Is CBD a Miracle Cure or a Marketing Scam? (Both.)

Cannabidiol is caught between two worlds.


Jennifer Aniston uses it for anxiety. Podcast host Joe Rogan applies it for elbow pain. You can buy dog treats infused with it, as well as facial scrubs and hand lotions, tinctures, and vaporizer cartridges. It's used as an ingredient in cocktails, beer, and gummy worms. It's sold at Amish markets and at fancy boutiques and at prepper depots. In October, it received the ultimate blessing for a trendy new cure-all: It was the subject of a multipart special on daytime basic cable hosted by Dr. Oz.

"It" is cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound contained mostly in the flowers of the female marijuana plant but also in the burlier hemp plant—both strains of Cannabis sativa. Like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD attaches to receptors throughout the body. But unlike THC, it doesn't alter perception or sharpen the appetite. Instead, people who use pure CBD report feeling calmed and relaxed. As Aniston recently told Us Weekly, "CBD helps with pain, stress, and anxiety. It has all the benefits of marijuana without the high."

But alongside all the celebrity buzz and bright marketing claims, there is another, more inspiring type of story about CBD: Children wracked by dozens of severe epileptic seizures a day who are suddenly well, their desperate parents weeping in relief. Although there is a near-complete absence of data concerning casual, low-dose use in lollipops or scented skin creams, a growing body of scientific evidence shows the efficacy of large doses of pure CBD for treating certain dire medical conditions.

The growing universe of CBD products—powerful cures and spa-day fun alike—is threatened by overzealous regulators, some of whom insist that CBD be classed among the most dangerous drugs. That means the people who stand to benefit most—the sickest and most desperate CBD users—remain at grave risk.

CBD, then, is caught between two worlds: the medical reality of its effectiveness in large doses on the one hand, and the popular image of a tasty, calming, faddish cure-all on the other.

Cannabis for Kindergartners

The story of today's CBD resurgence starts in 2011, when Paige Figi of Colorado put her 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, in hospice care. Doctors thought she had a few weeks left to live, a few months at most.

For most of Charlotte's brief life, Figi and her husband had been on a fruitless quest to alleviate the violent seizures their daughter suffered as a result of Dravet syndrome, a rare and incurable form of epilepsy whose sufferers have a life expectancy of about eight years.

By the time Charlotte turned 5, her parents had tried just about every treatment available. Yet Charlotte still needed a feeding tube to eat and was debilitated by seizures that came on at all times of day and night.

"We did vitamins, acupuncture, gluten-free, dairy-free, keto, all raw and organic," Figi says. "We tried every pharmaceutical drug on the market except ones that were dangerous to children. You're just sort of throwing darts aimlessly."

Even after all those failures, there was one more thing Charlotte's parents wanted to try. During the hundreds of hours Figi spent researching Dravet syndrome, she came across studies from Israel and Europe that showed that CBD worked as an anticonvulsant and could possibly keep Charlotte's seizures at bay.

Figi wanted to administer CBD to her daughter. She found translators so she could talk to physicians and researchers in Israel and France. From these distant mentors, she learned how to extract CBD from marijuana, how to dose it, and how to test its purity.

The only remaining obstacle was finding a doctor who would recommend giving a cannabis derivative to a kindergartner. While federal law is shifting all the time, in 2011 CBD was illegal. As a compound that could be derived from cannabis, it was classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it had no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. It was therefore illegal to manufacture, possess, sell, purchase, or consume. Even in pioneering Colorado, then home to a very liberal medical marijuana system, giving CBD to a small child was a tough sell.

"I was terribly nervous," Figi says. "The 'red card' doctors"—physicians who specialized in approving people for the state's medical marijuana program—"were all opposed." Eventually, Figi convinced a small team of physicians across several institutions to review Charlotte's case and sign off on giving her CBD, making her the youngest medical marijuana patient in the state.

After 18 months, Figi stepped forward to announce that her daughter was free of seizures and no longer taking any medication aside from CBD. Sanjay Gupta, a physician and talking head, flew to Colorado to meet the Figis and eventually created a series of CNN specials on medical marijuana that sparked national interest in Charlotte's case.

In the years since, parents of epileptic children have moved their families to Colorado in order to gain access to reliable and legal-to-administer CBD. Following Paige Figi's advocacy, several red-state legislatures legalized CBD while leaving marijuana itself and other cannabinoids illegal.

