctures, vape pens... What's the best way to take CBD?

It really depends on what your goal is and why you're taking CBD in the first place.

Some people don't want to ingest anything and therefore prefer a topical CBD cream or ointment. "You can apply it to muscles, joints, and ligaments and still get a nice, localized release," Dr. Chin says.

The biggest differences between tinctures, edibles, and vape pens are speed of delivery and how long the effects last. Vape relief is faster but wears off faster too—usually in about two hours, says Dr. Chin. "Say you wake up in the morning and pulled your back out, you might want to take CBD through a vape pen, which delivers in 10 minutes."

Tinctures and edibles take longer to work but last four or five hours. "A tincture looks like a little liquid that you put under your tongue, and you feel relief within half an hour," Dr. Chin says. "If you prefer to taste something, you choose an edible, whether it's a capsule, gummy, or baked good."

What should I look for when shopping for CBD products?

Here are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping with us, or others: 

  • What does the label look like? We don't mean the color or millennial font. If it's a dietary supplement, it should have a back panel with an FDA disclaimer and warning section, according to Beatty. "Ideally, it would be preferable to have access to their third-party lab testing results too."
  • Speaking of which: Has it been third-party tested? Nearly every expert Health spoke to agreed that your CBD products should be tested by a third party to confirm the label's accuracy. This is a real concern in the industry—take the 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association study, for example, which tested 84 CBD products and found that 26% contained lower doses than stated on the bottle. Look for a quality assurance stamp or certificate of analysis from a third party (aka not the actual brand) or check the retailer's website if you don't see it on the product's label.
  • What's the dosing? This is a confusing one for many people. "A lot of brands don't do a good job of clearly instructing their consumer on the dosing," says Chris Roth, CEO and co-founder of Highline Wellness. When thinking about dosing, also consider whether your CBD is full-spectrum or isolate: Full-spectrum could include other cannabinoids like cannabidivarin or cannabigerol (this is important, since "there's something called the 'entourage effect' when all together, they're more effective than any one of them alone," Roth explains), while isolate is 100% CBD. "Some people might only need 10 milligrams of full-spectrum CBD, but with isolate, even taking 80 or 100 milligrams might not have the same effect," he says.
  • Does it claim to cure any diseases? If so, hard pass. "You should avoid any company that makes disease claims," says Beatty. "If so, it means they're either willing to break the rules or they're not aware of the rules."
  • Is there a batch number? You know how you check your raw chicken or bagged lettuce every time there's a recall to make sure the one you bought isn't going to make you sick? You should be able to do that with CBD products too. "This is a huge indicator as to whether they are following good manufacturing practices," says Beatty. "There should be a way to identify this product in case it was improperly made so the company can carry out a recall."
  • Are there additional ingredients in there? As with any supplement, you want to know everything you're ingesting in addition to the main event. For example, "sometimes I notice that [CBD manufacturers] will add melatonin," says Dr. Chin.
  • Are you buying it IRL? You can find CBD products in shopping malls, convenience stores, even coffee shops in many states right now. But when in doubt, natural grocers are a safe brick-and-mortar place to buy CBD, Beatty says. "Typically they have a vetting process that does some of the legwork for you."

That all sounds good, but is it legal?

First, a little background. Industrial hemp was legal in the United States until Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. ("Some of our early presidents grew hemp," notes Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, a cannabis industry attorney based in Oklahoma.) Nearly 80 years later, the 2014 Farm Bill took the position that states can regulate the production of hemp and, as a result, CBD. Then last year, President Trump signed a new Farm Bill that made it federally legal to grow hemp.

This means that "consumers everywhere, if they're compliant with their state, can grow hemp and use hemp products," Parrish explains, "and among those will be CBD."

In other words, the latest bill removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA's, purview. "Hemp can now be grown freely under federal law, which, of course, is huge," Parrish says. "But while it's legal under federal law, it's up to each state to set their own policy."

