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Hemp, marijuana and CBD are all related, but they differ in significant ways. Here’s what you need to know about their legality, effects and potential health benefits.

Another big difference among hemp, marijuana and CBD is how the law treats them.

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Great Danes and chihuahuas are distant cousins, like marijuana and hemp. Pixy, CC BY

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Our recent study found that Americans perceive hemp and CBD to be more like over-the-counter medication and THC to be more like a prescription drug. Still, the average person in the U.S. does not view hemp, CBD, THC or even marijuana in the same light as illicit substances like meth and cocaine – even though both are classified by the DEA as having a lower potential for abuse than marijuana.

Zuardi AW, Crippa JA, Hallak JE, et al. Cannabidiol for the treatment of psychosis in Parkinson’s disease. J Psychopharmacol 2009;23(8):979-83. View abstract.

Resstel LB, Joca SR, Moreira FA, et al. Effects of cannabidiol and diazepam on behavioral and cardiovascular responses induced by contextual conditioned fear in rats. Behav Brain Res 2006;172(2):294-8. View abstract.

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Wade, D. T., Robson, P., House, H., Makela, P., and Aram, J. A preliminary controlled study to determine whether whole-plant cannabis extracts can improve intractable neurogenic symptoms. Clin.Rehabil. 2003;17(1):21-29. View abstract.

Yamaori S, Ebisawa J, Okushima Y, et al. Potent inhibition of human cytochrome P450 3A isoforms by cannabidiol: role of phenolic hydroxyl groups in the resorcinol moiety. Life Sci 2011;88(15-16):730-6. View abstract.

Watzl, B., Scuderi, P., and Watson, R. R. Marijuana components stimulate human peripheral blood mononuclear cell secretion of interferon-gamma and suppress interleukin-1 alpha in vitro. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1991;13(8):1091-1097. View abstract.

CBD is readily obtainable in most parts of the United States, though its exact legal status is in flux. All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it. In December 2015, the FDA eased the regulatory requirements to allow researchers to conduct CBD trials. Currently, many people obtain CBD online without a medical cannabis license. The government’s position on CBD is confusing, and depends in part on whether the CBD comes from hemp or marijuana. The legality of CBD is expected to change, as there is currently bipartisan consensus in Congress to make the hemp crop legal which would, for all intents and purposes, make CBD difficult to prohibit.

Some CBD manufacturers have come under government scrutiny for wild, indefensible claims, such that CBD is a cure-all for cancer, which it is not. We need more research but CBD may be prove to be an option for managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD is currently is mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting. If you decide to try CBD, talk with your doctor — if for no other reason than to make sure it won’t affect other medications you are taking.

Is cannabidiol legal?

Cannabidiol (CBD) has been recently covered in the media, and you may have even seen it as an add-in booster to your post-workout smoothie or morning coffee. What exactly is CBD? Why is it suddenly so popular?

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CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (marijuana). While CBD is an essential component of medical marijuana, it is derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. While CBD is a component of marijuana (one of hundreds), by itself it does not cause a "high." According to a report from the World Health Organization, "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD."