Cannabidiol, or CBD, has been on the forefront of health and beauty trends for the past couple years and is continuing to pop up everywhere as the market expands and continues to gain momentum. Previously sold by head shops, health food stores, or online retailers, CBD has dramatically entered the mainstream as a health or nutritional supplement, making a splash in the beauty industry as a skin care and cosmetics add-in, as well as in the food industry, garnishing mocktails or lattes for an extra couple bucks each.
The health and beauty industries are wont to never miss out on a booming trend, and CBD is no exception. Many consumers are drawn to the hype around CBD and, because the compound won't get you high, especially those new to cannabis can feel safe, it not also slightly rebellious, when buying and using cannabidiol.
But the questions remain: Do CBD health and beauty products measure up to all the hype? And are retailers being clear about what kind of cannabis their products contain? Before we flesh out any answers, let's take a look at how exactly CBD ends up in these products in the first place.
Most of these CBD-based products are sourced from industrial hemp, or even hemp seed oil, which itself is not CBD. Hemp seed oil, which contains negligible to no CBD, is extracted from the sterilized seeds of the plant and is cold pressed, producing a nutty, nutrient rich oil high in antioxidants and fatty acids like Omega 3 and Omega 6, and has moisturizing qualities. CBD is a cannabis compound believed to have many healing benefits for conditions like epilepsy, inflammation, pain, and anxiety. But CBD, until very recently, was legally ensnared with marijuana, defined by having more than .3 percent THC — CBD's intoxicating counterpart.
Efforts to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), led by House Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), are closer than ever to reality. The landscape for CBD is going to drastically change after Trump signs the 2018 Farm Bill, anticipated to take place before the new year. This will end more than 50 years of prohibition and bring about profound changes in the CBD industry. Since cannabis (including hemp and marijuana) became illegal in 1937 as part of the Marihuana Tax Act, hemp, along with CBD (which is found in both hemp and marijuana), has been considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
The 2018 Farm Bill, upon Trump’s signature, will 1) remove hemp from the CSA, 2) allow for the commercial cultivation, research, and development of industrial hemp, 3) allow hemp production in all 50 states for any use, 4) allow interstate commerce for hemp and hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC, and 5) give hemp farmers access to federal resources like crop insurance, water, access, and loans. Specifically important to the beauty and wellness industries, CBD extraction will be legal in the United States.
Before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD and hemp seed products had to be imported from countries like Canada, France, and China. In order for CBD or hemp seed oil to enter the marketplace, it had to be extracted from the seeds, stalk, or stem of the cannabis plant, and have negligible amounts of THC. With these limitations lifted, the economic outlook for marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin is growing brighter and brighter.
Until now, CBD has lived in a legal gray area, being not quite legal, yet not quite illegal. Many have reported benefits to using CBD in their health and beauty regimens. But there also some downsides, consumer confusion and misinformation among them, which has given this wellness trend wings to fly.
Jeanette Jacknin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and author of the book, Smart Medicine for Your Skin: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Conventional and Alternative Therapies to Heal Common Skin Problems. She discovered CBD, as many others do, by attempting to manage her own pain. After finding no relief from lidocaine (icy hot) patches, a colleague gave her a CBD salve, which, for Jacknin, was more effective than lidocaine. Impressed by its efficacy, she began to research CBD in earnest.
Jacknin says she believes that the CBD trend is here to stay, especially in the beauty industry. “There is already an endocannabinoid system in the skin, with CB1 and CB2 receptors,” Jacknin explained. The endocannabinoid system plays a key role in the body’s regulatory systems, helping to create homeostasis, a Goldilocks-like state where everything is just right. “CBD is anti-inflammatory," she said, "and [inflammation] creates more wrinkles and problems with the skin. When we put external CBD on, it interacts with the body’s own system.”
Jacknin believes that in addition to being a potent anti-inflammatory, CBD has natural anti-bacterial properties that may help to reduce the appearance of fine lines, and help to improve irritating skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis.
Much like dosing cannabis generally, how much CBD one should use really boils down to the individual through a process of trial and error. “Everybody is different,” Jacknin said. “What might work for one [person] might not work for another. [CBD] usually does well with a few [other] natural ingredients.” Beauty products are frequently filled with synthetic ingredients that sometimes wreak more harm than good to both skin and body, including fillers made of petroleum, sodium lauryl sulfate (which can irritate skin), BHA (an anticipated carcinogen), and parabens (an estrogen-mimetic).
Jacknin, however, does not believe that a product has to be 100 percent natural for good outcomes, but that it’s best to use CBD with other natural ingredients, like jojoba oil or shea butter. “It’s also the quality of the CBD oil, and how it’s been extracted.”
The safety and efficacy of hemp CBD skincare products are still a topic up for hot debate. The extent to which CBD is effective relies almost entirely on how the hemp is extracted, if it has been tested for impurities and toxins, and whether or not it is organic. Hemp is a bioaccumulator, meaning that it collects any toxins from the ground and the air, and stores them in its hardy stalk. So the literal ground from which the hemp plant grows could potentially play a role — positive or negative — in your beauty regimen. The only way to know for sure whether the product is of good quality is to research the company, discern their core values, and to spend some time reading the ingredient list.
