What Is CBD Oil?
This cannabis extract may help treat nerve pain, anxiety, and epilepsy
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman’s World, and Natural Health.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Meredith Bull, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor with a private practice in Los Angeles, California.
CBD oil is an extract of Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa , the same plants used to make marijuana.
CBD oil may treat pain, lower anxiety, and stimulate appetite the same way that marijuana does, but without affecting your mental state. CBD might also help treat some types of seizures.
CBD is the short name for cannabidiol , one of the two chemicals in cannabis with the most health benefits. The other chemical is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is what’s responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis—in other words, what makes you feel “high.” CBD oil generally doesn’t have THC, although trace amounts might be in products sold in certain states.
CBD oil contains CBD mixed with a base (carrier) oil, like coconut oil or hemp seed oil. The bottled CBD oil is called a tincture and is sold in different concentrations.
There are also CBD capsules, CBD gummies, and under-the-tongue CBD sprays.
This article goes over what CBD is used for, possible side effects, and what you should look for if you choose to buy CBD.
What Is CBD Oil Used For?
CBD’s exact mechanism of action is unclear.
Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t have a strong connection with cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These are the molecules that THC binds to create psychoactive effects.
Instead, CBD influences other receptors, like the opioid receptors that control pain. It also affects glycine receptors. These control serotonin, a brain chemical known as the “feel-good” hormone.
People that support the use of CBD claim that CBD oil can treat a variety of health problems, including:
- Chronic pain
- Drug use and withdrawal
- High blood pressure
- Muscle spasms
- Poor appetite
More research on CBD has been emerging as it has gained popularity. Still, there are only a few clinical studies on the effects of CBD oil.
As such, some of these health claims are better supported by research than others.
If you’re thinking of using CBD oil to treat a health condition, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it’s an appropriate option for you.
A 2015 review of studies in the journal Neurotherapeutics suggests that CBD might help treat anxiety disorders.
The study authors report that CBD had powerful anxiety-relieving effects in animal research. But the results weren’t what you’d expect.
In most of the studies, lower doses of CBD (10 milligrams per kilogram, mg/kg, or less) improved some symptoms of anxiety, but higher doses (100 mg/kg or more) had almost no effect.
The way that CBD acts in the brain can explain why this happens. In low doses, CBD may act the same as surrounding molecules that normally bind to the receptor, which “turns up” their signaling.
However, at higher doses, too much activity at the receptor site can lead to the opposite effect. This would take away the helpful effects of CBD.
There aren’t many study trials that look at CBD’s anxiety-relieving effects in humans. One of the few is a 2019 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry.
For the study, 57 men took either CBD oil or a placebo (sugar pill) before a public-speaking event. The researchers based anxiety levels on measures like blood pressure and heart rate. They also used a fairly reliable test for mood states called the Visual Analog Mood Scale (VAMS).
The men who took 300 mg of CBD oil showed less anxiety than those given a placebo. Interestingly, the men who took 100 mg or 600 mg of CBD oil didn’t have these results.
CBD oil might help people with substance use disorder, per a 2015 review in the journal Substance Abuse.
The review analyzed 14 published studies. Nine of the studies looked at the effects on animals, and five studies looked at the effects on humans.
The researchers reported that CBD showed promise in treating people with opioid, cocaine, or psychostimulant addiction.
However, CBD affected each type of addiction very differently.
For example, CBD without THC didn’t help decrease withdrawal symptoms of opioid use. On the other hand, it did reduce drug-seeking behaviors in users of cocaine, methamphetamine, and other similar drugs.
Some experts suggest CBD may help treat cannabis and nicotine dependence, but more research is needed.
Doctors may prescribe medical marijuana to people with pain that’s resistant to treatment, like those with terminal cancer. There’s some evidence that CBD plays a role in this benefit.
One interesting piece of research is a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. Researchers injected rats with chemicals that prompt inflammation. Then they gave the rats CBD.
The rats that got CBD experienced less inflammation and nerve pain (pain caused by damage to your nerves).
