If you’re new to using CBD, it’s essential to understand the potential risks and precautions you can take to avoid side effects. CBD has been scientifically proven to be safe, non-addictive, non-psychoactive, and has minimal risk of harm. However, it’s not entirely free of side effects; they can occur at any dosage. Some individuals may be more susceptible to side effects than others. Being aware of potential side effects and how to manage them is important for a positive experience with CBD. In this article, we’ll explore the risk factors associated with CBD use, how to avoid them, safety precautions, who should avoid using CBD and when to consider stopping use.
- 1 What is CBD?
- 2 What Causes CBD’s Side Effects?
- 3 Common Side Effects of CBD
- 4 How Common Are CBD’s Side Effects?
- 5 How Long Do Side Effects Last?
- 6 Who Should Avoid Taking CBD?
- 7 Minimizing Side Effect Risks
- 8 Is CBD Safe? What the Evidence Says
- 9 Conclusion
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is one of the many cannabinoids produced naturally by hemp. Unlike some other cannabinoids, CBD offers therapeutic effects that support better well-being. It can help reduce anxiety, inflammation, depression, and pain and support better sleep. CBD can be taken as an oil extract, vape, capsule, spray, edible or cream.
What Causes CBD’s Side Effects?
CBD is metabolically active via the endocannabinoid system and influences several body systems. This makes it therapeutically effective but also means that some people may not tolerate its effects. Each interaction of cannabinoids with the body’s systems means the body processes and metabolizes the chemical, increasing the risk of side effects. Everyone has unique biochemistry, allergies, and responses to cannabinoids, which can cause adverse reactions in different individuals for a variety of reasons. Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of side effects include underlying chronic health conditions, being immunocompromised, being in at-risk groups such as the pregnant and elderly, plus having existing medications in use that can interact adversely with CBD. While some people may never experience side effects, even at high doses, others could experience allergic reactions even with small amounts of CBD. It’s impossible to know how you will respond to CBD or your sensitivity to it until you try it.
Common Side Effects of CBD
Several side effects associated with CBD can occur at any point but are most likely noticed in the first few weeks of use.
Dry mouth is CBD’s most commonly reported side effect, caused by lower saliva production due to cannabinoids activating cannabinoid receptors in the saliva glands. Luckily, this side effect is one of the easiest to deal with. Increase your liquid intake and keep hydrated. You can also use gum, lollies or lozenges to help your mouth stimulate saliva production. You may need to revisit your dosage levels or product selection if symptoms persist.
Stomach Aches and Diarrhoea
Stomach aches, bloating, mild nausea, and diarrhea may also occur, usually due to intolerance to the carrier oil the CBD contains. These carrier oils can get cross-contaminated with allergens such as nuts, solvents, pesticides, and additives, causing allergic reactions and side effects. Pure CBD, on its own, rarely has any side effects. To avoid digestive side effects, you can try alternative products such as sprays, strips, or sublingual, which bypass the gut while still delivering CBD. If side effects persist or recur, you should explore lowering dosages or trying alternative products.
Drowsiness or Lethargy
Some users find they become tired, lethargic or fatigued when using CBD. Usually, this is only experienced at very high dosage ranges. CBD is naturally anxiolytic and helps to lower stress by calming users. Because of its interactions with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and CNS, it can promote parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) activity. The PSNS response is associated with calmness, rest, relaxation and recovery. However, if too much CBD is consumed, it can cause drowsiness and lethargy. In some people, it can even affect motor function. If you experience this, avoid driving or operating machinery. Try to time your dosages before bedtime to take advantage of CBD’s calming qualities without causing daytime fatigue.
Feeling nauseous can occur when using CBD. Everyone’s body is different, and some people don’t tolerate cannabinoids well. Particularly for beginner users, uncomfortable sensations of nausea or headaches can occur but are usually passing. The risk of nausea is higher if your dosage is too high or your product is contaminated. You need to consume CBD with food, lower your dose or change products to avoid this side effect. As a beginner, you should start with low doses of 150mg daily or less of CBD to gauge your tolerance. Try building up your tolerance by incrementing dosages over time to increase your dose while preventing any nausea by giving your body time to adjust.
