The Legal Part of Weed: Understanding CBD and its Legality, Safety and Therapeutic Potential

Image of author Kayla Williams

 By Kayla Williams, AOD PHE

Amidst all the recent news surrounding marijuana research and legalization, there has been an increasing buzz surrounding a particular word: CBD. Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, refers to one of the major chemicals produced by the Cannabis plant, the family of plants that produces hemp and marijuana products. Regardless of stance or comfort with marijuana, the increased presence and education of CBD has reduced cannabis stigma and changed perceptions of cannabis’ therapeutic validity. This has subsequently spearheaded state-level legalization of marijuana and even federal-level legalization of trace level CBD in hemp plants (Cannabis plants with <0.3% THC). CBD’s rising popularity has birthed a variety of products, such as tinctures and even vape juices, but also questions regarding what it is and its safety. This article aims to shed some light on CBD and provide information to safely navigate the hype.

What is CBD?

As mentioned, CBD is a chemical produced by the Cannabis plant. It is the second most abundant constituent in marijuana, the first being a molecule called THC. You may be familiar with THC’s infamy: it’s associated with giving a euphoric “high” and its intoxicating effects make marijuana a controlled substance and a federal-level Schedule I drug. However, the biggest difference between THC and CBD is that CBD cannot get you “high.” Where THC is intoxicating, and therefore has potential for misuse, CBD is not psychoactive nor intoxicating, making its potential for misuse very low.

Is CBD Legal?

The legal status of CBD is a bit complicated, but this is what you should know: under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, marijuana, and its constituents THC and CBD, are considered “Schedule I” controlled substances by the DEA. This federal-level status makes marijuana-derived CBD illegal. However, the Agriculture Act of 2018 (or 2018 Farm Bill) was passed, which made any hemp with less than 0.3% THC and hemp-derived products, including CBD, legal.

Is CBD safe and what are the risks?

According to the World Health Organization’s 2018 Critical Review Report on CBD, CBD is “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” However, it should be mentioned that some people do experience side effects, depending on the method of delivery (e.g. oil tincture, edible products, etc.) and dosage. Reported side effects include tiredness, dizziness, nausea, irritability, and the potential to interact with other medications. The NIH released a report in 2017 stating that CBD has good potential as an analgesic, or pain-reliever. Clinical studies have not only found CBD beneficial in treating pain and inflammation, but also cite its advantage over other painkillers for having a low potential for addiction and very low likelihood of overdose.

The major CBD safety concerns surround the recent influx of CBD products saturating the market since it is often advertised as a supplement, which are not subject to the same FDA regulation and scrutiny as medications. The abundance and diversity of CBD products also brings questionable product quality, confusing dosage variance and possible promotion of unhealthy habits (such as vaping or smoking CBD products). It is important to be aware of these risks and uncertainties regarding CBD.

The Benefits and Potential of CBD

CBD has caused quite the uproar because of its success in remedying an array of ailments and its potential to treat others. Clinical studies have reported CBD’s effectiveness aiding sleep, stress management, pain and inflammation, and treating ailments such as epilepsy, PTSD, Crohn’s Disease, and anxiety disorders. Research has revealed that CBD’s therapeutic effects are in part due to its ability to influence several different receptor systems within our bodies, including dopamine, serotonin, and opioid receptors. Due to its medicinal versatility, the NIH recently awarded about $3 million towards the research of non-THC cannabis chemicals, including CBD. Future CBD research will focus on its potential to treat chronic pain, digestive issues, and complex psychological conditions such as addiction and other motivational disorders (e.g. depression) and impulse control disorders (e.g. ADHD, bipolar disorders).


CBD is a nonintoxicating substance that is relatively safe to use and has the potential to remedy a range of ailments from sleep troubles, pain and inflammation, stress and anxiety. Although CBD is very accessible and seems innocuous, it crucial to remember CBD’s lack of robust research and regulation gives it inherent risk.