Scientists believe CBD reduces nerve pain by binding to receptors in the brain that control the speed at which nerve signals pass between nerve cells.
However, there aren’t many studies that examine the use of CBD in treating chronic pain in people. The studies that do exist almost always include THC. This makes it hard to isolate CBD’s unique effects.
High Blood Pressure
CBD oil may reduce the risk of heart disease by relieving high blood pressure in some people, per a 2017 study in JCI Insight.
For the study, nine healthy men took either 600 mg of CBD or the same dose of a placebo. The men who took CBD had lower blood pressure before and after stressful things, like exercise or extreme cold.
The study also looked at stroke volume (the amount of blood remaining in the heart after a heartbeat). The stroke volume in the men who took CBD was lower than that in the placebo group, meaning the heart was pumping more efficiently.
The study suggests CBD oil may be a good complementary therapy for people whose high blood pressure is affected by stress and anxiety.
However, there’s no evidence CBD oil can treat high blood pressure on its own or prevent it in people at risk. While stress can complicate high blood pressure, it can’t cause it.
In June 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex, a CBD oral solution.
Epidiolex is used to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in children under 2: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These are very rare genetic disorders that cause lifelong seizures that start in the first year of life.
Outside of these two disorders, CBD’s effectiveness in treating seizures is uncertain. Even with Epidiolex, it’s unclear if the anti-seizure effects are from CBD or some other factor.
There’s some evidence CBD interacts with seizure medicines like Onfi (clobazam) and boosts their concentration in the blood. More research is needed, though.
CBD oil might help relieve stress, anxiety, seizures, drug withdrawal, and nerve pain. But taking higher doses doesn’t always mean they’ll have a stronger impact. Also, many studies on CBD have been done on animals, so it’s hard to tell if these same effects will apply to people.
Possible Side Effects
Clinical research has shown that CBD oil can trigger side effects. The severity and type can vary from one person to the next.
Common side effects include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in mood
- Dry mouth
CBD oil may also increase liver enzymes (a marker of liver inflammation). People with liver disease should consult their healthcare provider before taking CBD oil and use it with caution. Regular blood liver enzyme level checks are recommended.
Don’t take CBD oil if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises pregnant women to avoid marijuana because of the potential risks to a baby’s development. Although the effects of CBD itself are unclear, CBD does pass through the placenta.
Don’t drive or use heavy machinery when taking CBD oil since some of them contain THC. This is especially important when you first start treatment or use a new brand.
CBD oil can interact with some medications, including those used to treat epilepsy.
Cytochrome P450 (CYP450) is an enzyme in your body that breaks down certain drugs. But CBD oil can block CYP450 from working the way it normally does. CBD oil can either make some drugs you take have a stronger effect than you need or make them less effective.
Drugs that could potentially interact with CBD include:
- Anti-arrhythmia drugs like quinidine
- Anticonvulsants like Tegretol (carbamazepine) and Trileptal (oxcarbazepine)
- Antifungal drugs like Nizoral (ketoconazole) and Vfend (voriconazole)
- Antipsychotic drugs like Orap (pimozide)
- Atypical antidepressants like Remeron (mirtazapine)
- Benzodiazepine sedatives like Klonopin (clonazepam) and Halcion (triazolam)
- Immune-suppressive drugs like Sandimmune (cyclosporine)
- Macrolide antibiotics like clarithromycin and telithromycin
- Migraine medicine like Ergomar (ergotamine)
- Opioid painkillers like Duragesic (fentanyl) and alfentanil
- Rifampin-based drugs used to treat tuberculosis
To avoid interactions, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist what medicine you’re taking. This includes prescription, over-the-counter, herbal, or recreational drugs.
Many of these interactions are mild and don’t demand a change to treatment. Others may require you to substitute the drugs you are taking or to separate doses by several hours.
Of course, never make changes to your medication regimen without your doctor’s OK.
You might experience nausea, diarrhea, or dizziness when you take CBD oil. Don’t take CBD oil if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, CBD oil affects the way your body breaks down certain drugs, so talk to your healthcare provider if you’re on any medications.
