The Expert’s Guide To CBD’s Benefits & Uses

The Expert’s Guide To CBD’s Benefits & Uses

Written by
January 27, 2020
Updated September 8, 2020

Last December, Congress passed the 2018 Hemp Farming Act, an update on the Farm Bill that lifts several restrictions on the cannabis/hemp crop. As a result, the CBD industry is poised to explode. Derived from the cannabis plant, cannabidiol oil (CBD) already has a following for its potential to help with stress, sleep, and other aspects of health, and its growing use may change the medical and supplement industries permanently.

Let this guide show you why there are serious reasons to be high on CBD that have nothing to do with getting stoned.

The Expert’s Guide To CBD’s Benefits & Uses

The Expert's Guide to CBD

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol oil is an extraction from the cannabis plant that is then diluted with a carrier oil such as hemp seed or coconut oil. Though it can come from marijuana plants (a type of cannabis), it doesn’t have to, which is why some CBD products are legal for sale and use. While some CBD oils do contain THC, but most do not contain significant amounts of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana that gets you high. For this reason, many see CBD as a non-drug alternative to weed for helping to manage mood, without altering one’s state of mind or causing side effects like lethargy and paranoia.

CBD oil is available in many forms, including as a tincture, edible, ointment, or vapor.

Is CBD Legal?

The Expert's Guide to CBD

All cannabis products have been slowly winning a war of attrition with U.S. laws for nearly 100 years—but the war is far from over. In 1937, cannabis, and all goods derived from it, were made illegal, and in 1970, they were classified as controlled substances. But the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for cultivation of hemp for research purposes under the supervision of state pilot programs, and the 2018 update goes a step further, permitting broad cultivation—provided it’s in compliance with the regulations set forth in the Farm Bill (i.e., you can’t just grow it in your backyard).

The bill also legalized the transport of hemp products across state lines. Furthermore, people can now sell and possess cannabis goods, including CBD, as long as they abide by the bill’s rules.

Sounds great, right? Let’s party!

Hang on… While the Farm Bill clearly states that hemp products are not to be treated as drugs anymore—as long as their THC content is below 0.3% (and CBD’s generally is)—states still have the right to regulate them as they see fit. They can maintain tough laws that restrict CBD production and sales.

CBD, along with all other hemp products, are still totally illegal in Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota. There are 10 states that permit CBD, derived from hemp or marijuana, for medical and recreational use: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. In the remaining 37 states, CBD taken from hemp is legal, but the particulars of the law still vary by state.

To add to the complexity, the FDA technically doesn’t permit CBD in foods or supplements. You’ve no doubt seen commercial signs for CBD supps in public places, and on the Internet, but that doesn’t necessarily imply legality. CBD is approved by the FDA as a drug, mainly for the treatment of epilepsy, and the law states that if a substance is an active ingredient in a drug product, it can’t be used in a food or supplement, unless the ingredient was previously marketed as a supplement or food—a loophole that CBD providers are trying to slip through.

If this is confusing to you, you’re not alone. The government is still trying to sort out what it means by these conflicting laws. But understand this: as it stands, companies that market CBD as a dietary supplement do so at their own risk. They should not—and legally can’t—market it as a treatment for any disease or health condition.

With all this said, the CBD industry is certain to grow to levels never before seen thanks to this new legislation. CBD sales raked in $350 million in 2017 in the U.S., and statistics predict revenues will total $1.15 billion in 2020.

“With the further affirmation of the legality of hemp,” says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition consultant to corporations and pro athletes (, “the large natural food stores who have been nervous about it now have the green light to start participating in this new industry.”

The Expert's Guide to CBD

Is CBD Oil the Same as Hemp Oil?

To get around the legal lightning rod that the term “CBD” implies, many supplement makers call their CBD products “hemp extract” or “hemp oil.” These euphemisms can imply that there is CBD in the product, but they aren’t automatically synonymous, and they don’t give any indication how much of the formula is actually CBD. The law requires that CBD supplements have lower levels of CBD oil than is present in approved CBD drugs.

What Are The Benefits of CBD?

