Seeking the truth about CBD

Local retailers may be all in, but there are still many questions about the safety and effectiveness of CBD.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

A testimony to the power of CBD is that even without rigorous clinical testing or government regulations and oversight on the burgeoning industry, consumers are still flocking to the compound derived from the cannabis plant to treat any number of ailments. If it’s a fad, it’s not going to be a fast-passing one. However, it’s clear that a lot of confusion still surrounds CBD — what is it, whether it’s legal to sell and buy it, what it can treat, and perhaps most importantly, is it safe and effective?

For Greater Madison-area businesses selling CBD, separating the myths and facts for curious consumers is a daily task. Guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be appreciated but could still be years away. In March 2019, outgoing FDA director Scott Gottlieb testified to Congress that it could take up to four years for the FDA to create a regulatory pathway for the retail sale of CBD-infused food products or health-food supplements. Meanwhile, CBD sales are booming.

An estimated one in seven U.S. adults, or 14 percent, acknowledges using CBD-infused products, according to national polling data compiled by Gallup. Use is most prevalent among those between the ages of 18 to 29. Those consuming CBD products were most likely to report using them for pain (40 percent), anxiety (20 percent), or insomnia (11 percent).

And according to the Brightfield Group, a national cannabis market research firm, the hemp-derived CBD market, which stood at nearly $600 million in 2018, could reach an astounding $22 billion by 2022.

What is CBD?

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is one of over 100 distinct cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, of which the federal government recognizes two varieties: hemp and marijuana. Like other cannabinoids, CBD is most prominently found in the resinous portions of the cannabis flower rather than in other parts of the plant, such as the stalk, seeds, or leaves.

CBD should not be confused with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is the compound in the cannabis plant that has psychoactive properties, or what gets a user “high.” CBD does not have any mood-altering properties of its own. Hemp contains high concentrations of CBD and low levels of THC, whereas marijuana plants are increasingly bred to contain high levels of THC and lower levels of CBD.

Did the 2018 Farm Bill change the legal status of CBD under federal law?

Provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill amended the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 so that hemp plants containing no more than 0.3 percent THC are no longer classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. The Act also broadens the definition of “hemp” (Section 297A) to include “any part of the plant, including … extracts [or] cannabinoids that do not possess greater than 0.3 percent THC on a dry-weight basis.” This language allows for the legalization under federal law of some CBD-specific products, presuming they are derived from dually state/federally licensed hemp producers who are in compliance with both state and federal regulations, and are marketed in such a way that does not violate the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has pledged to release guidelines and regulations for overseeing commercial hemp production prior to the 2020 planting season.

What about CBD in various products, like beverages and lotions?

For now, the FDA has said CBD is not allowed as an ingredient in food, drinks, or dietary supplements, according to an Associated Press report from earlier this year.

“In stating its position, the FDA cited a provision of the law prohibiting food makers from using active drug ingredients or those still undergoing substantial research. But the agency doesn’t have the resources to police all the CBD products that are already available, said Marc Scheineson, a former FDA official. ‘They’re not going to pull a thousand products from the market,’ he said.”

Who can sell CBD oil in Wisconsin?

According to the state Department of Justice, any retailer with a seller’s permit through the state Department of Revenue can sell CBD oil as long as it’s derived from a state-licensed hemp program and contains less than 0.3 percent THC.

Is traditional hemp a viable source for CBD?

Industrial hemp is traditionally grown for its fiber content. By contrast, cannabinoids are most prominently expressed in flowers, and to a lesser extent, in leaves. While the presence of CBD has been documented in some specific hemp strains, analytical data assessing cannabinoid content in hemp plants remains limited. This absence of data has led some experts to question the viability of traditional hemp plants as efficient sources of CBD extraction as compared to traditional cannabis plants.

Will taking CBD cause you to fail a drug test?

In clinical trials, the oral administration of CBD does not result in detectable THC blood concentrations, and most experts in the field do not believe that it shares any similarities to THC or the THC metabolite following absorption. Therefore, the administration of CBD alone should not trigger a positive drug test for the carboxy-THC metabolite.

In instances where the administration of CBD products has resulted in a positive drug test result for carboxy-THC, this result is likely because the product itself possessed trace quantities of THC.

Are there any known side effects from taking CBD?

Side effects of CBD can include nausea, fatigue, and irritability, notes Peter Grinspoon, MD, a physician and contributing editor for Harvard Health Publishing. “CBD can increase the level in your blood of the blood thinner coumadin, and it can raise levels of certain other medications in your blood by the exact same mechanism that grapefruit juice does. A significant safety concern with CBD is that it is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, not a medication. Currently, the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. So, you cannot know for sure that the product you buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label. In addition, the product may contain other (unknown) elements. We also don’t know the most effective therapeutic dose of CBD for any particular medical condition.”

