Now that CBD oil is legal, at least in some form, in the vast majority of the 50 US states, interest in this health supplement is soaring. Yet there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding what CBD oil is and how the different CBD oil products differ. We set down some much-needed clarification in this post.

CBD oil is an extract of the hemp plant that’s rich in the active compound CBD (cannabidiol). CBD oil products often include a carrier oil such as MCT coconut oil or hemp seed oil, and go by many possible names: hemp oil, full-spectrum hemp oil, hemp cannabinoids/phytocannabinoids, hemp extract, and so on. Hemp is a close relative of the marijuana plant: the two belong to the same species (Cannabis sativa). However, CBD oil doesn’t cause a “high” because hemp contains less than 0.3% of marijuana’s psychoactive compound, THC.

CBD works by influencing the endocannabinoid system. This system is involved in regulating practically every cell and every organ system in the body, affecting such key areas as the stress response, pain sensation, memory, sleep, nerve signaling, muscle control, immune function and metabolism. By targeting cannabinoid receptors and other neurotransmitter receptors in the brain and the nervous system, CBD helps balance the functioning of the endocannabinoid system in multiple areas.

CBD has been used to bring relief to the following health issues:

  • Chronic pain (joint, muscle or neuropathic)
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Insomnia
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizures and spasms

Compared to drugs used to manage the above conditions, CBD oil offers distinct advantages. It’s natural, plant based, non-intoxicating, nontoxic and non-addictive, with minimal or no side effects. Research has found CBD to be well tolerated by adults even at very high doses of up to 1,500 milligrams per day. Yet doses in the range of 3 to 30 milligrams are often enough to provide relief. Since each person or health condition may benefit from a different dosage, it’s best to consult a health professional when in doubt.

With an ever-expanding variety of CBD products on the market, how can a consumer make the right choice? It’ll definitely take a rather close look at the supplement label. The following are key pieces of information to look for:

  • What is the active ingredient? “Full-spectrum hemp oil,” or whole-plant hemp extract, contains all of the over 100 cannabinoids, plus other active compounds such as terpenes, from the hemp plant. The CBD content is from 3% to more than 25%. “CBD isolate” contains only purified CBD, without other active compounds. Full-spectrum and isolated CBD extracts can differ somewhat in their health effects.
  • From which part of hemp is the active ingredient extracted? It’s important to note that hemp seeds don’t contain CBD. CBD and other cannabinoids are only found in the hemp plant, including the stalks, flowers and leaves or aerial parts.
  • How much of the active ingredient is in the product? Some product labels give a total milligram amount that lumps together both hemp plant extract (rich in CBD) and hemp seed oil (no CBD). Therefore, read the “Supplement Facts” carefully.
  • Where is the hemp plant grown? The US lags behind Europe and Asia in hemp cultivation because of legality issues, but American CBD oil may be of higher quality due to better hemp strains and farming practices.
  • Where is the product made? For US products, look for ones manufactured in FDA-registered, GMP-certified facilities. For products made in other countries, prefer ones that meet equivalent standards.
  • Is the product organic or tested for harmful residues? Organically grown hemp and tests for heavy metals and pesticides help ensure a healthier product.
  • Is the product tested for THC levels? CBD oils certified to have zero THC are more suitable for highly sensitive individuals and routinely drug-tested professionals.
  • What form is the product in? Oils and tinctures in dropper or spray bottles are best for sublingual (under-the-tongue) absorption. There are also capsules, softgels and even products for topical and vaporizer use.

So is CBD oil worth a try? For people preferring a more natural approach to managing pain, stress or poor sleep, the answer seems to be “yes.” A high-quality CBD oil just might make an important difference in one’s well-being and quality of life.