The healing properties of CBD first came to public awareness in 2013, when a young girl from Colorado named Charlotte Figi, who has a severe form of intractable epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, found relief from nearly 300 seizures a week by using a CBD oil now called Charlotte’s Web.
As access to legal cannabis and consumer awareness has increased, so have the seemingly limitless ways that companies are making CBD available to consumers. CBD has been making its way into the food and beverage industry, landing in hotel mini-bars in the form of CBD gummies and chocolate bars, while bartenders are mixing CBD-infused cocktails, and others are selling CBD coffee. There are restaurants opening with CBD-infused menus and experiential pop-up shops dedicated to the CBD experience.
A survey of 5,000 CBD consumers conducted by the Brightfield group found that millennials are the driving force behind the CBD food trend, seeking nice, authentic, eco-friendly products that lie outside the mainstream, while purporting a healthy lifestyle. Baby Boomers, too, are drawn to CBD because of its reported ability to help with chronic pain, arthritis, and other conditions associated with aging.
Janice Newell Bissex is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and holistic cannabis practitioner. She learned of cannabis’ medical benefits through her father, who vaped CBD to deal with spinal pain. Seeing him move away from prescription drugs to CBD inspired her toward a more in-depth study of CBD’s health benefits.
Bissex also cites the endocannabinoid system’s role in homeostasis, with specific attention to anandamide, an endocannabinoid also called the “bliss molecule.” Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that helps create feelings of pleasure, while managing functions like memory, appetite, or sleep.
“If we don’t produce enough anandamide in our bodies, the chances of us suffering anxiety or depression is high,” Bissex said. “CBD can help the levels of anandamide in our body. It also decreases the inflammatory compounds in our bodies, and inflammation is a contributing factor to many of our chronic diseases.” In fact, CBD inhibits the enzyme FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), which is responsible for breaking down anandamide, and thus when the bliss molecule isn't broken down — thanks to CBD — it accumulates in the brain.
Bissex stresses that every individual is different, and that finding the correct CBD dose is a matter of trial and error. “If you’re taking CBD more for insomnia, or wellness or anti-anxiety, maybe five to 10 milligrams a day is enough for you. If you have an inflammatory condition, you might want 20 to 25 or more milligrams per day,” she explained.
But can the nutritional benefits of CBD be gained by sipping some in your morning coffee, or having a CBD-infused meal? Though there are plenty of anecdotal reports, the available research has yet to bear that out.
Whether or not the CBD available for purchase has been tested for impurities like toxins is nearly impossible to discern because there is little to no oversight over the CBD industry, unless that CBD has been grown in a legal state like California, which requires testing and rigorous oversight. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has issued letters of warning to several CBD companies for misrepresenting the amount of CBD in their products, or for claiming healing or curative benefits.
For consumers, knowing the source of the CBD is an important, yet difficult, task. Unless CBD is derived from marijuana and purchased within a legal state, knowing the quality of the CBD is practically impossible. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for companies, whose only interest is cashing in on the CBD trend.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
The mainstream beauty world really took notice of the cannabis trend when Origins, whose parent company is beauty industry behemoth Estee Lauder, released a face mask called Hello, Calm. Hello, Calm, however, does not contain CBD. It contains hemp seed oil — which you can purchase at any health food store — and which works with the skin in very different ways than CBD does.
The Hello, Calm debut marked a cynical entree into the cannabis-beauty industry for Estee Lauder, a company with a troubling history of exploiting indigenous communities and replacing natural ingredients with palm oil. (The palm oil industry is closely aligned with climate change through the destruction of tropical forests, and is notorious for exploiting child workers earning poverty wages in dangerous conditions.)
Another company jumping on the cannabis bandwagon is vegan makeup line Milk. With two cannabis-infused products, Kush Mascara and Kush Eyebrow Gel, it has been widely reported that they are CBD products, when in fact, they are not. Like Hello, Calm, the cannabis ingredient in Milk’s line is hemp seed oil.
While cannabis, along with CBD in particular, has been maneuvering itself into the wellness industry to leave behind the stigma of a stoner counterculture to attract new shoppers, Jacknin believes that consumers of all kinds will be interested in cannabis beauty products — in whatever form the cannabis takes — and that mainstream companies will likely not take a more ethical line unless consumers demand it. “Everyone has come in and gone for the gold,” Jacknin said. “They’re not going to become more ethical on their own. It’ll have to be regulated.”
Jacknin suggests reading labels carefully, to make sure that the cannabis in the product is listed toward the top, meaning that it is an active, primary ingredient, and not buried under a long list of other ingredients. Bissex also stresses the importance of checking the ingredients in CBD products to make sure that there no toxic residues, like hexane and butane, that come from the extraction process, and that the CBD, however ingested, is organic and full spectrum, meaning it contains a wide range of the plant’s other helpful cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as other essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll.
Both Jacknin and Bissex are looking forward to what they believe is the inevitable time that cannabis becomes legal at the federal level, when researchers are finally free to study the plant and all its potential benefits. “I really think it’s going to change,” said Jacknin. “And all the bright minds will run to do the research!”