Are commercially available CBD products safe and effective?

In recent years, marketers have advertised a variety of CBD-related products online and in other venues. However, third-party analytical testing of some of these products has consistently found them to be of varying quality and safety. In some instances, products have been found to contain far lower percentages of CBD than advertised. In other instances, products alleging to be THC-free have been found to possess THC as well as other psychotropic adulterants. Further, in almost all instances, commercially available CBD products contain far lower quantities of CBD than are necessary to yield therapeutic effects in clinical trials.

Safety guaranteed?

This last point was largely the basis for the FDA holding a public hearing on CBD products in May of this year.

According to the Washington Post, “During the 10 hours of testimony that followed, hemp growers, startup businesses, academic researchers, and consumer advocates argued about how FDA should regulate the already booming CBD industry. Some demanded strict oversight. Others — especially companies with millions at stake — lobbied for looser regulation.

“But the common theme among them all: FDA needs to figure out its rules sooner, rather than later.”



It’s a definite concern for Tim O’Brien, owner of The Healthy Place [formerly known as Apple Wellness], a nutrition store that has locations in Madison, Fitchburg, Sun Prairie, and Middleton.

O’Brien got into the health and nutrition business after his mother fought through cancer. After chemotherapy and radiation, much of her recovery was through natural supplements, he notes, and she managed a mom-and-pop nutrition store while he was growing up, which is what got O’Brien into the industry.

“I started working in this industry as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school and grew to be the district manager for the GNC stores in Madison, but after a corporate takeover, everyone lost their jobs,” O’Brien explains. “I knew I liked helping people and guiding them in an industry that has a lot of misinformation. That’s when my wife and I prayed about it and decided to start our own store in 2010.”

O’Brien says he was initially opposed to selling any CBD products because marijuana played a negative role in his life through his teen years. “I was very lazy, unmotivated, and all I wanted to do was smoke pot. It took some of my heroes in the nutrition space to talk me into it. While I am still not a proponent for recreational marijuana, I am all about medicinals that can help people who are suffering. Once I fully understood that CBD had all the benefits of medicinal marijuana without the high, I decided to bring it in.”

Remember those old Hair Club for Men commercials — “I’m not just the president … I’m also a client.” Well, O’Brien doesn’t just sell CBD products, he also uses them to treat some of his own ailments.

“I started taking CBD because of the dozens of benefits that it has in the body,” O’Brien notes. “I began slowly, unpacking the hundreds and even thousands of clinicals. I believe we are up to 11,000 clinical trials now on CBD and THC, so we have a nice body of science. With it being illegal in the U.S. for so long, it slowed the research here, but other places in the world, like Europe, have collected far more data. I personally noticed it ‘takes the edge off’ stress-wise throughout my day and I sleep significantly deeper at night from it.”

But while O’Brien has personally seen positive health benefits from it, he’s quick to point out that popular depictions of CBD as a miracle cure are hyperbole at best.

“While it may be good for many things, it does not always work,” explains O’Brien. “Quality matters! For many, it simply takes the edge off, which may bring their pain from a nine to a five on the pain scale. However, there’s not a day that goes by that my team does not hear up to a dozen testimonials from folks who have gotten off of prescription opiates and antidepressants [because of CBD].”

It’s as much because of the positive experiences many of his customers have had that O’Brien would love to see more regulation of CBD products from the federal government. “Everyone’s not honest out there. It’s the Wild West and folks need to be working with brands that they can trust because the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry. At this point you can literally throw whatever you want in a bottle and slap CBD on it. I would like to see some sort of verification regulation that can protect the consumer. Or at least the word getting out there that you should buy it from a reputable source.”

Much of the concern about the safety of CBD comes from products that aren’t properly labeled or aren’t produced by honest manufacturers.

According to an NBC 4 New York I-Team investigative report from February 2019, independent testing of a random sampling of commercially marketed CBD-infused products found that their potency is frequently mislabeled.

Investigators purchased CBD-infused products online and at local convenience stores and submitted the products to third-party independent testing. They reported, “Less than half the samples that were tested actually had the stated amount of THC inside the product.” Some products contained no CBD at all.