These policies vary widely. Marijuana and CBD are currently fully legal for both medicinal and recreational purposes in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C. In 23 states, it's legal in some form, such as for medicinal purposes. Another 14 states permit just CBD oil. But both are illegal in Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota. For more information, the organization Americans for Safe Access has a helpful guide to the specific laws in each state.

"It's kind of ironic," says Parrish. "With marijuana, we have got the federal government saying 'No' and a bunch of states saying 'Yeah, it's OK'—but with hemp, the feds say 'Yeah, it's OK,' but we still have some states saying it's not."

Can you travel with CBD?

That same 2018 Farm Bill means you can now travel between states with legit CBD products. "Flying with CBD should pose no issues now," Parrish says. However, if you're traveling with a tincture, be mindful of TSA limits on how much liquid you can carry on an airplane, she adds. (You can also mail CBD products, just like "companies that comply with the Bill can ship their hemp-derived CBD products anywhere in the U.S.," Parrish notes.)

Will CBD show up on a drug test?

It should not, as long as you're buying third-party tested CBD with no added THC, says Dr. Chin. But she does point out that athletes, who often are required to take drug tests that are more sensitive, "could potentially test positive" for trace amounts of THC if they've been using CBD products.

Can I give it to my dog?

Tempted to give your pup one of those CBD dog biscuits? "Generally we expect CBD products to be safe, and they could show some benefit for anxiety in pets," says John Faught, DVM, a veterinarian based in Austin, Texas. But the challenge when considering CBD products for pets is the same as with people: lack of research. "I believe there are good products out there today, but I also don't know how to distinguish them at this time," Faught says.

Activated: Referring to a product that has undergone decarboxylation or the heating of cannabinoids to transform them from their naturally occurring acid form to an 'activated' non-acid form.

Bioavailability: The bioavailability generally refers to the effectiveness of a specific ingestion method. Specifically, this is measured as how quickly and what percentage of a product which is absorbed into the bloodstream for use by the body.

Blended Spectrum: This term refers to the cannabinoid profile of a CBD product containing both raw, non-activated cannabinoids as well as activated cannabinoids.

Broad Spectrum: This term refers to the cannabinoid profile of a CBD product. Broad spectrum includes a full-spectrum range of cannabinoids with a single exception: THC.

Cannabidiol (CBD): CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. This phytocannabinoid is one of the most abundant in the plant and is generally most abundant in hemp. The wide range of potential therapeutic uses has created a high demand for products containing CBD-rich hemp oil.

Cannabinoid: A class of diverse chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. These cannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body and brain in a system called the endocannabinoid system. They alter neurotransmitter release.

Cannabinoid Profile / Cannabinoid Spectrum: Referring to the types and amounts of various cannabinoids found in a cannabis extract.

Cannabis: Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family. The plant is commonly classified by species (sativa or indica) or by classification (marijuana or hemp). 

Cannabinoid Receptors: Cannabinoid receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system.  These receptors are found in two types (CB1 & CB2) throughout the brain and body.

Cannabinoid Receptor Type 1 (CB1): CB1 is a g protein coupled receptor found throughout the body. These receptors are primarily concentrated in the spine and brain.

Cannabinoid Receptor Type 2 (CB2): CB1 is also a g protein coupled receptor found throughout the body. These receptors are primarily found in the peripheral nervous system.

CBD Extract: This is a thick, oily substance extracted from hemp. This extract contains cannabinoids, terpenoids, and other plant materials. A CBD extract will be high in CBD and low in other cannabinoids like THC. The levels of each of these components are influenced by the hemp source, extraction method, and further processing methods. These extracts may be sold alone or used as an active ingredient in CBD products.

CBD Isolate: An isolate is a crystalline powder form of the single CBD molecule created by further processing an extract to remove other cannabinoids, terpenoids, and plant materials. These isolates may be sold alone or used as an active ingredient in CBD products.

CBD Oil: A term commonly used to generally describe CBD products, often tinctures. The term can also be used to describe a standalone extract, or extract contained within a wide range of product types.