Anxiety or Mood Changes
Despite being anxiolytic and suppressing anxiety in most users, some people do report elevated anxiousness or mood shifts when taking CBD. There are a few potential causes for this. Firstly, high CBD doses may overwhelm some people due to side effects, which can lead to worry and anxiety. Taking too much of any cannabinoid can be a source of angst if you are feeling nausea or stomach issues. Controlling doses carefully and monitoring your response is essential. The quality of your CBD oil can also play into it, causing anxiety. Many CBD products either contain THC directly due to mislabelling or are contaminated with THC. This is a psychoactive cannabinoid from cannabis that is known to cause anxiety. It can also worsen any existing anxiety, depression or paranoia. If you’re already anxious and inadvertently consume THC, it is likely to worsen your symptoms. Avoid any products that contain THC or low-quality CBD products that are more likely to be contaminated with it.
Dizziness from CBD
Because CBD is a vasodilator and has cardiovascular effects through the endocannabinoid system, it can trigger feelings of light-headedness or dizziness in some people. This results from vasodilation, causing blood pressure changes by affecting blood flow. To avoid this, take moderate quantities of CBD and start slowly with your dosing approach. You may need to stop taking the product if symptoms persist or check in with your doctor.
Many people experience shifts in their appetite as a result of taking CBD. Both increases and decreases in appetite have been observed and reported in different people. How this side effect shows up, if it occurs, is dependent on the individual. Monitor for changes if you’re taking CBD and ensure you maintain or adjust your food consumption as needed to keep healthy.
Some people are allergic to cannabinoids or carrier oils frequently contained in tincture products. Allergies can manifest as hives, itchiness, breathing troubles, redness or other similar inflammatory signs. Like other allergies, if you experience a severe reaction, seek medical help immediately. Avoiding this cannot be easy. You may need to troubleshoot through elimination to figure out what you’re allergic to based on ingredients contained in different CBD products. It could be that you are allergic to a specific carrier oil type, for instance, and not CBD itself. Trying other products and assessing allergic reactions can enable you to ascertain and eliminate the cause.
How Common Are CBD’s Side Effects?
Side effects with CBD are rarely reported, even at high dosages. They’re also usually very mild and pass quickly or can be eliminated by ceasing product usage. When they are experienced, it is typically due to a user talking very high dosages at a high frequency. As with most bioactive compounds, the risks of side effects with CBD increase as dosage and frequency of ingestion increase. Most studies on the safety of CBD have noted the low prevalence of side effects.
In-depth reviews of CBD’s safety have concluded the cannabinoid is very safe in both animal and human models. For example, a 2017 meta-analysis by the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research journal found CBD had a robust safety profile among all studies analyzed. They did note that longer-term safety studies have not been performed to test for issues like immune system changes and genotoxicity. In addition, studies highlighted that CBD never displayed signs of addiction, dependence or withdrawal in any subject.
How Long Do Side Effects Last?
We can categorize side effects by how long symptoms present. While it is rare that any long-term side effects will occur with CBD use, it is possible in some cases.
Short-Term Side Effects of CBD
Most side effects with CBD resolve themselves within hours if not minutes. Rarely will they last longer than this, but some may linger for several days. Side effects tend to resolve themselves in the vast majority of cases. CBD is fully metabolized and cleared after several hours in the body. This means that the best way to manage side effects is often to stop using it for a while to allow your body to recover. Having breaks from it can also be an excellent way to avoid side effects while also minimizing tolerance to improve the benefits of CBD. If you get side effects, wait for them to pass before retrying your product at a lower dose. Persistent side effects could mean you have a low-quality or contaminated product. It may also mean you can’t tolerate CBD or have an underlying health condition.
