Cannabidiol, or CBD, has quickly become a billion-dollar industry. But what exactly is it?
A drive through practically anywhere in Oklahoma City is bound to yield some familiar sights. These include a vast array of fast food restaurants, churches of every possible denomination and loads of stores selling CBD products.
CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is one of 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Think of CBD as THC’s more buttoned-up, serious cousin. CBD is all business. It isn’t there to help you party; it is there to make your aches and pains feel better, help you sleep or make your irritable bowel syndrome go away. It does not require a prescription from a doctor to purchase.
Kyle Felling is an analytical chemist who owns FAST Laboratories in OKC. The company tests cannabis products sold in area stores and dispensaries for purity and potency. He often encounters people who are looking for an alternative to over-the-counter or prescription pain medications but don’t know much about cannabis and confuse CBD with THC.
“I tell people that it’s a common component of cannabis or hemp, it’s more prevalent in hemp nowadays and that it has a ton of medical benefits,” Felling said.
Felling is a believer in CBD. He suffers from arthritis in his hands. As he answers questions about CBD in his south OKC office, he applies some to his knuckles using a container resembling a roll-on deodorant stick.
“The inflammation goes away almost instantly,” Felling said. “I think from a medical standpoint, it’s better than THC, but that’s just my opinion.”
The two products come from the same source: a cannabis plant. CBD typically makes up about 40 percent of the extract available from a normal-sized plant.
CBD’s popularity has grown rapidly in recent years across Oklahoma and the rest of the country. Americans spent about $600 million on products last year, according to a study by Brightfield Group, a predictive analytics and market research firm with a focus on the cannabis industry, including CBD.
Of the 2,400 CBD users surveyed in the organization’s most recent study, most sought it for treatment of depression, anxiety, joint pain and insomnia.
Satisfaction is high. In the study group, 42 percent said their CBD usage allowed them to eliminate the use of prescription medications altogether. About 80 percent found CBD products to be a very or extremely effective treatment.
Dr. Benjamin Barenberg sees mostly female patients at Optimal Health in Oklahoma City. The practice specializes in gynecology, menopausal medicine and hormone replacement therapies. CBD is also one of the clinic’s tools. Barenberg regularly recommends CBD products to patients for a variety of problems.
A patient’s journey with CBD often begins with asking what it is and how it works.
“There’s a whole system in your body that has receptors for the CBD molecule,” he said. “And that molecule plays an important role in mood, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety and pain control among other things. CBD attaches to those receptors and activates certain regions of your body to send healing signals.”
Another common question is, Will it get me high?
“It’s different than THC because THC is the psychoactive component in the plant whereas CBD is only the medical component,” Barenberg said.
Part of Felling’s job is to ensure the CBD his company tests doesn’t get you high or result in a positive drug test. FAST Laboratories also tests for potency and purity. Samples are screened for 60 common pesticides.
“You don’t want to make a sick person sicker or make an otherwise healthy person sick,” Felling said.
CBD is also screened to ensure it does not contain intoxicating levels of THC, an important consideration for those who might use it but also hold jobs that have zero-tolerance policies for positive tests.
“There’s no way you can take a legal bottle of CBD and fail a drug test,” he said.
The side effects are few. The most common complaint Barenberg hears from patients are headaches, but those can usually be managed.
“I think we’re still trying to find ways to help people start their dosing correctly,” Barenberg said. “There is a lot of discussion about that among doctors. But I tell people to start low and then increase the dosage until they get the desired effect. If you get a headache, back off and then you know that’s your maximum dose.”
Many who seek out CBD do so because it does not come with the same stigma as a joint or bong hit. These are people who want to feel better without taking a Big Lebowski-style magic carpet ride.
“They just want the healing effects,” Felling said. “My 88-year-old grandmother uses CBD. I’ve seen children using it. I think it tends to skew younger. A lot of people in their 20s and 30s. And I think that’s because that age group hasn’t grown up with the idea that marijuana is this horrible thing. I’ve also seen people who will use CBD but who would never consider using marijuana.”
The patients who visit Barenberg also come with similar reservations.
“There are people who just don’t tolerate the feeling of being sedated very well,” he said. “They don’t want to smoke a bunch of cannabis and feel high.”
While that concern is easily resolved, others choose CBD over THC for a different reason.
“For some people, there are still some legal pegs,” Barenberg said. “A lot of state and federal organizations, you’re still not allowed to use marijuana even if it is legal in that state. For those people, CBD products are beneficial because you get the benefits of it without testing positive. They can get their therapy without putting their livelihood at risk.”
Cost is another CBD benefit. Most users spend between $20 and $80 on products each month, according to the Brightfield study.
Americans each spend about $1,112 a year on prescription medications, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Barenberg said one of his patients used CBD to help wean themselves off opioids. The drug was particularly effective at managing withdrawal symptoms.
CBD use in the United States is expected to grow. The Brightfield study projected sales to top $22 billion by 2022.
Other estimates are more conservative. A report from New Frontier Data projected CBD sales to reach $2 billion in three years. Regardless, it’s growing in popularity with a 40 percent leap in 2018 over the year before.
“If it didn’t work, you wouldn’t have so many people using it,” Felling said.