Does CBD Actually Work? We Put Nine Products to the Test
What the hell is CBD, anyway? Depends on who you ask.
A scientist will tell you it’s cannabidiol — a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid discovered in 1940. A stoner will tell you it’s that other stuff you get alongside THC when you smoke cannabis. And plenty of brands will tell you that, sourced from hemp, it’s a legal wundercompound, that, when combined with their gumdrops or face cream or bath salts, will cure your anxiety, improve your mood, help your sleep, soften your aching muscles, calm your inflammation, soothe your pain and generally make your life just peachy.
Their evidence for those claims is anecdotal. But anecdotes are cheap, and many CBD-infused products are not. Truth is, it’s unclear exactly what effect CBD has on the body’s endocannabinoid system, which exerts some control over your immune and inflammatory systems, and also affects things like mood, pain, appetite and memory.
Here’s what we know for sure: CBD has been proven effective, in an FDA-approved drug, to treat a rare seizure disorder in children; studies showing its effects on anxiety, pain, inflammation, et al. have mostly only been done in lab mice. Scientists and doctors both generally agree: we need more studies to know whether it works at all, and then on what exactly, and how.
I, for one, have long toed the line of CBD skepticism — despite my belief in the power of THC to make the body feel nice. When a friend told me she’d been huffing the stuff out of a vape pen at an enormous rate to calm anxiety, I believed her. But I also thought that CBD cured her jitters in the same sort of way a fidget spinner might. CBD might be one hell of a drug — but then again, so are placebos.
The FDA, meanwhile, has cleared hemp-derived CBD for human consumption nationwide. (No dice on CBD derived from marijuana.) Which means that CBD-infused products, already available online, are en route to your local supermarket and CVS en masse.
So, over the course of a week, I set out to test everything I could get my hands on. Face moisturizers. Sparkling water. Honey. Bath salts. Most of them worked pretty darn well at their non-CBD use. As for that CBD: call the results inconclusive. Did I feel happier? I did. Did I sleep better? Sure. Less anxiety? Maybe a smidge. But then again, I worked out all week so that I could test creams on my sore muscles, and exercise, unlike CBD, has been scientifically proven to make you feel good. I also got to pamper myself on some nice products, which again, perks you up a bit. Overall, I found CBD not some wonder drug, but a solid marketing option that probably has some sort of baseline benefit to health — like, say, Argan oil in shampoo or Omega-3 eggs.
So no, I don’t have any answers for you as to whether CBD is a wunderdrug or not. (Though my anecdotal evidence leans toward the “not” camp.) We need our politicians and scientists to hurry up and start giving us those answers — especially since brands are already making claims galore. In the meantime, here are some anecdotes about how the best and brightest CBD products made me feel — to educate you, sure, but mostly to entertain.
Lord Jones Old Fashioned CBD Gumdrops
Promise: “Helps promote a sense of well being.”
Potency: 20 milligrams per gummy
Price: $45 for a nine-pack
Verdict: These CBD gumdrops cost $45 for a nine-pack. A writer for GQ said he eats one every morning and they make him feel “slightly but markedly better.” That’s a $5-per-day gumdrop budget. What do they pay at GQ? I need to get me a job over there, pronto.
As for the gummies, I found them a little underwhelming. Lord Jones makes fancy products with CBD and THC, and they’re very good at it. But I don’t really want fancy gumdrops, because then you get flavors like bitter, rindy lemon instead of loads of sugary goodness. (The berry flavor, on the other hand, was tasty.) I ate one in the morning and didn’t feel much change. You could also try Lord Jones’s Tincture, which, if it did anything, maybe gave my sore muscles a little bit of a light, pillowy feeling. It tastes better than Veritas Farms version, which you’ll find at the bottom of the list, but it costs a bit more.
Recess Sparkling Water
Promise: “We canned a feeling. Not tired, not wired. A sparkling water for balance and clarity … Hemp extract calms the mind, centers the body.”
Potency: 10 milligrams per serving
Price: $30 (six-pack sampler)
Verdict: This stuff is delicious. I thought it’d taste like LaCroix, which several of my friends chug like it’ll save their life, but it’s more like a slightly spritzy juice. No CBD effects to speak of, but, as my fiance noted, the packaging is beautiful. Will I be buying more for $5 a can? LaCroix it is.
Myaderm CBD Blemish Cream
Promise: “… a daily moisturizer that combats existing blemishes and helps prevent future breakouts … the active ingredient is all-natural, oil-fighting, inflammation-defeating CBD.”
Potency: 100 milligrams
Verdict: I’ve been blemishy lately, I admit. And I remained blemishy after using this cream. I only tried it for a few days — so maybe not long enough for the magic CBD to work on my skin. But that aside, I kind of liked the cream. It smells like citrus and melon, despite not including those ingredients. What it’s got: aloe oil, coconut oil, organic green tea leaf extract, pomegranate seed extract, olive oil, plus some organic alcohol. Mostly nice stuff, which might have convinced me that I need a nice face cream to freshen up within the morning and slather on for good luck at night. CBD effects: nada.
Ojai Energetics CBD Coconut Oil
Promise: “This creamy taste of the tropics is great for smoothies, spreads, and enhancing flavorful recipes… CBD provides some of the most diverse and effective health benefits found in nature.”
Potency: 60 milligrams per five-ounce jar
Verdict: I wanted to use this in a coconut curry, but the label says CBD’s effectiveness can be decreased if it’s heated to over 300 degrees. Instead, I dropped a few spoonfuls into white rice after it finished cooking. My coconut rice was deliciously coconutty, served under Trader Joe’s Cuban-style Black Beans and roasted corn, with green tomatillo salsa on top. Lack of high heat did not help any special CBD effects come through; I did not try it for oil pulling, which apparently it’s good for.
