CBD products that don't contain THC fall outside the scope of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) Controlled Substances Act, which means CBD products are legal to sell and consume as long as they don't have THC. That's likely one of the reasons why CBD products, including CBD oil, are becoming more socially acceptable and increasingly popular. In 2016, Forbes reported that CBD products are expected to be a $2.2 billion industry by 2020.
As mentioned above, cannabis and hemp differ in the levels of naturally occurring THC that they contain. THC is a cannabinoid like CBD. However, its properties are very different and often antagonistic to the effects of CBD. Hemp is naturally high in CBD and low in THC; the reverse is true of cannabis. In fact, hemp contains only about 0.3% – 1.5% THC, while cannabis contains about 5% – 10% or more THC.
With the increasing hype surrounding CBD, some — including this author — have speculated that it will become the next health fad, like taking fish oil or opting for a gluten-free diet, whether or not the research to support far-reaching health benefit claims pans out (see this recent New York Times op-ed by Cornell Medical College psychiatrist Richard Friedman urging caution). “Big Beverage” companies like Coca-Cola have even been exploring whether they should jump in the ring lest they miss out, bringing CBD infused drinks to the mass market sometime in the not-too-distant future (see my blogpost "Coca, Cola, and Cannabis: Psychoactive Drugs as Beverages").
"It's important to know that the research in this area is in its infancy, partly because we haven't really understood much about CBD until relatively recently," said Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. He pointed out that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA makes it difficult to get material to use in laboratory studies. Schedule 1 drugs have a high potential for abuse, according to the DEA, and are illegal under federal law.
Flower Power, which sells CBD-infused coffee to cafes like Caffeine Underground in New York City, puts 5 mg of CBD in each serving of coffee. The company, like many involved in the sale of CBD, is extremely careful about what it says regarding CBD’s effects for fear of FDA intervention. The standard language for CBD packaging and website documentation is similar to that of many supplements (think: milk thistle, echinacea, elderberry, turmeric) and is some variation on: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or ailment.”
A CNN program that featured Charlotte's Web cannabis in 2013 brought increased attention to the use of CBD in the treatment of seizure disorders. Since then, 16 states have passed laws to allow the use of CBD products with a doctor's recommendation (instead of a prescription) for treatment of certain medical conditions. This is in addition to the 30 states that have passed comprehensive medical cannabis laws, which allow for the use of cannabis products with no restrictions on THC content. Of these 30 states, eight have legalized the use and sale of cannabis products without requirement for a doctor's recommendation.