CBD doesn't "cure" Dravet syndrome; it only treats the most dangerous symptoms. Dravet patients will still have drastically shorter lives than average, and not all of them will respond equally well to CBD, because every patient is different. But there is no longer any question among medical professionals that CBD works as an anti-epileptic drug.

'Pure CBD Gumdrops'

During the same period that Charlotte was undergoing treatment, CBD found its way into a variety of nonmedicinal products, from $13 bath bombs advertised as providing pain relief and "mental clarity" to essential oil combinations that retail for as much as $60 an ounce. This year, CBD made an appearance at In Goop Health, the conference hosted by actress and wellness entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow, as part of a panel devoted to the health effects of marijuana and associated products. Once you know what it is, you start to see it everywhere. It served as a punchline in a recent New Yorker "Shouts and Murmurs" column and earned a shoutout from Paul Nassif, a star of the reality TV show Botched.

"CBD was isolated in 1940, and for decades nobody cared," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and an early proponent of researching CBD's medical utility. "I have been doing this work since the mid-1990s, and for the first decade or so, nobody but a wonk would talk about CBD." Now, however, the number of CBD questions Armentano receives at NORML is "almost overwhelming."

Among cannabis policy analysts and the people who report on drug policy, Armentano has a reputation for possessing an almost encyclopedic knowledge of marijuana research. When we talked in October, he expressed irritation at shady actors promoting CBD for applications that haven't been studied and for hawking CBD health products that contain so little of the active ingredient that they may as well be sugar pills.

"The idea that it's going to be in this balm or that balm, I don't know what the scientific basis for that is," Armentano says of lotions that claim to contain CBD. "The people who are talking the loudest about CBD don't have a scientific background. They are marketers and advertisers, and they have done a hell of a job."

Which is a shame, because CBD does work quite well for some things and, with additional research, may turn out to work quite well for others. In an email, Armentano pointed to peer-reviewed research suggesting that, in addition to epilepsy, CBD holds promise for treating cancer, diabetes, inflammation, migraines, and even schizophrenia and substance abuse.

"Holds promise" is the key qualifier. Many makers and marketers of CBD products have latched onto these glimmers of efficacy to promote watered-down products that may or may not contain actual CBD (in addition to other cannabinoids) in varying doses. This kind of sloppy extrapolation is a regular occurrence in the nutritional supplement industry, where compounds frequently make the leap from lab to bottle with little or no input from clinical researchers. A lot can get lost in translation, such as the minimum dosage required for a compound to be effective or the best route of administration.

"Even if products do contain what they advertise," Armentano says, "the dosing is very low compared to what's used in clinical trials." A recent migraine clinical trial, for instance, used 200 milligrams of CBD daily. A highly rated and reviewed one-ounce bottle of hemp oil I found online delivers 8.33 milligrams of CBD per serving and contains a total of 30 servings. A person would need to consume nearly a bottle per day to achieve the therapeutic effects seen in peer-reviewed CBD studies.

Curious as to whether Armentano was exaggerating the extent of this problem, I then looked at the label information of more than a dozen highly reviewed CBD products marketed to adults. Not one of them contained even half the dose of marijuana-derived CBD recommended for a child suffering from seizures. But some of these products did sound tasty and look chic: An elegantly boxed candy described itself as "pure CBD gumdrops…made by hand in small batches from five simple ingredients: natural fruit essences, gelatin, citric acid, sugar and the finest full-spectrum phytocannabinoid-rich CBD extract."

While they're probably delicious, each piece of candy contains only 20 milligrams of CBD, according to the packaging. That's one-tenth the amount used in the adult migraine trial and one-fifth the minimum dose required by a child with Dravet syndrome. At $60 for a box of nine doses, the boutique gumdrop is more like a slice of rum cake than a shot of rum. Various CBD products available on Amazon contain roughly the same amount or a few milligrams more per dose—still nowhere close to the therapeutic doses used in research.

This is not nitpicking. Dosing is an essential aspect of getting specific therapeutic results for specific ailments. Several studies have shown that CBD has a "bell-shaped dose-response curve," as one Brazilian report notes. In that study, which tested CBD as a treatment for anxiety in adults, 57 men were divided into four groups and given three different doses of CBD, plus a placebo. The group that received 300 mg of CBD had the best results, while the placebo group, the 150 mg group, and the 600 mg group fared much worse. There is, in other words, a sweet spot.