Long-Term Side Effects of CBD
Long-term side effects are very rarely reported when taking CBD. If these occur, they are more than likely caused by contaminants or toxic additives that have made their way into a low-quality product. Solvents, heavy metals, artificial ingredients, pesticides and other toxins are sometimes found in products with poor manufacturing standards or ingredient quality. These can trigger allergies, cause inflammation, and often damage the kidneys or liver, leading to long-term side effects. Products produced via solvent extraction are usually susceptible to containing traces of solvents like ethanol. It can be challenging to fully filter all the solvents from the final extract used to produce a pure CBD product.
Additionally, mixing CBD with existing pharmaceutical medications in use could cause long-term side effects if caution is not used. Many drugs are processed in the liver, where CBD is also broken down. CBD can suppress particular enzymes from being produced in the liver, which are used in the body’s natural detoxification processes. Always check with your doctor before using CBD if you have existing medications in use.
Who Should Avoid Taking CBD?
Although CBD is well tolerated and has a low risk and severity of side effects, some individuals are at higher susceptibility to harm and should avoid using it at all. Side effects can develop into potential health dangers if you have specific characteristics that put you at risk. Three groups should particularly avoid using CBD altogether due to this. These groups have either immune vulnerabilities, which open up exposure to worse side effects, or have extra sensitivities.
Pregnant women should avoid using CBD. This is because their babies are susceptible to toxins and harm from cannabinoids. One of the risks of taking any supplement is contaminants. Contamination might result from the bottle or container used to store the CBD product. Dust, pollution, or by-products of production may taint the container. Contamination could also occur more directly from poor quality control. Many different nasties can find their way into your CBD product if not sourced diligently. These might be pesticides or herbicides applied to the cannabis plants used to produce your extract or heavy metals like arsenic the plant may have absorbed. If the vat used for production is unclean or previously used for other products, residues like bacteria or mould can infiltrate a CBD product.
Solvents like ethanol are also often found in low-quality CBD oil, which is a by-product of solvent extraction that’s used to separate CBD from the cannabis resin. If consumed, any of these can affect your baby detrimentally. It’s essential to prevent any risk of harming your baby. Even adults can be negatively affected by these avoidable toxins. When you conceive, the nutrients you consume get passed onto the unborn infant via the umbilical cord. Unfortunately, this also applies to contaminants. Breast milk can also pass these onto the child, which may endanger them. Research has yet to confirm CBD’s effects on babies, even if your product is pure. It’s not known whether any amount of CBD is safe to expose a newborn to. We advise waiting until your baby is born until you use it, and even then, use caution, plus check in with your doctor.
Immune or Liver-Compromised Individuals
Some individuals with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of severe side effects from CBD. Extra care must be taken in taking CBD or other medicines when you have existing liver problems or immune system issues. Enzymes in your liver, such as ALT, break down chemicals that enter the body so they can be metabolized. CBD can suppress the production of these enzymes when taken, which increases the risks of liver toxicity. They can also become hidden in individuals who are immunocompromised. For example, people on chemotherapy medications have weakened immunity and are more exposed to liver complications from CBD due to the cancer medication they take. If you have an existing drug you’re using, a chronic disease, organ impairment, or an immune problem, avoid using CBD. This will also help you avoid any unintentional adverse medication interactions.
Individuals with Existing Medications
The most common and high-risk danger in using CBD is potential interactions or unintended side effects when it is mixed with other medications already being used. This is a real risk for many because CBD is often used therapeutically in tandem with other treatments. Those affected by high blood pressure, arthritis or chronic inflammation may already take pharmaceutical medicines to treat their condition. Pharmaceutical drugs like blood thinners are processed via the liver, which is responsible for detoxifying them. The liver produces the P450 enzyme that breaks down the toxins these products contain. CBD also must pass via the liver and be processed by it. Harmful metabolites in your liver that impair P450 can accumulate when mixed with medication. While unlikely, this can cause poisoning in worst-case scenarios. Ensure you speak with your doctor before using CBD if you have an existing prescription you’re taking. They’ll be the best check-in point to understand and avoid potential risks with medication interactions.
Minimizing Side Effect Risks
Although it is not possible to eliminate all side effects risks with CBD, there are ways you can minimize the likelihood of experiencing them.
