Does Edible CBD Work?

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"Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that CBD is everywhere right now. The buzzy acronym stands for cannabidiol, one of more than 100 compounds found in the cannabis—or marijuana—plant."

You’ve seen its health benefits touted on the internet, TV, and magazines. You’ve heard it can do everything from reduce anxiety to help you sleep better. You’ve found it in your local gas station and on the shelves of the most expensive boutique shop in town. You've encountered it on dessert menus, in coffee drinks, and available as gummy chews.

Scientists are still learning a lot about how and why CBD works, what it’s most effective for (and what it isn’t), and what the safety profile is for a variety of populations, says Ryan McLaughlin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience at Washington State University in Pullman.

How you take CBD matters, McLaughlin says. Ingesting it orally in the form of food or drink means you’re likely using much lower doses than the amount found to be effective in pre-clinical and early clinical trials. “You can certainly eat CBD or have gummies, and that’s a [convenient] way of taking it,” McLaughlin says. “But it’s questionable whether these doses are therapeutically relevant.”

Still, people swear by CBD’s power of reducing pain, anxiety, and stress. So why and how is it working if their doses are much lower than those in studies? Researchers don’t know yet, says McLaughlin. Along with the placebo effect, there’s the fact that ingested CBD stays in the body a long time (it seems to have a half-life of 30 hours), so it’s efficacy may accumulate over weeks and months.

In his forthcoming study on CBD edibles, Vandrey and his colleagues have found the form of CBD you eat and how you eat it impacts how your body absorbs it, too. “If it’s encapsulated, or in a syrup, or in a tincture, we see differences in the amount of CBD that gets absorbed,” he says. When eaten with other food, especially high-fat meals, you get greater absorption than if it’s eaten on an empty stomach or with low-fat meals, he says.

While researchers continue to explore the possibilities of CBD as a wellness product, one thing is for sure: With more than 1,000 CBD brands on the market this year, this is one trend that here to stay a while.

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