While the compound is gaining acceptance as a life-changing medicine for the chronically and terminally ill, its explosive popularity as a hot new luxury self-care product rests on shaky ground. And it's not clear how many consumers (or sellers) have a clue what they're doing.

'Hey, What About This Product?'

Sometimes the therapeutic and recreational markets get tangled up. The twin issues of provenance and purity are of special concern to people who are genuinely sick yet still unable to obtain CBD through traditional medical channels.

Not all Dravet syndrome sufferers will respond equally well, because every patient is different. But there is no longer any question among medical professionals that CBD works as an anti-epileptic drug.

"I get thousands and thousands of messages a week from parents sending me pictures or asking me, 'Hey, what about this product? What about this product?'" says Sebastien Cotte, whose son Jagger has a rare and terminal neurological disorder called Leigh syndrome. Like Paige Figi, Cotte has become a sherpa for parents of children with rare diseases. He speaks around the U.S. about finding CBD products that are safe and tested for contaminants.

"I don't give anything to Jagger that I don't see the lab report for," Cotte says. "His immune system is so compromised, if there's a family of mold or E. coli in a product, it could kill him." It makes Cotte particularly nervous when parents ask him about CBD products they've found in places like gas stations, which he calls "a horrible place to buy a product for your kid."

Yet it's hard to blame consumers for feeling baffled. The "green rush" that started in 2012, when Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational cannabis, has attracted the energies of not just good Samaritans, scientists, and honest entrepreneurs but also hustlers, scam artists, and people who don't know much about what they're selling.

"There's no question that the explosion of CBD products is creating serious confusion, and consumers are left to try to sort the wheat from the chaff without a lot of help," says Taylor West, former deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, now with Cohnnabis, a Denver-based marketing agency that works with marijuana companies. "It'll get worse before it gets better."

Pulling CBD from hemp rather than the marijuana plant has become a flashpoint inside the cannabis world. While the two are in the same family, hemp is a heftier strain. It's used to make fabric and rope, not drugs. You can't get high smoking hemp or make edibles from it. While it does contain trace amounts of cannabidiol, all of the clinical research into CBD to date has used derivatives of the marijuana plant, not hemp.

"No one talked about CBD being derived from hemp until a few years ago, when people thought it might be a potential loophole," Armentano says. That "loophole" is hemp's debatable classification under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The law's definition of "marihuana" excludes "the mature stalks" of Cannabis sativa, along with any "derivative" of the stalks, "oil or cake made from the seeds," and the seeds themselves if they have been sterilized to prevent germination. In addition to those exemptions, a 2014 federal law allowed limited cultivation of "industrial hemp," defined as Cannabis sativa with a THC content of "not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis." The 2018 farm bill allows even broader cultivation of hemp based on the same definition.

Over the last several years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has attempted to clarify its position. In May 2018, the agency released an internal directive informing staff that "products and materials that are made from the cannabis plant and which fall outside the CSA definition of marijuana (such as sterilized seeds, oil or cake made from the seeds, and mature stalks) are not controlled under the CSA." That would seem to suggest that CBD made from hemp containing less than 0.3 percent THC is not a controlled substance. But as researcher Jamie Corroon and attorney Rod Kight noted in an October 2018 paper for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, while "these statements clarified that CBD derived from a source other than cannabis was lawful, they did not specifically state that CBD from industrial hemp was lawful."

Hemp's murky legal status doesn't necessarily make it a good source of CBD. "Many lower-quality producers use hemp oil imported from overseas," West explains in an email. The vast majority of CBD products available on sites like Amazon, for instance, use CBD derived from hemp, and many vendors are not clear about where that hemp was grown.

Perhaps more important, potential buyers may not have a clear idea of what to look for. "High-quality CBD producers need to understand that there is very little education in the general populace about CBD," West says. "Market research from BDS Analytics tells us that most consumers don't even know the difference between CBD and THC. That's how basic the knowledge gap is between those of us living in the hemp/cannabis bubble and the outside world."