Dosage and Preparation
There are no guidelines for the proper use of CBD oil. CBD oil is usually taken by placing one or more drops under the tongue and holding it there for 30 to 60 seconds without swallowing.
There’s no known “correct” dose of CBD oil. Depending on your needs and what you’re treating, the daily dose may range between 5 mg and 25 mg.
The tricky part is calculating the exact amount of CBD per milliliter of oil. Some tinctures have concentrations of 1,500 mg per 30 mL, while others have 3,000 mg per mL (or more).
Most oils come in 30-milliliter (mL) bottles with a dropper cap.
How to Calculate CBD Dose
To determine an exact dose of CBD, remember that each drop of oil equals 0.05 mL of fluid. This means that a 30-mL bottle of CBD oil will have about 600 drops. If the concentration of the tincture is 1,500 mg per mL, one drop would contain 2.5 mg of CBD (1,500 mg ÷ 600 drops = 2.5 mg).
Capsules, gummies, and sprays are easier to dose, although they tend to be more expensive.
What to Look For
CBD oil comes in different forms. Isolates contain only CBD, but full-spectrum oils have several compounds from the cannabis plant. This includes proteins, flavonoids, terpenes, and chlorophyll.
Alternative medicine practitioners believe these compounds provide more important health benefits, but there’s no clear evidence to support this.
Remember that CBD oils are mostly unregulated, so there’s no guarantee that a product is safe, effective, or what it claims to be on its packaging.
A 2017 study reported that only 31% of CBD products sold online were correctly labeled. Most contained less CBD than advertised, while 21% had significant amounts of THC.
Here are a few tips to help you find the best CBD oil:
- Buy American: Domestically produced CBD oil may be safer.
- Go organic: Brands certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are less likely to expose you to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
- Read the product label: Even if you choose a full-spectrum oil, don’t assume that every ingredient on the product label is natural. There may be preservatives, flavorings, or thinning agents that you don’t want or need. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, ask the dispenser what it is or check online.
Are CBD Oil and Hemp Oil the Same?
Not necessarily. While some use these names interchangeably, hemp oil might also be used for hemp seed oil, which is used for cooking, food production, and skincare products.
CBD oil is made from the leaves, stems, buds, and flowers of the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa plant and should contain less than 0.3% THC. Hemp oil is made from the seeds of Cannabis sativa and contains no TCH.
Unlike the THC that’s in marijuana, CBD oil doesn’t get you high. It contains a chemical called cannabidiol that might help relieve stress, anxiety, drug withdrawals, and nerve pain.
However, CBD oil might change the way your body breaks down certain medications. This could make the drugs have a stronger or weaker effect, which can be dangerous. Talk to your doctor before you use CBD oil, especially if you take any medicine or have liver disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
It would be hard to overdose on CBD oil because human tolerance is very high. One study reported the toxic dose would be about 20,000 mg taken at one time.
It depends on where you live, the form of the product, how it was sourced (via hemp or marijuana), and its intended purpose (medical or recreational). In many states, you must be 18 or 21 to buy CBD oil. Check your state’s laws.
I Took CBD Oil Every Day for My Anxiety—Here’s What Went Down
Dana Myers, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach based in Philadelphia. She has a special interest in how race, sex, gender, ethnicity, social status and competencies impact those in marginalized communities and aims to help her clients find purpose and peace in life.
Michelle Regalado is a seasoned editor, fact-checker, and content strategist with expertise in women’s lifestyle news.
When I first learned about CBD oil, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. My mind immediately turned to weed and the unnerving experiences I’d had with heightened anxiety in college. For me, a person who’s already predisposed to overthinking, marijuana, no matter what the form, would typically put my mind into overdrive and result in a common yet dreaded side effect: Paranoia. But, let’s back up a bit. What even is CBD?
What is CBD?