Beekeeper’s Naturals B. Chill Hemp Honey
Promise: “Whether you’re trying to find a blissful breath of calm in a stressful day or you’re looking to catch a better haul of nighttime Zs, B.Chill is your perfect dose of zen — anytime, anywhere.”
Potency: 500 milligrams
Verdict: What’s the only thing in the world that might make Winnie The Pooh more zen? Answer: honey with a little kick at the end. I couldn’t tell if I like this or not. It was delicious in coffee, and paired well a chunk of Ojai CBD Coconut oil. Scrum-diddly-umptious, as they say.
As for the titular “chill?” Sure. I finished my work quickly in the morning and stayed in a good mood afterward. Was that because it was Friday? Maybe. Or it could be Pooh’s favorite new slightly-naughty stash.
Mary Joe Cold Brew
Promise: “The non-psychoactive hemp extract in our coffee is one of nature’s most miraculous compounds, and we invite you to drink this product in good health, sound mind and uplifted spirit.”
Potency: 15 milligrams per bottle
Price: $64 for an eight-pack
Verdict: I drink two to three cups of coffee a day, usually from my French press. This stuff would have to be damn good to be worth $8 a bottle — that’s beans-shat-out-of-a-civet price level. I waited until my afternoon slump, then had some of this cold brew over ice when my focus was waning. Could I knock out a few chores and stay on track with work without feeling overly jittery or crashing into a heap?
I could. It tasted milder than, say, Starbucks cold brew, with an earthy, nutty flavor that reminded me of my favorite brand, Chameleon. It didn’t make me jittery and gave me a good buzz. As for CBD effects, it could not contain my anxiety when I read this quote about the first ever picture of a black hole: “It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.” I mean, Jesus.
Mary’s Nutritionals Muscle Freeze
Promise: “Combines natural plant extracts for a soothing, cooling effect … Preclinical trials over the past four decades have found that cannabinoids, like those found in hemp extract, show potential to be a natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotectant, antidepressant, and many other benefits.”
Potency: 75mg full-spectrum hemp extract
Price: $35 (1.5oz)
Verdict: I’m not a huge fan of menthol-peppermint-tingle products — Dr. Bronner’s peppermint sends me running for the hills. Which makes Mary’s Nutritionals Muscle Freeze a tough sell for me, personally. The oil felt very good going on, and smelled like Vick’s VapoRub and cleared out my sinuses. Then the “freeze” kicked in. It was intense. It alternated between a very refreshing ice-packs-on-my-arms cold and waves of what felt more like burning. I felt it in my nipples, even though I didn’t put any oil there. After about 30 minutes, the burn-freeze went away. Were my arms and shoulders a little less sore than my back and legs? Maybe. The next day, they remained a little bit sore. But if you like the cold-burn feeling, maybe it’s for you. (Side note: several studies have shown CBD applied topically to help arthritis pain and some diseases affecting inflammation … in rats.)
Empower Bodycare CBD Infused Soaking Salts
Promise: “Designed to give you full body relief by helping you to relax and melt the tension away.”
Potency: 118mg CBD per bag, or about 30mg per bath.
Verdict: My god, was this stuff wondrous. As a soaking salt, I mean. It’s unclear what exactly the CBD topical relief oil in it is meant to do. (On their website, Empower says the salt is “non-intoxicating” and that the combo of CBD, salts and essential oils “soothes discomfort.”) But it also includes epsom, pink Himalayan and Dead Sea salts, plus aromatherapeutic essential oils like lavender and bergamot.
I do have a bathtub, and it’s one of my favorite things about my new apartment. Don’t trust anyone who tells you they don’t love a bath — they can’t stand themselves. It was relaxing as hell, all right, and made the water silky with just a hint of lavender fragrance. I have more left over, and I plan to soak in it again.
Veritas Farms 500mg Whole Hemp Oil Tincture
Promise: “Contains beneficial cannabinoids and plant molecules.”
Potency: 500-milligram bottle; 16.6 milligrams per serving
Verdict: I was all set to review Veritas Farms’s lip balm, because it sounded fun. Then they sent me this tincture.
Last year, my fiance was diagnosed with a wildly under-researched headache condition called SUNA (short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headaches). Sounds scary, right? It is. Essentially, something has pissed off her trigeminal nerve, which we all have on the sides of our faces. When you have SUNA (or one of its cousin diseases, trigeminal neuralgia and cluster headaches), those nerves are wrathful, sending burning, shooting and/or stabbing pains into your face whenever an attack occurs. My fiance is now on an anti-seizure medication, and it works, generally. But every once in a while, the nerve pain breaks through, sending her into a painful state for a few hours.
Anyway, we were walking through Rite Aid when she had her last attack. We quickly headed home, where I saw the tincture and remembered a scientific paper she’d found (here it is) discussing CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids as potential treatments for trigeminal neuralgia.
She held a dose of the tincture under her tongue. And just as she finished grimacing at the taste, she opened both eyes. The pain was gone, the redness and heat of her face, too. Nothing beside the heavy-hitter drug prescribed by her doctor, and that must build up in the bloodstream before working, had ever done anything close to that to the pain.
It was just once. The next several times she had an attack and used the tincture, it didn’t appear to help at all. This is why we need clinical studies, not anecdotal evidence. But that night, we danced around our apartment to music, celebrating, laughing. So yes, in this case, CBD made me feel very good, indeed.