Itâ€™s hard to say the precise moment when CBD, the voguish cannabis derivative, went from being a fidget spinner alternative for stoners to a mainstream panacea.Â
Maybe it was in January, when Mandy Moore, hours before the Golden Globes, told Coveteur she was experimenting with CBD oil to relieve the pain from wearing high heels.
â€śIt could be a really exciting evening,â€ť she said. â€śI could be floating this year.â€ťÂ
Maybe it was in July, when Willie Nelson introduced a line of CBD-infused coffee beans called Willieâ€™s Remedy.Â
â€śItâ€™s two of my favorites, together in the perfect combination,â€ť he said in a statement.Â
Or maybe it was this month, when Dr. Sanjay Gupta gave a qualified endorsement of CBD on â€śThe Dr. Oz Show.â€ťÂ
â€śI think there is a legitimate medicine here,â€ť he said. â€śWeâ€™re talking about something that could really help people.â€ťÂ
So the question now becomes: Is this the dawning of a new miracle elixir, or does all the hype mean we have already reached Peak CBD?Â
Either way, it would be hard to script a more of-the-moment salve for a nation on edge. With its proponents claiming that CBD treats ailments as diverse as inflammation, pain, acne, anxiety, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress and even cancer, itâ€™s easy to wonder if this all-natural, non-psychotropic and widely available cousin of marijuana represents a cure for the 21st century itself.Â
The ice caps are melting, the Dow teeters, and a divided country seems headed for divorce court. Is it any wonder, then, that everyone seems to be reaching for the tincture?Â
â€śRight now, CBD is the chemical equivalent to bitcoin in 2016,â€ť said Jason DeLand, a New York City advertising executive and a board member of Dosist, a cannabis company in Santa Monica, California, that makes disposable vape pens with CBD. â€śItâ€™s hot, everywhere and yet almost nobody understands it.â€ť
For the non-stoner
With CBD popping up in nearly everything â€” bath bombs, ice cream, dog treats â€” it is hard to understate the speed at which CBD has moved from the Burning Man margins to the cultural center.Â
A year ago, it was easy to be blissfully unaware of CBD. Now, to measure the hype, itâ€™s as if everyone suddenly discovered yoga. Or penicillin. Or maybe oxygen.Â
Even so, you ask, whatÂ is CBD? Plenty of people still have no idea.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, an abundant chemical in the cannabis plant. Unlike its more famous cannabinoid cousin, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not make you stoned.Â
Which is not to say that you feel utterly normal when you take it.Â
Users speak of a â€śbodyâ€ť high, as opposed to a mind-altering one.Â
â€śPhysically, itâ€™s like taking a warm bath, melting the tension away,â€ť said Gabe Kennedy, 27, a founder of Plant People, a startup in New York City that sells CBD capsules and oils. â€śIt is balancing; a leveling, smoothing sensation in the body mostly, and an evenness of attention in the mind.â€ťÂ
Comparing it to the feeling after an intense meditation or yoga session, Kennedy added that the CBD glow has â€śsynergistic downstream effectsâ€ť in terms of social connections. â€śAround others, I find myself more present and attentive, more creative and open.â€ťÂ
Moreover, you are unlikely to find yourself microwaving frozen burritos at midnight after taking CBD, unlike with pot.
Every era has its signature drug. The jittery postwar era, with its backyard bomb shelters and suburban fears about keeping up with the Joneses, gave rise to a boom in sedatives, as seen in the eraâ€™s pop songs (â€śMotherâ€™s Little Helper,â€ť by the Rolling Stones) and best sellers (â€śValley of the Dolls,â€ť by Jacqueline Susann).Â
The recessionary 1990s gave rise to Generation X angst, Kurt Cobain dirges and a cultural obsession with newfangled antidepressants (see Elizabeth Wurtzelâ€™s â€śProzac Nation: Young and Depressed in Americaâ€ť).Â
The defining sociological condition today, especially among millennials, is arguably anxiety: anxiety about our political dysfunction, anxiety about terrorism, anxiety about climate change, anxiety about student loan debt, even anxiety about artificial intelligence taking away all the good jobs.
