You've probably seen chatter online about cannabidiol oil, a.k.a. CBD oil. Its popularity is growing as a remedy for issues like chronic pain, anxiety, and side effects from cancer treatments. Some parents even say giving their child the oil has helped with autism and seizure disorders. But is trying it wise—or even legal?
First things first: Though it's derived from cannabis, CBD oil is not the same as recreational marijuana (or medical marijuana) and doesn't contain meaningful amounts of THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a "high". The oil, which is not physically addictive, is typically taken as a liquid under the tongue, via gel capsule, or as a cream. It can also be mixed with food.
CBD is thought to work on something in the body called the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in maintaining homeostasis, or balance. There are receptors for this system in many parts of the body, including the brain, which is why it's believed to help a host of different conditions.
The most research done on CBD is for its use with seizure disorders like epilepsy. "The body of evidence that it's effective for other disorders is much less," says Jennifer Lowry, MD, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Chief of Medical Toxicology at Children's Mercy Kansas City. For other conditions, the evidence is largely anecdotal. "Cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S., so it can't be researched as well," explains Janice Bissex, a registered dietitian who became a Holistic Cannabis Practitioner after seeing how cannabis relieved her father's pain. She works with many clients who have seen positive results with CBD oil but cautions that it "doesn't work for every person every time."
If you're wondering whether it could help your child, find someone knowledgeable to consult. "I typically advise people to check with their child's doctor," says Bissex, noting that in some cases, the oil may interact with certain medications. "But there are many doctors who are not educated in the use of CBD for various conditions in kids so you may need to broaden your search." Lowry noted that pediatric neurologists may be more familiar with it. Finding a "cannabis consultant" such as Bissex is also an option for figuring out the right dosing, which varies for each person.
The most common negative side effects of CBD are drowsiness and dry mouth, but these often go away after a couple of weeks.
Keep in mind that CBD oil can be pricey because of the cost in growing the plants and extracting the oil. The FDA doesn't regulate CBD oil, so it's buyer beware. Bissex recommends choosing products that have been independently tested, so you're sure they contain the amount of CBD they claim. Lowry, who says she personally can't recommend CBD because there is no safety or efficacy data on it yet, suggests finding out how much THC (if any) the product contains before giving it to a child. "Many current laws limit it to 0.9 percent," says Lowry. "I would go as low as possible."
As for whether CBD is legal, that's still a bit fuzzy. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), these states have approved legislation allowing its use: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Other states have legalized recreational marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington plus D.C. Some states allow CBD oil as long as it's derived from hemp, but not from marijuana.
It's probably safe to say that the DEA has bigger fish to fry than a parent buying a bottle of CBD oil for their child's medical condition. But to err on the safe side, choose a product made from hemp.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.