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The Pros and Cons of CBD and the Parents Who Use It

It's touted as anxiety-reducing and pain-relieving without the weed-induced impairment. Of course dads are getting on board. But is it worth the hype?

Paul started taking CBD because he wanted to be a better father. The New Jersey dad of two’s high-pressure, high-rewards job was taking a toll. Work days left him feeling depleted and on edge. He’d get home wired and checked out, feeling like it was impossible to be patient with his boys.

“You go from one job to the next,” he said. “You go to work all day and come home to a five and a seven year old and they were at their job all day — school — and now they want to turn it up and rage.”

Paul hoped the hemp-derived product, which is said to reduce anxiety, would help him find the peace of mind he needed to be present in those moments of high-energy family time. So, on a work trip, he ducked into a store with a tie-dye banner and walked out with $40 worth of CBD gummies.

A few months later, he says he’s noticed modest gains. He brings less work stress home and stops channeling that anxiety onto his children. “I feel less inclined to give as many fucks about what they are doing and not helicopter dad as much,” he said. “I try to go with the flow.”

The hemp extract Cannabidiol, or CBD, is everywhere these days. You can find CBD-infused versions of candieslattesbeer, bath bombs, lotions, lubes, and pretty much every product you can think of. These items aren’t sitting past the beaded curtain in head shops, either. They’re available online, at corner stores, and high-end boutiques. CBD will only become more ever-present. According to the cannabis industry analysis company New Frontier, the CBD market is expected to grow by 700 percent into a $2 billion industry by 2022.

These numbers are easy to understand. CBD supposedly aids sleep, relieves pain, and reduces stress. The plant-based compound also isn’t habit forming and low-key enough to take around family or kids. It’s becoming more and more of an option for those who want to de-stress or at the least not let their anxieties rub off on their loved ones. It’s no surprise then that parents are among the most avid consumers. Hell, the only way to tailor CBD more to modern dads is to include a Beastie Boys playlist and tips for fantasy football with every purchase. But is it worth the hype? 

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Researchers have been aware of Cannabidiol since the late 18th century when it was the first of the more than 60 natural cannabinoid compounds. Scientists were able to synthesize it as early as the mid ’60s. Like all cannabinoids, CBD is derived from hemp plant resins. Unlike its more famous fellow marijuana-derived chemical compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), however, CBD doesn’t get you stoned. Instead, it has a calming effect.

While CBD has been used to help fight seizures and chronic pain, it’s the anxiety-battling properties and lack of brain-fog that have become its big, bold selling point. A 2013 study found evidence that CBD alleviates anxiety by increasing prefrontal cortex activation and lowering activity in the amygdala, the two areas of the brain involved in anxiety while activating CB1 receptors to restore balance to GABA and glutamate levels, further reducing anxiety. THC also binds with CB1 receptors, but activates the brain’s dopamine reward system while also interfering with brain mechanisms that regulate mood, memory, appetite, pain, cognition, and emotions.

Hell, the only way to tailor CBD more to modern dads is to include a Beastie Boys playlist and tips for fantasy football with every purchase.

“If THC is the Beyonce of cannabinoids, then CBD is the Adele,” Pittsburgh functional medicine practitioner Will Cole said. “Both you are your grandma will love it as CBD oil doesn’t contain the same cannabinoids that are considered psychoactive.”

CBD does have it’s concerns, however. Longstanding prohibitions on studying marijuana have only loosened recently and not entirely. For example, researchers can only study marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi, which grows marijuana under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. With restrictions hampering research into hemp products overall and CBD being relatively new, researchers, while armed with convincing theories, don’t yet know exactly how it operates in the brain and body.

Then there’s also the issue of legality. CBD is available in most parts of the United States, but its legal status is somewhat murky. States have varying degrees of restriction. In the 10 states with legal marijuana, CBD is legal as well. Some states, like New York, allow commercial sales. Alabama, however restricts CBD use to medical purposes only. Georgia, meanwhile, only permits it to be prescribed to people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and seizure disorders.

The farm bill released by the FDA in December legalized non-THC hemp products across the board. While that should include CBD, some legal experts suggest that it may not. Nonetheless, the bill should be good news for CBD users, as it permits states to decide on laws about CBD sales and it differentiates hemp-derived products from marijuana and therefore removes CBD from the DEA’s list of controlled substances.

Despite some gray areas, CBD has crossed some hurdles. A World Health Organization report on CBD determined it was safe when taken on its own but suggested that problems could arise when CBD is taken with other drugs. 

“If THC is the Beyonce of cannabinoids, then CBD is the Adele.”

Dr. Rachna Patel, a medical cannabis specialist and a leading expert on CBD, added that, while CBD isn’t addictive or life-threatening, moderation is key.If you take it too often [for pain relief] it’s going to make your pain worse, believe it or not,” she said. Like other cannabinoids, CBD has a biphasic effect, meaning low and high doses can produce opposite results. And while someone can’t overdose from CBD, taking too much leads to a bad time.

You could feel dizzy. You could feel really groggy, you could feel really lethargic,” she said. “You’re just not going to overall feel good.”

Still, by all measures, CBD seems like it was synthesized precisely for our high-stress, burn out-prone times. In fact, there’s some persuasive evidence that use is high among those with kids. Dr. Patel, for instance, has found that while CBD cuts across ages, it peaks with people between 40 and 60.

“That’s when humans in general start to experience a lot of pain,” Patel said. “Their body is starting to wear down on them.”

Knowing all this, why wouldn’t stressed-out parents want to give CBD a try? 