“CBD interacts with what’s called the body’s endocannabinoid system, and the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2,” says Mohr. “This is an important signaling system for human health that’s involved in almost all physiological processes, and especially with the hormonal, neuronal, and immune systems.” CBD also works with the serotonin, dopamine, and opioid receptors as well as receptors that control genetic transcription.

As CBD was legally untouchable in the U.S. for many decades, research on CBD’s potential benefits are still in the infant stages. But, as more and more research comes out, there is more and more promise for this product.


The Expert's Guide to CBD

While many people (ahem, maybe you) like to use marijuana to relax, CBD may provide more benefits for fewer side effects. One study had 16 healthy men ingest THC, CBD, or a placebo to gauge their reactions. When on THC, the men exhibited greater signs of stress, feelings of dissatisfaction, and a faster heart rate than they did after ingesting CBD and the placebo, leading the researchers to conclude that THC has acute behavioral and physiological effects, while CBD was “safe and well-tolerated.”

In 2018, Onnit underwent a financial restructuring, and Chief Operating Officer Jason Havey found himself bearing the brunt of it. “It was the hardest year of my life,” he says. While walking his dog, Havey succumbed to a panic attack. “All of a sudden my chest felt tight, my breathing got shallow, and I thought I was going to pass out.” When he gathered himself, Havey started looking into ways to manage stress. He didn’t want to go on prescription meds, but he did try smoking marijuana for relief. “It just made me feel out of control,” he says. “THC makes my mind race.”

In researching stress, Havey discovered CBD. He put together a regimen of meditation, breathwork, exercise, and nightly doses of a THC-Free CBD tincture. “My normal mental state has re-emerged using this regimen,” he says. “Stress has gotten heavier at work, but I’m not feeling it the way I did.”

Havey cautions that people shouldn’t expect CBD to be a magic bullet—it’s only an adjunct to other good habits that keep a person healthy. “But even when I miss a day of jogging or meditation, I’m still using CBD to support my normal healthy stress levels.”

CBD for Heart Health

A 2017 trial showed that one dose of CBD oil promoted healthy resting blood pressure in male subjects. When the men were given stress tests designed to increase their blood pressure, the rises were small, which scientists credited to the same CBD dose.

CBD for Skin Health

CBD is thought to help regulate responses. This may mean it can play a role in supporting a healthy complexion and controlling breakouts. A 2014 test-tube study demonstrated CBD oil’s ability to aid in the prevention of sebaceous gland cells from secreting the oils that clog your pores and lead to pimples. It also helped to turn off agents that promote acne.

Research from 2016 drew similar conclusions, indicating that CBD may be an efficient and safe way to help control skin problems.

Side Effects of CBD

The Expert's Guide to CBD

CBD seems to be well tolerated by most people, but some have reported adverse reactions, including diarrhea, fatigue, and effects on appetite. It can also interact negatively with medications. CBD taken orally is thought to be less problematic than when taken as a vapor. New users are also cautioned to take a small dose to start, and gradually build up over time.

Will I Fail a Drug Test If I Take CBD?

CBD products that are derived from hemp rather than marijuana plants should not contain much THC, and therefore probably won’t raise a red flag on a drug test. However, Mohr says it’s still possible. “Any athletes who absolutely cannot test positive once, because they participate in a zero-tolerance sport, should avoid CBD.”

Different Ways To Take CBD (oil, cream, tincture, gummies, vaping)

The Expert's Guide to CBD

CBD is available for use in many forms, and the main difference between them is the speed at which they take effect. “Tinctures are excellent because, while they might take 20 minutes to fully enter the body, they usually provide hours of support,” says Mohr. Edibles, on the other hand, might take two hours to get into your system, but the effects will last even longer than tinctures. “Vapes work very quickly,” says Mohr, “reaching full potency within a few seconds,” but they don’t work for as long. “Topicals are ideal for targeting a part of the body that needs more support. Cannabinoids are lipids—fats—that readily cross the skin.”

Ultimately, your own individual metabolism will determine how quickly CBD starts working, and how long it lasts.

Sean Hyson
Sean Hyson is the Editor in Chief of Onnit. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.), he is the author of The Men's Health Encyclopedia of Muscle, and the e-book The Truth About Strength Training (

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