West thinks there are several ways to provide clarity to consumers, including putting more information on product labels, creating a third-party testing group, and sharing lab results with sellers and buyers (although this last option requires lab testing, which is not cheap).

"I'm actually brainstorming with a couple other parents to see if we can try to start some kind of Consumer Reports, but for cannabis," says Cotte, Jagger's father. "It's so needed. There's a new CBD product coming out every day, brands I've never heard of, stuff from Europe and China. Sometimes it's full of toxins."

Toxins is a buzzword among crunchy hypochondriacs, but Cotte is talking about the very real risk posed by drugs sold in black or gray markets. A random CBD product you buy on Amazon or at your local head shop is unlikely to contain a contaminant such as illicit fentanyl, but it might not contain what the label claims, either. In late 2017, more than 30 people were admitted to emergency rooms in Utah after consuming "Yolo CBD oil." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later reported that the bottles actually contained a synthetic cannabinoid called 4-CCB. This dangerous, lab-made drug, meant to mimic the effects of THC, caused seizures and vomiting. What's more, the Yolo bottles contained no actual CBD.

A 2018 paper in Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids, published by the European academic house Karger, highlighted this information asymmetry. Consumers know only what they see on the label and in most cases have no third party to help them make decisions. As a result, the paper's authors warned, consumers are ignorant of the "residual presence of toxic solvents used during the extraction procedure" and do not know whether a formulation contains heavy metals absorbed from soil, excessive pesticides sprayed on the plants themselves, or non-CBD drugs designed to give users the sense that the product "works." In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested 13 different CBD products and found that only two of them contained the amount of CBD listed on the label.

Aside from the incident in Utah, very few products marketed as containing mostly or exclusively CBD have proven to be harmful. But the available data suggest the market has been flooded with crappy products created by companies, both foreign and domestic, hoping to cash in on the hype.

'From the DEA's Perspective, CBD Is Still a Schedule I Substance'

Even for CBD products that are made and dosed correctly and that do work, there's an additional hurdle. With a single exception, this entire product sector cannot legally market itself as medically better than the hyped placebos it's competing against.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, CBD, whether it's derived from the cannabis plant or the hemp plant, is illegal. This seems to conflict with the clarification the agency published in May 2018, but it's consistent with what DEA Spokesperson Melvin Patterson told Men's Health in October 2018: "From the DEA's perspective, CBD is still a Schedule I substance."

While many producers of hemp-derived CBD insist otherwise and do in fact operate with relative impunity when compared to people who grow cannabis, the DEA doesn't formally recognize the distinction, and many retailers don't either.

That point was driven home to me by a cashier at a local pet store, who rang up my CBD-infused honey sticks (made in Colorado and said to help pets relax) separately from the bag of salmon treats I was buying for my cat. I paid for the salmon treats with my credit card but paid for the CBD with PayPal. The latter transaction was described to PayPal as involving an artisanal good, with no mention of CBD.

A new federal farm bill could soon remove CBD's classification as an illicit drug. But until such legislation goes into effect, the only CBD formulation considered legal by the DEA is Epidiolex, an oral spray that the FDA approved in June 2018 for the treatment of Dravet syndrome, Charlotte Figi's disease, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, another rare form of epilepsy. Both conditions cause frequent and potentially deadly seizures in infants and children.

Two months after the FDA approved Epidiolex, the DEA announced it had moved the medication from Schedule I to Schedule V, the least regulated category of controlled substances. Schedule V contains drugs that have demonstrated medical value and are unlikely to be abused or lead to addiction.

This is how federal regulators and law enforcement agencies want drug makers to do things: Submit a new drug application, go through clinical trials, and wait for approval before you take your product to market. It is a highly detailed, highly specialized, and highly bureaucratic process that costs millions of dollars and takes years to complete. But if you do it right, the federal government gives you permission to sell your drug in the United States.

Joanna Andreasson

The reclassification of Epidiolex from Schedule I to Schedule V is a testament to the hard work and ingenuity of GW Pharmaceuticals, the British firm that holds the patent on the drug. But its approval also underscores the mindless dogmatism that colors federal drug policy.

Epidiolex was developed using cannabis grown in the United Kingdom because the Department of Justice (which includes the DEA) for decades has blocked medical marijuana development in the U.S. by refusing to license private growers of research cannabis. The only federally legal source of cannabis is the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Research Project, which grows it under a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But that cannabis cannot be used to develop pharmaceutical products.