***

While CBD sounds ideal for dads in theory, in practice the results seem mixed. The CBD-users with whom I spoke were reserved in their praise. Still, the consensus wasn’t dismissive — the phrase “it’s worth a shot” appeared just as often.

Sean, a father of one from Chicago bought a pack of CBD gummies after a friend recommended them. He enjoys the effect and says he likes the idea of popping one after a particularly long day at the office. “I wouldn’t say that it’s a major change; it just settles me a bit. It’s nice to feel that calm and be in a good headspace for my family when I had a bad day,” he says. “It’s easy to bring that stress home.”

Sean added that, around his family, he feels more comfortable popping one than he does drinking a few beers. “There’s something more PG about it,” he says. “Either way, it’s an occasional thing.”  (Sean was quick to add that he keeps his gummies in the locked glove compartment of his car so his toddler won’t accidentally stumble upon them.)

“It’s kind of the equivalent of drinking non-alcoholic beer without knowing it’s not alcoholic,”

For some dads, however, CBD’s effect is too close to that of THC. Tom, a father of two from Jersey, tried CBD when he sprained his back. While it didn’t help his pain, as a regular marijuana user, it reminded him enough of smoking pot to be a disappointing and confusing tease.

“It’s kind of the equivalent of drinking non-alcoholic beer without knowing it’s not alcoholic,” he said. “It’s not alcoholic but there’s this weird psychological effect that [makes you think] you’d feel stoned even though there’s nothing.”

CBD, then, may be a little counter-intuitive for anybody who first smoked marijuana after being promised it would blow their mind. That’s why so many tried marijuana in the first place. If CBD doesn’t induce giggling fits or make music seem transcendently face-melting, what’s the point?

But many dads taking CBD aren’t looking to get high. They know what marijuana’s like and have generally positive feelings about it. They’re looking for calm or relief from pain.

Dan, a dad of two from California, said his local coffee joint serves a cold brew with CBD. “It’s a pretty good way to get hyper and de-stressed at the same time,” he said. “Wouldn’t say it’s life changing exactly, but it does seem good for anxiety and a bit of calm.”

Dan said he felt the advertised calm of CBD but added that “honestly it’s hard to sort out whether it’s a placebo or not.”

“Alarmingly, a number of CBD products have contained toxic substances like the synthetic marijuana Spice and dextromethorphan, the ingredient in Robitussin that causes “robo tripping.”

Chris, a New York City father of two, is a long-time CBD user. He searched out the substance several years ago after a health food store employee recommended it for his sciatica back pain.

“I wanted to feel relaxed and get my muscles to relax,” Chris said. “I didn’t necessarily need to be stoned. I didn’t need the euphoria necessarily. I just needed the sedation.”

CBD didn’t cure his back pain but it made it far more bearable. As it did so, it also turned down the volume on his anxiety.

“I was like, Wow, okay,” he said. “I’m sedated a little bit. It’s not like I’m taking a valium, but I certainly feel the edge has been taken off.”

Despite his positive experience, Chris said it’s not a cure for pain, but rather a tool for managing it. Dr. Patel said this was typical for people who treat pain with CBD.

“If you’re in severe pain, don’t expect the CBD oil to just poof, and magically get rid of it overnight,” she said. “It’ll drop down realistically, mild to moderate levels.”

***

It’s a common concern to try CBD and find it doesn’t do anything at all. I don’t have to travel far for an example. My personal CBD experience was underwhelming. I bought a vial of oil from a smoke shop to help my lower back pain. It didn’t have an effect and I ended up turning instead to my usual regimen of bourbon, heat pads, and Aleve.

When I told Dr. Patel CBD didn’t work for me, she suggested that the product I took may not have contained CBD at all. The FDA has only approved one CBD product for medical use, the epilepsy seizure drug Epidiolex. Otherwise, CBD is unregulated and unpredictable. A 2017 JAMA study tested 84 CBD products and found that only about a third of them accurately reflected the CBD it contained. The Food and Drug Administration has warned several CBD companies about mislabeling their products. Alarmingly, a number of CBD products have contained toxic substances like the synthetic marijuana Spice and dextromethorphan, the ingredient in Robitussin that causes “robo tripping.”

“I was like, Wow, okay. I’m sedated a little bit. It’s not like I’m taking a valium, but I certainly feel the edge has been taken off.”

Of course, CBD products are an unregulated market with wild west rules. People have to be very discerning about what products they choose but there’s scant information to go on. Chris said he quality controls by buying CBD products made from certified organic hemp. Patel said the best indicator for CBD quality is if the packaging states the product has been laboratory tested by a third-party, independent state-licensed lab. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee that the ingredients of a CBD product aren’t just something you already have in your kitchen.

“The amount of CBD can vary,” Patel said. “But it’s important to know the exact amount because there have been some products that the FDA has found where they had little-to-no CBD in them. You don’t want to be paying ridiculous amounts of money for a one-to-two ounce bottle of basically vegetable oil.”

Buyers definitely want the product to have some CBD, but getting more specific about dosage is elusive. There’s no not a one size fits all correct dose. Effective dosages seem to vary from person to person, with bodyweight driving much of the variance.

Still, CBD offers a salve for some. After using it for three months, Paul bought into the CBD hype and would recommended it to dads trying to carve out some calm. He thought it was helping but suspected there might be a placebo effect at play, particularly when he considered the unscientific methodology he used for his CBD experiments.

“To be fair, most nights there is a cold eight-percent 16 oz craft IPA making its way into my dad bod as well,” he said.