The NBC New York findings are consistent with those of prior reports, which similarly determined that many commercially available CBD-infused products are of variable potency and may contain adulterants. Also in February, a separate investigation conducted by KCTV Channel 5 (CBS) in St. Louis reported that none of the CBD-infused products they purchased over the counter at local retailers contained the amount of CBD listed on their labels.

Perhaps even scarier, CBD-infused products commercially available in retail stores and online have been found to contain heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, according to an ABC 7 I-Team investigation of third-party testing results out of Washington, D.C. Investigators reviewed results for over 240 CBD-infused products. Their analysis determined that 70 percent of the products were found to be “highly contaminated with heavy met-als like lead and arsenic, herbicides like glyphosate, and a host of other contaminants including pesticides.”

O’Brien recommends consumers make sure the CBD products they use come from companies that source from clean places, have competitive pricing, have true full-spectrum products, terpene-rich formulas, and third-party testing on every batch. “All these factors are essential in creating a ‘good’ CBD product,” notes O’Brien. “As far as safety goes, if the above is done well, CBD is very safe and similar in nutrition to flax oil — great for the human body and every system.”

CBD on tap

In Dane County, CBD products can seemingly be found just about anywhere.

In addition to The Healthy Place’s four locations, other nutrition retailers selling CBD products include Green Bar Door, Community Pharmacy, Quality CBD, and Green RX in Madison; CBD Farmacy and Hoey Apothecary in Monona; Embrace Wellness in Middleton; and Docere Wellness in Oregon. And then there’s also Balance CBD Edibles, CBD American Shaman, A State of Mind Health and Wellness, Community Wellness Shop, Ki Shop, Herb RX, Midwest Best CBD, and Diamond CBD Oil, among others.

Great Dane made headlines in late 2018 when it debuted a specialty CBD beer, which quickly sold out, and CBD-infused cocktails. Mad Ink Glass and Vape sells its own brand of CBD tinctures at its East Washington Avenue location. Other establishments have added CBD to their food and beverages — not to mention lotions and creams — as well, including the coffee at Deja Brew on Commercial Avenue, the cold brew at Pickle Jar on Butler Street, the smoothies at SuperCharge! on East Washington Avenue, and the creams and oils at Retro Hair Studio on Old Middleton Road.

Chameleon Cannabis is a local e-commerce site launched by Zach Henderson and Mike Hansen in February 2019 that sells a CBD pain-relief balm, CBD oil capsules, and two tinctures, including one for pets.

Willy Street Co-op might win the prize, however, for most ways to get your CBD in one stop. At Willy Street, customers can opt to add CBD as a nutritional supplement to juice and coffee.

“We decided to add this as a supplement because we had customers asking for it,” says Brendon Smith, communications director at Willy Street Co-op, “and because it’s been extremely popular in our Wellness Department.” Willy Street Co-op sells CBD in several other products, including chocolate, beer, body-care products, and more.

As far as that notion of CBD as a passing fad? “CBD is here to stay,” says O’Brien. “This is not a ‘Dr. Oz weight loss thing.’ This is a nutrient with massive benefits that was illegal but no longer is. CBD will play a major role in helping my customers for the foreseeable future.

“I think natural alternatives are gaining momentum, so we could see more and more companies opening and growing [in Greater Madison].”



There’s CBD for that

While a good deal of the research into the effectiveness of CBD has been done outside the U.S. up to this point, there is plenty of evidence from those studies that CBD can have a positive effect on a wide array of conditions. Of course, effectiveness may vary, and CBD is certainly not a cure-all for every disease under the sun.

Just how many conditions has CBD been shown to help treat symptoms of? At least 54, though there may be more. One condition that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved CBD for is epilepsy. In 2018, the FDA approved the prescription medication Epidiolex, which consists primarily of a standardized formulation of plant-derived CBD extracts. The Schedule V medicine is explicitly approved for the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, although a doctor may elect to prescribe it “off label” for other conditions.

The following is a list of conditions CBD has been used to treat, according to

  • Acne
  • ADD & ADHD
  • Addiction & Alcoholism
  • ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Anorexia
  • Antibiotic Resistance
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Bipolar
  • Cancer
  • Colitis & Crohn’s Disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Epilepsy & Seizures
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart Disease
  • HIV & AIDS
  • Huntington’s Disease (HD)
  • Inflammation
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Kidney Disease
  • Liver Disease
  • Migraines
  • Mood Disorders
  • Motion Sickness
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Nausea​
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Obesity
  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
  • Osteoporosis/Bone Health
  • Pain
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Prion Disease (Mad Cow)
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Rheumatism
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Skin Conditions
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Stress
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Weight Loss
  • Wellness

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