Wellness Trends

CBD Oil Explained

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

CBD, or cannabidiol, is seemingly everywhere, from food and beverages to lotions, potions and creams. You can buy CBD oil in health food stores, pharmacies or even your favorite online retailer.

But just because these products are readily available doesn’t mean they’re effective. They may not contain what they state on the label — and they could even be harmful.

“Marketing for CBD products is outpacing scientists’ ability to research the benefits and risks of CBD,” says Ashley Houghteling, a nurse practitioner at Henry Ford Health System.

While some studies suggest CBD helps treat ailments such as pain and anxiety, evidence about the appropriate dose for different uses is scant. The end result: Consumers are self-medicating with a potent substance that could have significant drawbacks.


While CBD is gaining traction in health and wellness circles, experts say it may not be ready for prime time just yet. We asked Houghteling to answer commonly asked questions about CBD oil and its parent plant.

Q: What is CBD?

A: CBD is one of more than 100 chemical compounds found in hemp and marijuana plants. Harvesters extract CBD from the flowers of the plant then dilute it with a carrier oil, such as coconut or hemp seed oil. The concentration of CBD in these oils varies considerably.

Q: How do you use it?

A: CBD can be incorporated into foods and drinks as well as capsules, sprays and oils that you ingest. It can also be made into a thick paste to massage into the skin. Since oral CBD isn’t well absorbed, many practitioners recommend inhaling CBD or using it topically.

Q: Can CBD oil get you “high”?

A: CBD is often touted as being free of the mind-altering effects of marijuana, but it turns out that’s not always the case. According to a recent study, about 1 in 5 CBD products tested contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. How can that happen? The problem is that CBD can be made from either hemp or marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana are part of the Cannabis sativa plant species. These two plants are similar, but the CBD from hemp is very low in THC while the CBD from marijuana has varying levels of THC. That’s a problem since THC can actually worsen both seizures and anxiety.

Q: What are some of the health claims linked with CBD?

A: In addition to epilepsy, preliminary studies suggest CBD may affect mood disorders ranging from schizophrenia to anxiety. Other studies suggest CBD may help relieve pain and fight cancer. Still other studies — and companies — report that CBD may play a role in controlling type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and acne. Some of these studies were done in animals, some in humans. But none used unregulated CBD purchased over the counter or through an online retailer, which is how most people are getting it.

Q: Which conditions is CBD actually approved for?

A: After reviewing data on the safety and effectiveness of CBD for various indications, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the prescription use of purified CBD for only one condition: epilepsy. In Canada, CBD is approved to control muscle spasticity for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Q: What are some of the side effects of CBD?

A: Though proponents will say CBD is safe and has few side effects, there’s no standardized dose and toxicity is a real concern. Adverse reactions may include diarrhea, fatigue or even liver damage. Plus, CBD interacts with many medications, including those used to control chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression.

A: Is there anyone who should absolutely avoid CBD oil?

A: Absolutely – people who are pregnant or nursing should not use CBD. THC can pass through breast milk and also cross the placenta. Since CBD interacts with a laundry list of medications, people who are taking prescription drugs should also avoid using CBD.

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Navigating the Wild West

While some small studies suggest CBD may offer health perks ranging from reduced pain to improved mood, others show no effect. Plus, some experts believe using CBD without a doctor’s guidance is downright dangerous.

“Perhaps the most concerning aspect of CBD is there’s no oversight agency,” says Houghteling. This allows manufacturers to sell products that may or may not contain what appears on the label.

In a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly 43 percent of CBD products contained too little CBD while 26 percent had too much of the substance. In both cases, the consumer is being duped about what’s in the product.

The FDA has recently begun cracking down on these companies, issuing warning letters to those who market unapproved drugs reportedly containing CBD. As part of that process, they tested the chemical content of CBD in various products and discovered many do not contain the amount of CBD stated on the label.

The bottom line? Until there is more research — and more oversight for CBD products — it’s wise to steer clear of them, unless you’re taking CBD with a doctor’s guidance or for an approved condition like epilepsy.

To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Ashley Houghteling is a nurse practitioner in internal medicine and functional medicine. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Novi.