We don't and can't know if Epidiolex works better than the illegally manufactured high-dose CBD products currently used by children like Jagger and Charlotte. It is against the law for any researcher in the U.S. to test a domestic CBD formulation against Epidiolex in a randomized, controlled trial.

It seems like a matter of principle that consumers should know whether a new prescription medication is more or less effective than the medicines they're already using. But it's an even more important question considering the relative cost of FDA-approved drugs.

Phil Nadeau, a biotech analyst with the financial services firm Cowen, projects that Epidiolex will have "an average gross price of $32,500 a year," according to reporting by Stat. At five cents a milligram, the equivalent amount of black-market CBD would cost somewhere between $100 and $400 a month, or $1,200 to $4,800 a year, depending on the patient's dosing requirements. That's a massive price difference, especially since we don't yet know what portion of Epidiolex's cost American insurance companies will agree to pay. Then again, insurers won't pay anything for CBD made in Colorado, even if it works perfectly, because it hasn't been approved by the FDA.

The fact that some consumers will have access to a tested and regulated prescription drug while others will have to rely on a self-regulated market would be less troubling if the FDA were fine with some manufacturers operating outside of its regulatory purview. But the FDA is not fine with this. In the last several years, it has threatened regulatory action against 19 CBD marketers, including the company that grows the strain of cannabis that saved Charlotte Figi's life.

'To Be in Good Standing With the FDA, We Simply Cannot Speak'

The Stanley brothers of Colorado got into the cannabis business to serve Jesus Christ and to help a family member diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

"We're actually a relatively conservative family," Joel Stanley, one of seven brothers affiliated with the family's cannabis and hemp operation, told the news service Al Jazeera in 2014. "People wouldn't have guessed that we would be in this. I graduated from a Christian school just a few miles away. But the truth is, we grow plants for sick people. What's un-Christian about that?" According to a profile written by Steve Rabey for On Faith, "Jesse Stanley believes God has called his family to pioneer a form of cannabis-based Christian compassion."

Jesse, Joel, and several of their brothers entered the medical cannabis business in 2008. In 2011, they met Paige Figi and her daughter. Together, Figi and the Stanleys developed Charlotte's Web, a low-THC cannabis-hemp hybrid from which the Stanleys created the CBD treatment that stopped Charlotte's seizures. The brothers went on to develop an entire line of hemp-based health products that includes Charlotte's Web. In doing so, they drew the ire of the FDA.

In 2017, the agency sent warning letters to several marketers of CBD products, among them Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises. In the letter dated October 31, 2017, it told the Stanleys they were violating federal law by marketing their CBD products as treatments for a range of diseases, including cancer. The feds had two problems with that: First, CBD had not been approved as a treatment for cancer (or, at that time, anything else) and thus could not be marketed for that purpose. Second, the company could not take advantage of the broad regulatory latitude granted to nutritional supplements because (a) it had claimed to be selling medicine—a no-no for supplement makers—and (b) GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex application had triggered a clause in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibiting the active ingredient in the drug under review from being marketed as a nutritional supplement.

Every year, the FDA sends hundreds of warnings like that one to manufacturers across the United States. What made its letter to the Stanleys so remarkable is that the brothers had created a drug that demonstrably treats the seizures associated with Dravet syndrome but were being told they could not say so.

Someone who knew nothing about Charlotte could be forgiven if he read the FDA's letter and concluded that the Stanleys were charlatans. The company's decision to advertise anti-cancer benefits, as opposed to focusing exclusively on the anti-seizure benefits, didn't help. The FDA is particularly aggressive in going after companies that claim their products cure or treat cancer.

Time and research may eventually show that the company overpromised on that. The CW Hemp website, where the Stanley brothers sell their formulations, currently makes no medical claims about the company's products. Instead, there's a message on the website titled "Tongue Tied for the Right Reasons."

"You might notice something missing from blog posts and our responses to comments on our blog and social media channels," the message reads. "Namely, details about what Charlotte's Web products do for specific health issues. To be in good standing with the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulations, we simply cannot speak about our product in relation to any disease."

