Whether you’re used to taking it in gummy form, out of a dropper bottle, or even smoking it as hemp, CBD has only recently come onto the legal market in the United States. But why was CBD illegal to begin with and why is it legal now? We’ll answer that for you here.
Why Was CBD Illegal In The First Place?
CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid that was and still is classified as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level in the United States. It is one of the two most abundant cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant; the other is THC.
Schedule 1 drugs are those substances which the federal government (the DEA and FDA specifically) deem to have the highest potential for abuse and dependency. Other drugs that are classified as Schedule 1 are:
- Mescaline (peyote)
- MDMA (“ecstasy”)
- Synthetic marijuana (Spice, K2)
- Methaqualone (quaaludes)
- Khat (Cathinone)
- Bath salts (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV)
To understand why some CBD products are still illegal and classified as Schedule 1 drugs, we need to understand the relationship between THC and CBD.
THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis that gives users the “high” that cannabis is known for. It also offers various medical benefits including it being a pain reliever, an anti-inflammatory, an appetite stimulant, and more.
CBD, cannabidiol, isn’t psychoactive at all and has various medical benefits such as being anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic, anti-depressant, anti-nausea, anxiolytic, etc.
But, even though CBD isn’t psychoactive, it has remained a Schedule 1 drug federally because of its source: cannabis, otherwise known by the slang term “marijuana”. Because CBD has historically been derived from cannabis plants and cannabis plants are illegal, the CBD has been illegal essentially by proxy.
But, that started to change in 2014 in the United States with the 2014 Hemp Farming Bill. This created a legal framework for the cultivation of industrial hemp that no longer required getting a DEA permit.
But, it wasn’t until 4 years later in 2018 that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018. This made certain types of CBD legal, mainly that which can be verifiably sourced from hemp. Legally, industrial hemp is considered to be those cultivated cannabis plants that have less than 0.3% delta-9 THC in them. This makes industrial hemp plants no longer a Schedule 1 drug and therefore the CBD that comes from them aren’t Schedule 1 drugs, either. All products produced today that are derivatives from hemp with meets those qualifications are legal at the federal level.
This is the reason that you can find CBD oil, gummies, and even hemp flower as close as your local gas station. The source hemp plant that the CBD comes from and the final CBD product, whether oil, flower, e-liquid, or otherwise, still has to have less than 0.3% THC. If it has more than 0.3% THC, it remains a Schedule 1 drug at the US federal government level. These same products may be legal in certain instances, however, in states that have recreational or medical marijuana programs.
CBD products are also not considered to be medication and therefore no health claims can be made about any products that have it.
Is CBD A Drug or a Supplement?
There is only one FDA approved medication on the market and that is Epidiolex, which is manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals. It’s an epilepsy medicine and is the sole CBD-based medicine on the US market today.
Since hemp has been allowed to be cultivated since 2014, the medical benefits of cannabinoids have been much easier to research. Since the passage of the 2018 bill, it’s gotten even easier to grow and for studies to be done on CBD in particular.