Dosage & Product Strength
The amount of CBD you consume is a significant factor contributing to side effect risk. Product strength, dosage and frequency of usage can all impact whether you experience side effects. For instance, if you’re using a product that is too strong for your needs and incidentally consuming greater concentrations of CBD than you should, your risk of side effects will be much higher. Similarly, dosing incorrectly and drinking too much CBD too often can overwhelm your body and lead to negative experiences. In both cases, this is easily solved by carefully planning out your product choices, dosages and frequency of use, plus starting with low doses. Letting your body and endocannabinoid system adapt to CBD and become accustomed to it before you ramp up dosages or product strength is essential to avoiding side effects.
Another easy way to avoid side effects is by using high-quality CBD products. Low-quality products are at higher risk of triggering allergies and side effects and causing unintended detrimental effects because they’re frequently contaminated or tainted with toxins. They’re also at higher risk of containing THC, which has much higher side effect risks than CBD and can worsen mental illnesses. Seek third-party lab results for your product so you know what it contains. This is often posted on the retailer’s website. Look for reviews that indicate the product is effective and users got what they expected. Quality products use quality controls to prevent contamination, maximize potency and minimize THC content.
CO2 or gas-extracted CBD oils and tinctures are at lower risk of contamination with solvents or additives as they only use CO2 gas during extraction. Cannabinoids are pulled from cannabis resin under extreme heat and pressure ranges. This has the advantage of eliminating potential contaminants like bacteria, dust or fungi. It also means solvents like ethanol can’t mix with and contaminate your CBD product. Opt for CO2-extracted products. They’ll be purer and safer versus poorer quality solvent-extracted oils.
Organic Certified Products
A valuable certification to seek in your product is those sourced from organically grown and harvested cannabis. Organic farming eliminates the use of herbicides, farming chemicals and pesticides. This limits the likelihood these chemicals will be passed onto the oil extracted from the plant. As plants absorb nutrients from the soil, contaminants can also become absorbed. Organic CBD products are usually of higher quality due to lower contamination risk from heavy metals or other soil contaminants.
Monitoring and Adapting Dosage Approach
As you use CBD, it’s essential to monitor how you’re feeling, whether any side effects are occurring, if you notice any mood or energy shifts, and whether it is helping with your condition. Pay close attention to these factors, and if you observe side effects or adverse reactions, consider whether you need to alter the dose or product or stop altogether. Experimenting with lower doses or differing products may resolve the issue. But controlling your use of CBD is always an easy way to stem side effects in their tracks. In any case, monitoring and checking in on your progress with CBD is a crucial practice to lower side effect risk.
Is CBD Safe? What the Evidence Says
Across the board, studies have unanimously concluded that pure CBD is very safe in human and animal models. This has been a familiar note in both studies exploring the safety of cannabinoids specifically and indirectly in more general trials or reviews.
Importantly, this conclusion has held up in both short and long-term studies, plus high and low-dose test ranges. Even at very high doses, safety was maintained. The most prominent study to be produced on the topic was done by the World Health Organisation in 2018. Their health department had a comprehensive analysis and assessment of the safety of CBD in the human body. Notable side effects and risks were investigated in a large-scale review. The organization concluded almost all individuals will tolerate CBD, plus it is non-addictive. The WHO is responsible for providing guidelines on all health products’ safety, usage recommendations and side effect risks. Their primary warning about using CBD was its danger when mixed with other medications due to potential liver interactions.
CBD is very safe for most people when used responsibly. Side effects are rare and, when they occur, tend to be minor. Some of the most common of these include nausea, dry mouth, anxiety and drowsiness. If you experience these, experiment with changing your dose or trying a different product. Stubborn side effects may indicate an underlying health problem. Check-in with your doctor if symptoms persist. For some individuals, CBD should be entirely avoided. This applies to women who are pregnant, those with immune or organ problems, individuals using existing prescription medications and children. Avoiding side effect risks can be done by scrutinizing your product’s quality, seeking lab results and organic certification, and monitoring and adapting the dose approach if needed.