You can find the cannabis-based compound in everything from gummies to bath salts–and it might help you beat anxiety, reduce pain, and get better sleep, among other promises. But there’s more to know about this seemingly ubiquitous remedy, including what’s legal and what isn’t.
By Melanie Mannarino
I’m not well-schooled in the ways of cannabis. Until recently I didn’t know my hemp from my weed. THC, CBD..IDK. It’s like trying to get a square root of a number: If I concentrate for a minute, I can figure it out, but really I just don’t care, you know?
Then my friend started selling CBD oil. She’s a stay-at-home mom turned yoga instructor and a total straitlaced health nut. I thought, if she was into it, maybe I should learn more. So I found out that CBD stands for cannabidiol, a natural extract from the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It’s not the chemical in marijuana that brings the high–that’s the THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.
There are still plenty of studies to be done, but so far science has shown that CBD appears to target more than 65 areas in the brain and body that are involved in regulating pain, mood, and sleep. Notably, CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system, enhancing and balancing the messages sent via endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters. By doing so, it has a potential to lower inflammation, ease pain, bring a sense of calm, and improve sleep.
I want all those things. Inflammation can lead to aches, pains, and acne, and –yes, at the age of 47–I’d be happy to get rid of them. Given that my husband and son have nicknamed me Yelly Melly, I guess I could also do with a deeper sense of calm. And I’m a busy working mom, so sure, I’ll take better sleep.
There are numerous CBD oils and balms (and drink mixes and bath salts and dog treats-see “They Put CBD in That?”, but I gravitated toward an oil by Beam for a couple of reasons: It’s THC-free (I’ve learned that some companies don’t filter out traces of THC-I’m not here to get stoned, people), and it’s broad-spectrum, which means beneficial plant compounds, like terpenes and flavonoids, are left in the extract.
I began taking a one-milliliter dropperful of oil, containing 66.7 milligrams of CBD, morning and night. There isn’t an industry-standard recommended dose, so I started with the brand’s lowest potency. I held the drop under my tongue for a minute or so, in order for the cannabidiol to seep into my bloodstream rather than get digested (which is also a good delivery system-just not as direct). It tasted fine, sort of neutral, with a hint of plant life.
A few days later, I took my first barre class. I hadn’t worked out in a year, thanks to a shoulder injury, and I was nervous I’d be in serious pain afterward. It wasn’t too bad. After class, I rubbed some CBD balm on my shoulder. The idea behind balms and lotions is that CBD gets absorbed through the skin, without taking a trip under the tongue and through the bloodstream, so it goes straight to the receptors that need it most. The next day, I took a yoga class (all hail Groupon!), which didn’t leave me extra sore or strained either.
Could all this pain-free movement have been a result of the placebo effect? Sure. But I like to think my inflammation was kept in check by my new CBD regiment. Still, I’m no medical expert, so I reached out to Staci Gruber, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core and the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. She told me that anecdotal evidence and preclinical trials suggest CBD helps with pain and inflammation, but “we don’t have clinical trial data.” (See “The Science Behind CBD,” for more on what researchers do and don’t yet know.)
Also, I stopped having nightmares. Weirdly, I get them a lot-like, I’m driving down the road and suddenly I’m in the ocean. That kinda thing. But since I started taking CBD oil, the nightmares haven’t come. My daily stressors remain the same, so I’m totally giving CBD oil the credit. I also spoke to David L. Nathan, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. He agreed there could be a connection: “All drugs that can help with sleep-and CBD may be one of them-will not affect just the onset and duration of sleep but also the quality of sleep,” he explained. Inspired by my reduced chronic pain and stress-free slumber. I also started getting up at 5:50 a.m. for a brisk two-mile walk with my neighbor every morning. And yeah, I’m still taking barre and yoga classes. I’ve got energy for everything!
But the most concrete proof that CBD oil is doing good things for me came about two weeks after I started taking it. I hadn’t mentioned my new CBD routine to my husband, in part because I wanted to assess for myself whether it had an impact. But out of the blue one night while watching TV, he turned to me and said, “Hey, I’d like to thank you for not getting so frustrated lately with me and the boy. I appreciate it.”
Yelly Melly has left the building.