A bit of online digging led me to realize that the active ingredient in Charlotte’s Web Everyday Plus Hemp Oil, the product I’d been offered to test, was the chemical compound CBD, which stands for cannabidiol. Unlike THC, the other crucial compound in hemp and marijuana plants, CBD (when derived from the hemp plant) does not produce the psychoactive effects that make you feel “high”; instead, emerging science has hinted that CBD may actually ease anxiety, and therefore, makes you less likely to freak out.
For example, one study comparing the effects of THC and CBD found that, while THC increased anxiety by activating the neurotransmitters involved in the “fight or flight” response, CBD actually repressed autonomic arousal—or the nervous system response associated with sudden increases in heart rate or respiration. In other words, CBD may be ideal for people looking to relax and unwind.
While the science behind CBD’s effectiveness for treating anxiety, pain, and insomnia is still in its infancy, Charlotte Figi’s inspiring story sounds promising. Figi, a 6-year-old girl diagnosed with a rare and resistant form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, was placed on hospice care and given a “do not resuscitate” order when her parents, desperate and frustrated with pharmaceutical medication, considered medical marijuana; specifically, a strain low in THC and high in CBD. Charlotte is now nearly seizure-free since she began supplementing with Charlotte Web’s CBD oil, which the brand named after Figi.
Legal and Safety Things To Know About CBD
The current CBD industry is like the internet’s early years. the Wild West. Legally, speaking, a Harvard Medical School blog post reads, “All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it.” With heightened interest around CBD, it’s important to note that because CBD is currently unregulated, it’s difficult to know what you’re getting (whether that’s a tincture—commonly referred to as CBD oil, which is often combined with a carrier oil like coconut oil—topical products like creams and balms, sprays, or capsules), despite product labels and brand promises, the blog post further reads. It’s also important to note that people experience CBD differently. For the most part, the National Institute of Medicine says that while most people can tolerate CBD, side effects do exist. They might include dry mouth, drowsiness, and reduced appetite, among others.
That said, those interested in exploring the potential benefits of CBD should consult with their doctor (especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or currently taking medication) and be mindful of your dosage, writes Consumer Reports. And before you buy, Megan Villa, co-founder of the hemp-focused website and shop Svn Space, told Shape magazine to seek out a certificate of analysis. “Ask for a COA for the batch number of the product you have, since these products are made in batches,” she said. “You need to match the batch number to the COA that pertains to it.” Then, scan the report for potency (i.e. does the number of milligrams of CBD that the product label touts match the lab report?), contaminants and pesticides, and mold (which should live under the “Microbiological Testing” part of the report). Go a step further and note whether the testing lab is GMP (Good Manufacturing Principles) certified, and whether the lab is registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Shape magazine also suggests purchasing CBD products made from domestically-grown hemp, and reading up on the difference between full- and broad-spectrum and CBD isolate.
With that, I threw caution to the wind and asked for a sample. Here’s what happened—including what it feels like—when I took one full dropper of Charlotte’s Web’s Everyday Plus Hemp Oil in the mint chocolate flavor every morning for seven days.
My First Impression
It was actually a bad bout of jet lag after a trip to California that inspired me to finally test out the CBD oil (I’ll admit that my weed-based reservations kept me from trying it for the first few months). Knowing that the oil had also helped people with sleep issues, I squeezed one full dropper of the Everyday Plus oil onto my tongue, per the instructions, and waited.
Thirty minutes later, I was surprised by how subtle the effect was. While I expected a hazy nodding-off effect similar to melatonin’s, the oil simply relaxed my body ever so slightly—my heart stopped pounding against my chest, my legs stopped kicking beneath my sheets, my mind stopped racing. I wasn’t sure if it was the oil or the late hour, but eventually, physical relaxation gave way to mental relaxation, and I drifted off to sleep.
Reflecting the next morning, I was most surprised by the fact that I never felt “high” in any way—there was never a moment of It’s kicking in; I can feel it now like with pain medications or even anti-anxiety drugs. Considering it takes time, consistency, and the right dosage to experience the full effect, I continued taking the oil once a day for the next six days. Here’s what went down.
It Made Me Less Anxious and Edgy
Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go.
