Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most studied compounds of the cannabis plant. CBD drew attention when it was shown to stop seizures in a group of patients with a form of epilepsy that does not respond to conventional therapies. Potential benefits of CBD might include anti-inflammatory, immune system, and anti-anxiety effects. A great deal more scientific investigation is needed. Call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Did your pet eat chocolate, xylitol, or another potentially poisonous substance?
CBD Products Do They Work?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most studied compounds of the cannabis plant. CBD drew attention when it was shown to stop seizures in a group of patients with a form of epilepsy that does not respond to conventional therapies. Potential benefits of CBD might include anti-inflammatory, immune system, and anti-anxiety effects. A great deal more scientific investigation is needed.
The Full Story
There is a term of Greek origin, panacea, that means all-healing. Vitamin D, magnesium, turmeric, and recently cannabidiol (CBD) are some of the products that have enjoyed time in the public eye as the panacea we are all missing. CBD is a chemical compound from the cannabis plant. CBD is not tetrahyrdrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis that causes intoxication and is potentially habit forming.
The idea that the cure lies in plants and natural medicine is alluring. After all, humans have relied upon natural medicines much longer than tightly-controlled pharmaceuticals. When drugs are created, a common method is to find a receptor in the body and make a compound to act on that receptor. Cannabinoid-sensitive receptors exist in our bodies (primarily in the central nervous and immune systems), and the cannabinoids that act on them already exist in abundance in the cannabis plant.
CBD does not cause people to become intoxicated or “high” and, so far, has not been shown to be addictive like THC. Cannabis plants today have been cultivated to contain high levels of THC. Hemp plants are cannabis plants that have been cultivated to have low amounts of THC (although not zero) and higher amounts of CBD. Hemp plants are the source of the flood of CBD products on the market, from skincare to latte add-ins.
In America, hemp plants are now legal to grow. However, extracted CBD from hemp plants is a pharmaceutical ingredient according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because of this, CBD cannot be sold or marketed as a dietary supplement or food in the United States. However, Epidiolex, an FDA-approved, prescription CBD medication is available and has been shown to help some people with rare types of epilepsy that are not controlled by other medications.
Supplements and non-pharmaceutical CBD products are not regulated by the FDA. This means that there is no oversight from the FDA assuring that these products are made in an appropriate environment, are free from contamination, or even contain what they advertise on the label. This has become an important issue in major sports where athletes take supplements or try to use natural products instead of pharmaceuticals. There have been cases in which athletes used CBD products and, during drug screens, tested positive for THC. It might be that the athletes were not telling the truth, or it might be that they unknowingly used an unregulated CBD product contaminated with THC. Because of the lack of FDA regulation, CBD products may be contaminated with THC or other chemicals such as pesticides or heavy metals. In one study from 2017, an analysis of 48 CBD products revealed that less than one-third of the products had accurate labeling about their CBD concentration, and 21% contained THC. People who use CBD products should know that these products may contain potentially dangerous ingredients that can have negative or unwanted medical and legal consequences.
Much of the research on CBD has searched for anti-inflammatory and targeted immune system effects. Steroids are the most commonly used anti-inflammatory agents, but a steroid substitute could be very helpful, because steroids have extensive side effects. However, there are many inflammatory diseases for which chronic steroid therapy is one of the only effective treatments.
Common side effects reported from swallowing CBD products are generally mild and may be related to other components or contaminants present in the product. Drowsiness is the most common side effect, and decreased appetite, nausea, and diarrhea can also occur. Contamination with myrecene, another chemical found in in both cannabis and hemp, may be responsible for some of the sedating effects of CBD. CBD is metabolized by a major enzyme system in the liver and can have drug interactions. In animal studies, chronic CBD use also suppressed male fertility.
Research is ongoing, so more compounds of interest from the cannabis plant are sure to follow. But there are many unanswered questions. Can individual chemicals such as CBD alone provide a benefit, or is the entire plant needed (entourage effect) to realize the full effects? Additionally, studies on safety and use in children need to be pursued. Will CBD users develop tolerance and potentially experience withdrawal? These questions will not be answered until large groups of people taking CBD have been studied.
For now, there is no panacea.
If you are worried about a CBD exposure, check the webPOISONCONTROL ® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Whether you log on or call, expert assistance is available 24 hours a day.
Pela Soto, PharmD, BSHS, BS
Certified Specialist in Poison Information
Call 1-800-222-1222 or
- Over-the-counter CBD products (topical, oral, or otherwise) have not been studied in children and should not be used by children or adolescents.
- Tell your doctor about any strange or unwanted side effects that occur after use of CBD products.
- Ask your pharmacist to check for drug interactions involving regular medications and CBD-containing products.
This Really Happened
A 13-year-old boy was feeling anxious at school. A friend offered him a gummy thought to contain CBD. He went to the school nurse who called the boy’s parents and Poison Control. Poison Control indicated that if it truly was CBD alone, the boy should have no significant symptoms beyond mild sedation or dizziness. With increasing availability of THC-containing products, the school nurse was also informed of symptoms that would be expected with THC in his age group including excitation (anxiety, paranoia) and sedation. When Poison Control followed up on the boy several hours later, he had confessed that the ingestion was actually several days previously and that he had no effects. He was nervous about the exposure and wanted to be sure he was okay.
Animal Poison Control
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A consultation fee may apply.
Are you a veterinarian or animal healthcare professional? See the APCC’s Veterinary Resources page for more information.
Our Poison Control experts have also provided valuable information below to help parents recognize and protect their pets from poisonous substances including plants, human foods, human medications and more.
Poison Control experts set the record straight on the safety risks of a variety of household substances.
For additional animal poison control information, listen to monthly podcasts from APCC experts below.