CBD products are everywhere now — but are they safe, or even legal?

From chocolates and gummies to creams and oils, the market is flooded with cannabidiol products that boast health benefits.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
/ Source: Today
By Rheana Murray

CBD is everywhere lately — in skincare, coffee and even pet treats. But is it really all it's hyped up to be?

The answer isn't so clear. Advocates say CBD, or cannabidiol, which comes from hemp and marijuana, is helpful for anxiety and pain management, but it's important to understand that while there are tons of CBD products on the market, the ingredient isn't currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Though, legislation surrounding marijuana and hemp is swiftly changing. For starters, hemp is now legal. And last year, the FDA approved the first-ever CBD drug, to treat epilepsy. But first, here are the basics.

What is CBD?

CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol, one of the many cannabinoids, or chemical compounds, found in marijuana and hemp.

You're probably already familiar with THC, which is another compound found in the cannabis plant. But unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. In other words, it's not what gets you stoned. It's also different from medical marijuana, which has been shown to reduce pain.

What does it do?

Research has shown CBD may be helpful by lessening anxiety for people who have schizophrenia or psychosis, or who are addicted to opiates. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD could even help treat acne.

There's also evidence it can help children who suffer from epilepsy, which is why the FDA last summer approved a new prescription medication, Epidiolex, which is a formulation of CBD, meant to treat severe epilepsy.

Advocates believe there are many potential health benefits. Clinicians say more research needs to be done.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in the cannabis plant. Brent Lewis / Denver Post via Getty Images

"I do believe that cannabidiol has potential, absolutely," Dr. Yasmin Hurd, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told TODAY. Hurd's research suggests CBD can positively affect opiate addicts.

"But you need studies to really be able to give us knowledge about how much CBD each day someone should take for their particular illness, and how it might interact with other medications they take," she continued. "That's what you get with a clinical trial."

How do you use CBD?

CBD can be taken orally or applied topically, depending on the product. There are lots out there, from gummies and softgels that supposedly ease anxiety, to calming bath soaks, creams and oils, and even beer.

Most of the products claim to ease pain and anxiety. But whether or not these products actually contain the amount of CBD they advertise is up for debate, since they're not approved by the FDA. In 2015 the FDA tested CBD products from companies making unfounded health claims, and found that many of them didn't even have the amount of CBD they'd advertised.

Is CBD safe ... or even legal?

The law depends on where you live, and whether the CBD comes from hemp or marijuana. Some states, like Colorado and California, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while other states have legalized medical marijuana. Still others have introduced CBD-specific legislation.

While the Farm Bill that legislators signed into law in December legalizes hemp, the FDA was quick to remind people that that doesn't mean CBD products can now be sold freely. The FDA has many times issued warnings about CBD products and companies making unfounded health claims.

"This is such a complicated and murky issue," said Dr. Roshini Raj, an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine in New York City, during a recent appearance on TODAY. "With this Farm Bill passing, hemp-derived CBD products are legal, technically. However, the FDA still hasn't approved it in food and beverages, so it's still very complicated."

We apologize, this video has expired.

And even if CBD is now easier for people to get their hands on, that doesn't mean it's been thoroughly researched.

"You can go buy CBD from shops, you can buy it online, but for researchers, we can only study CBD from certain sources, and those sources are still quite restricted," Hurd said.

She suggested that people who are buying CBD products be vigilant about the companies they're buying from.

"I think just making sure they're legit is important," Hurd said. "There are a lot of unscrupulous companies online and they make it look like they're pharmaceutical companies. But you can't find out who they are."

On the bright side, both Hurd and Raj pointed out that they haven't seen many negative side effects of CBD, so it can't hurt.

"If you want to try it, that's fine," Raj said. "But as a doctor, would I recommend it as a treatment? Probably not at this time."