Ask the Expert: What Does CBD Really Do For Me?

We're finding CBD in serums, candles, and yes, even mascara.

Welcome to our Ask the Expert series, in which local health and fitness experts answer your wellness questions. Here, Dr. Kevin Hill gives us the inside scoop on CBD products and what they’re actually (or not actually) doing for us. Got a question of your own? Email tyannone@bostonmagazine.com


CBD oil

Photo via iStock.com/Morrison1977

We smell it on the streets, hear about it in the news, and even debate giving it to our pets. Pot, and its associated products, is creeping into every aspect of our lives. As of late, the touted benefits of CBD are creating quite a buzz around products alleged to have various curative properties. Whether you’re rubbing it on your skin, taking it in pill form, or inhaling it, we’re starting to get curious—what are the actual benefits of CBD, and do we need to hop on the bandwagon?

As an addiction psychiatrist and Director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Kevin Hill has devoted his personal research niche to cannabis for the last 10 years. “I have become an expert on all things cannabis,” he says. “Voting on medical cannabis, recreational cannabis. I’m a consult on these issues to major sport organizations, and I wrote a book on marijuana.” That book, titled Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World’s Most Popular Weed, approaches the sometimes controversial matter in an evidence-based way, he says.

Ask the Expert: What Does CBD Really Do For Me?

Answer: We’re not so sure yet. 

The details: 

First thing’s first, what is CBD?

“In the cannabis plant there are over 100 specific cannabinoids,” Hill explains. “And we usually only talk about two of them: CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is what makes someone ‘high’ and is psychoactive, whereas CBD is not psychoactive and cannot make you high. There is a growing body of research that suggests CBD has anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic properties.”

Emerging from that research are products infused with CBD, like serums, lotions, and candles, all claiming to work such wonders as soothing sore muscles and joints, having anti-inflammatory properties, and serving as a great addition to a health and wellness regimen.

“While I am very excited about these products, and what they can possibly do for people, the evidence is pre-clinical and the products are not FDA approved,” Hill explains, meaning only animal studies have been done. But even if some of the treatments haven’t received a full sign off from those buzzkills at the FDA, we needed to know: If these products are sold everywhere, are they legal everywhere?

Hill says that even though marijuana is a Schedule I illegal drug, CBD products can be sold even in states where pot is still illegal if they have less than 0.3 percent THC levels. He goes further to say that products have been sold online for years—the concept is only now becoming popular because of the recent legalization push in many states.

That’s not to say you should quickly put in an order for topical CBD lotion, though. Hill says right now, topical CBD doesn’t appear to do anything different than other topical creams like Icy Hot or Bengay—they soothe the localized area and provide pain relief. “It is extremely promising, but right now, why not just grab the cheaper option?” he points out.

The cannabis landscape is also very controversial, making it even harder to weed (sorry) through the various claims about how beneficial these products are, Hill explains. “With so much money at stake, there are very strong opinions,” he says. “And those who talk the loudest have financial or political skin in the game.”

So, as with everything in life, we’re taking this one with a grain of salt. Hill says there is a lot of promise in these products and he expects to see them FDA-approved in the next couple years. So until then, try them, don’t try them, and if you’d rather opt for Icy Hot or Essential Oils, that’s cool, too.