What a convenient time for Mother Nature to bestow a perma-chillax cure that seems to tie together so many cultural threads at once: our obsession with self-care and wellness, the mainstreaming of alternative therapies and the relentless march of legalized marijuana.
Not just for kids
It would be false to suggest CBD is nothing more than an obsession for reiki-adjacent bicoastal millennials. According to the AARP website, CBD has become a popular treatment for pain and arthritis among baby boomers, some of whom may have been out of the cannabis game since they rolled their last doobie at a Foghat concert in 1975.Â
Despite its cannabis origins, CBD is not marketed as a recreational drug but almost as its opposite: as a corrective to the ill effects of alcohol and even marijuana itself, which makes it catnip for hard-charging professionals who need to be fresh for a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting.
And nowhere does the fervor for CBD seem greater than in health and beauty, where cannabidiol is often packaged with buzzy terms like â€śsingle origin,â€ť â€śsmall batchâ€ť and â€śplant-based.â€ťÂ
Among beauty products alone, CBD has already achieved clichĂ© status, popping up in blemish creams, sleeping masks, shampoos, hair conditioners, eye serums, anti-acne lotions, mascaras, massage oils, soaps, lip balms, bath bombs, anti-wrinkle serums, muscle rubs and a Sephora aisleâ€™s worth of moisturizers, face lotions and body creams. Even the bedroom is not safe from the CBD invasion, to judge by the spate of CBD sexual lubricants on shelves.Â Â
This earthy, artisanal aura plays well with devotees of, say, Goop, who are already conditioned, after years of aromatherapy, cryotherapy and homeopathy, to accept a natural-wellness mantra over anything on offer by Big Pharma and the medical industrial complex.Â
And devotees swear it works.Â
â€śIt really helps with pain, inflammation and the general anxiety that grips me 24 hour a day,â€ť said Anna Duckworth, 34, the editor of Miss Grass, a website based in Venice, California.Â â€śThere are millions and millions of people who are just fed up and donâ€™t want to take these drugs that make them feel bad, and want to go a more nontoxic, natural route.â€ť
Is it a cure-all?
Thereâ€™s one problem with that approach. When people turn to CBD-infused coconut lattes to cure acne and erectile dysfunction, it is not easy to separate hype from science.Â
Skeptics who assume CBD is just 21st-century snake oil, however, may be surprised to learn that the substance is being studied as a potential treatment for maladies as diverse as schizophrenia, insomnia and cancer.Â
â€śCBD is the most promising drug that has come out for neuropsychiatric diseases in the last 50 years,â€ť said Dr. Esther Blessing, an assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, who is coordinating a study of CBD as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder. â€śThe reason it is so promising is that it has a unique combination of safety and effectiveness across a very broad range of conditions.â€ťÂ
The National Institutes of Health database lists about 150 studies involving CBD as a treatment for conditions as varied as infantile spasms and Parkinsonâ€™s disease.Â
In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved a cannabidiol-based drug called Epidiolex as a treatment for severe forms of epilepsy, representing the first government-sanctioned medical use for CBD. Preliminary research also indicates that CBD may be effective as an antipsychotic in reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Thatâ€™s not to say that a CBD-laced gummy or two should be considered medicine.Â
â€śMost of the products where people are putting CBD in coffee or food, thereâ€™s no solid evidence that they contain enough CBD to do anything,â€ť Blessing said. â€śA CBD coffee may only have 5 milligrams in it. In order to treat anxiety, we know you need around 300 milligrams.â€ťÂ
Donâ€™t go chugging a shot of CBD oil just yet, though. Blessing said that much of the research is in its infancy, and the purity and dosage of some CBD consumer products may not be reliable. And, she noted, “CBD can have negative interactions with many medications, so potential users should talk to their doctors before taking it.”