How CBD Became the Unexpected Star of Legalized Pot

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How CBD Became the Unexpected Star of Legalized Pot It can help treat pain, isn't addictive and won't get you high – but is CBD really the miracle drug many believe it to be? Unlike THC, CBD, doesn't have any psychoactive effect – but it could have legitimate medical uses. Fabrice Coffrini/Getty By Katie MacBride

These days, a significant number of cannabis users aren’t getting stoned – and they’re not trying to. Instead, the products they’re consuming are high in cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound found in marijuana and hemp plants that offers the medical benefits of cannabis without the accompanying high.

CBD is a naturally occurring substance in the cannabis plant that, unlike its fellow cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol – THC – isn’t psychoactive. Put simply, THC is the stuff in cannabis that gets a person stoned. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t have any psychoactive effect. But according to an increasing number of medical professionals, it does have legitimate medical uses.

The compound is perhaps best known for its ability to treat seizure disorders; it received widespread national media coverage in 2013 through Charlotte Figi, a then five-year-old who suffered from epilepsy. Her family treated their daughter’s condition with CBD oil and saw remarkable improvements. Families who had kids in similar situations began moving to Colorado so they could legally treat their children’s seizure disorders with CBD.

In the years since, CBD has made its way into a seemingly endless array of products. Sodas, craft beers, gum and pet treats with CBD are stocked on shelves across the country. Pills and oils are sold and dispensaries and health-food stores, and people who aren’t interested in ingesting the cannabinoid have their pick of CBD-rich personal care and beauty products, ranging from shaving cream to lipsticks. But it’s confusing: if marijuana is federally illegal, how is it being sold in some non-legalized states? What is it that CBD does – and what exactly are we getting? The clash between state and federal cannabis legislation, as well as the clash between new science and old laws, make the issue nuanced and complicated.

Federal restrictions on cannabis have hindered the study of CBD, but in addition to seizure disorders, research outside the U.S. (and increasingly inside the U.S.) has demonstrated the effectiveness of CBD in treating pain, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders and a wide array of other conditions. “CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which are important for almost all diseases,” says Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, head of research at Tikun Olam, a cannabis research and production lab in Israel. Add to that the lack of psychoactive effects, and CBD becomes an immensely appealing option for folks looking for alternatives to pharmaceuticals.

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