Concentrate: A concentrated form of cannabis extract often known by another name like wax, shatter, or extract. Often used for dabbing.

Dabbing: Vaporizing a concentrated form of a cannabis extract by placing it against an extremely hot surface and inhaling the vapors produced. See our guide for more info.

Decarboxylation: The process where naturally occurring acid-form cannabinoids are heated to remove a carboxyl group. This process is as simple as smoking marijuana or heating cannabis in the oven. Temperatures of 200+ degrees Fahrenheit must be used. This form of 'decarbing' or 'activating' is used in marijuana and hemp in order to activate the cannabinoids so they may freely bind to the cannabinoid receptors in your body and brain.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC): Commonly shortened to THC, this cannabinoid is the famous high-producing substance in marijuana. In addition to producing a euphoric high, this compound also has been shown via research to carry numerous potential health benefits.

e-Liquid / e-Juice / Vape Juice: These liquids are used in vaporizers. They are vaporized via heating to 200+ degrees Fahrenheit and inhaled.

Endocannabinoid System (ECS): The ECS is a biological system which serves a variety of physiological functions including emotions, pain, memory, and appetite. Endo stands for endogenous or originating within the body.

Entourage Effect: This effect is the added, synergistic effects and benefits provided by ingesting a whole-plant spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenoids.

Extract: An extract, most often from hemp, is an oily substance derived from cannabis which includes plant materials, waxes, fatty acids, cannabinoids, and terpenoids. This extract can be consumed directly or used as a base ingredient to create other types of products.

Extraction: The process by which one of several available extraction methods are used to create a phytocannabinoid-rich oil extract from the cannabis plant.

Full Spectrum: Referring to a cannabinoid spectrum containing a full range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds in relation to what is commonly found in hemp. 

Hemp: A type of cannabis bred as a fibrous material for use in a wide variety of applications. Hemp contains a low THC content. Hemp is often grown outdoors and is able to be grown in most climates.

Hemp Oil: This is a broad term used to describe an oil created from hemp. This could mean hemp seed oil or a cannabinoid-rich extract. As a consumer, you should ensure you understand the difference to understand what is in the product you are purchasing.

Hemp Seed Oil: This is an oil extracted from the seeds of a hemp plant using a cold expeller-pressed method. This oil does not contain cannabinoids and instead is a highly nutritious food source packed with Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, amino acids, fiber and more.

Industrial Hemp: This is a classification of hemp defined by the federal government. By legal definition, a cannabis plant must contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight to qualify as industrial hemp.

Liposomes: Small spherical sacs containing hemp oil extract used to increase the bioavailability and effectiveness of a product.

Marijuana: A type of cannabis bred for high-THC content for recreational or medical use. Marijuana is grown under precise environmental conditions, often indoors. Federally, marijuana is seen as any cannabis plant containing 0.3% THC or greater by dry weight.

Microdosing: The act of dosing small, frequent doses over a long period of time as opposed to one, large dose.

Nanoemulsion: A water-soluble emulsion of hemp extract oil droplets broken into particles averaging 25 nanometers in diameter. This process increases surface area and thus is up to 5x as bioavailable as traditional oil-based products.

Non-Activated: Referring to a product that contains the raw acid-form cannabinoids. This is because the product has not undergone decarboxylation or the heating of cannabinoids to 'activate' them.

Phytocannabinoid: The formal name of naturally occurring cannabinoids. 'Phyto' as a prefix simply means 'derived from plants'.

Spectrum: A term referring to the classification of a product determined by the levels of various cannabinoids and terpenoids found in an extract or product.

Terpene: Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds produced by plants. These compounds are often associated with a specific odor. They are known to produce a wide variety of potential benefits alongside cannabinoids via the entourage effect.

Terpsolate: A type of product created by combining a CBD isolate and terpene extract.

Water Soluble CBD: A form of CBD that is water soluble made by using nanoemulsions or liposomes. This type of CBD is more bioavailable than oil-based products.

Wax: A form of CBD extract concentrate. Consumed via dabbing.