'I Get Frustrated That This Isn't Done Yet'

Charlotte Figi turned 12 in October. She doesn't have a feeding tube, and she hasn't been hospitalized in seven years. But her mother still worries. There is no cure for Dravet, and seizures aren't the syndrome's only symptoms.

Paige Figi also worries because she expected families like hers would have won the CBD fight by now. The seeming ubiquity of trendy low-dose CBD products might make it seem like, in fact, they did. But it's not over until the federal lady sings.

"I get frustrated that this isn't done yet," Figi says. "This is like a vitamin, except it's less dangerous than a vitamin. We could've been done with this already. But seven years later, it's still federally illegal."

The idea that CBD is a vitamin, or should be treated like one, is an increasingly popular argument among cannabis reform advocates. Armentano and Cotte both mentioned it in interviews as perhaps the ideal way forward. The FDA could require marketers of cannabis products to undergo facility inspections, and it could enforce strict labeling requirements, as it does with nutritional supplements. But it wouldn't require cannabis products to undergo extensive clinical trials, as it does now.

Several states are already exercising the kind of thoughtful oversight that the feds are not. Despite the Schedule I status of cannabis and its associated compounds, Colorado has a seed-to-sale regulatory system and regularly inspects every aspect of the cannabis and hemp supply chain, including the Stanley brothers' operation.

Treating CBD products like nutritional supplements would, of course, require the FDA to cede some of its power. The agency can entirely prevent a pharmaceutical drug from going to market, because pharmaceuticals are expensive to make and their value is explicitly tied to FDA approval. By comparison, nutritional supplements are cheaper to make and don't require FDA approval before going to market. Nutritional supplement companies are like the turtles in a Mario Brothers game. The FDA can and does bop them, but the ratio of regulators to regulatees favors the latter.

There's some reason to believe the FDA is willing to accept a limited role in the regulation of cannabis products, at least with regard to CBD. In 2018, Marijuana Moment reporter Tom Angell obtained a letter from Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir to DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson (who has since retired) in which Giroir informed Patterson that the FDA did not think CBD should be a controlled substance at all. But if the DEA insists on continuing to treat it like one, Giroir said, it should reschedule CBD from Schedule I to Schedule V. That would put all CBD products—not just Epidiolex—in the least restrictive regulatory category for prescription drugs.

In September, an administrative law judge for the United States Postal Service ruled that CBD that comes from hemp is legal to send through the mail, while CBD that comes from cannabis is not. The farm bill currently under debate could remove hemp and all of its chemical compounds from the Controlled Substances Act.

For now, however, CBD remains in a legal gray area. The Justice Department has chosen to interpret the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics, a lodestar for federal scheduling decisions, as requiring drugs in Schedule I to be reviewed and reconsidered at the formulary level, meaning one at a time.

While things are easier now for patients and parents than they were seven years ago, the status quo feels unacceptable. Even if federal law enforcement agencies seem mostly uninterested in cracking down on CBD, dangers remain at the state and local level. "I can't tell you how many calls we get [at NORML] about CBD from retailers," Armentano says. "At least once every couple of weeks, we hear from someone raided by local cops for selling CBD products out of a retail space."

This uncertain situation means that both casual and medical users will have to remain wary. Until the market develops a way to self-regulate, buyers must be extra cautious. Here's a rule of thumb: The stuff that's both safe and effective isn't cheap, and you're not likely to find it in a gas station.

As CBD becomes ever trendier and more commodified, it's important not to let it become a punchline. Just as medical cannabis proved a godsend for AIDS patients in the 1990s, well before the boom in semi-bogus medical cards for back pain and anxiety, CBD is truly helping people with seizure disorders who badly need relief.

It could help even more people were the U.S. not decades behind other first-world hotbeds of medical research. Researchers in the United States face cumbersome and antiquated barriers to studying CBD, THC, and other compounds contained in marijuana, in part because the Controlled Substances Act has installed cops and prosecutors as the arbiters of what scientists and doctors can investigate and learn. That decision has likely impacted countless lives for the worse.

"There are people who died waiting for CBD to become legal," Figi says. "There are parents who didn't want to break the law, and their kid died. Now they have to spend the rest of their lives wondering if they could've done something."

Slather on CBD cream and sip CBD tea, if you want to. Give CBD treats to your dog, even! But keep in mind that it's buyer beware. And that behind all the hype there are lives and freedoms at stake.