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The ABCs of CBDs: Marijuana Products for Your Health

CBD products vary widely in quality and safety

By Jess Madison

Cannabidiol, or CBD (a compound from cannabis; marijuana is a species of cannabis), is increasingly being marketed to aging Americans as a wonder-drug for everything from cancer care to joint pain, and research shows those marketing campaigns are working.

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Older Americans are now the fastest growing population of new cannabis users. But not all CBD products are created equal, and not all will be effective for those seeking therapeutic relief. As the commercial market continues to expand, it's important  to understand what you'd be getting if you buy a product labeled CBD.

"There's been a lot of excitement, but not much education regarding CBD," says Martin Lee, director of Project CBD, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting and publicizing research into the medical uses of cannabidiol and other components of the cannabis plant.

CBD is now legal, in some variation, in 47 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. Other types of CBD are available in 30 states as well, and CBD products do not require a medical prescription.

But some cannabis professionals, such as Lonnie Painter, head of the Laguna Woods Medical Cannabis Collective in Laguna Woods, Calif., are concerned about the potentially negative health and financial impacts that access to cannabis could have on Americans looking for a quick fix to their aging ailments.

I recently spoke with Painter and Lee to get their recommendations for ensuring smart, safe and cost-effective experimentation with CBD and other  marijuana products for health purposes.

What Is CBD?

CBD, one of the many cannabinoid chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, has become popular in recent years both for what it does, and what it doesn't.

On one hand, it's generally accepted that CBD can provide therapeutic healing for physical and mental ailments (although many of the details still need to be sorted out).


On the other hand, unlike its more recreational brother tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, it has no psychoactive effects.

Because of its popularity, CBD is now available in a variety of forms, from tinctures and rubs to capsules and lotions — and it's popping up everywhere, from local dispensaries to gas stations. Here are some important points that could save you money, time and potential health complications if you decide to try CBD:

  • CBD seems to work better with THC. While many know that non-psychoactive CBD holds medical potential, many don’t realize that experts say CBD tends to work better when combined with THC. This is one reason checking labels — and knowing your own body — is so important when experimenting with CBD. If you’ve used cannabis in the past, you may already feel comfortable taking products that include the psychoactive elements in THC, if it is legal where you live. If not, you may want to start slowly to ensure your body has a positive reaction. (I’ve personally felt a positive impact with dose ratios of CBD:THC as low as 30:1.)
  • There could be drug interactions. CBD can cause pharmaceuticals to metabolize slowly, meaning they’ll stay in your system for longer periods of time. In the case of some drugs, that could be positive. For instance, it means you’ll need a smaller dose of opiates to experience the same effect. The same is true for chemotherapy drugs; CBD could allow the patient to take use a lower amount of toxic chemicals for treatment. Talk to your doctor about your cannabis usage before putting any products in your body to avoid an adverse effect.
  • Read the label. “As with anything, you need to be a conscious consumer,” Lee says. Cannabis is highly absorbent and will hold on to any toxins it has been exposed to during growing and extraction. That’s why it’s essential that you check the labels of commercial products to ensure your product has been lab-tested and proven free of mold, bacteria, pesticides, solvents and other contaminating chemicals that could make your medical condition worse. As noted by Lee, buying CBD from licensed dispensaries is generally safest because they must adhere to certain quality standards to stay in business.
  • CBD cannot be extracted from hemp seed or stalk. It’s not possible to extract CBD from hemp stalk because it does not exist in that part of the plant. Other companies are claiming to extract CBD from the hemp seed, which also contains no CBD at all. Be wary of all CBD products entering the market, and do not buy products that claim to be made with stalk or seed.
  • Understand your “bud tender” is not a doctor. While medicinal marijuana has been legalized in 30 states, that doesn’t mean all dispensaries are staffed with medical personnel — far from it. As such, always do your own research to back up their guidance. If you can consult a professional cannabis clinician in your state for dosing, do it. If not, visit Project CBD or the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, both of which offer research-based information on CBD, including CBD’s impact on different ailments — mental and physical.
  • CBD is not the only option. CBD is the most talked about type of marijuana for health purposes right now, but it isn’t right for everyone. The cannabis plant has a full spectrum of other active compounds, including CBC, CBN, THCa and CBDa. Understand that CBD is not your only medical option. Some cannabis compounds, including THC, may be even more effective for you, depending on your body chemistry.
  • Be patient. CBD may not improve your health the first time you try it — or ever. Says Painter: “I’ve worked with my clients to research which product, taken what way, for how long, will be most effective for them. It can take months to find what works for your body.”

Trying CBD Is a Journey

CBD can be a powerful healing option for many, but staying informed is an important part of the CBD journey. Products available within your state may vary widely from those in states like California and Colorado, where marijuana is legal in all forms. And as with any drug, it will impact different people in different ways.

"People are complex," Lee says. "You need to understand CBD is not a miracle cure for everyone. It may do the trick or it may not be worth buying. The good news is that it's safe to experiment and find out."

Bottom line: There is a lot of hype surrounding CBD right now. As with any product, it's important to do your research. Ask the right questions. CBD is generally safe and can be powerful. But in this "Wild West" of marijuana legalization, it's important for all users to be safe and knowledgeable about their CBD purchases.

Jess Madison is a contributing writer on aging, technology, mental health and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Changing Aging, The Mighty and Next Avenue. She is passionate about impact investing and the greater concept of "equitable equity" — spreading wealth to all levels of our society. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund. Read More
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