While normally I’d be slightly tripped up by little things like an overly crowded subway car or a full inbox at work, the CBD oil seems to have taken the edge off of my anxiety a bit. Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go. In some ways, I feel more like myself. With that said, I’ve still experienced some social anxiety when meeting new groups of people—I’d be interested to see what taking the full recommended dose would do.
I’m More Focused At Work
I work well under pressure, but being extremely busy at work has almost made me less productive—I’m constantly distracted by email, Slack, and the people around me, to the point where getting my work done becomes difficult. This week, however, I’ve found it easier to put my blinders on, block out all distractions (especially social distractions), and focus on one task at a time. I think this is partly related to the lessened anxiety—I feel more frazzled and off task when my anxiety is running high. It almost feels like a newfound sense of clarity and calm that enables me to focus.
I’m Falling Asleep Faster
I assume this is also a side effect of feeling less anxious, but I seem to fall asleep faster; within the 20-30-minute range rather than my normal 45 minutes to one hour (or longer). Not only do I seem to be skipping or at least shortening the whole tossing-and-turning phase of my sleep cycle, but I’m able to snap out of the overthinking that often keeps me up at night. Of course, there’s no telling whether a big life event would disrupt this newfound bliss, but I’d like to think it’s helped on a day-to-day basis.
My Experience With CBD
Would I say that CBD oil has fundamentally changed my life? No. But per the Charlotte’s Web website, this is the typical first experience. “Anyone who has ever started a new vitamin or supplement routine knows the short answer to how long it takes to kick in is—’it depends.’ For many newcomers, they’re not sure what to imagine, or some anticipate a huge change right away. For most of us, though, dietary supplements take time.”
With that said, I’m definitely intrigued enough by the subtle effects to continue taking the oil and to possibly up the dosage to the recommended two full droppers of the 30mL bottle per day. Plus, I take comfort in knowing that it’s an all-natural product that’s responsibly grown on family farms in Colorado. Something that’s safe, legal, requires no prescription, and makes me less anxious, less scatterbrained, and more focused? I’m definitely on board.
Explore the World of CBD
Looking to learn more about CBD? These are some of my favorite products to help get you started.
For those new to CBD, Charlotte’s Web recommends this hemp oil. Containing 17mg of CBD per 1mL serving, this CBD oil is also U.S. Hemp Authority Certified. Choose from four different flavors including Lemon Twist, Mint Chocolate, Orange Blossom, and Olive Oil.
Go deep on the subject of CBD with this book that includes case studies, interviews with doctors, an overview of the latest cannabis research, and how scientists are exploring cannabis for various medical uses. There is also an explainer about the difference between CBD products made from industrial hemp versus in a lab, and products made from the whole marijuana plant.
Charlotte’s Web inaugural CBD oil product comes in two flavors; Olive Oil and Mint Chocolate. It’s also its most potent. According to its website, its Original Formula Hemp Extract Oil comes with 50mg CBD per mL.
Gretchen Lidicker puts a lifestyle spin on the world of CBD as the author draws on the “knowledge of leaders in the health and wellness world” to explain why CBD has become a top beauty and wellness trend for top athletes and celebrities. The book also includes recipes and recommendations for how to choose a top-quality CBD product.
This travel-friendly roll-on is packed with CBD and fragrant essential oils, including lavender, bergamot, and chamomile, for an easy de-stress quick fix. The result? “That elusive feeling of wakeful calm,” reads the Sagely Naturals website.
With this book, CBD is explained from A to Z and breaks down the good, bad, and ugly of a fledgling industry that is poised for rapid growth. CBD: 101 Things You Need to Know About CBD Oil covers what it is, why people take it, who it’s for (and who it isn’t for), its myriad forms, and more.
Lord Jones’ High CBD Formula Body Oil combines CBD with organic avocado, jojoba and safflower oils for smooth, hydrated skin. Each bottle has 100mg of CBD.
Charlotte’s Web’s Extra Strength Capsules feature 25 mg of CBD per capsule. The website offers capsules as a convenient and precise way to take CBD—on the go, stash them in your gym bag, pocket, etc.